Tai Chi and Ru’ach Elohim

thePsalmist on July 16th, 2010

This is a slight departure from my normal posts on here (as infrequent as they might be!). Normally I simply aim to work out my own exegesis of a passage of scripture which fits in with my preaching life. This post instead is focusing on a particular issue which has arisen via a discussion on twitter and something which is affecting more and more churches across the UK – namely the role of Tai Chi and whether it is compatible with the Christian faith.

The reason why this is an issue is simply because our national health service (NHS) and other community groups are adopting Tai Chi as a gentle exercise and relaxation technique. Ostensibly there is of course nothing wrong with exercise and relaxation, nor is there anything wrong with meditation if Tai Chi is taken to that level. Many churches are being asked if a community or NHS group can hire the church hall or church itself as a meeting place for Tai Chi to take place, and some are falling foul of the media and local residents if they refuse (http://bit.ly/cLMj2o , http://bit.ly/cSZa9e , http://bit.ly/bHDC8Z ). I myself as vicar of a church of England church have just been asked by an NHS group if they can put on a class for elderly people at risk of falling in our church. Nothing wrong with that … except that the class ends with a Tai Chi session (which they failed to mention in preliminary conversations).

So why the concern? And what are the questions?

Tai Chi, or to give it it’s full name: Tai Chi Chuan (meaning “Supreme Ultimate Fist”) is a chinese martial art, at least in its original form. The modern day practice of Tai Chi which is growing in popularity is seen as nothing more than a slow form of gentle exercise, and I dare say that for the vast majority of its practioners today, especially in the West, this is absolutely true. Certainly for the old ladies who would like to use our church halls, thoughts of “Supreme Ultimate Fist” and martial arts couldn’t be further from their minds.

The issue though is the philosophy and the metanarrative which Tai Chi rests upon. The physical movement of limbs is here wholly irrelevant – what matters is the spirit inherent in the belief system which directs and guides and gives shape and purpose to those movements, and the very name which hold them together. That is what we’re going to look at now.

Within the name “Tai Chi Chuan” the word which is most important for our consideration is the word “Chi”. It is this word which the whole system relies upon. It is not so much whether Tai Chi Chuan is compatible with Christianity but whether Chi itself is compatible with Christianity. And if not, then should churches be allowing Tai Chi classes in their places of worship and their meeting halls?

On twitter the brief discussion has been between myself and two other fellow Christians over whether we can accomodate Chi within the Christian belief system. I have been making the case that we can’t, they on the other hand have said they see no problem with it. So here I’m going to detail why I don’t believe it is helpful or right for Christians to talk about Chi as being present, real or legitimate in any way shape or form.

Their contention is that God has made all things, so God has made Chi as well. One even went as far as to link Chi with the Spirit of God, or perhaps the breath of life (which God breathed into Adam to bring him to life).

Chi is the belief system that throughout all of nature (trees, air, water, animals, insects, humans, …everything) a mystical energy force flows – this energy is known as Chi.

Every person has Chi flowing within them and illness, depression, ailments, peace etc etc are all reliant upon their Chi being balanced and ‘centred’. This is not an exercise in inidivualism though, this is an exercise in harmony with nature – our individual being becoming aligned with the rest of the natural world around us.

Many people will be familiar also with the concept of Feng Shui which is another practical outworking of eastern religions which relies upon Chi. In Feng shui it is not just natural things which contain Chi, but our living spaces – homes, offices, entire neighbourhoods all need to be styled, ordered and shaped to keep the flow of Chi balanced harmoniously.

Chi is in all things and flows through all things. It is about being highly interconnected, one thing with another – all things relying on each other for harmony and peace.

The school of thought/belief that this comes from is Taoism, a 2,000 year school of belief systems covering a wide number of specific belief systems (Zen Buddhism, Chinese Alchemy, Astrology, …). Taoism is a polytheistic (belief in many gods) religious system whose ultimate aim is not to lead the believer into the worship of one true God, but to lead the believer into a harmonious relationship with nature.

The nature of man within this system is that we are each a depiction of the whole universe, with various elements of our humanity representing the five major elements of nature (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). So man is a mini-universe – a subservient representation of the larger grander scheme of nature.

There is no creator in Taoism.

In Genesis 1-3 we read the story of creation. We read the story of a creator God who is the one true and living God. He alone is the eternal and majestic author of life. There are no other gods and nature is NOT the be all and end all – He is! The Alpha and the Omega – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Creation is created not to be the highest order of existence upon which man is modelled, but itself as the subservient framework for life within which mankind is placed to subdue and to enjoy. God makes the universe SO THAT mankind can have somewhere to live out their relationship, not with nature, but with God.

Man is made not in the image of nature, but in the image of God. Nature is not the crown of creation, but mankind is.
Is mankind interconnected with nature in all it’s forms, as the philosophy of Chi would have us believe? No, not at all. We see in Genesis 1:26-27

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

These elements are clearly in sharp contrast, no…contradiction, to the philosophy of Chi.

The question remains though, does Chi exist, and is it perhaps a mere mistaken outworking of Chi which has led to a false religion while leaving the presence of Chi perfectly fine for the Christian to accept albeit on Christian terms rather than Taoist ones.

Again I would say no. I would say there is no such thing as Chi. It doesn’t exist, it wasn’t created, it is not there.

What? There is no energy in the universe? Yes – of course there is energy in all places and everywhere. Einstein even worked out a wonderful equation which relates matter and energy, connecting all things within the created universe E=mc². To the layman this seems very much as though a case could be made for Chi. But I’m afraid this is where the layman would be talking very much out of trite naivity. Chi and a western concept of energy are chalk and cheese. Chi is a spiritual energy, part of the creative life force of the unverse – not merely the energy which we know and understand as that which boils water in a kettle when electricity is passed through a heating element. Chi is perhaps more familiar in the sense of the ‘force’ within Star Wars, that which gives the fantasy Jedi their powers.

Yet we can see Chi at work can we not, when we see martial arts experts at work. The force required to with stand huge blows, or in turn to deliver enormous and devastating blows is all about the channeling of Chi. The fingertip of the martial arts expert becomes the channeling point of chi from within their body and funneled into one small point.

Yes, here and in many other ways, we can see, witness, or even experience at first hand the power of Chi flowing through all things. I would simply say this – the philosophy behind Chi is so far removed from the orthodox Christian faith and the creation philosophy of the Bible that I am very happy to align these experiences of Chi as part of a false experience drummed up by Satan to lead more folk away from worshipping the Creator and focus them instead on the creation … just as he did in the garden of Eden when he caused Eve’s sight to be taken away from the truth of God’s word and focussed instead on all the delectable qualities of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3).

Satan wants nothing more than to corrupt the faith of the Christian and to blind the eyes of the world.  When Christians say “there is nothing wrong with believing in Chi and in doing Tai Chi exercises” I see there the subtle workings of Satan in encouraging us to use the language and philosophy and practical outworkings of a belief system which denies the creator and reduces mankind to something much less than the crown of all creation made in the image of God.

In Genesis 1 and 2 we read of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, the Ruach Elohim. This is in no way to be confused with Chi. This is the Holy Spirit which creates, whereas Chi is understood within taoism as part of the natural order. Yes Chi moves and forms, but it is not the originator of creation, for there is no originator – there is only balance – there is only yin and yang. In Christianity there was nothing and then there was God’s word which created (John 1). The Ruach Elohim is the  creative power by which all things are made, the breath of God spoken by the mouth of Christ at the will of the Father. It is not divorced from God, it …or rather He, IS GOD!

To link Chi with the Holy Spirit is utter blasphemy. The logical consequences of such a statement are either pentheism or panentheism – either of which fall well outside of the bounds of orthodox christianity.

The other option the Chi proponent could have, in a confused fashion, would be to pick up on the phrase “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7 (also Genesis 1:30, 6:17, and 7:15 for example). Here though again there is clear divergence between the philosophy of Chi and the nature of creation from a Biblical perspective. In Chi there is no limitation for what might contain it – trees have Chi in the same way as cows do. Within the Biblical record there is a very clear difference between framework for life and living creatures. Trees and seed bearing plants do NOT have the breath of life in them. Whereas cattle, living creatures, mankind all do. There is a different order of being.

Furthermore, mankind is not the same as the other animals which have the breath of life within them – only man is made in the image of God for instance and only man is commanded to subdue the earth. This subduing of creation at the behest of God the creator is totally opposed to the notion of harmony found within Taoism and necessary for Chi to be accepted as the energy force permeating and connecting all things.

So what then of the little old ladies wanting to do some relaxation and exercise. Should they be allowed into our church halls? And should Christians think of the universe and all creation as being permeated by this myterious force known as Chi?

The answer is a resolute No! The old ladies offer no threat. Their arms moving gently are innocuous. The opening of the door to a philosophy and a belief system so opposed to our Creator can not be compatible alongside a faith which preaches creator and which seeks to lift us above creation and place us as co-heirs with Christ. We can not allow anyone into our buildings and teach folk that they have a lifeforce called Chi flowing within then which needs balancing and channeling when the gospel calls us to call these same folks to be at one with the creator, and not the creation. It is the Spirit of God we want people to be in harmony with, not the spirit of eastern religion, and not the spirit of deception.

Balancing of Chi is to lead people to find an inner peace divorced from Christ, and yet we know that He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).


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The first sin

thePsalmist on April 3rd, 2009

Every child who’s been to sunday school, and many adults even today will be able to tell you that the first sin was when Eve took the apple and ate it! Simple … but, er, wrong!

The eating of the apple was in fact the third sin committed in God’s perfect creation.

And so the thunderous clamour of the multitudes cries out “What then, pray tell, were the first two?”, followed by a collective “hmmmm?”

Ok, since you all asked so nicely, I’ll tell you!

The account of the fall of mankind is found in Genesis 3. But before we get there we need to just remind ourselves of what leads us to the story of the fall. Genesis 1:1 – 2:4 is the story of the creation of the universe from a BIG scale perspective. It includes stories of the creation of light and darkness, stars, sun moon and plents, the oceans and so on. It’s big stuff.

Then in Genesis 2:5 and onwards we read about creation again, but this time from a human perspective.

Genesis 2:7 says “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” NKJV

Man is the only part of God’s creation in into which we see God breath the breath of life. It sets man apart from everything else, and goes along with the factoid that we are made in God’s image (Gen 1:27).

We are special. We are not animals. We are not just evolved organic matter. We are purposefully and wonderfully made, and set apart from all other parts of God’s created wonder by virtue of the fact that we are made in His image and we carry within us the ‘breath of life’. Just what the ‘breath of life’ is will have to wait for another day – suffice it to say, it’s special!

God takes this special creation, this man and this woman, and he places them in the Garden of Eden. Actually, to be politically incorrect but Biblically accurate – He doesn’t take the man and the woman to the garden of Eden, He in fact just takes the man, for He still hasn’t created the woman. It’s a minor point but one I would like those who wish to write gender differences out of the Bible to remember. They seem to be important to God for some reason, and I think we forget them at our peril.

Anyway, in the Garden of Eden we now find Adam, alone, and God says this to him:

Gen 2:!5-17  The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.” (HCSB)

Notice those first words (at least how they’re written in the Holman Christian Standard Bible) …YOU ARE FREE

“You are free” God says to the man He has made special and unique. “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden”. That’s our God right there – the God of abundant blessing and love, the God of permission to live and enjoy life, the God of freedom and excitement, the God of sending us out on an adventure into the wonderful land He’s created. But … God calls out to the man and says ” Hang on! There’s one thing you need to know – the trees in the middle of the garden aren’t for eating. Please don’t touch their fruit because if you do you’ll die. Trust me – look at the awesome creation I’ve made for you to enjoy freely and joyously. Just be careful not to take the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. I love you, don’t do it!”

So the world’s first man is content with God’s word and stays well away from the tree, enjoying instead the fullness of everything else God has made for him. And God then makes a companion for the man from the man’s side, not the dirt of the ground this time. And together they will enjoy this adventure of discovery and freedom to live life to the full in a perfect relationship with each other and with God their creator.

But along comes the serpent who cuts their adventuring into God’s freedom somewhat short!. There is of course a whole debate to be had over the nature of the serpent. Is it Satan? Is it just some part of God’s creation? Did God make this creature originally in a state of sinfulness? For now, let’s just say that this creature, the serpent, is indeed the Satan of the rest of the Bible.

Remember that God has told Adam that he is free to eat from ANY tree in the garden … except the tree that is in the middle of the garden. Following this instruction from God teh serpent comes forward and says to the woman:

Gen 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden”

To which the answer is of course “no!”. The answer is ‘no’ because the question is formed as a lie. The serpent has asked a question, but has done so by making a statement about God, a statement which says “God told you you can’t eat ANYTHING!”. The total opposite of the truth. God really said “You can eat EVERYTHING … but this one thing!”.

The first sin, ladies and geneltmen, was not the taking of the fruit … but the lies the serpant told about God. You can look at it from different angles and explain it in different ways:

  • The Serpant cast doubt about God’s truth into Eve’s mind
  • The Serpant told a straight forward lie
  • The Serpant led Adam and Eve away from God
  • The Serpant blasphemed by talking about God in a negative way

Anyway you look at it, the first sin is all down to the Serpant.

Unless of course you want to say that the first sin should be the first human sin. If you want to say that, which would be fair enough, then you need to still look to what happened before the apple is ever taken from the tree.

As the Serpant speaks, Eve listens. She listens to the lies the Serpant tells about God. She might be somewhat confused by the odd question she’s confronted with “Did God say you can’t  eat from ANY tree?”, and she scratches her head thinking that’s the opposite of what she knows about God, but she responds politely correcting the Serpants mistake. But then the Serpant continues with his lies and Eve continues to listen. At some point she makes a choice. She makes a choice to believe the Serpant’s lies over God’s truth. It’s that choice which is the first human sin – a choice to disbelieve God. That sin has consequences, and in this case the consequences are that she reaches out her hand and picks the fruit she’s been told by God not to eat. The third sin (or second if you’re only counting human sins).

And from there on in … it’s all down hill!

6 yoms of creation

thePsalmist on March 5th, 2009

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1)

These words have sparked endless and often needless arguments, not just between theists (those who believe in God) and atheists (those who don’t), but even amongst different generations of Christians. You might wonder how Christians manage to argue over the issue of whether God created the heavens and the earth or not… but believe me they do!

My belief is that the controversy has been wholly pointless and comes down to a misunderstanding over three little letters, well actually in the original hebrew it was just 2 little letters! It’s amazing just how many books can be written as a result of 2 little letters being misinterpreted and misunderstood.

The opening chapter of the Bible tells the story of how God made everything. It goes something like this:

Gen 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and He called the darkness “night.” Evening came, and then morning: the first day.

The Hebrew word for ‘day’ is yom. Throughout the Old Testament you see the same word used in a multitude of ways. In some places a ‘day’ or ‘yom’ as it is in the original Hebrew, is translated as ‘age’, in other places ‘years’ in other places ‘day’ in the sense of a 24 hour period.

At some point in the history of english translations, many hundreds of years ago, the translators came to this first section of the Bible and decided the best way to translate ‘yom’ was with the word ‘day’. It fitted in with the pattern of there being six days of creation and one day of rest making up one full week.

The only problem with this, for those of us who want to read God’s word literally, is that it just doesn’t work very well. The first hurdle to cross is that you don’t even have a sun for the first three days. It’s not until day four that God creates the great lights in the sky to govern the seasons:

Gen 1:14-19 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs  for festivals and for days and years.  15 They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars.  17 God placed them in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth, 18 to dominate the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.  And God saw that it was good. 19 Evening came, and then morning: the fourth day.

So on day 4 we get the sun in the sky, which then begs the question “Just what was the writer talking about when he talks about “there was evening and there was morning, the first day”? By what means were evening and morning determined if there was no sun rising and setting in the sky? It would have been dark all the time, and there was no tradition to go on because at this point in earths history there had never been a sun to rise and set.

My belief is that in reading the Genesis account literally and taking it word for word we can not translate ‘yom’ as a 24-hour day. I think it is far better to translate it as ‘age’ for there is no means by which to measure time, and I think the Bible itself is making that clear for us.

But if you remove this issue of the 24 hour time periods, then you also in one sweep of the pen remove the last 150 years of argument over whether faith or science is correct about the creation of the word. You remove all the arguments about a short creationist account of creation, or a long evolutionary account of creation.

Well in truth, you don’t remove all the arguments against an eveolutionary account, as I’ll show in a later blog post about the difference between evolution between the species and evolution within a species. But that’s for another day.

For now, I just want to affirm that my God, the creator of the Universe is more than capable of creation the universe in 6 earth seconds, or 6 fractions of one second if He so desired. As it happens, the account He’s given us of His creation speaks to me of a God who works outside of time and through six aeons or ages, in a clearly defined pattern he carefully sculpts and brings into being everything we now see around us (and plenty that we have yet to discover even). He is a great God and beyond our understanding. But He is a God of love, whose greatest work was not just to create all this, but in so doing, to show His love for us.