I love carnivals, with their subtle aura of danger and “sleight-of-hand” atmosphere. I’d rather go to a carnival than one of our fancy new theme parks with their perfectly manicured flower beds. Carnivals have, for lack of a better word, character.
The word carnival is taken from the Spanish word for meat – carne. In Greek, the word is sarx, and refers to flesh. A carnival is, literally, a festival for the flesh. The blinking lights, the smell of cotton candy and popcorn, the brightly colored toys and prizes, and the sounds of game hawkers and tinny recorded music are designed to entice and attract all five senses. And there’s an important lesson we can learn from our carnival excursions, one that will help us the rest of the year if we’ll just keep it in mind.
Have you ever taken kids to a carnival? They never have enough tickets to ride all the rides as many times as they want. There’s never enough money to play the games long enough to win the giant stuffed Dalmation that won’t fit in your car. They’ll eat sweets and chug soda until the centrifugal force generated by the spinning rides catches up to their tummies. And then beg for “one more ride.”
Have you ever gotten home with one of those cheesy stuffed animals with stickers for eyes and fur that fuzzes off in your hands only to realize you just paid $63 for a $2 toy? But you couldn’t stop playing until you won, right? Even though you knew the game was rigged. Even though you knew the carnie behind the counter was an expert in triggering your pride, getting you to try to knock over those stupid milk bottles “just one more time.”
What happens to us in that carnival atmosphere? Overwhelmed by the assault on our senses, we become “carnivally minded,” so caught up in the thrill of the moment we forget about the consequences and live for a five-second (or five-cent) reward.
“Oh, but that never happens to ME.”
Oh yeah? How about the last time you went to a really good clearance sale and spent three times as much as you planned because “it was on sale”? Or the time you stopped at the car dealership on the way home to pick up a replacement bulb for your license plate and drove home in a brand new car, because the sales guy was really good at what he did? Or how about that time you got all stressed out when your in-laws came to visit, and then you burned the dinner and had a complete fit of carnality (aka flesh fit) in front of your entire family and the neighbors from across the street? That’s “carnivally” – or carnally – minded. Shall I continue?
The world around us — God’s creation — is truly a sensory delight, a carnival for the senses. Unfortunately, in the same way your momma used to warn you about those “carnies” at the carnival, there’s an entity in the world that would like to suck you into that carnival and keep you there.
Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Rome was a lot like a perpetual carnival in those days. Rome might have coined the “what happens in Rome, stays in Rome” motto. Paul was trying to teach the believers there that giving in to their flesh all the time would result in death and destruction, while God’s plan, to be “spiritually minded,” would instead bring life and peace.
So what is being spiritually minded? Well, it’s not becoming a Stoic, or living an ascetic life for the sake of achieving holiness, wandering around smacking yourself in the head with beads or whatever strange religious ritual folks come up with. Being spiritually minded is a lot like what happens when parents mature and take their kiddos to the carnival. You eventually learn to say “no” when that little chunk of flesh you share your name with starts screaming in the stroller, demanding MORE.
Why can you say no? Because you, as an adult, see beyond that present moment. You can see bedtime interrupted by tummyaches, and tears when the overpriced balloon pops in the car on the way home. You’ve stepped outside of the urgency of “right now” and are aware of something more, something better.
And so it is with us as we navigate the carnival of life. Be aware of that inward witness that is the Spirit of God in the Christ follower, listen when that witness pipes up in there and says, “no.” He won’t lead you astray. You can still enjoy the carnival, partake of the fun and games, but if you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit, you won’t go home with an empty wallet or in need of barf bag.