Posts tagged ‘christianity’

A Bi-lingual Heart: Christian & Buddhist

I’m not sure how to answer that question anymore. I was raised as a Christian and claimed that faith for my own when old enough to understand what I was doing. I have committed over half of my 35 years on this planet to Christian ministry as a minister. I have a weakness for this faith that makes me swoon over things like Jesus, grace, incarnation, hymns, and liturgy, but so much of what is considered “Christian” these days in America repulses me and makes me want to run away. The expression of Christianity that resonates most with me is old, simple, organic, and real. Krista Tippett’s answer to this question really reflected how I feel also:

I do consider myself to be Christian, or this is the way I would say it: that’s my mother tongue. That’s where I come from, and that’s my mother tongue. That’s my heritage.

– Krista Tippett, from an interview with Buddhist Geeks podcast, “Carving Out a Life of Meaning”

Christianity is my mother tongue. It’s what I know, who I am, and in my blood. I’m very comfortable and fluent in speaking it, even though most conversations are about what it isn’t as much as what it is.

I first began practicing mediation about two years ago in response to a health crisis I experienced. (You can read more about it here: My Journey Into Real Happiness) It was a purely secular, self-help attempt on my part because medication was not working. I didn’t even entertain the thought of Buddhist teaching for a long time. It was simply something that helped me and made me feel better. Almost a year ago I started reading more about Buddhist teaching to gain some understanding and context for what I was experiencing in meditation. The dharma, the teaching, really ignited my meditation practice and helped me to take the practice off the cushion and apply it to everyday life.

Buddhism isn’t a religion as such. There is no one to worship. There are teachings but not some universal dogma which everyone must believe or suffer for all eternity for rejecting. We’re already suffering here and now, and most of it is of our own making, Buddhism teaches. In Buddhist practice we can walk back down the path that led us into this mess. We can begin to understand it. We can make choices to be aware of our thoughts and actions. We can be kinder to ourselves and others.

Somewhere I read that Buddhism isn’t something you believe or something that you are, it’s something that you do. When one master was pressed on the question “Are you a Buddhist?,” he simply answered, “I practice Buddhist meditation.” I don’t think Buddha himself would self-identify as a Buddhist, nor would Jesus likely be able to identify with all that has been done in His name.

I think my best answer today at this point in my life  is that I am a follower of Jesus who practices Buddhist meditation. Christianity may be my mother tongue, but I’m bi-lingual. As I become more fluent in this Eastern tongue, it has informed my Christian faith and enriched my daily life. There will never be a day when I cease to follow Jesus, but I have incredible respect and appreciation for this ancient path that has at last introduced me to myself.

Namaste and Peace Be Unto You

If you are interested in the correlation of the two practices, I highly recommend:

  • Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian by Paul Knitter
  • Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Naht Hahn
  • The Enoch Factor by Steve McSwain

Choosing a Path or the Path Choosing Me

Theravada Buddhist meditation is feeling more and more like the path for me. That is not to say anything negative against Mahayana, Vajrayana, or Zen Buddhism. I still enjoy several teachers from those schools and continue to learn a lot from them.

Next to Theravada I have the most affinity for Soto Zen, but overall I just feel most comfortable with Theravada, in particular Vipassana and Metta. All of this has been pretty confusing for a while, but I think it comes into focus when it’s supposed to and not a moment sooner.

“Be a lamp unto yourself.” – Buddha

Double Belonging: Buddhism & the Christian Faith

Article from National Catholic Reporter. An interview of Paul Knitter about his bookWithout Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. I highly recommend the book to anyone new to Buddhism or feel a sense of “double belonging” at this time in your life.

A Generous Way of Life

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! I know the holiday carries a different significance for everyone or none at all. The day is important to me not for the legends of “chasing the snakes out of Ireland” or the privilege of pinching random people without prosecution. St. Patrick’s Day reminds me of the man himself and all the reasons why Celtic Christianity has kept me from abandoning the faith altogether.

I’ve written many posts about my affinity for Celtic Christianity, one such overall post is A Generous View of Life. I respect most that St. Patrick himself did not return to Ireland to enforce his way upon others. He did not banish all of the local traditions and split the people into groups of insiders/outsiders. He actually adapted many of the local customs, even pagan customs, to use them as an means of teaching Christian values. More so, he did not teach a dogmatic absolute theology. Rather he chose to live and model those values as an example before others. He focused more on being incarnational and missional rather than dogmatic and confrontational. By living your faith and modeling it before others, sermonizing becomes unnecessary.

I also appreciate that Celtic Christians were “people driven by ideas.” They were open rather than closed. They left themselves open to others. They left their faith open to mystery. Both principles are often pandered to but hard to find.

In case you’re still wondering, there were no snakes in Ireland to start with. Consider yourself pinched.

Branding an Adolescent Mind

Maybe you were one of those snobby rich kids that had everything they ever wanted growing up, or maybe you were the kid who saved up every dollar and bought your own pair of designer jeans twice a year and took exquisite care of them. I was neither. I had nice things but Levi’s were the extent of my brand loyalties. Aside from the trendy things we all focus on as teenagers, there are a myriad of other mundane everyday things in our adolescent lives that we use because they are available to us. Toothpaste, ketchup, shaving cream, etc.

When you leave home for the first time, whether for college, marriage, or the working world, you are suddenly faced with more choices than you ever thought possible. You take for granted all the common utilitarian things your parents provided for you. Do you remember the first time you went out to buy toothpaste for yourself? What do you get? Do you buy what your mom had always bought for you? Do you stretch your rebellious wings in protest and go for something new? As simple and foolish as it sounds, it is a microcosm of the process we go through into adulthood. How much do we cling to? How far do we run away?

I still remember vividly walking into my first dorm room at La Tech and finding a nicely packaged shoe-sized box on my bed. Inside were Edge shaving cream, Coast soap, Crest toothpaste and several other necessities and loads of marketing flyers and coupons. Thirteen years later I’m still using those same brands. I did not consciously choose to try something different. Had I wandered down to Wal-Mart after running out of whatever I brought from home, I very well may have bought Aquafresh toothpaste because I had used it all my life, but I was given the opportunity to consider an alternative.

My trips down to the food court and cafeteria in the student center were just as life-altering. They had Bullseye BBQ sauce and Log Cabin syrup. I never had that before, and I really liked them. We always used Kraft BBQ sauce and Blackburn syrup at home. I don’t know how many kids ask their parents to try a different BBQ sauce. You just use what you have, what you’re comfortable with. To this day I still buy those brand at the grocery store. It was a conscious minute rebellious stand on my part. “This is different. I am on my own.”

The religions we grow up with are not all that different than the foods and everyday items we are comfortable with from our childhood. We all know (and you may have been) one of teens who ran away from the church of your childhood as fast and hard as you could the moment you were out the door. I wasn’t. I went deeper. I changed schools, switched my major to religion, married my high school sweetheart, and began pastoring churches by my sophomore year in college.

[Can we take an aside for just a moment and address something here? Who the hell lets a 19 year old kid pastor a church? For crying out loud, I don’t care how mature or intelligent you are. It borders on child abuse. I know now that I was no where near mentally and emotionally mature enough to be in that situation. There is a lot to be said for the Methodist system that requires training, accountability, and assignment. This Baptist free-for-all independent streak can be detremental to the emotional well being of all concerned. Okay, just had to get that off my chest.]

It was later after several years of pastoral ministry, graduating college, and lots of life experiences that I began to move away from the comfortable religion of my childhood and seriously question the tenets and methods intensively. Once I stopped going to church every Sunday, it became easier to think clearly. While we may enjoy the fellowship and worship, there is an enormous amount of direct and indirect conditioning taking place. Whenever you remove yourself from that environment and begin to think independently, you may come up with different answers than those you were taught in Sunday School.

I don’t know which label is most appropriate to describe my theological quandry. It’s like trying to hit a moving target because I’m in a constant state of evolution. Maybe I’m a very liberal Christian, but there’s more that I disagree with in the church than I agree with, so it seems disingenuous to consider myself a Christian. I personally feel somewhere in the middle of agnosticism and atheism. My simple understanding of those terms is that one says we can’t know whether or not God is and the other says he is not.

I don’t really know whether God exists or not. If there is a God, he cannot possibly be anything like the Judeo-Christian version we’ve all been brought up to believe in. I’m much more inclined to believe in a unifying field or consciousness than a divine deity. Science and theoretical physics have given me answers to who we are, how we came to be, and what we’re doing here more than any sermon I’ve ever heard. It’s not really important to me which label fits me best, but I’ve felt more and more pressure to have a “coming out.”

I have no desire to diminish the faith of others or make a spectacle of myself. I just don’t believe the same way anymore. There are reasons why I turn down invitations to preach, why I don’t read the Bible the same way as others expect me to, why I don’t care about going to church, etc. I think it’s only a matter of time before family members, friends, or peers force the issue. I’d rather avoid the shock waves and the fallout, because I know that people get angry, they get hurt, they feel the need to put your name on the prayer list. I’m not interested. I may be called an atheist, an agnostic, or a liberal, but I’m happiest just being me. In fact I’m happier being me than I have ever been in my entire life, and for the first time in my entire life I chose to be me.

Must See TV: “To Hell and Back”

Carlton PearsonSet your DVR’s now. “To Hell and Back”will re-air on MSNBC this Saturday, Sept. 29, @ 6:00pm and Sunday, Sept. 30, @ 2:00am. This is “Must See TV.” Originally aired as a Dateline segment this summer, a one hour expanded special dubbed “To Hell and Back” tells the story of Bishop Carlton Pearson’s rise as a pentecostal mega-star and protege of Oral Roberts and fall from grace when his epiphany led him to embrace a “gospel of inclusion.” Here are just a few quotes that resonated with me:

“It made me question the term that the Bible is ‘innerrant and infallible.’ To say that the Bible is not the Word of God but is the word of man about God, as best as man had perceived God, is troubling, even for me to say it.”

“If you fear God the way we’re taught to fear Him, you’ll serve Him, you’ll believe in Him, you’ll worship Him, but you will probably never really love Him.”

“‘God, I don’t know how you’re going to call yourself a loving God and allow these people to suffer so much and then just suck them into hell… God, I can’t save this whole world.’ That’s when I heard that voice say, ‘Precisely. That’s what we did, and if you’d tell them that they are redeemed, you wouldn’t create those kinds of problems.’”

“If the cross and Christ and all that stuff really happened and is really spiritual, which I believe it is, then if He came to save the world, the world is saved, unless He is a failure.”

“The Bible is like an idol. It’s certainly like an icon, but that’s the Greek word for idol. We swear on it. We keep it in our cars, and we lay it under our pillow when we’re afraid… I respect the Bible. I take it very seriously. I just don’t take it literally.”

“I think Christianity has distorted itself into a very impure cult-following of Jesus. I think Jesus would be appalled at what we’ve become.”

Personally I admire his courage and boldness to be honest about his own struggles with the faith we’ve been asked to embrace, especially while still in the pulpit, because the largest shift in my personal theology came after I left full-time pastoral ministry. So much of what he talks about sounds so familiar to thoughts I’ve had and shared in past posts. I wrote about my disillusion with the concept of hell back in March in this post The Church is Pro-Hell. If you’re unable to catch the encore presentation this weekend, the two shorter Dateline segments are available online: Segment One and Segment Two.

For further info: New Dimensions Worship Center

Jews, Muslims, and Christians meet in Louisiana

So what happens when a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian get together in the South? It sounds like the beginning of a terrible joke, but it’s really happening in Central Louisiana. Tonight was the first night of the second series of Interfaith Dialogues hosted by Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim, The Islamic Society, and Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria, LA. The speakers were Rabbi Arnold Task, Imam Yaser al Khooly, and Dr. Lee Weems. The first meeting tonight was held at Emmanuel, and the topic was “Our Distinctive Holy Days.” The topic of the next meeting will be “What My Faith Means To Me (A Woman’s View)” held at the Jewish Synagogue, and the last meeting of the year will be “Sacred Scripture” held at the Islamic Center.

In the South ecumenism is a rarity, but when it does surface, it usually means that either a black church and white church came together for some occasion or a few Protestants got together with some Catholics for something. Although more known for being the second notch of the Bible Belt, Central Louisiana has had a very visible and very respected Jewish community for years and has a steadily growing Islamic community most notably among healthcare professionals and business owners. My friend and I really had hoped to attend the first series of Dialogues held in the Spring, but they weren’t very well publicized, plus we were off working all over the state. I’m glad that I was able to make it tonight and look forward to the rest of the conversation.

I appreciate the spirit in which the conversations took place. I would characterize it as one of respect and genuine interest. This afternoon while weighing what I had to do versus making the effort to attend tonight, I kept thinking about why this was so important, although seemingly insignificant. If more people around the world would take the time to get together and talk, there would be far less violence and animosity in the world. Having just recently watched CNN’s three-part series God’s Warriors also freshly impressed upon me the importance of working to overcome ignorance and barriers to peace. One of the greatest delusions is that the absence of conflict is the equivalent to the presence of peace. It may be a cease-fire kind of peace, but it is not a peace based on unity and understanding without effort.

I noticed a lot of similarities in the basic underlying tenets or objectives of each faith tradition, as well as many “distinctives.” I noticed most the focus of right relationship to our Creator and the imperatives of service to others. There were a few things that stuck out most to me from each speaker.

It stuck with me most that Rabbi Task summarized Judaism as a religion of “ethical monotheism.” While speaking about charity during Ramadan, Iman al Khooly quoted a prophet that said you cannot be a believer and go to sleep at night with a full belly while your neighbor’s is empty (paraphrase mine). I also appreciated how he described everything done between prayer times as acts of worship and the various signifigances of observing the month of Ramadan. Dr. Weems emphasized the importance of Advent and Lent leading up to Christmas and Easter, which in my opinion is almost never mentioned in most Protestant circles I’ve ran in most of my life. It made me think of why that is. I think Baptists have a knee-jerk reaction against Advent and Lent as “Catholic” observances, but I think Anglicans and other Protestants have placed a higher importance on the seasons as well as the holidays.

Anyway, that’s my take on the conversation. Rabbi Task and Iman al Khooly invited everyone to attend their services some time. I told a friend of mine he’ll have to go with me to the Islamic Center one day. I have much to learn.