Sunday, September 8, 2002

Earth Covenant Community: An Invitation

"In fact, all life on Earth is, in a sense, one organism, one being."
(John McConnell, Earth Care Campaign, Princeton Univ., Dec. 8,1982)

My family came into Texas from across two rivers and from two cultures. My great-grandfather on my mother's side crossed the Red River separating Texas from Oklahoma with his brothers shortly after the Civil War and eventually settled in the environs of Clarksville, Kentucky town and Whitewright where they farmed cotton. My great-grandfather on my father's side came to Texas from Mexico across the Rio Grande at a place called "Los Ebanos" (hence my moniker) during the Revolution of 1910 and settled in the Rio Grande Valley. He was a doctor and a pharmacist, a not uncommon combination in those days on the Border Frontier. Both of their last names were Austin, but no relation. Yes, there are Austins in Mexico who speak only Spanish. My parents met in medical school.

I write this meditation in English because that is the language we spoke at home in North Texas where I grew up so that is my native language. My Spanish is very poor and what I speak I have had to learn with some difficulty because my father refused to teach us to speak a language he considered would bring us the grief of discrimination he had experienced as a boy growing up in South Texas. I also write as a sixty-something married Protestant pastor, parent, grandparent, native of North Texas and lover of music who plays the piano and loves jazz, bluegrass and
gospel as well as Stravinsky and Prokofiev. (I play a little gospel myself.) That is all part of my ethos; the environment of beliefs, attitudes, habits, even geography that have made me who I am along with specific experiences and circumstances unique to me or my family. Such as the fact that all the men in my family die young and all the women are strong and a number of our children with my mother's genes have suffered from depression and bipolar disease and we moved around a lot while I was growing up.

For that reason, I'm not really a native of any one place and that has given me a sort of sense of dislocation on the one hand, but on the other hand, I feel at home anywhere. Once when I was lamenting the fact that as soon as we started feeling a sense of community and developing some good friends, the church moved us once again, my oldest daughter reminded me to "bloom where you're planted", a great piece of advice and she hadn't even read Jeremiah. She has been a vagabond by choice rather than situation having lived in Mexico City, Cordoba, Argentina and Washington, D.C. before finally returning to Texas for good (so far) after almost twenty years and has no regrets. She is joyously multi-cultural. We are only five hours apart now, the closest we've been since she graduated from high

Because of all this diversity, I have no illusions that my personal world view or religious experience is either uniquely true or the One True Faith. The more I learn about other people and ideas, the more I find we all have in common, in spite of cultural and religious differences. There are only so many ways to sort things out and theologians and philosophers of all cultures and religions have argued about a few opposing ideas for as long as we've been arguing; free will vs. determinism, faith vs. works, mechanistic or organic, divine justice and divine love, heaven and hell or reincarnation and nirvana. There aren't a lot of choices or solutions. The new physics, which has had a tremendous impact on thinking in philosophy and religion, (or was it the other way around?) argues that the position of the observer tilts the argument to one side or the other. In fact, boundaries between ideas are as fluid as rivers and some of what comes from one side inevitably gets deposited on the other side. We use myth, metaphor and model to express certain ideas about an entity or experience that cannot be satisfactorily expressed in any other way . But these metaphors and models are not the "thing in itself", only means to describe ends.

I celebrate the feasts and fasts of my church and follow the rituals because they tell a story and proclaim a kind of truth that is my own because it is part of my ethos and it gives guidance to how I live my life that is far greater than anything I am capable of constructing on my own. But these activities and thoughts are not the "things in themselves". They are means to an end and that end is to submit myself in awe, obedience and thanksgiving to that God or transcendent One in whom and through whom we "live and move and have our being." But I am aware that my thoughts, utterances and actions are no more than the falling of a leaf or the singing of a bird except inasmuch as I strive to do them for the sake of the One.

My father and his brother loved to joke around and tell stories. They'd be telling a story in English, but when they got to the punch line, they'd tell it in Spanish. When we complained, they would explain that the punch line wouldn't be funny in English. Some things couldn't be translated. I have read that the Eskimos have over a thousand words to describe snow. Once I described a snowfall I had experienced to a group of children in South Texas and they said they didn't believe me because none of them ever had experienced snow. I am sure children in the Northwest Territory of Canada once would not have believed you could swim in the Gulf of Mexico year round. Now television has made the whole world our backyard. No one lives in cultural isolation anymore unless they are very poor in some isolated places in the jungles or mountains of some Third World countries, or victims of media repression in a few dictatorships. Now the only thing that separates most of us is pride, ignorance and our own fiercely defended individualism.

No religion is able any longer to defend the position of holding an exclusive claim to the truth but most of religion still tries to do so. The result is a division in popular opinion. I'm right and no one else is right, or none of them are right and we'll just do our own thing. If I'm right and you are wrong, we will inevitably come into conflict. If I merely follow my own inclinations and am willing to let you follow yours, the result is social chaos. It is a problem of human nature that most of us are unable to see beyond our home range without much difficulty and none of us is really capable of going it on our own without some guidance. Our traditions are treasure houses of human wisdom.

There is a third option. We can covenant to respect our diversity and share what we know from our various experiences and traditions. We can dialogue about differences and learn from each other. We can recognize our interdependency and seek out ways to achieve our common goals. And reap great rewards in the process. All we need to
give up is pride, ignorance and determined individualism.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Stewardship: Replanting

Stewarswhip: Replanting

"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"
(Psalm 137:4)

"5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, . . . . seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
(Jeremiah 29:5ff)

In the Dakotas, they say there are two seasons; July and winter. Summer is short and treasured, unlike the mild Southwest where outdoor activities can continue year round and we forget what we should be thankful for. In the northern plains life is very much conditioned by the weather. The growing season is so short there is a very narrow window of opportunity to get the crops planted and harvested. The last frost may come as late as mid-May and the first frost of autumn can come in early August. It's not unusual for a late frost to cause a field to have to be replanted in the spring. But if a farmer waits until it's safe, the crops may not mature before winter sets in once again. When the crops do mature, there is a great rush to get them in while there's still time. The grain elevators work twenty-four hours a day and at midnight there would still be trucks lined up for blocks in our small town waiting to unload. The elevators soon would be filled to capacity and great mountains of corn as high as our house and blocks long would be piled on the ground along the highway until trucks could haul them off weeks later.

The long summer daylight hours of the northern plains make it possible to grow corn to harvest in ninety days whereas in Texas our corn isn't ready for a hundred and twenty days. Vegetable gardens produce so abundantly in the long daylight hours that the joke is you better check the back seat of your car after church or you'll arrive home with more produce than you came with. It's quite comic to watch people unloading grocery bags of zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes into the back seat of other people's cars when they think no one is looking and Midwesterners never throw anything out. There's no choice but to can it, pickle it, or make it into chow-chow if you can't give it away.

There are far more funerals than weddings in the rural parishes of the Great Plains because most of the young people have left to seek work in the city. Rural communities are close knit and strongly family bonded and funerals are major community events. I learned quickly that I had better arrive at the church at least thirty minutes to an hour early if I wanted to find a parking place. Following the service, which in Protestant churches usually lasts only about thirty minutes since there is no communion, most of the people will go to the cemetery for a short grave side service. Communion takes place later, in the church basement fellowship after the service. In years past, the frozen ground wouldn't permit burials in the winter so it was necessary to store the casket until the spring thaw. Every cemetery had a small building close to the entrance for this purpose where the grave side service would be held and caskets would be stored until they could be laid to rest in the spring. Modern technology has made this practice obsolete with electric heating pads that can thaw the ground even in mid winter.

Early in the spring of my first year in the Dakotas, I noticed the men all standing around the open grave before a service staring intently down into the excavation. I couldn't imagine what they were looking at until someone explained to me that they were checking out the depth of the frost line so to be able to make a prediction about when they might be able to start planting. The southern custom of friends and relatives lingering at the grave site to visit following burials is not followed here. Winter grave side services are over with in a hurry with everyone rushing back to warm church basements for dinner and visiting. Even in the midst of loss, our minds look forward to the daily work and necessities of living. Nothing gives more evidence of the continuity of life and comfort of community than the dinner and visitation following a funeral. A few of the church women always would remain behind at the church to have the potluck meal ready when the mourners returned from the grave side service. The abundance of food would be truly amazing and the fellowship would last for hours. This is true communion: it is in the fellowship of community that we are fed and feed one another and faith is celebrated in a superfluity of food and love.

One year, just before Ernie and Val's family had planned a big 50th wedding anniversary celebration for them, a long time member of the church died and the funeral was held the day before the big event. When the anniversary couple's family announced that the party would be postponed, the family of the deceased insisted that the celebration take place as planned. For a second day in a row, people crowded the church basement dressed in the same clothes that had been worn at the funeral only the day before. The feast was prepared and served by the same ladies who had provided the funeral dinner and was every bit as grand and as the evening wore on, a bubbly five year girl danced and whirled to music from a tape player. Her joy was infectious and nothing seemed more appropriate than we all join in and dance with her.

Services in rural America still almost always take place in churches with the whole community in attendance. There is nothing more depressing than the modern practice of holding funerals in cold, impersonal funeral parlours with the family going home alone to grieve. The church community celebrates our entrance into life in baptism, our covenant with God in confirmation, our commitment to the larger community in marriage, and memorializes our life in faith at life's end. We need the validation and vision of the continuity of life lived in faith in order to get past our grief and get on with the task of living.

When the Jewish prophet, Jeremiah wrote the words quoted above, his people had been conquered by a foreign power and carried off into slavery and exile. It was a time of extreme loss and deprivation. He reminded them that faith means more than anything else, to live and engage in the tasks of living, in community. Salvation is something that takes place in community. The whole community, the place where life has taken us, is saved, or none of us is saved. When we stand together, we can sing, even in exile. To walk the Tao is to walk together. We don't live alone, we don't die alone. We don't walk alone and we don't grieve alone and we can't celebrate alone. If we wait to live until we think it's safe, we may never live at all. We entrust our mountains of golden corn to lie on the ground, which incidentally, is a protection against rot because it drains better than a concrete slab, and we never pass up the opportunity to dance.

The bullies that want to kill life in the name of some fundamentalist notion of religiosity always want to kill joy and the celebration of life. They've missed the whole point. When my father died after a long illness, all his brothers and sisters were together at the funeral in a small West Texas town for the first time in decades. We were so thrilled at seeing each other, all come together after so many miles and years apart, that after the funeral, nothing seemed more appropriate than to make a pilgrimage together to my Father's favorite place on top of a mesa a few miles west of town. Within a few hours after the funeral, at least a dozen of us climbed and scrambled through the cactus and sage brush in all our church clothes to the top of Santa Anna Mesa and sat perched on his favorite rock looking out over the plains. It seemed the most fitting tribute possible and it seemed to us all that he was there with us, enjoying the view and cracking jokes. We were ready then to go back home and replant our gardens and seek the welfare of the places in which we live.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Faith in Exile

"How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"
(Psalm 137:4)

In all the small Midwestern prairie churches I served, someone always requested "The Church in the Wildwood" when we asked the congregations for their favorite hymns. It's a simple little gospel hymn with a catchy tune that you won't find in any of the new church hymnals but someone always was able to produce an old dusty hymnal from a back closet that had the words and the people would sing it with gusto. I was as secretly disdainful of the hymn as all the rest of my "educated" colleagues in ministry because it recalled a church most of us thought we'd outgrown; mawkishly sentimental and no solid theology for the information age. But it was loved for those very reasons. It is a song from the heart and tells a story about a simpler, more gentle time and place that has vanished from the landscape, a song about an Eden that perhaps never existed except in childhood. A hymn about home.

The anguish of exile is an integral part of the human experience and the root of the malaise of our time. Many of us are permanent transients remaining at most only a few years in any one place. The new Methodist church I belonged to as a young adult was in a rapidly growing suburb where the average family moved every two years. No sooner than we and our young adult friends felt we were putting down some roots, jobs and educational opportunities had us moving again. Being in the ministry is much like being in the armed forces. Now that we are in our retirement years, there is no place we can call home. Family and friends are dispersed all over the map, older family members are gone and even the neighborhoods where we once lived have completely changed residents and character.

Yet, nothing has changed so much for us as the church and nowhere is the change more apparent than in the music. The Reformation and the Protestant church that emerged were literally founded on music. Church music in the middle ages was provided only by trained choirs and had become increasingly polyphonic and complex and distanced from the people. The story is that Martin Luther and his followers would march into a German cathedral singing the hymns he wrote, many of them set to popular tunes of the day, and convert the whole congregation en masse.

Whereas the sacraments and a mystical priesthood have been the principle mediators between the people and the transcendent in the Catholic Church, in the Protestant church it has been the music that was the principle mediator. The Protestant church has produced at least four great hymnody traditions; the German, the English, the American frontier gospel and the spirituals of the black people. Over time, the Protestant church trivialized the sacraments due to her emphasis on "the priesthood of all believers and the individual conversion experience but made up for it with singing. But the cultures that produced these great hymnody traditions have been submerged by modernity and professionalism. Church hymnal committees are now made up of professionals who have tossed out many of the old favorites in favor of theological and political correctness and professional choirs and musicians have once again come to dominate the music of the new mega churches. Hymns for Sunday worship chosen by professional musicians may lift up the themes of the day or satisfy aesthetics, but fail to lift up the heart or call the individual worshiper to commitment. Occasionally a church will host a Sunday afternoon "hymn sing" to satisfy the longing of some of the old timers and a few curious new timers for the music of the heart, but that's not worship which must be an experience that unites a community's heart, hand and mind to a transcendent tradition and value.

On the other hand, younger generations of church goers who have been brought up exclusively on listening to the electronic music of the popular culture and deprived of hands-on public school music no longer know how to sing. In many of the so-called contemporary churches, the great hymns of the church that embedded themselves into the heart and taught generations of the faithful the theology of the church have been replaced with a few easy repetitive "contemporary" choruses that have the theological and artistic content of comic books for the congregations to sing off the wall. Hymnals have disappeared. The new choruses are focused on a weak, privatized individual experience. Instead of singing about the faith, experience and hope of the community, the use of personal pronouns proliferate; I, me, my and mine. Worship is reduced to a mostly a spectator experience with entertainers and spirituality has become a course in self-actualization. It's not just the music that has been trivialized. The reading of scripture in worship also has been largely reduced to sound bites so everyone can get out in time to catch the game on t.v. and preachers no longer seek to illuminate the text and lift up the heart but have become talk show hosts doing interviews or giving out good advice while getting chummy with the audience without notes.

Balance is needed. As a professional musician before I was a pastor I appreciate good music in any form and there are many good new hymns that not only satisfy the heart but are well written in contemporary idioms and contemporary instrumentation is great if a church has access to it. But religion cannot exist without community and community isn't based on a privatized or spectator experience but on a remembered and shared tradition and values. We commit to a story but we can't know what the story is if we don't hear it and sing it.

There is a story about a famous rabbi who, during a time of crisis in the community, would go to a special place in the woods, light a fire and say a special prayer for the deliverance of the people. Deliverance always would come. Then the rabbi died and the new rabbi did not know the special place to go in the woods. Nevertheless, he lighted a fire and said the prayer. Deliverance came just the same. Then that rabbi died and the next rabbi did not know to light the fire or where to go in the woods so he just said the prayer, and deliverance still came to the people. After a time, that rabbi also was gone. The new rabbi was faced with a crisis in the community, but he did not know any of the old rituals or the prayer. So he called the elders together and said to them, "I do not know where to go or what to do and the prayer has been forgotten. But I know the story. He told them the story, and deliverance once again came to the people.

When the woods have all been cleared for new subdivisions and the church is gone and the rituals have been forgotten, may we still have the book and the story and the songs in our hearts.

Sunday, August 4, 2002

Who is the Church?

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;"
(Philippians 2"12)

In a discussion group I attend on Sunday morning on contemporary issues, there was a heated discussion about the kind of music we should have during worship and one person asked another person why they stayed in the church if they had so many criticisms. I thought later that one answer could be that it was like staying in a difficult marriage. The person who asked the question probably would not suggest bailing out of a marriage just because the going got rough, although that is exactly what many people do today. Relationships are never easy, not in families, nor between friends, nor in churches. Scott Peck says that their are only two reasons to be married; children and stress. The first are necessary for the continuation of the human race, and stress is necessary for spiritual growth. We don't divorce our parents or our children when we disagree. Disagreements are bound to occur, even when everyone is doing their best.

It is easy to look for someone else to blame when we don't like what is going on. Last week I wrote about how many people feel they have no spiritual home because the church is failing to address their needs or for a variety of other reasons. But it is far too easy to blame the church, or the pastor for the failings of the church, especially when everyone is having a hard time these days figuring things out. The people themselves must share the blame if things are going wrong or as well as the responsibility for making things right. The Gospel lesson this morning was the story about the disciples coming to Jesus because a great multitude of people had nothing to eat. The disciples expected Jesus to solve the problem, but Jesus told them it was their problem to solve, not his. In the end, he wound up doing it anyway because of the ineptness of the disciples. Jesus is not here to bail out the church.

In the past, pastors and priests actually did exert a kind of autocratic control over the church, but that is hardly the case now, especially in Protestant churches. Only the Catholics and the Methodists guarantee pastoral appointments. All people in positions of leadership are under the gun these days; pastors, politicians, school administrators, fire and police chiefs and athletic coaches. The tenure of these leaders has become very short. Our culture does not respect authority figures. As a result, a Protestant pastor who has to pay the rent and educate his children the same as everyone else has to be very careful about stepping on the toes of his parishioners who hold the purse strings, or he better keep his bags packed in the narthex. Unfortunately in churches as in the rest of the world, the Golden Rule most often practiced is "the one with the gold makes the rules."

I am referring to Christian churches because that is my area of expertise, but from what I have heard and read, the problem is not unique to Christians. Any individual who relies on an institution or organization to pay their salary has to walk a fine line between expectation and conscience. Ultimately, it is the people themselves who decide the scope and direction of ministry, the educational standard or the honesty of an commercial enterprise.

That being said, most people who disagree with the church left long ago and often the ones who have remained have made an accommodation with things as they are, and their numbers are decreasing every day. Yet, we are not going to pull our children out of school because we don't like how they are being taught. We are going to try to change things, if we can, and if we think we can't, we are going to try to get the kids in a different school. Some parents may home-school, but forgoing education altogether is not an option. Foregoing our children's religious education and our own religious duty should not be an option either.

All human institutions are subject to success and failure, bear and bull markets. When things aren't going as we would like, we change strategies, we don't abandon ship. Jesus aimed his harshest criticism at the church, but he never advocated abandoning it because, in spite of her failings, the church was the repository of the wisdom of God, even if her leaders garbled the message.

"Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." (Matthew 23:1-3)

The disciples were called to spiritual reform, to a new vision of what it meant to be faithful and a new commitment to personal responsibility. Every religion has experienced the need to reform and change to meet the needs of a changing world. Change always is difficult and slow, but change is the hallmark of existence and religion is no different. Faith is to tough it out; to remain loyal in difficult situations because of duty, trust and hope in a better future and not to fear the challenge of change. Prayer is the vehicle that helps humans manage change. "Not my will, but thine be done."

In the meantime, in a democratic society, every person must regard the ministry of the church, good schools, honest government, or ethical business practices as their personal responsibility. If we find ourselves alone in asking for change, we always have the option of voting with our feet . . . out the door. But we do not forego the obligation to find another church, or political party, or school or job. That usually can be done, if we're not lazy and expecting spiritual welfare handouts.

The prairie churches I served in the Midwest were all built by people who had no pastors, not for a number of years. These settlers were very poor by our standards and came out to homestead frontier territory where there were no grocery stores, banks to make loans, builder supply stores or jobs. They had few tools, no income and only what they could carry with them in a wagon, on a horse or on their backs. Usually they had only one book and that was a Bible, and maybe one other, a hymnbook in German with no musical notation. They carried the tunes in their heads. They had to take personal responsibility for everything. As soon as enough of them had settled in an area and built shelter for their families, they cooperated to build a school and then a church. Until they could entice a pastor to come out to serve it for little pay and at great sacrifice, they were the school and the church themselves and fulfilled all their functions. No whining allowed. The spirit of personal responsibility still is alive and well in these communities.

The church must change to stay alive, and it is the people who must bring about the change. Eldridge Cleaver said, "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem." A consumer mentality cannot save the church, our schools, or our government. Consumer mentality and greed are responsible for our recent enormous economic upheavals. If our institutions have failed us, as Pogo observed, "I looked for the enemy, and the enemy is us." Spiritual, ethical and moral failure are failures of community, not just of leadership.

The "kingdom is in your midst." You already know what to do. Trust what you know and do it. No whining allowed.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

No Spiritual Home

"Sheep that to the fold did stray
Pastor Ingqvist ran away."
(A Prairie Home Companion)

Recently, while visiting my daughter and new grandchild, I noticed that the Noah's Ark picture had disappeared from the wall of the children's bedroom. In addition, the children's Bible and her own Bible had disappeared. I was saddened, but not very surprised. She has had quite a struggle with religion and has been hurt badly by some very ignorant people from the church including a couple of pastors. She has chosen like many people, at least for now, to disengage from all of it.

A friend calls occasionally to keep in touch. We've had many long discussions about religion and spirituality, but he has not attended church in decades. He was deeply hurt by the church as a youth when his pastor made sexual advances to him. Another friend stopped attending mass after being denied communion because of her divorce. The news has been full of heartbreaking stories about sexual abuse by pastors and priests who played the part of predators instead shepherds. My parents were agnostics because they were unable successfully to reconcile their conservative religious upbringing with their vocation as doctors. Meanwhile, all denominations report plunging attendance and baptism statistics.

That the church is in deep distress and crisis is no news and not anything new. Throughout her history, the church has experienced many periods of dissension, division, scandal, abuse and failure to live up to her ideals. She has been found in the role of persecutor at least as often as she has been the one persecuted. In spite of noble intentions, the institutional church is, after all, a human institution and at best a reflection of the world in which she exists. A failure of the institutional church is a failure not only of her leadership, but a failure of culture as well.

It isn't only the Christian church that is experiencing crisis, but all religious institutions are in crisis. At the root is the enormous paradigm shift that has been taking place in the past couple of hundred years and that has escalated to warp speed in the past fifty years or so. We still are emerging from a world ruled by myth and magic into a world dominated by history and science, but we are not fully there yet. There are great discontinuities between the developed world and third world countries, between eastern thought and western thought, between the educated, less educated and uneducated, even in our own society. There is no consensus in America or elsewhere in the world about questions that go to the heart of what it means to be human and spiritual; questions about sexuality, environmental concerns, sociological concerns, abortion, economic concerns, ethics and science. Is it any wonder that religion is also in a state of confusion, especially since, as commonly practiced, religion is usually called upon to justify prevailing cultural norms? So our religious institutions are in as great a disarray as everything else. And the church moves at a glacial pace. Don't expect things to get any better anytime soon.

In the meantime, there are many people who no longer feel like they have a spiritual home much less a spiritual guide or shepherd. The seminaries that train our churches' leaders have failed in large part to identify a pathway through the labyrinth of conflicting cultural claims or to produce spiritually grounded and theologically sound priests and pastors. The biblical concept of a humble, sacrificial and spiritual leadership has almost been lost in the ego-centered, materialistic, corporate style of ministry that is the norm in the church today that is in itself a response to unspiritual, consumer-oriented congregations. Fifty years ago Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk asked in response to the assertion that the church was in the midst of a revival, "Where are our saints? Who keeps the fasts of the Church? Who does any penance? Where is the poverty of the religious? and what about our comfortable, well-fed, easy-going priesthood?"

I have taken pains to specify "institutional" church in my criticism because that is where the failure lies. Religion always has recognized that the popular manifestations of institutionalized religion are not the "thing in itself". From the very beginning, the sacred texts of all religions have warned against mistaking form for substance. (II Timothy 3:1-5) Jesus himself was
somewhat anti-religious and accused the religious leaders of his day of failing to serve their people, of placing on them burdens too heavy to bear and misusing their office. The concept of the "faithful remnant", the true church as the "mystical Body of Christ" and that the spiritual journey finds people in many different stages of advancement along the way helps us to understand that human failing is the reason we need religion in the first place.

What we need to do is to demythologize the church. An old joke holds that "Jesus promised us the Kingdom and what we got was the Church." In former times, people believed that the emperor or king was divinely appointed by God and owed unquestioned obedience merely by virtue of his office. This concept of divine appointment was taken over by the Christian church in the concept of a divinely ordained clergy and institutionalized in the concept of "apostolic succession" and the "magisterium", the teaching authority of the church claimed to be divinely inspired. Although different denominations hold varying views on just what is meant by an ordained clergy, the public at large has regarded pastors and priests as somehow divinely set apart and in possession of special charisms or powers inspiring allegiance and devotion. But pastors and priests are only human and as fallible as anyone else. In fact, the concepts of ordination and magisterium not only are not biblical concepts, but may even be contrary to the spirit of community and praxis Jesus sought to convey to his disciples. The primitive Christian community itself most likely was more a fraternity of equals rather than a hierarchy of power and privilege.

In his letters to new Christian communities, the apostle Paul was well aware of the fragility of popular religion and the ease with which church communities could fall into dissension and fail to foster faith. He admonished his disciples to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." It may be that the best stance many people can adopt for the forseeable future is a kind of hopeful agnosticism as far as the church is concerned. In the meantime, the great gift of the Reformation was to put the sacred scriptures into the hands of the people in their own language so they could read and study for themselves and seek spiritual guidance on their own without a priestly mediator. In fact, home based study and worship groups are on the rise as more and more people are discouraged by institutional religious power struggles, conflict, lack of a spirituality in clergy and the failure of the churches to teach its own scripture.

It is a testimony to the power of the Spirit and deep human need that there continues to be such a great hunger for and interest in spirituality in spite of the miserable failings of the church. Of course, because people are so vulnerable over spiritual issues and because of human weakness, the chance of being misled by self-serving prophets and self-appointed gurus who seek to take advantage is great. Religion is as vulnerable to quacks as medicine, but we aren't going to stop going to the doctor because some prescribe snake-oil. So we always will need our religious institutions just as we always will need our institutions of medicine, education, commerce and politics because that is the way complex societies operate and keep order. We just need to oversee them diligently and keep them in their proper place, ontologically speaking. Instead, if we remember that Jesus himself taught that love of neighbor was the essence of the gospel and that love itself is the test of true faith, we won't go very far wrong. Anything else doesn't really matter much.

Monday, July 15, 2002

Community: The Universe is Your Neighbor

"Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him,"What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25ff)

Three days ago our new granddaughter was born in Austin and our son-in-law called and said, "You can see pictures of the baby on the internet." Wow!! I can't go to Austin for a week and already this new baby is on the world wide web and I can go on-line to see her!! This is so incredibly amazing I am overcome with happiness. The whole world is as close as my Macintosh.

My grandfather built crystal set radios. That was an amazing technology in rural North Texas early in the 1900's when indoor plumbing and electricity still were a dream for most farm families. Neighbors would come to visit and sit and listen in amazement to these primitive transmissions from far away. My family had the second phone in the county. The only place to call was the general store which had the other one and they would call each other several times a day to pass on the news and chat. The telephone, radio and television turned our world into a global village. When the Mars expedition landed, we sat at our computer and downloaded pictures of the Martian landscape at the same time they were being transmitted to NASA. Mass communication has brought the whole universe into our living rooms and changed forever our concept of who is our neighbor.

Human community is made possible by communication and the understanding of our need to care for one another in order to survive. When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, (Luke 10:25-37) people had a limited concept of neighbor. My neighbor was my clan, others in my village, perhaps my religious group, my racial or national group at most. The man in the ditch who had been set upon by thieves in the parable was Jewish, but he was ignored in his distress by members of his own community who had more pressing affairs to attend to that prevented them from stopping to help him. This was a shocking story to Jesus' audience. The Samaritan who stopped to help would not have been considered a neighbor by those who hurried past, but a reviled foreigner whose religious practices were disapproved. If the story were updated in today's situation, the man in the ditch might have been a Jew, and the one who stopped to help a Palestinian, or the other way around. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor beyond the acceptable boundaries of the day to include anyone in one's pathway and anyone who showed compassion.

Television and the internet have made it impossible for any of us to live any longer in isolation or ignore the needs, agendas and miseries of the world. When the centennial celebrations were held around the world at midnight, January 1, 2000, we were able to follow the festivities in simultaneous broadcasts via satellites. Those same satellite transmissions also bring us heartrending pictures of children and adult civilians in a Kurdish village killed by poison gas. I see those lifeless little bodies and I see my own grandbabies lying there and I weep for the whole human race.

A good part of the anxiety and cynicism of our times is due to the fact that we are overwhelmed by the sheer multitude and complexity of the world's problems that defy understanding and seem intractable. We are aware of the need, but the magnitude of the problems, our geographical distance and lack of organizational capacity to address the situation leave us feeling frustrated and isolated in our distress. We have enough problems of our own never mind trying to deal with the problems of people across town, let alone half way around the world.

But if we are unable to find solutions, we CAN enter the process. Every problem on any scale begins with an individual decision not to be a neighbor. Multitudes of such decisions by multitudes of people over extended periods of time result in the crises and miseries of the world. If each problem begins with an individual decision, multiplied many times, the solutions also begin with an individual decision, multiplied many times. Finding solutions may be no more complex than a simple individual decision as this.

Begin with yourself and commit yourself to a once for all decision that you, at any rate, will try to understand everything of every other person, rather than try to make others understand you.

Simple to say, not simple to do, but an important first start. Spiritual discipline begins with this kind of commitment. It doesn't matter if we don't understand how such a commitment will work, but as time passes and each day this same decision is consciously made by a single individual, over and over again in multitudes of different situations, eventually a different kind of consciousness evolves and a different understanding is reached about the nature of the world and it's inhabitants, about people and their problems, about forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a decision that says, "This problem has a long and complex history and I may never understand all its ramifications. But this day I personally make a decision that the problem stops here, with me, and I, for my own part, will not participate in the continuation of this problem. Instead of seeking to justify myself and having my own point of view understood and accepted, I am going to do my part by doing everything in my power to listen, understand and promote an atmosphere of reconciliation. This is a decision I make this day with no expectation of outcome."

After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain.
What can one do about it?
Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain
But does not exact his due.
A man of Virtue performs his part,
But a man without Virtue requires others
to fulfill their obligations.
(Tao Te Ching. 79)

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Community: Forgiveness, Part 3

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)
"Hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal." (The Dhammapada 1:5)

A scene from the movie, "Gandhi" has etched itself in my mind. Muslims and Hindus have been fighting one another as the country strives to gain independence from British rule, and animosities as old as time have fanned the flames of civil war. At the height of the conflict a Hindu man confronts Gandhi who is trying to make peace. The man's son has been killed by a Muslim and he is full of rage. He never will accept peace with the people who have killed his son but Gandhi tells him that he must be willing to forgive the atrocity or peace will never happen. In his anger and grief, the father insists he never can forgive but Gandhi tells him there is a way. The man, who is Hindu, must find a Muslim boy who has lost his father and take him to his home and raise him as his son. But, adds Gandhi, the man must raise the boy as a Muslim.

The origin of pain and suffering, the roots of conflict are many and ancient and often defy understanding or resolution. Usually the people involved have long since forgotten what started it all. The Bible teaches that the sins of the fathers are passed on to the sons, even to the third and fourth generations. My parents were divorced when I was young and my sister and brother and I grew up in a fatherless household. Years later after my father died, another family member told me about the resentment he had harbored toward some family members over the treatment of himself and his brother. His father, my grandfather, had died when my father was only four years old so my father also grew up in a fatherless household. My great grandfather had been the youngest of twelve children who was forced to leave home when he was sixteen to make his own way in the world because he had no inheritance. Perhaps his own early difficult experiences made him less than compassionate toward my father and uncle. Although my family is strong and successful in many ways, like many families, we have experienced our share of suffering and dislocation.

Pastors become acquainted with the pain and suffering of many people and hear many family stories. Most families have struggled to overcome hardships and faith plays a major role in how well they succeed. People who harbor resentment toward others often display a pattern of resentment toward many people and over many different things. Resentment poisons their relationship with others and interferes with their life and work in many unforeseen ways. It is a fact that the world is full of injustice and many people never experience justice or relief from their injuries in this life. Many problems simply don't offer ready solutions, so how is it that some people are able to move past them anyway and get on with their lives while others seem perpetually bogged down in the swamp.

Many people misunderstand the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an emotion. Forgiveness does not mean one is required to forget the injury or excuse it and feel all good again. Some injuries are impossible to forget or should not be excused. Forgiveness does not mean we never suffer again because of the injustice or feel the loss or pain again that was inflicted on us. We can't help how we feel, but we can help how we think, and that is the key to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a choice, a decision that we can make. It begins in the understanding that when I am angry, I injure myself all over again. Buddha spoke of someone shooting an arrow into your chest. The first arrow hurt a lot, but nothing compared to the hundreds of arrows our anger and resentment shoot into the same wound over and over again. We may never know why the person shot the arrow, or maybe we do. It doesn't matter. We have a choice to draw our bow and fire back and keep the conflict going, or to put away our weapon and refuse to fight back. We can understand that whatever the origin of the conflict, it has a history that probably goes a long, long way back. Way past our understanding or even involvement. Who knows why that person who hurt us did it. The person probably doesn't even know himself. Who knows if we inadvertently invited the barb. The Psalmist wrote, "Who can discern his own errors?"

Whatever the reason, we can make a choice to say to ourselves, "This anger has a long history and I probably am not even a part of it. I am going to make a decision that the pain stops here, with me. I can pass it on, but I choose to let it stop here. I'm not going to give this pain any more food, any more history." When I feel the anger rising in me, I will say to myself, "Okay, here is the pain again. I acknowledge the pain. Hello pain, we have been together a long time. But now I am ready for you go away, so I am going to think about something else now." We can't help painful thoughts from catching us off guard, especially when we are not feeling strong. It is when we are having an off day, or maybe coming down sick or had a disagreement with someone else that the old pain chooses to rush back in and take sides the the new injury. Then the conflict in our mind escalates and we find we have a civil war on our hands. It takes strength to say, "Okay, break it up!. That's enough for now. Go back down there in the swamp where you belong and quit trying to spoil my day." Then we must make a conscious effort to substitute a good thought for the bad and there are lots of different ways we can do this. What is important is that we acknowledge the pain and send it on its way with the determination to focus our attention on something positive.

As time goes by, this becomes easier and easier. But remember, the forgiveness I'm speaking of is a conscious decision to substitute something good for something bad. As time goes on, the old injury has less and less power to ruin our day. As time goes on, and we make the person who injured us small enough to fit in our heart, we begin to understand that they are caught up in a cycle of inward and outward violence and to feel pity for them. We may begin to be able to see them as that small child who was hurt so deeply once that the child is going on into its adult life striking out again and again and to put them in our prayers. Then some day we may even begin to be able to see ourselves in that small hurt child and feel more than pity, perhaps even love and compassion and we take that little hurt child home with us and raise him as our own, but we allow him the freedom to be whoever he was created to be and we will discover that hate kills, but love fulfills and recreates itself endlessly. Then some day, we will come to understand that the only real enemy we have is ourselves, the only injury we suffer is self-inflicted, when we are unable to forgive.

Monday, July 1, 2002

Community: Forgiveness, Part 2

"The one who is forgiven little loves little." - Luke 7:43)
"Where there is perception, there is deception." - Diamond Sutra

I needed to work more on the forgiveness angle, so one day I was talking with Sister Joyce about my problem. This man had done me a great deal of harm. Every time I thought about it, I got angry all over again. If I tried not to think about it, he would intrude into my thoughts before I realized what was happening. The anger just kept rising to the surface in spite of anything. I had practiced saying, "I forgive you with the forgiveness of Christ", and that was an important first step. It certainly brought some relief, but I wanted to be able to do more.

S. Joyce could identify with my problem because she had been having her own trials with a colleague. We were walking in the park and she saw some young children playing nearby and we sat down on a bench and watched them for awhile. Occasionally a quarrel would break out or one child would push another off the playground equipment and their mothers would have to intervene to settle things. We talked about how we all were like that once. We were just children living chiefly by instinct and relying on our mothers to settle our disputes. We find it easy to forgive our children because we love them and feel protective toward them and we know they are impetuous and immature and the damage they do is slight. We aren't threatened when they say hurtful things because we know they don't know any better. It takes a long time for them to grow up and learn to behave in socially acceptable ways. Some children have a harder time than others because perhaps they aren't disciplined well, or loved as much as they should be loved. Some children are deprived of the essential things they need to grow physically and emotionally well and others are allowed to grow into bullies. We know that many of their behavior problems are the result of poor parenting and we want to forgive them and hope they will learn to do better.

This person who has hurt us so much once was a small child. What can the life of that small child have been like? Children respond so well to love. Is it possible that this person who has hurt us had a serious love deficit as a child? What could have happened in that child's life that he grew into such a unpleasant adult? If that person could be a small child playing once again in the park, what would we see that could give us a clue about the adult that child would become? Did that child experience forgiveness or did he feel lonely and unacceptable.

Most of the time we don't have a clue why people turn out like they do, but if it were possible to go backward in time in a time machine and visit in the childhood home of a person we would learn a lot. I grew up in the South where there was a lot of racial prejudice, but I was fortunate because my parents were not prejudiced and taught me that all people should be treated equally. More important, they demonstrated in their own lives acceptance of people and appreciation of differences. But I had many friends whose parents were intolerant and said untrue and hurtful things about people who were different. If I had been taught the same things my friends were taught, I would have been prejudiced also.

Buddhists teach that humans are composed of Five Aggregates (skandhas): form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. These five aggregates comprise everything there is about us. When we watch children at play, we see their physical forms running, jumping, swinging, sitting or talking. We soon observe they demonstrate different feelings about their play. They are happy, irritable, tired, sad, provoked or calm. In another minute their feelings may change into other feelings. As we watch them, we begin to develop perceptions about whether or not they are friendly or bullies or outgoing or fearful. Our perceptions are based on what we see in our limited observation.

If we come the next day to the park, we may see a child and think, "Oh, there is the bully child again." This is a mental formation about the nature of a thing that is based on bits of information we have filed away in our "store consciousness", the fifth aggregate. Our information always is very incomplete, but we use it to make value judgments about people and things all the time. When we first meet a person, we draw upon bits of information in our store consciousness to form a picture or opinion about the person. Our store consciousness contains everything we ever have experienced or have learned or felt. Later, every time we see that person, this mental formation rises up to the surface of our thoughts and forms the basis for other bits of information we add as we interact with the person. Unless we learn to look deeply and truthfully at our perceptions, we may form a very hurtful and incorrect opinion or picture of a person and if we act on negative information, we may even perpetuate pain and suffering.

All the Five Aggregates are of an impermanent nature. Spiritual Wisdom is the discerning nature that recognizes the impermanent nature of our opinions about people and things and looks deeply to see the truth. When we look deeply enough, we learn that we all are the same. We all are children playing in a park experiencing joy and sorrow, love and forgiveness or rejection and anger. These feelings and perceptions are seeds that sink deep into our store consciousness for all our lives and grow and surface when they are watered and nurtured causing us to experience joy or sorrow, love and forgiveness or rejection and anger. But at the very deepest of our being, we all are the same. Some of us are more or less fortunate than others. When we are feeling distress or sorrow or anger, it is because of mental formations arising from the negative seeds in our store consciousness as a result of an incident or painful memory. We can say to ourselves, my feelings and perceptions are impermanent and I am not going to allow them to take root and grow into a big tree. We have positive seeds in our store consciousness that can help us build more positive mental formations. We can make a conscious effort to understand and change how we think.

My friend said to me, "When someone has caused us an injury and we are having trouble forgiving them, it helps to think about them as a little child playing in the park. Why is that child not happy and wanting to cause pain. What is happening with that child today? By doing this, we make the person small enough to fit into our heart. Then we can forgive them".

Monday, June 24, 2002

Community: Forgiveness

Peter asked Jesus,"Lord how often shall my brother sin against me,and I forgive him?
As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:21-22)

When I walked into her hospital room, she could tell I wasn't having a good day. Tony and I had got to know each other pretty well over the past few months and there were times when the roles of patient and chaplain seemed to get reversed. She was dying of congestive heart failure and had been in and out of the hospital numerous times with stays ranging from several days to several weeks. They'd dry her lungs out, patch her up and send her home again where there wasn't anyone to take care of her. Soon she'd be back again. Tony was a devout Catholic and as serene as Buddha. She'd had a hard life, raising a large family on a meager income mostly by herself since her husband had been an alcoholic until he died years ago of liver failure. Her joyful faith was an inspiration in spite of all the trouble she'd seen. We had wonderful long discussions and she had much to teach and inspire an inexperienced recent seminary graduate.

She kept pressing me about why I was so long of face that day and I ended up confessing my anger at the person who had wounded me so badly. He was my superior on whom I had depended on and whose good will I needed and I felt hurt and betrayed and helpless to do anything about it. After a time, I asked her how it was that she had endured so much and had such a hard life and no help from an abusive husband, yet could be so calm and serene in spite of it all. She told me she had forgiven him. Anger is far worse than heart disease or a cancer, she told me. Sickness can destroy our body, but anger can destroy our soul. Someone does us an injustice. If we let that injustice dominate our heart, we continue to suffer injustice every day of our life, long after the original incident is passed. But we can transform that injustice and pain through forgiveness and find peace once again.

Well, I'd heard all that before. Certainly, I know we should forgive our enemies. The problem is, how do we go about doing that? Some things are much harder to forgive than others. Perhaps some things should never be forgiven. Does forgiving mean forgetting? It's one thing to forgive a friend who's made us mad or even an enemy who has injured us once, but how can we forgive someone who has repeatedly injured us. How do victims of serious crimes forgive the perpetrator? How can a child forgive dysfunctional parents for years of abuse? How do people forgive such things as sexual abuse or the destruction of a reputation or the infliction of an injury that has life long consequences. Sometimes it's not possible to distance our self from the person who has hurt us. We have to go on enduring their malice or the after effects of the injury day after day.

According to Jesus, forgiveness is a process we must practice over our whole life. Somehow, we are called to develop the capacity to receive, embrace and transform suffering. It takes a big heart to do this. Many people never experience justice in this life. How can we apply this teaching to all the pain and suffering we hear about in the news? It seems endless; war, terrorist attacks, kidnappings, economic exploitation and injustices, attacks on human dignity, sexual and physical abuse. The pain and suffering I've endured looks small up against the vast misery of the world. As long as humans have lived in community, there has been conflict and suffering inflicted by one party on another. In the Genesis story, the first two brothers came into conflict and one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

I was beginning to learn that forgiveness is at the very heart of the spiritual quest. Buddhists don't talk about forgiveness; instead they talk about the impermanent nature of feelings such as anger and the perceptions that lead to suffering. I've learned that both western religious traditions and eastern ones are driving at essentially the same thing, only from different directions. The transformation of suffering takes place through receiving, embracing and transforming. Books, advice columns, mediators, negotiators, counselors and support groups proliferate.

It's a huge subject and time was short. How could you do it, I asked. How were you able to forgive him and find peace in spite of all that has happened. Oh, she said, I couldn't do it on my own. I'm only human. I knew he was God's child, the same as everyone and that somehow God understood him and forgave him. After all, Jesus forgave the people who killed him, from the cross. So I forgave him with his forgiveness. I would say to myself, "I can't forgive you myself, but I forgive you with the forgiveness of Jesus."

It was only a first step, a baby step, but it was all I could manage for now.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Independent Co-Arising and Stewardship: Uncle Bill and the Wolves

Uncle Bill was a cattleman which I guess is different from a rancher because he lived in town and leased a 350 acre place east of there from an elderly fellow who lived up in the Panhandle. Bill's place was less than an hour's drive from Dallas and when I was growing up we spent many weekends fishing and camping by the the 40 acre lake on the property. Bill was my favorite uncle. Years ago, during World War II, he was in the civilian corps and spent several years in the Yukon Territory where he did a lot of trapping. He had a multitude of stories to tell and he is the first one who taught me about the Buddhist concept of "Interdependent Co-Arising", although he didn't call it that. He was part Cherokee Indian and had a great respect for balance and harmony in nature. Although he had done his share of hunting, usually out of necessity rather than sport, he had "No Hunting" signs posted on his property that caused a bit of controversy with neighboring ranchers because Bill's Place, as we called it, was a refuge for a medium size pack of timber wolves. At night, when we were camping, they often awakened us with their howling and although I was scared to death of them at first, I learned to love their sound.

In the evenings, I would ride with Bill when he went to feed the cattle. (I was useful for opening gates.) Often, the wolves would be peacefully resting in the shade a short distance away from where the cattle were grazing and they seemed to co-exist peacefully together. The wolves had become so tame they wouldn't bother to move even when we were only yards away. Bill explained that there was plenty of small game in the vicinity because most of the land around was in the soil bank program and not being farmed so the wolves had no need to bother the cattle.

Years ago the timber wolves had almost been hunted to extinction. The land was rich mid-plains prairie covered with native grasses and had been plowed up and planted in cotton which wore out the soil in a short time. Farmers had eradicated the numerous prairie dog towns which had been essential to keeping the prairie meadows aerated. Deprived of a major food source, the wolves had resorted to attacking cattle. So the wolves were eliminated which allowed the rabbit population to explode. Rabbits were a major pest to farmers because they eat down new vegetation so the rabbits had to be hunted down but it's a lot harder to eliminate rabbits than wolves. Then the soil wore out and was put in the soil bank program and native vegetation began to take over once again. With careful conservation measures, you could make a living raising cattle by rotating the pastures so long as you didn't overgraze and gave the pastures time to recover during the fallow intervals. Gradually the wolves began moving back in and they helped keep rabbits, coons and armadillos in check.

The Buddhist concept of "Interdependent Co-Arising" teaches that there is no separate independent self. Everything is interdependent and interrelated. As humans, we have the capacity to imagine that we are separate beings from other creatures and nature, but this is an illusion. In all circumstances, our physical selves are defined only as part of sets of relationships with others. We are a father, sister, neighbor, employee, employer, friend or citizen, to name only a few of these relationships. None of us exists in isolation, nor can we. Our physical existence impacts and is impacted upon by everything both living and non-living. We can ruin our environment by polluting it or destroying it and it is we ourselves who suffer. We can fail to live up to the responsibilities incumbent upon us in our various relationships, and we are the ones who ultimately suffer.

We teach our children the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have other do unto you." But too often we ignore the corollary to that rule which is, "What we do unto others will be done unto us." When we act out of disregard for the needs and rights of others, we ultimately will find our own needs and rights ignored or violated. When we act unjustly, break trust or fail to show compassion, we will be the ultimate recipients of the suffering, injustice and lack of trust we have shown to others. The social contract that governs relationships in community, or the covenant relationship the Bible teaches us about are based on this understanding of "Interdependent Co-Arising". We cannot exist successfully without others and community is not possible without self-sacrifice, honesty, loyalty and trust-worthiness.

The past 30 years have witnessed a tragic loss of trust and accountability, first in government, and now more recently in the scandals in the business community and most recently in the sex-abuse scandal confronting the church. All of these situations arise because of a mind set of individual pride, greed and lust for power that leads individuals and groups to act selfishly and independently of the needs and rights of others. The concepts of self-sacrifice, honesty, loyalty and trust-worthiness seem no longer to govern the actions of either persons in positions of leadership or the general public.

There is a Buddhist proverb that says, "If one horse is sick, all the other horses in the stable will refuse to eat." We practice stewardship when we understand that if one of us suffers, all of us suffer; if one of us is deprived, all of us are deprived; if one of us suffers injustice, eventually all of us will suffer injustice. This is an instance where Buddhism and Christianity compliment each other and can contribute to a greater understanding on the part of each. The Christian concept of Stewardship is based on the understanding of creation as a gift. We have an ethical obligation to care for each other, and especially for the weaker or more vulnerable members of the community. The Buddhist understanding of "Interdependent Co-Arising" helps us understand that there really is no reality of separateness; Thou art I, I am Thou. To live in and for others recognizes and celebrates our essential Oneness and enables us to forego selfish individual actions that cause suffering. When we give up acting as if what we do affects only ourselves and begin to act in concert with others for our mutual benefit, we will discover a rich reward in the expanded consciousness of the life we all share.

Saturday, June 1, 2002

The Bat Under the Refrigerator

Our migrant ministry in Sioux City was a small store front operation. The big church that sponsored us was up the hill behind us on the opposite side of the block. We often used the kitchen in the church basement and the adjoining recreation hall for events. The church itself was a grand English Gothic structure with a bell tower and a high vaulted nave and bats were an ongoing problem. All sorts of attempts were made to keep the bats out by putting screen wire over possible points of entry, but in a large old church it was nearly impossible to find all the places bats could get in and a few apparently could always get in through some very small places. They created a nuisance during services by swooping down over the congregation and the ushers kept a tennis racket and net handy just in case some one was able to knock one of them off.

The church had hired Irma Gomez as sexton and Irma also was my right arm, hand, eyes, mouth and principle adviser for our little congregation which we named "Los Milagritos del Norte" (The Little Miracles of the North). Between her very limited English and my classroom Spanish we managed to work together very well. When I was preaching in Spanish, it wasn't unusual for her to correct me, supplying a word or phrase that she knew better suited what I was trying to say and I was glad to let the Holy Spirit arbitrate whatever meaning ensued. I believed that what we were doing together was so much more important than exegetical precision. Besides, Irma's strong practical nature was an important amendment to my sometimes visionary idealism. I ran everything by her, but I failed to ask her about the bat.

The bat apparently had fallen behind the refrigerator in the kitchen and couldn't get out. Several of us could hear it squeak every so often even though we couldn't see it. I'm very soft hearted when it comes to distressed animals and as the days went by I worried that it might die of starvation or thirst. I started putting a small bowl of water down behind the refrigerator and propped a broom up beside it hoping that the bat might climb up the broom. I had learned that bats are unable to take off and fly from ground level, but need a ledge or something to drop from in order to take flight. The bat obviously had fallen to the floor behind the refrigerator and was unable to find anything to climb up in order to launch itself out of its predicament.

About this time the state diocesan convention took place and since our ministry was the first Hispanic ministry in the province, I was invited to present a workshop on how we got started and how we were doing. As I thought about my address, it occurred to me that the bat behind the refrigerator presented a sort of parable. I told the audience about the bat and how in the human community, none of us is able to launch ourselves directly into life without lots of assistance. From infancy into adulthood and to the end of our lives, help from others is essential for survival. Throughout life, we encounter times of need when we need extra or special assistance. The first European arrivals in North America survived those first winters in the wilderness only with the help of the indigenous people already here. New immigrants always have depended on the kindness and generosity of those already here and established to help them make the climb into American life and culture. That is what we were all about with our ESL classes, translating assistance, food pantry and other programs. This is the essence of the Christian faith. God understands our needy situation and reaches down to lift us up so we can find new life and hope.

The workshop was a great success. The large room was packed. Many priests and three bishops were present, including one from Scotland. Everyone was excited and hopeful for our new ministry and many people were touched by the little parable I told. We had been funded generously from both the diocese and the national Counsel of Bishops as well. Several people asked me for a copy of my address in order to include it in their church newsletters. When I got home, I happily related to Irma all that had transpired. She stared at me for several seconds and then broke out into laughter. So that was why she kept finding a bowl of water on the floor by the refrigerator. She couldn't imagine what was going on but there wasn't any bat back there. That squeak was a loose belt on the refrigerator motor.

Unhappily, our migrant ministry was short lived. The rector of the church who had envisioned the ministry and recruited me to direct it left for another position and in the interim, before another rector was called, the vestry decided not to continue the ministry. The ministry had been controversial from the start and since it was a local ministry of this one church, even though we had outside funding, there was no way to continue.

There were those who viewed us, like the bats, as unwelcome intruders and were unhappy about the social action component of the ministry. In the United States, the prevailing attitude is that people should be able to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" and many people have the opinion that people needing assistance are unworthy of help. It's useless to try to argue against this position because it is the result of an attitude of entitlement. It is a national replay of the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) It is so easy for those who enjoy material comforts and well being to ignore or disdain the needs of the poor. How quickly they forget, if ever they knew, that all they have is due to the good fortune of being the right person in the right place at the right time and having the means, health and intelligence to take advantage of it. Those things count far more in prosperity than choices or insight.

Nothing done in love ever can be counted as loss. My spiritual adviser reminded me that God does not depend on individual programs or individual successes for the Holy Spirit to do its work. Success just isn't the point! Our efforts need be no bigger than the grain of mustard seed to grow into a great shrub and the miracle of the gospel is that God uses even our mistakes and failures to further the advance of His Kingdom, perhaps even an imaginary bat. There is no way to anticipate outcomes. What we do is so much more important than how we interpret the results when we act in love, hospitality, compassion and as stewards of life. Our fledgling ministry was an inspiration and impetus for other similar ministries that came later. Perhaps none of those will matter in themselves in the long run. What matters is what we do together, who we call our brother, sister, friend, the sharing of our lives, the gratitude we feel for everything we have and our willingness to give a hand up.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Who Was Jesus/Buddha/Krishna? Part III

My grandmother was my first piano teacher. Later, I had many piano teachers, but there came a day when my grandmother said "You need a really good teacher. I wish you could study with Bomer Cramer." I presented myself to Mr. Cramer and he agreed to take me on as a student. Cramer had been a child prodigy when my grandmother had first heard of him. He himself had studied with Henry Levine who in turn had studied with Rachmaninoff, one of the greatest composers and pianists of the 20th Century. Studying with Mr. Cramer was in a way like studying with Rachmaninoff because I received a direct, personal transmission of his style and technique which I could not have got in any other way (which is not to say I was capable of exhibiting everything I was taught.) Mr. Cramer had two nine foot Steinway grand pianos in his studio. He would sit at one and I at the other and he would play along with me. It's impossible to explain the kind of communication that takes place under such circumstances, but the student would sense and imitate the teacher's tempos, phrasing, timing nuances and dynamics in an instantaneous double performance. Many things can only be learned through such a direct transmission of an ongoing tradition from a teacher to a student. This is a phenomenon well understood by musicians, athletes, and dancers as well as religious mystics. It's not something that can be learned from a book because more is involved than mere intellectual activity or visual observation. The student physically takes part in the learning experience and is guided by the physical presence and actions of the teacher.

There is no doubt that both Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) were actual historical persons. They lived 500 years apart and were about the same age when they stepped onto the world stage. Krishna is a much more complex figure out of a tradition several thousand years older and is probably a synthesis of several historical and legendary figures in ancient India. There are many points of similarity in the teachings of all three which have been transmitted to us through the writings of their followers but to be a disciple of any of the three involves much more than reading the sacred texts. Discipleship requires being part of the community of transmission, submitting to the authority of a teacher of the tradition and a lifetime of study, prayer and spiritual discipline, something that cannot be obtained by listening to a sermon or dharma talk or attending a yoga class once a week.

Even though there are many similarities in the teachings of these three figures, the similarities end there. The theology and the world view that shapes the theology of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian is vastly different. But it is true that the saints of each tradition are virtually indistinguishable in their persons and activities. Saints in all religions have a profound respect and love of all people regardless of national, religious, racial or cultural differences; they have strong, resilient personalities and a positive, joyful and creative openness to life and the future; they practice forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of strife; they are non-judgmental and non legalistic. None of them would profess to have an exclusive and inexhaustible claim to the truth but all of them would express a humble understanding of the transitory and incomplete nature of all human knowledge.

Last week, when I wrote about following Jesus around, I ended my imaginary conversation with him with an open question about resurrection. Resurrection is the biggest problem in Christian theology for modern man. It also was the biggest problem for Jesus' contemporaries. It is a concept totally incomprehensible in terms of history or the scope of the world's knowledge. When I was in my twenties, I went to my pastor and told him that although I was strongly drawn to the church, I couldn't honestly accept the resurrection stuff because it was contrary to my common sense and everything else I knew. In many religious traditions, I would have been escorted to the door or patronizingly evangelized. Jack McGee did neither of these things. Instead he told me I might be interested to learn that many Christian pastors also struggled with the idea of resurrection and that in no way meant I didn't belong in the church. I was very welcome. He also is the first one to tell me that there are many pathways to God; through the heart, through the hands, through the intellect. He assured me God would be there for me whatever path I chose and to trust the process.

I haven't followed either Buddha or Krishna around so anything I say about them comes out of books I have read. What I have learned so far doesn't contradict anything I have learned about Jesus. It is all a vast mystery, like how in the world anyone can play all the Concord Sonatas at one time from memory (I heard Fred Fisher do it) or how it is one person can could die a terrible death and the whole world would be saved. In the gospel of Mark after Jesus cries out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," the first post Easter confession of faith, "Truly, this was the Son of God" was made by the Roman centurion who had just put him to death. Forget everything you have learned from the church, theology, Sunday School or wherever because in large part, Christians are no better than anyone else in understanding Easter, resurrection or salvation and furthermore, more often than not, believe, speak and act in ways totally contrary to the gospel. The confession of faith which the Christian tradition teaches is the one that leads to salvation did not come out of any religious tradition or from a disciple of Jesus but from a Gentile unbeliever. The confession was not the result of any biblical studies or spiritual discipline and it was made before any resurrection had taken place. In other words, we may understand that it was God/Allah/Jehovah/Whoever that created faith in the heart of a person who had no other access to the faith he confessed and it happened immediately after the commission of a murder. We may further understand that whatever happened on Easter morning, whatever truth or enlightenment or salvation is, it is something done by God, not by us, and is available to every single person on earth, living or dead (in whatever aspect) regardless of their religion and not as the result of any activity on their part whatsoever, but even in spite of it. And furthermore, it is a gift of God given to gentile Roman centurions, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Christians alike and no one has to convert to receive it.

So, who is/was Jesus anyway? We may be forgiven for asking since his disciples didn't figure it out either. But Jesus himself helped us out with this one. He told people who were questioning who he was,

"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."(John 10:37ff)

It's not what we say, it's what we do. It's not whether or not we can believe in the resurrection, it's whether or not we believe that we can be resurrected. That's what faith is all about.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

Who Was Jesus/Buddha/Krishna? Part IV

One of the most important and transforming events of my life was a three week trip to Europe in my early 20's. One of the highlights of that trip was the opportunity to visit some of the world's greatest art museums. I came home enchanted by Vermeer and the Dutch Masters and the French Impressionists in particular. Two very different styles of painting from two very different perspectives.

Most people would agree that what constitutes art covers a great range of human activity and that there are many different styles as well as mediums that properly can be called "art". It's no different with religion and spirituality. Once we have made some very broad and highly generalized observations, there is a vast amount of human thought and experience that legitimately falls into these categories. Yet many people who would easily recognize that there are many varying styles and mediums of art that are valid expressions and deserve to be called "art" and that a person could legitimately be equally attracted to more than one type of expression, these same people are nevertheless quick to claim that there is only one valid religious experience and that is their own variety to the total exclusion of any other viewpoints.

It all has to do with what we call "truth" and the fact that most people believe there is only one "truth" that is valid for all people at all times in all situations. After all, if there is more than one "truth", how do we know which one really is true. No one would claim that Renoir's style of painting is more true than Vermeer's style. Why can we not also accept that a Muslim's understanding of what is true about the transcendent is as valid as a Hindu's or a Christian's, but from a different perspective arising out of a different history and different experience. In religion, we make pictures with words instead of paint or clay. The words are not "things in themselves", but symbols representing thought patterns arising from different cultural and historical perspectives. The ones that have endured over the millennia are those that have "rung true" for many people based on a similar cultural and historical experience and understanding.

Eastern thought has an easier time dealing with a fluid concept of reality than western thought. Western thought produced the scientific revolution. A logical sequence from point A to point B that results in point C. But the history of religion and spirituality even in western thought is not nearly so neat. Many points of view have been represented, in fact, from a philosophical standpoint, Greek Stoicism which strongly affected early Christian theology has a lot in common with eastern asceticism. But the purpose of this web site is not to compare different theologies, but to explore what we share in common. We are arguing for tolerance and understanding. In the process, we might all come away loving both Vermeer and the Impressionists. It is possible to learn from Jesus, Buddha and Krishna all three and not compromise any of our beliefs. In fact, I would like to claim that if we discover any contradictions in the teachings of these three persons, we have fundamentally misunderstood what they were teaching. Does that mean they all are alike? Not at all. Each has something different to offer, but they do not contradict. Does that mean that each of these three is the same as the others? Not at all. Each of them is to us something different.

It's a bit like reading an art review. Some years ago John Rosenfield, music critic for the Dallas Morning News said, "The best commentary about music is silence." Same goes for art. Have you ever read anything written by an art critic that actually made you feel differently about a piece of art you already had seen? Same goes for theology. It's a commentary based on a perspective that happens after the fact. If you want to know about Krishna, read the Gita. If you want to know something about Buddha, read the Sutras attributed to him. If you want to know about Jesus, read the Gospels. Forget the theology. No contradictions. You'll find yourself saying, "Ah!"

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Encounter: Who Was/Is Jesus, Buddha, Krishna? Part II

A few weeks ago while on a retreat, I sat beside a small lake early one morning in the middle of a pine forest in East Texas and engaged in a fantasy. I imagined that a man was standing beside the lake looking out over the water not far from me. He'd been fishing and after a time he turned and started walking slowly in my direction carrying his rod and tackle box with him. When he was within speaking distance, he paused, and though he was an ordinary looking man, as I looked at him I realized he was Jesus. I imagined that I offered him a place beside me on my bench and that we sat there together silently looking out over the water. After a time had passed, I turned and asked him, "Who are you, anyway?" He didn't answer, but I thought his eyes smiled as he glanced at me briefly and then he looked again out over the lake and we both continued to sit in silence.

The historical Jesus, the man who was born in a small Palestinian town 2000 years ago the son of a poor carpenter and who lived thirty something years and was finally executed as a criminal, is dead. After that, there is much disagreement and continuing controversy. Even during his own lifetime there was no agreement about who he was and after his death, many doubted what his friends said about him. During the few years of his public life recorded in the gospel accounts and in the years following his death, many titles or names were given to him. Those titles had their origin in the cultural and historical environment of which he was a part and are not comprehensible to people today except from within the theological framework of the Christian church; Son of David, Son of Man, (his own name for himself) Lord, Son of God, Lamb of God, Redeemer, Messiah.

"Who do you say that I am?" That was Jesus response to Peter's question. I could tell you many things about myself. I could send you my resume and photos, write an essay, answer questions from a panel, submit to psychological testing and fill out questionnaires. None of those things would reveal who I am. The only way you can really know who a person is is to be in a relationship with that person on a daily basis over a long period of time. See how they react in various situations, get their opinion, observe their behavior, interact with them in work, family, social settings. No single answer can satisfy the question, "Who are you?" because answer to who I am, who you are who he is is going to depend on what you or I invest in the relationship and where you or I are coming from. Often we do not even understand ourselves, much less another person. But I can say who you are to me and you can say who I am to you insofar as our experience together allows.

In the first chapter of John, two of John's disciples saw Jesus walking by and followed him. When Jesus saw them following him, he turned to them and said, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." Even after being with Jesus continually for the next two to three years, his disciples still were confused about who he was. He created controversy wherever he went for his defense of the marginalized in society and for violating the religious laws of his days. The Roman government accused him of inciting insurrection. Another time, John sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus who he was. Jesus' answer was, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Matthew 11:4-5) In Jesus' first sermon at Nazareth early in his ministry, he said this about himself, quoting one of the prophets.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

Several years ago Time magazine devoted its cover story to "Who Was Jesus?" Many people were interviewed for the story; novelists, historians, philosophers, church leaders, theologians, poets. All of them had different answers. A prophet, a social activist, a teacher, a great moral leader, a rabbi. Interestingly, only one person of the many interviewed and quoted gave the definitive orthodox answer given by the Christian church for all its history and that answer was given by a Mormon. Jesus is the Son of God who was crucified, died and resurrected on the third day who is come to save the world. That is a theological answer that can only be given intelligibly from within the context of the Christian church and it is fascinating that, at least in this article, the church was unable to give it. That is because the church itself is in turmoil today over the question, "Who Was Jesus?" which probably accounts for her struggle on many other fronts.

Today one part of the church has focused so exclusively on the post-Easter titles given to Jesus as a kind magical incantation that bestows immunity against the world's problems and guarantees a reserved seat in heaven that it has virtually ignored his life and teachings. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!" as if believing, like Alice in Wonderland in six impossible things before breakfast is all it takes. But what does it mean to "Believe in Jesus"? The other part of the church is embarrassed about the "cultural baggage of Easter" and resurrection talk and has focused almost exclusively on social ministry and self-improvement as the way of faith. But Christians certainly don't have a monopoly on good works and self-sacrifice, not self-improvement has always been the center of all religious discipline, Christian or otherwise. And that doesn't address the fact that for all Jesus' life and teaching and good works, he was rejected by even his own friends and died a criminal and outcast from both religion and society. Not much of a reward. His good deeds died with him, like Caesar's if nothing else happened, just one more good moral man.

So the only way we are going to know who anyone is is to follow them around. "Come and see." Then each of us has to answer the question for ourselves and each of us is going to have somewhat different an answer. If we follow Jesus around, we are going to find ourselves in situations where we are challenged to sit on the side of the marginalized of society, those whom the world rejects. We are going to find ourselves at odds with the religious and political establishments of our day, at odds with anything that measures itself by the standards of popularity, material well-being and power, at odds with the powers and principalities, wherever they may be. If we walk too closely behind him, we may also find ourselves marginalized because we just don't fit in and he told the disciples that unless they were willing to give up everything, absolutely everything, they couldn't follow him and they had to be willing to carry their own cross as he carried his and to be sure and count the cost before they made their decision.

In a repeat episode of NYPD, Detective Andy Sipowitz is trying to console an aged friend who is distraught because his wife is dying of cancer. Sipowitz tells him that he never did believe in God, but he has lost both his son and his wife and recently Sipowitz has had a dream in which he was talking to his son. He tells him that somehow, he believes he will see his son and wife again, he doesn't know how, but somehow he believes this is true. This is probably as close as any of us ever will come to understanding anything about resurrection. A deep and abiding sense, a hope against hope that, in spite of anything and everything, in spite of all our failures and losses, the last word is not in, everything will be redeemed and forgiven and somehow we will know peace and joy once again.

At the end of the story in John 21 when Jesus made breakfast for the disciples by the lake after a night of fishing, Jesus had some final words for Peter as they walked together beside the lake that early post Easter morning.

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me." (John 21:18-19)

In my fantasy by the lake that morning, I imagined that after the man sat silently beside me on the bench for a time, he got up and before he left, he turned and said, "Don't ask me to try to explain that part about the resurrection to you now. You'll only understand that after your own resurrection."

Saturday, April 20, 2002

Encounter: Who Was/Is Jesus, Buddha, Krishna?

"Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"(Matthew 11:3)

One day soon after we had started to meet, I asked the kids in our Monday Club (See April 6) if they knew anything about who Jesus was. We talked for a bit and then one of the Thai boys said, "My uncle is a Buddhist monk. I want to know about who Buddha was." I had to admit I knew little about Buddha but I promised I'd find out as much as I could. That started me on a new course of study that continues to this day. I began with the encyclopedia, then checked out books through my seminary library, went on-line to Buddhist sites and perused the bookstores. I even found a Buddhist group that met at the local Unitarian Church and attended a few dharma talks. Over the years I've met Buddhists from Southeast Asia and America and asked questions and discovered that the average Buddhist lay person knows about as much about his faith as the average Christian lay person which isn't a great deal. I also discovered I couldn't tell a whole lot of difference between the faith expressions of most lay Christians and lay Buddhists and that they share many of the same beliefs about moral living, heaven and hell, etc. Of course, there are belief differences, but especially in the popular practice of religion, many things are similar.

I also discovered that in the Buddhist religion as in the Christian religion, there is great vast difference between what is believed and taught and the actual practice and lived experience of average people. There are at least as many varieties of Buddhism as there are varieties of Christians and a wide range of doctrinal differences. There is also a great difference in teachers or pastors. Some are definitely more learned and spiritual than others. As in all professions or vocations, doctors, lawyers, teachers, pastors or whatever, half of them graduated in the bottom half of their class and some of them profess in the words of a Methodist pastor I once knew, "I picked the job where I could make the most money with the least amount of work."

I also became curious to learn more about other eastern religions such as Hinduism and Taoism so my quest has expanded into these areas also. As much as I am gratified and fascinated by what I have discovered and as much as I try to learn about these other pathways, I will always be an armchair Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist. At best, these other religious studies have given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of my own faith. I am a better Christian for learning more about Buddhism. But as I have agreed with and identified with my brothers and sisters in these other religions, I also am aware that I am not part of the culture that produces and nurtures a primary religious experience in these areas. One cannot become a Jew, Christian, Buddhist by reading some books, taking some classes or being initiated, baptized or confirmed. Religion and faith are a lifetime experience and take place within a particular cultural context. The Native American people insist on these same principles. No matter how fascinated European Americans may be with their culture, you can't be a Native American by attending a few sweat lodges or putting feathers in your hair. One must be born and bred into the culture, or at least, adopt the culture in such a way that your entire life is lived and immersed in the community. Religion is not an interesting and pleasant occasional weekend experience at a retreat center.

As a Protestant pastor, as much as I approve and appreciate Catholic Christians veneration of Mary, and even though I have added recitation of the Rosary to my prayer life, I never will have the "feel" of Marian spirituality that a life-long Catholic will have because it has not been an integral part of my cultural experience. I will continue to study Marian theology, though, because I am deeply interested to learn about anything that people have found to be a window to God. So who are/were Jesus, Buddha, Krishna?

They are icons, windows through which we may gain a glimpse of God. Think of a round tower set high on a hill with an uninterrupted view of the landscape in all directions. All around the tower are windows, each with a different view, but not the same view because each window is focused on and reveals a different part of the landscape. Yet, because the tower is round, each view will contain part of the view of the other windows at the periphery although each window is centered primarily on one aspect of the landscape.

The view from the Hindu window is centered on the universal nature of God or Brahma. The view of the Buddhist window is centered on the interior aspect of the universal spiritual experience. The view from the Christian window is centered on the historical, incarnational aspect of God. This is highly simplistic, of course, and there are other windows besides, each focusing and revealing in greater clarity a different piece of the landscape. The point is, we gain wisdom by looking through as many of these windows as possible, but the views are so complex and detailed we don't have the time to really concentrate on more than one particular view. Besides, what we are able to discern from each view will depend on the tools we bring with us to the search, like the knowledge an astronomer has when looking through a telescope at the night sky. We need language, symbols, a whole thought world in order to understand and interpret what we see. Each of the different religions is a complete and coherent discipline with sets of symbols, language and experience that reveals in greatest possible clarity what humans have been able to learn about a small portion of the whole God experience. We not only see through a glass darkly, but only partially. And as in particle physics, what we see is conditioned by the position of the observer.

So when I met with the Monday Club the next week, I shared the little bit I had been able to learn about Buddha with the children. Then I told them that if they really wanted to learn more, and learn it well, they needed to encourage their parents to find a Buddhist community to become a part of and they needed to study and participate and practice and pray and learn as much as they could and they would benefit greatly and so would their families and so would their whole community because Buddha had laid out a pathway for them to follow through the wilderness of life that was sure and certain to lead them where God wanted them to go.

I explained that I could not teach them as well about Buddha as I could about Jesus because that was the pathway I had learned. But I could teach them about the pathway of Jesus and if they followed this pathway they would benefit greatly and later if their parents took them along another pathway, they would have discovered a lot that was already familiar because we were climbing up the same mountain, only by different routes.