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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why I am a Buddhist Christian

I  am a Buddhist Christian first and foremost because the teachings of Buddhism give me a way to work with my mind and my life that Christianity cannot.

I'm also a Buddhist Christian because Christianity in the America is dominated by loud mouthed, small minded bigots who make me want to scream. In fact, the imbalance in the public arena has become so severe that I am not sure the image of Christianity can be rescued. What dominates the bookshelves of the Barnes & Noble Christianity section gives me the dry heaves. "Christian" bookstores, aren't. When I encounter the Salvation Army food truck in the hood they are essentially telling people if they had prayed for food the Salvation Army could have saved gas money because it would have magically appeared. If you come across a Christian in public who is likely to be witnessing about his or her faith, you will soon discover you have encountered an obnoxious boor. Some of you are thinking, "well, Mr. Smarty Pants, write a book for moderate to progressive Christians so they have something to buy." Nice theory, but the problem is that most moderate to progressive Christians are rather passive creatures who are more likely to buy the latest piece of fluffy, ego-laden Eckhart Tolle nonsense than a substantial book about a meaningful, practice laden Christianity. Why? Because substantial books seldom make Oprah's Book Club.

More importantly, the real problem is that the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have deteriorated into "holy shit, I hope this keeps me out of trouble" belief systems that don't have much to say to a world where most people smart enough to tie their shoes unassisted have realized
that there isn't any heaven in the clouds or hell inside the earth to make threats of punishment a motivating force. On the other hand, those wearing bow biters are crowding the mega-churches saying a sinner's prayer. I want to hasten to say there's nothing wrong with wearing bow bites, if that's your preference (or limitation). After all, Barney needs love, too.

What's worse is the truth that moderate to progressive Christians have been banging the new ecology & new cosmology drums for so long (thirty years!) many people mistake it for a dead horse and want to drag it off to the dog food factory to earn a few bucks. Can you people buy a new idea? Have you no imagination? Or are you so scared of new adventures that you don't dare try something new once you latch on to something that seems to work, even if only once? I bet there is still a leisure suit in your closet, isn't there? There are mausoleums with more life in them that there is in your gatherings. Can Call to Action give up on the puppet Masses and just once invite a theologian to one of their gatherings who still has their own teeth? Of course, doing so might bring change including attendees at your conferences who can't be tracked by the telltale crunch of a Depends undergarment and I'd imagine that is terrifying.

You see, it doesn't really matter if we are talking about conservative, moderate, or progressive Christians, most of you are so scared of change you are likely to soil yourselves if it would happen. Of course, many of the attendees at a Call to Action conference soil themselves on a regular basis anyway - but I digress.

So while the western faiths are busily scurrying about trying to avert disaster and waiting for God to rescue them while blaming those who disaster catches in its grips for their calamity because obviously they are not beloved of God, what are the eastern faiths doing? Do you really want to know? They have looked around, realistically assessed life, and decided that shit happens to everybody. So, rather than trying to avoid life either through institutional denial, yearning for the bad old days, or hunkering down in the avoiding-change storm shelter, Buddhism takes an honest look at what happens in life and encourages us to take an honest look at our reactions. We explore our mind and our stories with an eye toward stripping away all of the layers of nonsense we have voluntarily cakes over them seeing them honestly. We are taught that we can and should control our feelings, thoughts and behavior, and the result is that we become a person whom we can actually live with. Our ability to respond with compassion increases at least in part because we aren't looking over our shoulder to see if Satan is sneaking up behind us with a dozen roses, breath mints, and an erection because we realize that Satan is a mythical being of our own creation.

Why am I still a Christian? I am still a Christian because I have encountered God present in Jesus Christ and in the Sacraments of the Church. I am still a Christian because when you cut through all the fear and bullshit of popular Christianity and look directly at the teachings of Jesus and the first three hundred years of Christianity, at the great Contemplative history of the Church and it's profound social justice teachings and ignore the assholes outside Pridefest and Planned Parenthood, what you find is rich beyond measure. What you find are the great meditative practices, very similar to what eastern religions call meditation - and what you find in those practices regardless of your tradition is the same - that which I (and not a few others) call God. Not Santa God, mind you, some old hairy white man we beg for mercy, but rather the very ground of being, the source of life and love that is found in the interconnectedness of all that is and most especially in relationship. That God of my experience doesn't want us to go out on the street and try to make bitching into a legitimate spiritual practice, doesn't want us to evangelize the world to any particular point of view, never wants us to "share Jesus" with anyone, but rather asks something much more difficult. It simply calls us to love, compassion, and relationship - something completely contrary to our instinctive drive to focus on the things that separate us and then conquer, kill, and pillage in God's Name. Could there be anything more obscene?

The short version (though it's far too late to really be brief) is that I am a Buddhist Christian because by being Buddhist I can come much closer to the essence of Christianity in which I encounter God. More importantly, I encounter God in Buddhism without having to tunnel through all the bullshit of the pseudo-Christianity of contemporary expression. One brings me alive, and the other has repeatedly tried to oppress the life out of me. Mama didn't raise no fool.

15 comments:

  1. This is just what I needed to hear! I used to be a Buddhist, but found that Jesus was Love. And while Buddha's teachings are still fresh in my head, I can see the love of Christ, but cannot find love in everyone else's teachings about Him. I love both Buddha and Jesus, but find more sustainability in Buddhism. I have tried to be a Buddhist Christian, but people have pushed against the ideal, and after reading this post of yours, I have decided to subscribe to your blog and be what I want to be.

    Thank-you!

    -Merry

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  2. Thanks, Merry! It sounds like we have shared parts of our journey though coming at it from different sides. I'm glad the blog resonates with you! I've also started a Blog Talk Radio show called "Interspiritual Insights" that examines walking in two traditions. You can find it here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/interspiritualinsights. Feel free to friend me on Facebook at Bishop Craig Bergland, too! I look forward to sharing our journeys!

    Craig

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  3. I was delighted to discover your site. I am a retired United Methodist missionary (clergy) residing in Brazil. For 12 years I practiced Tai Chi with a Buddhist professor. She inspired me to examine Buddhism closely the result being that it gave me a basis to throw off all creedal and doctrinal bullshit and adapt a spirituality that is non-theistic. It is liberating, puts me in touch with life and in communion with open people of all faiths. I consider myself a Buddhist Christian and see Jesus as my illuminated brother whose teachings and example inspire me.

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  4. Thanks. Derrel! It's amazing how my perspective changed once I started to see doctrine and dogma for what they are - artificial, man made (as you know, women had no voice historically in the development of doctrine and dogma), instruments of exclusion layered upon the teachings of Jesus. Perhaps even worse, doctrine and dogma were almost always developed to exclude certain groups of people with whom those in power disagreed. Now to be certain every tradition has similar low points in its history - Buddhism has terrible incidents of religious violence and persecution as well - but Buddhism would seem to have the advantage of not celebrating those low points and perpetuating them as the essence of the tradition! Quite frankly, once perpetuating the myth of Jesus' virgin birth and biological "son of God-ness" are released I believe the depth and beauty of his teachings springs forth and what we find are - surprise, surprise - teachings of compassion, love, non-violence social justice. Pretty compatible with the Buddha, if you ask me!

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  5. Dear Bishop,

    I have been Christian for many years, I am back from 10 days of vipassana, a technique from The Buddha Gautama and I have been amazed! How buddhism is similar to christianity, it is such a help for the day-to-day life.
    I have felt more love there than going to the mass lately. I have seen more understanding of Christ's Teaching from the buddhists than from my parish's priest.
    Buddha's teaching has enlightened my faith in Christ. I only wish that the Church gets back to the roots.

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  6. Now, Steve, I find all of this prattling on to not really be a discussion of my points but rather to be spam and if you continue I will have to mark it as such. If you have a comment regarding what I wrote I invite you to leave it. If you continue carrying on with this irrelevant nonsense I will have to start deleting your comments. Like so many fundamentalists, you seem to be either unable or unwilling to address the issues. That kind of nonsense is precisely what leads people to leave the Church. What's more, your theology is rather sophomoric.

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  8. I was raised a Christian. I find it difficult to let go of dogma that suggests that I must ONLY look to Jesus. I found that chanting and Nichiren Buddhism worked for me. In fact so well that I thought it must be magic or Satanic... I stopped out of fear. I have had an extremely difficult year and decided to pick it up again. Only 5 days later I feel a shift and yet I am fearful. Didn't Jesus say that you will know them by their "fruit"? So if this practice produces that fruit, how can it be bad? Really? Does God play games like that?

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    1. Hi Scott,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I believe you bring up a very important point - can God possibly be a God who plays games and still be worthy of the name God? In my experience, people - and unusually rather unhealthy people - play games. Is it reasonable to believe that God resembles and unhealthy human being? I don't think so. A God with mental health issues wouldn't be much of a God.

      When I think of chanting I remember that it's really nothing more than a kind of singing, and there isn't anything about singing that any sane person has ever characterized as evil. In fact, in the chanting has been a part of every religious tradition including Christianity. It can be a very effective path into prayer for many people, including me.

      We often say that God is infinite, and then turn around and contradict ourselves by saying that only one very specific path leads to God. That's like saying that we can only get an airplane into the sky if we have it take off in one very specific direction - it just doesn't make any sense.

      I wish you will on your journey!

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    2. Scott, I've recently been encountering the same type of fear and confusion. I love the teachings of Buddha, the calm, the chanting. But I'm in fear of "summonsing up demons" or something. However, Christianity isn't enough for me. *sighs*
      Thanks so much for this post Bishop Craig Bergland.

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    3. Toni, I would invite you to consider the possibility that convincing people they might "summon up demons" is an excellent way to keep them loyal to the doctrine of a particular church rather than encouraging them to seek the truth wherever it exists. "Demon" was a blanket term in biblical times for things that people couldn't explain because they lacked either scientific or medical knowledge or both. Epilepsy was seen as demon possession, whereas today we control it with medication. Any number of skin disorders was lumped into the category of leprosy - not just what we call leprosy today - and people were excluded from the community rather than sent to a dermatologist. People with mental illness were demon possessed, but today they are treated medically and are contributing members of society. If we read scripture in a discerning way, we will discover that some things in it are descriptions of understandings of illness and events that are time bound and can no longer be supported today. A "literal interpretation" of scripture that refuses to make those distinctions is in fact a distortion and perversion of scripture that actually harms people rather than setting them free - and Jesus was quite clear that the truth will set us free.

      Blessings on your journey!

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  9. Wanna thank the Bishop for sharing his experience. Enlightend my present journey in life which is nothing less then a roller coaster I didnt ask for. It appears youve found much success in both. A question for u how "into" buddism practices are u? Does it help u to learn written knowledge of the practice of buddism? For example Zen, and chants, english translations of different chants? Heres one A U M! Ever thought of becoming a spiritual advisor guess one can say Im seeking!!! Your blog has brought spiritual inspiration again thanks for shareing.

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    1. Hi Jeff! I do have a spiritual guidance practice and would be glad to help you. You can reach me through my email at craig.bergland@gmail.com and we can talk about what that might look like. I certainly can relate to your description of your journey as a roller coaster - I think that's normal when we are serious about finding a path that is a good fit. I have sat retreats at the local Buddhist centers and studied under teachers from the Tibetan and Insight Meditation traditions. I also have a great deal of respect for Roshi Joan Halifax from the Zen tradition. On top of that, I resonate deeply with Ram Dass and his guru Neem Karoli Baba from Hinduism. If I had to offer only one piece of advice, it would be to spend some time researching different practices until you find one that gets you excited and then just do it. For me that's mantra practice and kirtan. I can say my mantra for hours at a time, and it has really changed me into a person who is much more calm and much better able to traverse life's challenges. Of course, that's not the final goal - but my wife would tell you it's been a wonderful side effect in me! LOL! I have come to understand that the spiritual journey is much less about getting somewhere than it is about enjoying the journey itself and learning from the path. Shoot me an email if you like and we can talk more! Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it!

      Craig

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  10. I am a Buddhist Christian because Buddha foretells of Christ and you know the truth is the truth because it sets you free. Christ teaches love everyone as you love yourself who teaches the same thing you can tell what kind of tree it is by the fruit iit produces the idea that God wants you to acknowledge him by the words that come out of your mouth instead of what's in your heart doesn't make sense to me I kinda moved away from fundamental Christianity because of the almost genocide of the American Indian the enslavement of the African American the mistreatment of women these fruits that were produced in my opinion don't come from God and man and I don't care what book its in if it contradicts itself something must be wrong love everyone as you love yourself go there till the women kill the children killed the little babies man not God

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    1. Beautiful, thank you for sharing your journey!

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