Essentially Christian Practically Buddhist

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This is going to be a long and tough one—you cannot be simply be glib about it—the title already demands a serious explanation. Studying various religions, I found that Buddhism and Christianity shares a watershed in psychology. In fact, having been raised a Christian studying psychology in college, it was in that milieu that I began to be fascinated with Buddhism (and Islam as well) when understanding consciousness and perception. Later readings do validate that there is common ground in psychology for at least Buddhism and Christianity (and Islam too, but I do not want to complicate the conversation).

Meeting in psychology, Christianity sees Buddhism and values the exercises in centering and focus that is helpful in prayer and meditation. Various corners of Christianity have dived into yoga or at least practiced something that looked like meditation. Buddhism, however, has an entirely different take on Christianity. Looking at the outward appearances, Christianity does not really offer any practice that is not present in some form in Buddhism. What Buddhism sees psychologically is more in the line of developmental psychology.

Developmental Psychology is an aspect of psychology that deals with human development or, simply, growing up. That part where you track things from infancy, puberty, into adultery ... I'm kidding. But you get the idea—it deals with the stages of human development.

What Buddhism sees is Christianity is a valid phase of one's journey—it is the phase where you need a father or a parent.

Conversations with and listening to Buddhist gurus and wise men, plus a reading here and there, was sort of ... well ... enlightening. It helped understand what was going on and where I should be going and growing in the faith. It also validates a lot of stuff I have been ranting about. Yes, there is something about Christianity that is annoying me to high heavens.

At the risk of oversimplification, the typical Evangelical experience more or less would look like this:

You start off as a lost sinner, then in some form of encounter through maybe an evangelist, a friend, or maybe TV program you hear about Jesus and salvation. Maybe not instantly, but eventually, you accept Jesus as lord and savior, you're born again, you're now saved, or however else you call or describe it. You may feel good about yourself, maybe a mild lightness of being, or, an ecstatic explosion of joy overwhelms you. Then it increases as you find yourself in a church, a community, or a fellowship. Soon you're part of a Bible study, and it gets serious as you join discipleship programs, then leveling up to ministry and mission classes and you get more involved as you volunteer to sing, teach, and maybe even preach. This goes on and somewhere along the line, things go blah ... everything is meh. Maybe it's just you or maybe the whole church, but at some point, someone would point out: "your love has grown cold".

A call for revival comes and subsequently, a rally, a retreat, or a camp takes place and an invitation to rededicate your life to God is issued. You step forward to declare your love and all that, and you are once again swept up in varying degrees of "joy". This time, you become part of the choir or the worship team, singing and leading worship both inside the church or in the evangelistic outreaches where you sing of the love of God to those who have yet to feel that grace. This goes on and somewhere along the line, things go blah ... once again everything is ... meh? And you guessed it, someone would point out: "you lost your first love".

The whole cycle starts again: it is as if you are using your personal computer, working on your spreadsheet, or playing a game when someone presses the reset button and reboots the whole thing (okay, that may be a dated references but there was a time when PCs had a prominent reset button). In lives of many Christians, this cycle may repeat over and over again.

To be cynical about it, I am suspicious that many times, that call to renewal coincides with someone writing a book that say, adds purpose to your life? And you don't just end up buying the book, but also a whole slew of study guides, even study bibles to add to your NIV for fathers, NIV for mothers and NIV for teens, as well as ... ahem ... merchandising that includes bookmarks, bumper stickers, posters, and t-shirts to declare that you have a new purpose in life.

But I don't want to go there ... yet. That is a rant that deserves its own write-up.

What I want to deal with is that "blah"/"meh" part--is it really love growing cold or being lost? Why is the solution of many a call to revival? Is that the only solution? You wonder why shopping is considered by many as therapy?

At another time and place, the Desert Fathers and contemplatives have names for it, they call it "the desert", "the dark night of the soul", and more recently "when the well runs dry" (Thomas Green SJ). So there is a tradition that understood this—and this movement that would later touch bases with Buddhism in regards to meditation.

But perhaps, what I would like to contribute is a fresher explainer of what is going on: "the stage where you need a father" is my starting point. That is a valid Buddhist analysis and observation. Of course, Buddhism sees the human experience as a journey towards enlightenment—whatever that means. From the Christian perspective that sounds kinda vague, almost ... um, something about nothing? Maybe we'll get back to this later.

In the meantime, much of Christianity emphasizes our need of a father. God is our father: the first line of the Apostle's Creed declares just that. Inversely, our experience and worship leans on us being his children. But is that all there is to it? I don't think so: there must be more to simply being "childlike" and the bible agrees with Paul addressing that in I Corinthians 13 (the love chapter). Much of modern Christian spirituality emphasizes our childlike faith and dependence on God ... needing God. The opposite of childlikeness is to be a snarky and cynical adult—at least that is how it sounds when bible Christians describe it. But isn't that the path where "growing up" leads you to? Some form of maturity where you are independent from your parent?

Wait ... am I saying we should not be dependent on God? Isn't independence from God the original sin?

There is a difference between dependence/independence and being in relationship. Essentially, children are dependent on parents but only up to a certain point. Because ultimately, they grow up and become independent. Eventually parents die and need I state the obvious? We can pull out stories of toxic situations where--yes--the children are dependent on the parents but because of the dysfunction or abuse, the relationship may be iffy or non-existent. Healthily, adolescence is the transition from dependence to independence and even in the best situation, it can get rough. Later in life, there are functional dependence, like in a school or work environment.

But is there any form of relationship where there is no dependence expected? Yes, there is—it's called friendship—and that is where Jesus wants to end up in John 15. (See my essay on A Theology of Friendship).

Click on the link to Theology of Friendship because I do not want to repeat myself, but to emphasize, there is no 'formal' theology about it (while parent-child is "adoption"; lost soul-savior is "redemption"; sinner-judge is "justification" ... you get the idea). Why not? Because I argue that friendship is subversive: it robs power structures of its reason to exist. Because if the King of kings and the Lord of lords is my friend, which pastor or evangelist can claim to have the sole authority over anyone?

Which brings us now to this cycle of reboots: why are we not allowed to grow up as real mature adults in faith and are kept as dependent children almost always hit with guilt trips about love growing cold? The answer that has a lot to say on how modern churches are governed. More on that in a subsequent cynical rant.

In the meantime, there is more to that stage beyond where we need a father: many are stuck there growing fat as spoiled brats in God’s house. It is an entirely different adventure getting to know God as a Friend. Prayer changes because 'protocols' no longer matter. Ministry and work changes because your boss is your friend. While the Desert Fathers who were mostly running away from the excesses and fall of the collapsing Roman Empire discovered the heart of their friend as broken looking at the fall of their world, I'm beginning to see despite the darkness of this age, a heart of full of joy and laughter—maybe because I'm equally into the arts as I am into scripture? Yeah, I consider that the prophets of this age are the stand-up comedians.  Trying reading the Jesus’ sermons as if he was a stand-up comic … and his mother is even a snarkier character (check out the excerpt from The Gospel According to Mary).

Life is a journey—and while there would be times where functional dependence is involved, like in ministry. Much of it would be just chilling with Jesus which is mostly, doing nothing—after all, what do friends do? (yeah … read A Theology of Friendship … did I say that already?). 

Wait. Nothing? So, does that makes me practically a Buddhist?

"It's all about nothing!" -George Constanza (Seinfeld)