Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Way to Let Go of Your Attachment to an Identity


Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

I originally wrote this post a few years ago, but find it's message still very relevant. Enjoy!

I walked into a coffee shop I hang out at a bit in downtown St. Paul. Among the folks in there was what I've come to term "the family." Over the last ten years or so, I've found myself in the company of this couple and their increasing number of children on dozens of occasions.

The scene is always the same. The children, in various states of unkemptness, run wild, while the man, older and dominant in a quiet sort of way, pontificates to his younger wife about some Bible passage. He frequently takes shots at all organized churches, and includes them among Satan's work. Meanwhile, for a long time, I wondered if the children were even getting home schooled, given how little they seemed to be able to read, write, or interact socially.

So, there they were doing there thing today. I sat down, and the guy sitting behind me starts leaving a message on the phone about a Bible study session. For a moment, I thought "Man, you're surrounded," then let it drop.

Over the years, I've struggled to not run a litany of judgments through my mind about that couple and their kids. Until a month ago, I'd never said a single word to any of them. Then the wife turned to me, as I was working on a blog post, and said "Aren't you that guy who goes to that Buddhist place?" I said I was and she looked at me, paused, and then said "I always found it funny that people would worship a guy who isn't a God." I smiled because it probably is funny from the outside, what we Buddhists are doing.

I'd forgotten that exchange this morning as I sat down and opened my laptop. As the couple gathered their children and started to leave, I was reading a post on someone else's blog. For some reason, I looked up just as the wife said "I'm wondering if ..." (short pause) "if you'd ever consider being challenged on you views?" Now, in the past, I probably would have been interested in such a debate. To prove that I could stand up as a Buddhist, even if the discussion went nowhere. However, as she said those words, I just thought "Life's too short for this." So, instead of engaging, I just said "I don't think it would be worth our time." And she nodded, stepped back, and said "Everyone has free will." And walked out.

The guy behind me, who was reading a passage in the Book of Romans (he'd said as much in the phone message he left), says "Do you know that woman?"

"Barely," I said, not knowing how else to explain this odd connection we'd had over the years.

"What was that all about?" he said. And I sat for a moment, wondering if telling him what it was about would just open up the same issue I had just cut off.

"We could have a long discussion about it, but it probably wouldn't be worth it."

He laughed a little at that, and said something about how that had been an odd exchange between her and I. I agreed, and then he went back to his Bible, and I to my blog. Which is where I am now, no less worn for wear.

13 comments:

red shift said...

Nathan. Now that you have gotten that off you chest...would you like to talk about God? Just funning you, amigo.

My wife is from a different country and one day some Jehovah's Witnesses showed up who happened to share the same nationality, so you can imagine where that went. I get regular visits now and these people don't take no for an answer.

I don't have any tofu with Christians and have practiced in churches myself -- in fact I think it is good karma to do so and keeps the lines of communication open in the faith community. But there is something particularly insulting to my spirituality when all of a sudden, it's like I've done something wrong if I see things differently, or this look of expected damnation.

Because I live in the bible belt I'm not an "out" Buddhist because I'm tired of this sort of thing, but once in a while I might hint that I meditate or will bring up something related.

I remember once some kind of diatribe about how meditating opens the spirit to devils. Now, I don't knock anyone for believing in devils if they choose, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to claim slowing mental arousal by stillness and controlled breathing is somehow going to invite them.

And of course the whole idols thing...I think this stuff is actually institutionalized among a certain subset of Christians, where they all meet and hear the same things about other religions, because there is a standard line used...and this of course wouldn't be so bad if it didn't lead up to some form of pressure to convert. If it was just about finding out about our religion, out of curiosity or to be nice, that would be fine. Heck it's more than fine. But it is almost never about that.

Maybe we need to get organized and have pamphlets printed up with topics such as (1) reincarnation is a biblical doctrine; (2) Buddha and Jesus said exactly the same things in many cases; and (3) it is likely Jesus was influenced by Buddhism from the silk road. Either that or just say "Jesus loves you brother," and walk off.

Bob said...

I remember trying to find a place to sleep in some town between Bali and Yogyakarta in Indonesia one night in the summer of ’81, and apparently my timing coincided with a Moslem Holy Moment. Thousands of very excited people were running through the streets with torches, not unlike a scene from the original Frankenstein movie, all chanting some kind of repetitive slogan.

I inquired of my guide about the lingo, and he said, “They’re shouting ‘There is only God!’” The ecstatic enthusiasm they exhibited for such a pertinent and succinct observation seemed quite remarkable to me, as did the hostel we finally settled at, having been assured by the guide that it was “the last vacancy left in town”, but that’s another story.

At any rate, he noted that westerners should be indoors during this time.

“Why” I asked, “if there is only God?”

He replied, “It’s not the same God.”


Here's a recent thought on online comparative religion, btw:
http://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/my-dogs-better-than-your-dog/

Bless!

red shift said...

Technically speaking I think Buddha didn't actually say there is no God...he said that belief in God was not conducive to enlightenment (or something to that effect). It seems to have been more the commentaries which led to this idea of no God in Buddhism.

I was thinking there might be some way to talk with evangelical mercenaries of Christ about this (well let's be nice and call them ambassadors) but now I realize if we said we don't deny God then it might actually make things worse.

Then we'd have to get into the discussion that Buddha is not God (and that's bad enough), but to go one step further and say we really don't know if there is or isn't a God, and that in fact such a thing is not incompatible with Buddhism, it becomes a perfect foot in the door for conversion efforts.

I've had discussions with other Buddhists who are very eager to deny God, but then I read of people coming from Christianity or other Abrahamic faith into Buddhism and suffering a lot because of this. So I try to not be so convinced about it, one way or the other.

Of course in good old "dogmaless" Buddhism there is always someone ready to jump all over you for anything straying from what master said so maybe I should keep my views to myself.

spldbch said...

I used to relish a good "debate" about politics or religion. Not anymore. Now I try to avoid these kinds of discussions whenever possible. It seems like it has become impossible for two people with different views to have a respectful discussion about their beliefs. Two people with different worldviews cannot learn about one another or exchange ideas without someone getting angry.

Also, I don't really want to have to defend my beliefs or opinions. It's not that I can't defend them - I try to reach conclusions based on as much information as possible. I just don't feel like being condemned by someone who doesn't agree with me. They are free to disagree. Just leave me in peace.

Nathan said...

" It seems like it has become impossible for two people with different views to have a respectful discussion about their beliefs. Two people with different worldviews cannot learn about one another or exchange ideas without someone getting angry."

I tend to think there's no way to creating a more peaceful world without engaging some of these challenging conversations. What I have learned to do is be more selective, or strategic about it.

In the particular case above, I knew from the outset that the whole thing was about trying to convert me. There couldn't be an exchange of ideas under such conditions, nor really any opportunity to find common ground.

I have been in conversations with folks who have extremely different views on life than I do where we've been able to be respectful, find some place of agreement, and/or learn something from each other. But it's not easy territory for sure.

Nathan said...

"Because I live in the bible belt I'm not an "out" Buddhist because I'm tired of this sort of thing, but once in a while I might hint that I meditate or will bring up something related.

I remember once some kind of diatribe about how meditating opens the spirit to devils..."

Yep, I've heard the "devil talk" too. Here in Minnesota. Not much you can say in response to that kind of stuff.

I also agree that the whole God/no God discussion in Buddhism can spin round and round. It seems to me that Buddha put issues like God to the side. I'm not sure anyone can really prove that the man personally either believed in God(s) or rejected them outright.

red shift said...

You said it, Nathan. That line about devils is the spiritual equivalent of door-to-door salesman dumping a pile of dust on your carpet to then sell you a vacuum cleaner.

rectalcancermyass said...

I think you handled the situation at the coffee shop quite well. I am guessing the woman's intent was to "save your soul." She didn't want an open dialogue. She wanted to show you that you are wrong. I have taken part in fundamentalist churches in the past and their member's belief system is based on fear. They are afraid of eternal damnation even if they stop to question anything from the Bible. You would have been in a no-win situation.

I like Bob's line about "not the same God." That is so true with fundamentalist thinking. They are right and you are wrong. Period. In some countries it could cost you your life.

When I find myself in those situations, I start giggling. Don't ask me why. I guess it's better than arguing about something neither one of us can prove exists.

I will admit there are mysteries about life I cannot explain nor understand and I am ok with that.

Nathan said...

"I have taken part in fundamentalist churches in the past and their member's belief system is based on fear. They are afraid of eternal damnation even if they stop to question anything from the Bible. You would have been in a no-win situation."

The fact that I had overheard them talking several times about God, the Bible, and such made it easier to say no to the conversation. I knew they were looking for converts, and I knew such a conversation would be pointless.

Eric Earle said...

I am a big fan of your blog!

It is clear that you are an amazing story teller and passionate !

Eric

http://thirdiradio.com

LK Lim said...

A good friend invited me to watch "Amazing Grace" last Saturday. I happened to have a prior commitment and said so accordingly. Glad i didnt have to lie but I know she will be back again. What would be a good, wise reply to shake these people off once and for all? Am also not interested in engaging them.

Kay said...

Was invited by an old friend to watch "Amazing Grace" last Saturday. Would not have lied but had prior engagement and said so. I know she will be back. What is a good and wise answer to get her off my back once and for all?

Nathan said...

"What is a good and wise answer to get her off my back once and for all?"

If you're good friends, it seems to me that figuring out a way to share how you actually feel about things (without judging the other person's religious/spiritual background) would be helpful. Especially if there's a pattern of subtle or not so subtle evangelizing, or even just a desire to share religious/spiritual experiences that only goes one way.