I’ve been asked several times in the last few weeks, “Now that you’re a Buddhist are you going to have Christmas?” I love discussions about spirit, meaning, and faith (so if you want to have one – hit me up!) but I have found this question a little odd. It’s like asking someone, “Now that you’re vegan are you going to have Thanksgiving?” Of course they are – it just won’t be turkey based. Of course I’m having Christmas! The center of my holiday won’t be the birth of Christ but the meaning of Christ, and the Miracle of Lights, and the guidance of Kwanzaa, and the silly grievances of Festivus will all be with me. I’m going to have the three things this season encompasses best – light, magic, and peace. Plus fudge. I plan to have lots of fudge.
A Season of Light
Light, like seasons, doesn’t need to have a reason, or even permission, to shine. No one owns light (sorry, Dominion Power). Light is precious and life-giving. It maintains its own being. You can shutter out the light, but the sun isn’t going away. Light is something celebrated in almost every spiritual tradition. The Menorah represents the miracle of light, the star over Bethlehem – the arrival of light, Kwanzaa the representation of the qualities of light. My non-religious friends put candles in the window when someone is out in a storm as a sign of hope that the person will find their way home. Light guides, light heals, light inspires, light saves.
In Buddhism, we believe the light is not an external thing, simply shining around us, but an internal flame – glowing within us. We meditate and connect with the light inside that shows us the reality of the present moment and our place in it. What better time than the darkest season to celebrate the fact that even when I’m in darkness, there is a light in there somewhere.
A Season of Magic
One of the core messages of Shambhala Buddhism (the lineage Cathy and I have taken refuge vows in) is that “there is magic in every moment.” Nowhere is that more evident than in the Christmas season.
- The way the whole world smells like gingerbread and spiced apple cinnamon is magic.
- The desire to give as a way of showing love to others is magic.
- The food your mom makes because your grandma made it because her grandma brought the recipe over from the Old Country is time travel (hence, magic).
- The colors, lights, and music everywhere you turn is magic. (For you people who complain about Christmas music in stores coming too early – can’t you just admit hearing that first chorus of “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” is a lot more magical than yet another replay of Hall and Oates, “Your Kiss is on my List.”)
A Season of Peace
Above all, this season is one of the few times we vocalize our desire for, and recognition of, peace. As a Buddhist, one of my main desires is remember we are all connected to one another and for all of us to be liberated from the suffering our world, each of us needs to be able to visualize and desire peace.
As more and more people seem to be finding ways to use the holiday season in its many incarnations as a way to divide us, I find this holiday to have great potential for us to remember we are in this together.
The truth is – seasons don’t need reasons. They come as they are with their unique weather patterns, foods, and frolic. They don’t come with rules, requirements, shame or expectations. They just show up. We, humans, are the ones who need reasons. It may just be the seasons’ view that we are welcome to any reason we can find. SO:
To my Christian friends for whom Jesus is the only reason: I hope you have an abundance of Jesus is your world this Christmas. May it be full of grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love.
To my Jewish friends who celebrate the festival of lights: I wish you glorious miracles and as many of those chocolate coins as you can handle.
To my friends who celebrate every other tradition I don’t know or understand well – I wish all the good things that come with them – and I wish you would teach me about them.
To my atheist/agnostic/apathetic friends who just want to have a party, eat good food, and sing loudly – Dude – What time should I show up? What can I bring? Do you have enough Chex Mix?
To my Buddhist friends and dear Sanghas – both the Open Heart Sangha and The Buddha Center (second life) – metta, love, and kindness – You’ll see me sitting with you. I’ll be the one in the Santa hat.
“And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to All, and to ALL a good night.”
Typically, when someone leaves a large corporation they are given a form or interview to explain why they chose to go somewhere else. Corporate big-wigs long ago realized that people staying with the company aren’t as likely to be open about the reality of what’s happening. The view from someone who no longer has a reason to hide their feelings is valuable to help those who remain. In a way, it is a last gift of the departing to the co-workers staying on the job. I hope my Christian friends see the heart I have for them and their road, even as I leave with some clear observations.
I toyed with this post for months – because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say anyone would care about and it can be seen as a rant. Okay, some of it is a rant. Pretty much, the response of Christian leaders and friends once you turn in your gold cross lapel pin is – “well, that’s just sour grapes” or “that’s your experience – OUR church isn’t like that.” So, why bother? Besides, I was taught it is rude to point out what you don’t like at a buffet (and Christianity is definitely a buffet) – just take what you want and sit down.
I decided to write after some good and heart-felt conversations with friends after I announced I was taking refuge (formally declaring myself a Buddhist) a few weeks ago. Many have suggested it was the Christian wailing and gnashing of teeth over gay marriage, or that vomit-inducing fake post about the red on the Confederate flag being the “blood of Christ” (REALLY?!), or just a bad experience with a church here in Virginia. None of that is true (in fact, the last Christian church I was in – The Gayton Kirk – was probably the best church I could have ever been in – except, I was already walking away from Christianity by the time I got there.). I’d been studying dharma, meditating and journeying for a few years now. It wasn’t a new decision – or even really a decision. I can’t name the day I said, “I’m not a Christian anymore.” I just looked around and began to slowly notice, I was somewhere else. But, there were things that cut the brush and made a path that led away more clear. This post is about those things.
In the end – it wasn’t the bigotry, the battles or the building fund that cut the trail leading me to a new place. It was all the fear. So – the Exit Interview. It’s not about “You” – the individual Christian, or “You” a certain church, or “You” a certain denomination, political bend (I find very little difference between the vocal/rigid conservative right and the silent/ineffective liberal left), or specific type of belief.. It’s “You” – Christianity – the whole uniquely American/Western shebang. It’s not personal – and yet, it is.
You are afraid to follow Christ.
As I’ve told many in the last few weeks, there is a person that Jesus taught people to be – and I want to be that person. But Christianity has failed to follow those instructions and I am not able to become or awaken to that person within the present environment. I have been very clear, though. I did not leave because Christianity was failing me. I left because I was failing to be me within it.
Western Christianity seems to have given up following the words and teachings of Jesus and swapped it out for the extreme worship and adoration of him. Whether he is on the cover of Time, headlining a movie, or appearing the chorus of country song – Jesus is an object of love and pure devotion.
The problem is, that wasn’t why he came. While we’ve been busy making him some sort of First Century rock star – the poor have been hungry, the prisoners abused, the sick denied medical insurance, and Samaritans of all kinds left on the side of the road to die. Following Jesus is different than worshiping him. It’s work, and it sometimes means being mobile, generous and uncomfortable. It means:
- Instead of crying tears at a revival because we are overcome by His glory – we are crying tears in the street because we mourn the dead killed because of their race, their social status or their mental health.
- Instead of moralizing and complaining about the working single mother who gets $76 a month per kid to feed them, it means opening your wallet and giving her $24 more so she has $100 – and maybe ensuring she gets some health care and the right to birth control, too. (“If someone makes you walk with him one mile – walk with him two”).
- Instead of donating to wealthy politicians (of either party) and filling church parking lots with signs and bumper stickers for the best candidate to create economic growth on the backs of the impoverished or at the expense of the earth – it means calling out the rich and being a voice for equality, dignity, and loving action on behalf of leaders and the community.
- It means stop expecting other people to “deserve” things/love/respect – feed them anyway.
Let’s face it – we all love John the Baptist for calling out the powerful on hypocrisy in the streets and paying with his head – but how many of us are really willing to be him? Which leads me to:
You are afraid to be Different
The bible tells us over and over that Christians are not supposed to be like the rest of the world. We are told to be “Strangers in a strange land” – “In the world but not of the world” – “Give Caesar his and Give God his.” But that isn’t how we see it in these days. Instead of living our beliefs even if they don’t fit the world – Christianity has decided to change to world to fit its beliefs. The fake “persecution complex” had gotten out of hand. A store saying “Happy Holidays” isn’t hurting you and the manager isn’t going to storm into your house and say “Kiss this Pagan Yule Log or you can’t have 30% off!” If other people in the world have “holidays” and you have Christmas – freaking have Christmas! Reason your season until your manger overflows with kneeling sheep and really clean shepherds. But don’t try to force the whole country to do it with you. Christianity was designed to be a city on a hill – a light – not a police force.
That goes for marriage, school prayer and every other Christian trope currently trying to be legislated into law. Your kids can’t lead the math class in a prayer to Jesus? So what! Is school the only place your kid can pray? Give your kids a home filled with prayer, and a life filled with actions of goodness and heart. It’s not the job of schools to accommodate YOU. It’s your job to keep your faith even when others don’t. Jesus talked about praying in a closet – not at a chalkboard. There are places all over the world where Christians are murdered. That’s persecution. The inability to shop at Penny’s cause they ran an ad with a gay couple is not.
We weren’t designed to be a “Christian nation,” we aren’t one, and we aren’t going to be one. Christianity should be something you choose because you want to be a Christian, not because the majority population pressures you into it or makes it illegal for you to act in ways that “aren’t biblical” (like any two Christians can even agree on what that is). Don’t try to make the world a nice place for your ideas. Keep them, walk them, and strive for them in a world where you may be different from others – because that is the point! (note: People in the Judeo part of the Judeo-Christian tradition have lived this way forever – and still they thrive.).
You are afraid of your own God.
If Pentecost were to happen in most Christian churches today, the Holy Spirit would have to try to time it between Upward Basketball and the taize worship service, get a permit from the Buildings and Grounds committee, and submit a plan for who would clean up the sanctuary when it was over. Church’s cling to order as a form of oxygen, instead of having a system that is strong enough to hold and flexible enough to withstand the spontaneity and creativity of a powerful God. Christianity is shackled by the ego, vision, budget, and polity of leaders and lay people rather than being freed by the willingness to follow what Jesus said.
You’re afraid God will let the church die. I won’t even start on the number of blogs and church seminars hysterical about the death, change, challenge of the modern church. Death is change. The church’s old model – huge buildings, full time pastoral staff who makes a living wage just from ministry, and programs, programs, programs simply isn’t working any more. Yet – with scholars in almost every denomination heralding this truth as the dawn of a new form of Christianity – lighter, relational, mobile and powerful in action and message – the mainline church is still functioning with 16 committees (for a 200 active member congregation) and claiming to be on the fringe because of that coffee shop/bar/mall/bookstore worship it now offers. Here’s the thing: Holding the same old bible study with the same old ideas in Starbucks isn’t innovation – it’s relocation.
The “wrath of God” has become a frequent Christian chorus. Gay marriage? “Let us pray this country doesn’t suffer the wrath of God.” Tornado? “God is letting us know God is unhappy with..,” Some Hobby Lobby worker needs birth control to regulate her hormones, “That will make God unhappy.” This “fear of the Lord” has nothing to do with the respect the Bible commands. I have respect for a lot of people, but I’m not afraid they will slap me with a plague, tornado or fire roasted chili just for doing something uniquely human. I am starting to think forgiveness plays such a key role in Christianity because there’s so much fear of God that we have to keep being assured we’re not heading for a smack-down. The belief in dualism – that we are somehow separate from God and require blood, prayer and methods to be acceptable or embraced is not something I can support.
A few years ago I left the Christian church and began a journey of meditation and study with a focus on rest, mental health, creativity and freedom from fear. I walked until I was in a field that expressed compassion, embraced life and death without fear, where mistakes happen and it’s okay, where reality is the focus, and where those things the words of Jesus taught me were actually being put into personal practice – kindness, mourning, joy, generosity, effort and embracing the basic goodness in myself and others. When I heard my meditation teacher say, “Buddhism is the path of being human.” I knew the name of the road I was on.
This wasn’t easy. It can be hard, and sometimes heartbreaking, to strip off long-held ideas and habits. I have grieved certain changes, and celebrated much baggage released. I cherish the friends I’ve made, the memories I’ve decided to keep, and the things I learned.
There is a story in the bible of the Magi who find the baby Jesus and are supposed to go tell Herod where he is. Realizing that funny thing they smelled on Herod was the stench of his fear, they were warned in a dream to go home by another way. That’s what I’m doing. So pray for me, and I will send my love to you. Let’s be different, together.
One of the lesser known villains in the DC Comic Universe is Calendar Man. Traditionally a Batman villain, he was created in 1958 (Detective Comics #289) by Batman co-creator Bill Finger. His traditional costume is a garish red and white suit with calendar dates as shoulder pads. In later incarnations he is shown as a bald man with the months of the year tattooed on his head.
His thing? Committing crimes based on the holidays or special days on a calendar. His name? Julian Day. He’s not a well-known nemesis of the Bat Family because his crimes all happen around holidays so it’s easy to figure him out, and he doesn’t really have any super powers or connections so Batman puts him away pretty quickly. Besides – look at him!
The moral of sad Calendar Man’s story is always the same – when you are trapped by the calendar and expectations of certain holidays, there’s little room for anything but misfortune. That’s as true for us as it is for Gotham.
Holidays are supposed to be a time for fun, remembrance, celebrating, spirit and food (oh, the food). But every year as social media shares our season of discontent with everyone around us, holidays are becoming big sloppy slices of complaining topped with judgment.
- Christmas music before Thanksgiving? WRONG! Stores are greedy!
- Retail stores opening on Thanksgiving day? CRISIS! American family is falling apart!
- People choosing to shop on Thanksgiving or wait for Black Friday! MATERIALISTS! Putting a flat screen TV ahead of their family!
- People saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? HEATHEN ATHEIST WAR-MONGERS! There is a war on Christmas and these people take it away from JESUS!
I’ve seen so many posts about Target and Kmart being open on Thanksgiving I’m thinking of building a bomb shelter because it clearly must be one of the horses of the apocalypse. While everyone is moaning and gnashing their cranberry-stained teeth, the innocence, fun and fellowship we are supposed to be feeling disappears before our very eyes. All because – like Calendar Man – we are addicted to a date on a page. Here’s my 3 tips to enjoy this time of year without the drama.
- BE HERE NOW
In meditation and mindfulness we are taught to focus on the now. We are encouraged to learn from and let go of the past, and move toward but not expect the future. We don’t measure our heart on the calendar – a man-made time-line placed atop our lives like a waffle iron – we measure it in the moment – what we feel, who we love, how we move.
The truth is Thanksgiving is not the only day people have to eat, laugh and love with their family. You can (and should try to) experience that ANY day.
Cultivate thankfulness as a daily practice. Eat more meals around your dinner table or pick a day in the week to make a special meal with special food. If you have to work Thanksgiving day – no one is going to take your family away from you – find a time when you are off and tell them how thankful you are. We don’t need Thanksgiving to feel gratitude, we don’t need Christmas Day to give presents and tell people we love them, and we don’t need New Year’s to start over.
Free yourself from the calendar. Be in the now.
2. STOP JUDGING
I mentioned on a facebook post that my wife is a nurse and she is working Thanksgiving and Friday so our Thanksgiving is Saturday. I said the point of the holiday is gratitude, not the worship of Thursday. A few who worked in retail also wrote that they LIKED working the holiday because of time and a half, and the energy of goodwill in the stores. What did I get back?
- Doctors, nurses and police are ESSENTIAL. Target employees are not. We can live without Target for a day.
- Target doesn’t NEED to be open Thanksgiving. They are just greedy!
- People who go shopping put material things ahead of their family!
They seem like sound arguments – until you see them for the bucket of judgment they represent.
It’s unfair to suggest what one person does is more essential or important than what someone else does. I’m a writer. It’s at the top of the list of “non-essential careers” – but it means the world to me. Is a nurse worth more? Does a doctor’s work make mine meaningless? No. It makes it different. Someone who works at Target may not be essential to you – but that salary, and the good work that person does at their job, is essential to them. Get off your high horse – airport workers, retail clerks, people who fix broken heaters are just as essential as doctors and EMTs – to someone.
Retail runs this country. YOU might not think Target needs to be open Thanksgiving, but the accountant for Target might. They call is “black Friday” because it helps retail stores move from Red (financial loss) to Black (profit) for the year. Maybe it’s more important than you think. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. And, really, unless you are a retail accountant – neither do you.
Newsflash: Not everyone has a family. Or a nice family. Or thinks spending all afternoon eating is the best way to be with their family. Or can make memories laughing while shopping instead of silently sitting in front of the Cowboys football game. Truth is, not every family looks like this:
Sometimes they look like this:
So getting out of the house and doing a little shopping or going to a movie until things cool down might just be the better option. When you assume the reason everyone shops is materialism – then it is likely YOU who is the materialist.
3. BE A GOOD GUEST
Let’s face it. As living beings –we are all guests on this planet. We don’t own the ocean, nature, sky or weather. We are all blessed to be guests on our mother Earth’s surface. So as we get into December – a place where a lot of religions, people, and ideas are all trying to experience joy, birth, goodness, and light in the midst of winter – let people do what they do without correction or criticism.
If you were a guest at a party, and you saw some people eating the meat out of soup with chopsticks – would you walk over and say, “You people are WRONG! Beef stew is eaten with a spoon! YOU HATE SILVERWARE!”? No – probably not. You might say, “wow, that’s different from how I do it,” then pick up your spoon and eat.
So – since we are all guests at December’s spiritual party – some people are going to say Merry Christmas, and some people are going to say Happy Hanukah, and some people are going to talk about Kwanza, and others are going to talk about “Happy Holidays.” Get over that. Say what you say and let people say what they say.
Jesus might be the reason for YOUR season, but other people have other reasons and celebrate other seasons. Accept a happy greeting in the spirit it’s given, and move along. Every time you complain about this kind of stuff at Christmas an angel sets its wings on fire.
What was Calendar Man’s ultimate capture? In the mini-series Dark Victory, Calendar Man tries to capture another villain called “Holiday” who is stealing his thunder by killing on holidays. What happens to him? Holiday’s sister catches Calendar Man and nearly beats him to death, leaving his tied up body for Batman to find. Holiday territoriality is clearly a bad idea.
Don’t be trapped by the lines on a page or the fantasy about “how it is supposed to be.” Be in your present. Be in the now. Just be, and let the world be too.
I am a Christian woman currently also practicing Mahayana Buddhism. I don’t hide that fact, but I don’t talk a lot about it either, largely because I don’t understand it myself. I know many of my Christian friends “don’t agree” or my Buddhist friends “don’t care” – so unless there’s a question, I keep the conversation to myself. Sometimes we follow a path and we don’t know why. We just know we are meant to follow it and the “why” becomes apparent down the road. This was one of those times.
We had a great vacation in Pittsburgh filled with baseball, black and gold, Primanti sandwiches, and all kinds of people from different places. Our cab driver pulled up an entire Michael Jackson playlist and we sang all the way to the airport. He told us excitedly about seeing Michael Jackson in concert in Japan when he and Michael were both younger men. Between his accent and the stress of riding through downtown Pittsburgh, I didn’t catch the whole story, but I loved the joy in the way he told it. A Pittsburgh resident for 31 years, he was from Ghana, and still calls it “my country.”
Plot Twist: We got into DC 20 minutes early for the late flight to Richmond. While we were talking about how nice it would be if the next flight was early too, they announced it was cancelled due to mechanical failure. Suddenly, silent strangers became a community of angry, disappointed whiners in front of the customer service counter. We decided to rent a car and drive to Richmond but went through the line to find out how to get our refund. In front of us was a distinguished business traveler, well versed in this process, and ahead of him stood a white couple in their mid-to-late 60’s, clearly returning from a vacation.
There were four very overworked, friendly, frazzled women behind the customer service counter with a supervisor who popped out every few minutes to ensure there wasn’t a mental breakdown or riot happening. I listened to countless people ahead of us dump their problems on the counter: I have to go to work, I’ve been here since five, I don’t have money for the night, I am never flying again…
Three of the service professionals were black women (I can’t say African-American because I have no idea where they were from), and one woman was Asian (again, no idea of exactly where). The vacationing couple was next to be called. I heard the woman chippering about something and pointing at the Asian clerk then the black women. A young man took his food voucher and left. The woman then said to her husband, “Let this guy go ahead. I’m not going to one of them.”
At first, I didn’t really catch it – but sure enough when the server called out, “next,” they let the man ahead of us go in front. They stared intensely at the Asian clerk who was wrapped up in a “complicated order” and nowhere near finished. The wife said to the husband, “You’ll have to let them go too. I’m not dealing with one of them.” So – a different server became open and they told us to go ahead. I looked at the man and he just muttered, “We’re waiting for someone else.” They let people go ahead until the Asian clerk was open. At the point we had our business taken care of and left.
The next hour was a jumble:
- Finding the rental car area – Dulles Airport will now be known in our house as “Escalator International”
- A rural toll booth at 10:30 at night that only took coins and had no attendant – Where a very nice woman in a hijab got out of her car to help someone who didn’t understand what to do – and stopped to ask Cathy if she had enough coins before driving on.
- Ridiculous traffic on the beltway – 11 at night, DC? Really? Don’t you people ever stop?
- A GPS that wasn’t quite sure where we should exit – “What do you mean 0.3 miles, a minute ago you said 10?!”
Once we cleared the city, Cathy asked me why the couple let us go. I said, “They didn’t want to go to a black woman. They wanted the Asian woman.” She said she thought that was what happened and we both agreed it was such a blatantly racist thing that we were stunned. We spoke briefly about all the amazing helpful people we encountered– the lovely Latina clerk at the hotel who gave us perfect advice, the cab driver from Ghana, the customer server at the airport who had a very pretty accent, but I don’t know from where, the patient car rental man who looked like George Takei and gave me a life-saving map and patient instructions, the woman in the hijab who went out of her way to help us – and how sad it was that couple would miss these experiences because of their racism. Cathy nodded off leaving me alone with my thoughts. That’s when it got…messy.
I found their unapologetic racism shocking, horrid and wrong in every way. In my mind I piled disrespect, charges of ignorance, and hopes their hotel had bed bugs on them. I become aware I was definitely judging them and a bunch of my ideals and feelings collided like so many cars on the DC beltway.
Being a racist isn’t just something you do, sometimes it is someone you are. In naming their racism am I not assigning judgment to them? Do people have a right to be racist? I talk all the time about accepting differences. If avoiding people with black skin is their difference, am I just supposed to accept that? Why is it okay to sing “Man in the Mirror” with a Ghana-born cab driver, but I don’t want to hear people express the fact they won’t let a black woman give them a hotel voucher? Am I a hypocrite? As a person who is a Christ follower – aren’t I supposed to give them grace? What does that mean? Jesus was pretty clear he doesn’t like racism (Samaritans, anyone?). Does it mean “love the couple and hate the racism?”
STOP THE CAR! I came dangerously close to “love the sinner, hate the sin” – a phrase I have personally been both battered with and railed against for years. Love the sinner…is the Christian version of the South’s “Bless her heart.” . Love the sinner is what people say when they have absolutely no intention of accepting someone as God made them, but they don’t want to sound prejudiced. I have always said, “That kind of love – I don’t need.” And now…I was getting ready to do the same thing.
I think that couple is fundamentally flawed. I don’t know them, love them or want to accept them. But I am taught to be forgiving, graceful and loving to people. All people are my neighbor. My racist neighbors. I don’t want to love them. I want to move. It’s distressing to think your spiritual ideals conflict with your human reality. What is the answer?
My Zen practice kicked in saying “This experience is like the Koans you read every day. There isn’t an answer, a right or a wrong. There is only a lesson. Maybe you don’t have to love them, and maybe you don’t have to judge them. Maybe you can learn from them and let them go.”
My peace returned as we passed the Ashland exit and my mind and heart moved from them to me – my faith life, my expression and experiences. I’ve thrived in my Buddhist practice. My Christ-following has thrived too. I still read the Bible, pray, serve, and have my ever-present crush on Amy Grant. I celebrate my many friends and support places that “do church” well and with great spirit. On the 295 Exit lane I realized – for the first time – why I took this path.
It’s not hard to understand why I would seek God outside of the church. As a lesbian who is also an ordained Christian minister, I’ve experienced an amazing amount of prejudice/ignorance/crap in mainline churches. But that’s not the reason. I’ve also experienced love/wisdom/laughter in many churches. The reason is found in that grace-lesson-judgment conundrum. Zen offers peace and balance in a way that lets me follow the teachings of Christ and be a human being at the same time.
Some of my wisest Christian friends talk about the power of Christianity being the struggle to be forgiving when it’s impossible, or give grace instead of ancient mummy curses. The idea to “be perfect as God is perfect” isn’t an expectation – it’s a challenge, and that makes Christianity vibrant. But for me (and me alone)– it has become a losing game.
I am a human being. There are things in my life l honestly can’t forgive – but I can let them go and let God forgive them. There are people in my world I don’t love and I’m not going to love – and I can let them go and let God love them. There are things I will never accept – like racism – and when I see it – even in myself – I must act to change it, and let the fear and cultural programming that causes it go. There are lenses that I see through, and I am learning to make mine compassion and forward action. Zen doesn’t say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m trying” or I’m not perfect, I’m forgiven.” It says, “I am the person God made me and I am becoming ever more so.”
And so here I am: I believe in grace (and prefer it to “karma” – especially when I’m the one who needs the grace), but I also believe in the natural law of karma. Karma is NOT the idea that what you do comes back to bite you in the butt. Karma is the understanding we are all connected and one action leads to another then another then another until it comes back around the circle of life to you. That’s a kind of truth I can’t deny.
I believe in Jesus Christ and the way he taught me to live in the world. I am also more spiritually and mentally healthy when I experience zazen and let go of the pressure of “how I am supposed to be” in favor a lessons in who I am and how I become.
So now, thanks to the detour, an unpleasant couple and a long, dark drive, I finally understand what I’m doing here. Now, to sit still and move forward.
Whatever you encounter in the drives and detours of your life – I hope you will find the best practice – or a mix of them – to move you steadily forward too. Most importantly, if you don’t know why you are on a certain path – it’s okay. You don’t have too. Eventually, some detour might help you figure it out.
That driver going way too fast who cuts in front of you gets pulled over by the police. The woman who is rude to the barista trips on the tile floor and spills coffee all over her new slacks. The employer who terminates your position gets laid off in a budget cut. The lover who left you gets dumped by next person. Your tears turn into smiles. Your righteous thoughts become real actions and the universe is balanced one more.
Karma. Everyone loves her. Except, when they don’t.
You’re late to work and it’s the third time this month, so you cut through traffic like soft butter, thankful there aren’t any cops around today. You know you were a little terse with the barista, but you’ve been up all night with a sick puppy and besides, she should know you don’t want decaf. Thank goodness you managed to spill your coffee on their floor and not your pants. Cutting that assistant at work saved your department budget and might give you a raise for being a shrewd manager – that would be a blessing from God.
Love for karma is a uniquely one way experience.
When she’s coming up to my table with a hefty serving tray of sown seeds grown into a bitter fruit cocktail – I’ll decide to skip breakfast that day. Maybe just some tea and a biscuit made of lessons learned. That’ll do.
I am frequently asked if I believe in karma. Here’s the truth:
- I am bound by natural consequence
- I secretly enjoy karma.
- I believe in grace.
Karma comes from the Sanskrit word karman and means, “to form fate.” It has been adopted into popular western culture from the Buddhist reincarnation idea that what you do in your whole life determines who/what you will be in your next. It isn’t just “one bad act = one bad return” – but the whole of your life – good and bad – are weighed for an outcome that will happen in the next. Within the Buddhist context, karma is a natural, logical by-product of transition. Outside of it – it becomes nothing but a tool for revenge.
Grace comes from the Latin word gratia and means “favor or goodwill.” Christianity has weighted the word with all kinds of theological implications that make for good small group discussions and seminary squabbles – but simple “good will’ remains at its core. Grace means that even when you don’t deserve it, good can happen. And if we are wise, we can happen to be good too.
IF I stake my cosmic system on the idea that good and bad always come back when you do good and bad – that means the guy who cuts me off on the freeway gets penalized and the lady who puts a quarter in my parking meter gets blessed. IF I base my life on grace – the guy who cuts me off on the freeway gets forgiven. And the woman who pops a quarter in the slot – gets the natual blessing of being a generous person. Win-Win.
Does that unbalance the world? Yes. But, if you haven’t noticed, it’s been tilted on its axis for a long time anyway.
It should be noted that grace isn’t a blank check to reckless driving (physically, or spiritually). There is another law that comes into play – natural consequence. And fortunately, like all natural laws – it doesn’t need me to believe in it. It just is. If you plant tomatoes, you’ll get tomatoes. If something goes up, it will come down. A habit of driving badly with cars or souls will wreck you in the end. So, drive your life like everyone around you is beloved. You won’t believe how much you enjoy the ride.
And, when you arrive at the café for breakfast with me – I’ll skip the karma, and take some grace with an extra side of bacon and possibly an organic cherry tart.