Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

More About This Lutheran to Buddhist Thing. Part 1.

You may be surprised to hear this, but most people don't wake up one morning, say, "Hey, I'm the wrong religion," and go out and join another one.  If you're going from one kind of Protestant church to another -- Methodist to Presbyterian, let us say -- it might be that easy, but usually there's a little more to it than that. For yours truly, anyway, there was a long period of being uncomfortable standing under that particular banner, followed by an even longer period of wandering around wondering which banner would be better.  And finally deciding that none of them were perfect, but that the people most like me, tended to be Buddhists.  Coincidence? Nah.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, which for Protestant Christianity generally, isn't a bad way to grow up at all.  Lutherans are pretty tolerant of people's differences (they're Scandinavian, natch) and don't get into a lot of discussions about literal translations of the Bible.  One Bible study I went to, we talked about space aliens for 45 minutes.  There were plenty of things about church I didn't like -- flat-out waste of a decent morning to sleep late, in my humble opinion, among other things -- but the philosophy wasn't the problem.  The problem was that I just couldn't swallow it all.  Jesus showed up 2000 years ago to take on the sin of the world and save everybody? Okay, that was cool.  Everybody since then is saved by the grace of God?  Not a problem. Be nice to people, help the poor, advocate for justice for the downtrodden?  Uh, isn't that what a Christian is supposed to do? But then we got to this business about none come to the Father but through me, and that was the piece of pot roast that just wouldn't go down.  

I mean, Jesus was cool.  Don't get me wrong.  I kinda like the guy.  But whether Jesus actually said it, or St. Paul (who never knew Jesus in the first place) just said that he said it, that whole "only this elite group of people, whoever they are, will make it into heaven" was a complete contradiction with the whole "God's grace" concept (see above). Look, either we're saved by the grace of God or we're not, and if we are, that applies to EVERYBODY.  Jew, Muslim, Hindu, guy on the other side of the planet who's lived in a rain forest all his life and has never met a missionary. No exceptions.  I mean, He's God, right?  He's either all-powerful and can save everybody, or He's nothing and doesn't exist. And if He's not gonna save everybody because of some arbitrary designation that human beings made up, then who needs Him? 

Frankly, the only reason I hung around with the Lutherans as long as I did was that the particular gang I hung with -- First Lutheran Church in San Diego, California--were such brilliant examples of the genre.  I mean they served meals to the homeless, had a doctor come in and treat the poor for free, an acupuncturist to help out folks who were in pain, a lawyer to help homeless vets get the benefits they were entitled to--oh, and they had this church over here, too, and if you wanted to come by on a Sunday, you'd hear some pretty good music and maybe learn something.  The church was almost beside the point; the main reason it existed was to cobble all these people together right in the middle of downtown San Diego, where, let's face it, they were desperately needed.

But there were cracks in the foundation.  Not at First Lutheran but in the Lutheran Church generally.  Gay people had always been welcome, and First Lutheran was a "reconciled in Christ" congregation, which meant they were super welcome, but there was a big kerfuffle in synod politics over whether gay people could be pastors (which was not unlike an earlier kerfuffle about whether women could be pastors.)  The uneasy compromise they came up with when I was still hanging around was that gay people could be pastors as long as they were celibate.  (Which was not unlike the earlier decision that women could be pastors if there weren't any male pastors available.)  Ironically, around this time the Fred Phelps group came and protested First Lutheran, calling us "fag lovers" for not chasing away gay people.  You're nobody until you've pissed off Fred Phelps, long may he rot.

And there was some other stuff. The big things were the God's grace thing and the gay pastors thing.  That was what finally suggested to me that I find another gang to hang around with.  But try extricating yourself from a church when you're one of the church ladies with the big breasts and the clipboard. (I admit it.) I mean I sang in the choir, I was on this committee and that committee, I was In Charge Of Stuff.  I had to move to Texas to finally get out of there.  Even if you know how to make paper flowers, they're probably not gonna insist you attend their church if you live 2,000 miles away.  

I didn't go directly from Lutheran to Buddhist, do not pass go or collect $200, though.  I tried being a pagan first.  Why not; all inclusive religion, no membership requirements (since they made it all up as they went along), invite any god you want to hang with you and oh, yeah, cast spells and stuff. Trouble with paganism is, though, that most of the people who practice it are pretty warped.  I expect they were that way before they started practicing, but still.  Besides, it's hard work.  There's stuff to read, things to memorize.  Homework.  Calculations.  Moon phases.  

Buddhism, on the other hand?  Do nothing.  Just sit there.  I could handle that.

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