Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

More About This Lutheran To Buddhist Thing. Part 3.

Believe it or not, this blog has a mail service.  Yeah, it's not as sexy as Reddit or an RSS feed, but if you comment on here with your email address, and you like actually want me to, I'll add you to the list of people to whom I send new posts as they're posted.  Mostly I'm sending it to certain family members, who wouldn't read my stuff otherwise.  Too much trouble to check my Web site every Thursday (well, most every Thursday) or they're not on Facebook or they don't like to browse on the Internet or whatever.  This is convenient, in a way, because if I wanna talk about them, all I have to do is not send the post when I'm done.  Yeah, it's kinda cowardly, and there's that tree-falling-in-the-forest thing (if a post is posted on Blogger and there's nobody around to tweet about it, does that post still exist?) but I get to get plenty of stuff off my chest that way, without hurting anybody's feelings.  And really, would you want to send a post critical of a person directly to that person?  Even if you did, you wouldn't do it, if you were a Lutheran.  It's way too direct and problem-solvy for a Lutheran.  And I was once a Lutheran.  So there you are.

This here is one of those posts. Yep, another discourse on my ongoing confusion with religion.  Which started pretty early.  I think I was about five.  Apparently in some Sunday-school discussion, we'd been talking about the poor widow who only had two shekels to give to the temple, which God appreciated much more than the sacks of gold brought by the more well-to-do believers because she gave all she had.  (You might think God would just give the two shekels back and say, "No, really, I'm fine without these.  Please take them and, I dunno, buy food for your kids or something." Maybe God would.  But temple administrators?  That's a whole nother story.)  Anyway: It occurred to me that I had a lot more than two shekels and I wasn't giving God all I had, which was evidently bad.  The most valuable things I owned at the time were my gold birth ring and a collection of Barbies.  The ring was a lot more portable.  So after the service one Sunday, I sneaked into the sanctuary, put it on the railing in front of the altar (the altar was off limits; even before paralegal school, I knew the before-the-bar rule) and left it there.

Well, you know how this ends.  Somebody saw me and turned in the ring, and the pastor figured out who I was and returned the ring to my mother, who returned it to me.  And I got in all kinds of trouble about leaving important and valuable things just lying around places (and at church, no less).  What was I thinking?   I don't remember if I explained about the poor widow and the two shekels, but I probably tried to (at that age I was still trying to explain stuff; I don't think I gave up on that until I was thirteen or so, and one might argue that in fact I never really did).  Anyway, the whole religious aspect of this incident just got totally overlooked. Which, again, if you're five, is all manner of confusing.

Everybody gets mixed messages from their parents.  It's part of being human, I think.  My bag of mixed messages, when it comes to religion, runs something like this: It's very important that we go to church every Sunday.  Because it's just something this family does.  You need to dress up and look pretty so we can look nice as a family but don't try to look nicer than anybody else or do anything else to call attention to yourself.  Yes, they talk about religion there, but don't listen.  Be attentive to your Sunday-school teachers. Just don't believe anything they tell you.  Because religion is a bunch of crock, really.  Don't believe in God.  Or if you do believe in God, don't tell anybody.  Especially not people at church.  They'll think you're a holy roller, and you don't want to be a holy roller.  There is no devil and there is no hell but you shouldn't ever lie, cheat, steal or have sex, because otherwise you'll go straight there when you die.  Finally, the way you feel at church is not important and you shouldn't pay any attention to it.  If you get involved with religion based on the way you feel, you'll end up in a cult or living on the streets with the Jesus Freaks. But it's very important that we go to church every Sunday.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You can see how this might get confusing for a five year old.  Hell, I'm 45 and I'm still confused.  Even during the whole last five years I was living at home, when I refused to go to church and waged World War III about it with my mother every single Sunday, I don't think we ever once had any kind of actual religious discussion.  By which I mean, "This is what I believe. (Statement.)  What do you believe?"  That just never, ever happened.  Again, I'm 45 and about all I can tell you about my parents' religious beliefs is that I don't think my mother believes in God at all and my dad might believe in intelligent design, based on something he said once in a discussion about evolution ten years ago.  That's it. That's all.  If one of them ever dies, I suppose we'll have the funeral in the Lutheran church, but for the life of me I don't know why.

The tricky bit, here, is that I really wanted to believe in God.  It's very comforting to think that if you need help, there's somebody up there who can send it, and that if you fall down, somebody will pick you up and put you back on your feet.  I could wrap my brain around the concept of God, but I couldn't really believe in it.  And Jesus was right out.  I mean, the guy was cool--long haired radical, taught people to do what was right instead of what was popular, wanted his flock to take care of the widows and the orphans and anybody else who was obviously having a hard time, ended up dying for what he believed in--but the son of God? (Actually, he never said that.  He called himself the Son of Man.)  None come to the Father but through me? Nope.  Couldn't do it.  Could not even for one second believe that God would just pitch you out if you didn't come by way of his caddy.  That was totally antithetical to anything being God would mean.  And by the way, I do have at least a shaky grip on what being God would mean.  So far I've absolutely refused to play any video games that even hint that you control the environment, like SimCity or Black & White or even virtual fish aquariums. And I thought the scariest part of The Talisman, by "Big Steve" King and Peter Straub, came near the end, when Jake was with the Talisman for the first time and realized that by holding it, he had become God.  That sort of thing upsets me tremendously.  I cannot handle it.  And so this I can say about God with complete certainty:  He is not me.  And I was never cut out to be Him.

(Yes, even in my manic phases, where sometimes grandiosity takes over and I start believing that everything I do takes on Extreme Significance and therefore must be done Exactly Right.  Thank God for meds, because seriously?  That sort of thing gets old quick. There's only so many times you can walk down Fifth Avenue between B Street and Broadway at exactly 11:15 in the morning on a Wednesday in order to avert the Something Bad that might happen. Sooner or later you just have to get some work done.)    

So to end the story if it has an ending, after some 26 years in the Lutheran church, a lot of years as a nonpracticing nothing-in-particular and these last four or five as a Buddhist, I have not the foggiest idea to whom I'm praying.  I could address my prayers "to whom it may concern," but it's easier to just say God. You know, that supreme being I don't believe in.  I believe in a Higher Power (yes, 6 years in OA hasn't been a total waste of spiritual time), but what that is, I couldn't tell you.  I believe in a sort of universal force for good, something out there maybe made up of all of the beings that ever were, are or will be, that just sort of wants what's best for everybody and thinks we should all be a little nicer to each other.  So Buddhism fits this pretty well, seeing as Buddhism isn't terribly concerned about the nature of God.  As my Buddhist monk friend told me, "If there is a God, then He needs to be enlightened.  If He is already enlightened, then we should strive to be like Him.  If there is not a God, then we don't need to worry about it."

He said that.  He really did say that.  Honestly,  I could just smack him sometimes.  Which would be a very un-Buddhist-y thing to do.  And my Higher Power probably wouldn't be happy about it either.

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