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May 27, 2005

Pass the Potatoes

So I’ve mentioned before that I’m taking a class on Buddhist ritual.  Every week a different practitioner comes and demonstrates and/or lectures on a different ritual from the Buddhist tradition.  We’ve studied mantras, sand mandalas, poetry, meditation, pilgrimage – even something called goma fire ceremony (quite something to observe!).  Every week I leave struck by the worlds the presenters inhabit – worlds filled with symbols that I know little about, practices mostly foreign to me, convictions about what is real and true, what can and can’t be known, what’s best and worst to pursue or desire.

I’m struck by the fact that we’re all living on the same planet, and yet in so many ways inhabit different ones. (I could write piles on what it seems like everyone has in common, but I’ll leave such thoughts for other posts.  I want to look at the differentness angle here.)  And it’s living in our worlds that keeps those worlds alive, keeps them real.  To explain...

So often in my study of world religions, I’ve heard or read of devotees’ frustrations with “outsiders” observing and studying religions at arm’s length.  “To understand our world, our community, our God, you must participate.  You must become a disciple.  Then see what of us you think, or feel, or know.”  Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Sufis – even a woman I know whose life is immersed in Japanese tea ceremony:  all have suggested that practice comes first.  Distanced analysis simply can’t get to the heart of each tribe, each religion.

But here’s the thing that trips me up:  inhabiting a world and surrounding oneself with people who live in it is itself reality-producing.  True, some realities are more believable than others, more readily or thoroughly convincing, but by and large, surround yourself with a world of people saying the sky is red, and even the best of us will sooner or later believe it.  A host of social psychological studies confirms this.  We’re tremendously shaped by those around us – their assumptions, their values, their thoughts, their claims.  For good reason practitioners of religion gather regularly with those who see reality the way they do.  "World" maintenance depends (in large part) on it.

This is frustrating me this week, though.  I’m frustrated by how thoroughly we humans can believe things that are only one way of “seeing” (one way of understanding what’s real, true, trustworthy, etc.).  I’m standing at the overlap, or rather juxtaposition maybe (?), of so many worlds that each have recognizable wisdom, depth, history, resonance...but each claims to be The Story, The World, The way of knowing what’s real.  I don’t have enough lifetimes in the next fifty years to become a disciple of each, and even if I did, I don’t think I could suspend my knowledge-of-the-truths-in-other-worlds long enough to be able to do so successfully.

I’m reminded of the process of awakening that children often go through when they discover that the ways things are done in their nuclear families aren’t the ways things are done in every family.  What in the world are the Johnsons doing, they may ask, eating ketchup on their eggs?!  Shock can mellow into realization that there’s more than one way to eat eggs, and eventually can even become appreciation of alternatives to one’s own.

So here’s the rub:  What do I do with my knowledge that there are all kinds of Johnsons out there, practicing all kinds of ways of knowing, maintaining all sorts of realities, believing any number of disparate things about God and Truth and the meaning of the cosmos?

Postmodern angst indeed. 

I left class last night feeling like every religion, on its own, is a rich dessert.  Amazing.  Beautiful.  Delectable if taken in the right time or amount or temperature or context.  But I feel like I’ve been eating a whole meal of the stuff.  It’s making me sick.

I want something simple now.  Something less elegant.  Less sophisticated.  Something that’s vegetables or protein or grains right from the stalk. No butter or sauce, please.  No sugar.  And please, no chefs fighting over the right way to make it, or the proper method for enticing rough audiences to try.  Or over what will happen if they don’t.

I want to stare at the moon on balmy spring nights.  I want to smell earth smells.  I want to send out my gratitude for life and love and hope and resurrection without getting tripped up on who it is I’m sending it to.  I want to feel my anger and fear and indignation at a world where so many suffer.  Where I suffer.  And I want to learn to embody all the things I admire.  Like honesty and integrity.  Like gentleness and strength.  Like respectfulness and awareness that we’re all interconnected – gloriously and perilously so.  Confidence and humility in knowing how much light and darkness are inside of me.  And you.  The ability to hold a lot in tension and still have joy.  Levity.

I want a simple, earthy faith, and to feel unthreatened by the voices who say that’s not enough.  People who fear or prophesy, because of the worlds they inhabit, that people like me are going to hell.  Or straying far from God.

God help us all.  This world of sweets and dear sweet-eaters is just too much for me right now.

03:16 PM in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion/Spirituality | Permalink


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Posted by: roger | May 28, 2005 8:13:28 AM

again, you weave with words, and tell the tales in my heart... the johnson's indeed! what if we really lived like the other's face was the mirror we needed more than anything, more than our way, (the way;)
you provoke both thought and silence, thanks...

Posted by: susie albert miller | May 28, 2005 10:26:28 AM

My name is Sara F, nice last name, eh? No I'm not Canadian, I'm originally from Oklahoma and just graduated from MBBS this May 1 with an MA in Intercultural Mission. I met you once when Katherine bought your car....which I have benefitted a lot from too--borrowed it quite a lot from her...faithful car!

Thanks for this post! It ministers to my heart in some mysterious way that I can't quite put my finger on. In some ways I'm tired after seminary. I want to rest in the simple jesus that I know, but my mind won't allow it and I get frustrated. And so I appreciate your honest reflections...I wrote my sr seminar paper on theological bridging between buddhism and Christianity, so I think it's really cool that you are going to a Buddhist class.
Sara :)

Posted by: saraannefast | May 30, 2005 2:04:53 AM

Susie, I like that...seeing others as mirrors that we need. And Sara, yes, I remember meeting you! Thank you for your comments. Your senior paper sounds really interesting. As one who relates immensely to after-seminary fatigue, I wish you deep rest. Nice to be in touch again!

Posted by: Kristin | May 30, 2005 3:04:33 PM

Okay, so depending on where I am globally, I eat eggs with ketchup or catsup, if they are fried or scrambled or even poached, but as they come if they are hard boiled. I poach my eggs in vinegar water, not those commercial poachers. I scramble my eggs in the microwave. Egg residue requires some scrubbing and very seldom comes clean easily. In that respect it is quite like the opinions of fundamentalists of every stripe who claim uniqueness for their beliefs...a little sticky.

Posted by: Connie Knighton | May 30, 2005 10:14:59 PM

beauty and wisdom often walk hand in hand and the most powerful expressions of their joint creation seem to be both the most simpliest and yet the deepest of thoughts/statements/reflections...

It's something of the postmodern dilema that we now live in a different world order of experiencing belief. 20 years ago when I became a christian I was taught:

# here are a set of beliefs you must hold/accept as a christian;
# now do christian things;
#finally feel like a christian.

That train is now reversed I think more and more with people starting off feeling [this feels good] than doing the practices and finally coming to/forming beliefs...

It is a fundamental shift away from the head - believe this or the doing first and focuses as you do on the feelings... this is the feeling, the itch that needs to be scratched - peace, simplicity, connection, realism - it is why for me my heart reacts with delight when I read Paul's words in the Message translation about Jesus...

"...He was supreme in the beginning and--leading the resurrection parade--he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe--people and things, animals and atoms--get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross."

Colossians 1:18-20

Posted by: Paul | May 31, 2005 2:40:30 AM

Thank you. I'm longing for much of what I hear in your words. Be well.

Posted by: John Sloas | Jun 2, 2005 11:54:15 AM

Kristin, I really like what you're saying here, and resonate with it. And yes, you were right about the link to your own post abour "roaring" and the linkage to something I wrote recently.

Posted by: Erdman | Jun 7, 2005 9:05:54 AM

this rings true for me.
to me it feels like the echoes of feminine or goddess spirituality though i hate to quantify it and god knows there is a fundamentalist for every flavor of religion. let's hope it's enough to love well and live in full awareness of our tiny, simple lives.

love to you.

Posted by: jen lemen | Jun 7, 2005 6:19:39 PM

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