I like to think about all the world religions as having their own personalities. To me they offer a buffet of life advice and world-view options that can serve as guides. At its best, Christianity offers hope that it all turns out perfectly. Islam offers the comfort of a powerful paternal God in charge of everything as long as I behave. Hinduism offers the awareness that spirituality is a smorgasbord affair of gods and icons that can be employed in different ways for different moments. Judaism, to me, offers the ultimate religious experience of
“us”-ness against the world. I get that this view is overly simplistic. I get it.
When life hands me not cherries, but more a bowl of chewed pits, I tend to turn to Buddhism. Buddhism, at least the way I think about it, calls me back to a sober examination of life, the way we think about what life is, and how we should live. For that reason, Buddhism, particularly the Zen tradition, seems to call up a pragmatism that can feel oddly unreligious, but true. Here is a list of hard truths that a Buddhist meditation instructor suggested were things we should never forget. It’s sobering.
I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are trapped in change, and thus there is no way to eventually escape being separated from them.
The old joke "the way to make God laugh is to tell God your plans" is rooted in the truth that there will be unexpected turns some of which you won’t like.
It is easy to see this as pessimistic and depressing. Initially, it is. Buddhism is designed to heal us by pulling us out of comforting, but false delusions. I find it valuable for my own stability to embrace the truth they hold. Selling this message is counter to the optimism at the heart of consumer culture, but it is true. Religion can be both uplifting and truth-telling.
But, when we realize that as the years pass some of our capacities are diminished or lost, and that our lives will eventually come to an end, we are at least preparing ourselves for reality, and could inspire us to action, not nihilism.
I look forward to stepping into the next church year with you – full of the promise that changes will come. Some changes of course are in our hands. Others will not be. Some changes will be good, others may not be.
I hope that we will meet each new challenge as a loving community, with a spirit of cooperation.
See you in church!