Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hello Dali... and where do you belong?

I'm sitting in the airport, getting ready to board the flight to Great Falls so that I can teach I Corinthians this week in a Bible School there. Meanwhile, the Dali Lama will continue his teaching/preaching tour of Seattle, finding record turnouts everywhere he goes.

What I find intriguing is the response I've receive, via e-mail, from various members of the Christian community. To my right is an e-mail vilifying the Dali, warning me sand mandalas are thinly veiled disguises for labyrinths, which are thinly veiled disguises for eastern monism, which is a thinly veiled disguise for Satan himself. Ergo: sand art = Satan. To my left are friends praising the Dali Lama's teaching as "precisely the right word for our time." If you want to know what he said in Seattle yesterday, you can find that here.

What do I think of what he said?

1. Anyone who tries to argue with kindness and compassion, or be antagonistic towards someone's call to move beyond a simple loving of our friends to a more mature kind of love, that which reaches out to strangers and even enemies, seems to be sticking their head in a doctrinal bucket of sand. These things are the very stuff to which Christ calls us, the stuff of the kingdom, the stuff of the sermon on the mount. Why do we need to trash talk those who share God's heart for a better world? Isn't this a good starting point for dialog instead?

2. Anyone who equates the Dali Lama's messages with Christianity, making his message and the message of Jesus synonymous, is missing THE single point which distinguishes Christianity from all other world views - namely, the centrality and necessity of Christ. His incarnation, teachings, death on the cross, and resurrection are, in the Christian story, the fulcrum of history. These events open the way for the very things of which the Dali Lama is speaking.

I'll have lots of encounters in my lifetime with people who are passionate about the ethic of Christ, but not passionate about Christ. I think what concerns me about my friends to my right is their insistence that they get "Jesus" right before they'll be acknowledged as anything other than a tool of Satan. I don't think this is how Jesus himself would have approached the matter. But I'm concerned too, with my friends on the left. Jesus was also very clear that His identity and our belief in, and acceptance of that identity, were essential elements because God's vision isn't simply for humanity to embody an ethic. That was tried in the past, has been tried thousands of times in various civilizations, always with the same result: collapse. Instead, God's vision is for people to live in experiential union with their creator, so that the power, wisdom, mercy, kindness and compassion of God would be seen. That doesn't happen through warm speeches alone, though they can be a starting point. Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing" which was His way of saying that it takes more than sand and romantic notions, more in fact, than church services and mission programs, more than social action and high ethics - it takes a Person (Jesus) living inside of a person. That union is the core - Jesus' version of the lotus flower, out from which will blossom the reign of God, bringing beauty to our world in big and small ways. It was, in fact, this claim coming from his own mouth, that got Him killed. We don't like people making grand claims about their centrality... even, it seems, if it's true.

What do you think?


At 13/4/08 19:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. With all the buzz about town the doors are wide open for trying to strike up conversation with our neighbors who are so "inspired" by what the Dali Lama has to say.
But I do think that a message of peace that is absent of Christ is dangerous. Satan coming as "an angel of light" loves messages of peace sans God. The first lie that caused the fall; that God is holding out on us, so let's live a life autonomous from Him.
So, at the risk of sounding a bit "extreme" I can understand what "the right" is saying as well. Let's just keep shining the light. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance, not a list of "no-no's"

At 14/4/08 13:02, Blogger Nathan Key said...

Folks have a similar debate over Ghandi, right?

But if something is TRUE, then it is truth no matter where it comes from- even if it's coming from someplace other than our narrow (and ultimately flawed) definition of "the Church."

At 14/4/08 14:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does a person who practices the teachings of Christ, having never heard His name or about His teachings go to hell in the end?

At 14/4/08 20:50, Blogger rivergreg said...

anonymous wrote: Does a person who practices the teachings of Christ, having never heard His name or about His teachings go to hell in the end?

Judging someone else's salvation is a wicky sticket indeed.

But remember that salvation is not, at its core, by works - it is by grace through faith. "Practicing [many of] Jesus' teachings" without actually knowing Jesus is something that is definitely possible, both inside and outside the Church.

At 14/4/08 21:41, Blogger rivergreg said...

minor correction to my last post: that last sentence should read "the church", not "the Church"; in the common usage, the former means the collection of Christian congregations worldwide, and the latter means all who are saved and who truly know Christ :)

At 17/4/08 14:39, Blogger JenPorter said...

well written, bringing to light the salient points; enough said.
to one of the "anonomyous" posters, we all are created with a "eternity in our hearts" --Ecclesiastes. there's even a great book written by Don Richardson, entitled, "Eternity in Their Hearts." --he touches on the amazing ways God has revealed Himself in unconventional ways in remote areas, but which mirrors the Gospel. it's a great read. we may not fully understand God's ways (probably only a tiny percent), so who are we to reason and judge, all the while missing the point of what we definitely know to be True --that is Him.. let's not get sidetracked by things we'll never know. but, we have to believe God is bigger than us and our ways, our reasoning.

At 19/4/08 10:25, Anonymous julie said...

To me, the question to pose to those who embrace the teachings of the Dalai Lama is not one of truth, or of rightness, but of ability. Are we capable of always doing what we should, instead of what we desire? I cling to the freedom that I have in Christ. Freedom from self-condemnation: knowing that I do what I hate (as Paul puts it). And a recognition that when I do get it right, it is merely grace upon grace. Love the thoughts and dialogue here!

At 5/5/08 09:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm most uncomfortable by all the focus on the Dalai Lama himself as a person. A lot of the kudos for him strike me as the usual searching for "celebrity bigshots". I don't hear much to quibble with in his message, except that without an understanding of our inherent sin nature, all of our grand human thoughts are of any real use, since we lack the ability to implement them. The philosophy he espouses doesn't sound much deeper than what you would find inside greeting cards. I assume that the big media celebration has to do with the fact that our society wants to hear these inoffensive messages coming from a Buddhist from Tibet.

Let's look at the track record of Buddhist nations in terms of how well the faith has demonstrated caring unselfishly for the poor, sick, needy, and helpless.

At 5/5/08 09:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant--our grand human thoughts are of no use, since we lack the ability to implement them. (not used to the uneditable blogosphere)


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