Geographical Challenges

I live in a small town.  It’s where people stop for gas between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  We like our small town, of course.  It’s our speed, and we’re acquainted with just about everyone.

There isn’t much here, though.  No shopping to speak of, no real night life… typical small town.  What is here is what the few of us here make ourselves as a community.  As long as you don’t want to get rich doing it, you’ll gather enough people to have a go.  I formed a community choir two years ago.  We have about 25 people in it each season.  Perfect.  We have a small cultural arts center, a community theater group, service clubs, a dance troupe, scouting, and of course sports.

Becoming a Buddhist in a small (somewhat conservative) town presents its own challenges.

No sangha.

Well, not really anyway.  I’ve found a few other people who practice meditation of a sort.  I think we all approach it a little differently.  I think that’s okay, too.  The raft is not the shore, right?  Whatever gets you there?

Still, I do wish we had a little more organized sangha nearby (i.e.: less than 65 miles away) with a qualified teacher.  Then again, isn’t that wishing for something that isn’t part of the issue to begin with?

When you walk away from Christianity, as I have, you still have emotional reactions and attachments that are probably not very conscious, lying just below the surface.  One of these, for me, is that I still crave the security of authority.  Evangelical Christians depend on the authority of the bible, which to them is the direct Word (capital W) of God (capital G), and on the authority of those who teach them every week what that bible means to them.  They depend on pastors to guide them, to counsel them, to make them feel safely and clearly led by the Holy Spirit.  It is a leadership that is sure not only because it’s based on the Word, but because Christians know those teachers are going to help strictly accountable for the manner in which they lead.  Furthermore, they know that those leaders didn’t show up by accident.  They were called by God to be there.  It is His (capital H) will that those men (and they’re nearly always men) be there at that time to teach what they teach.  It is all providence, all predestined, and none of it is by accident.

What a contrast to what we believe.  Life is random.  It is what we make it.  There is no predestined future.  Future is imagination, the past is memory.  There is only now.  Versions of this may vary, but this isn’t far off the mark for most Buddhists.

So, we’re cobbling together a little raft.  We’re forming a little meditation group that will meet weekly on Sunday mornings to meditate and either study a book or discuss topics, maybe even have teachers in from time to time.  We’ll let it develop as we go, with no expectations, just our own skillful effort, as best we can.

Sometimes in a small town you just have to put it together for yourself.  There’s nobody else around to make it happen, nobody else to bring our thoughts to life.

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7 Responses to Geographical Challenges

  1. Mike Gantt says:

    It is quite possible to believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible as His word without going to church, submitting to pastors, or any of the other baggage which is so often present in evangelical Christianity.

    In His humanity Jesus Christ was our example of how to live (I can see Him fitting into your local community very nicely), and He is our God today to guide us to live the same way He did. As Jesus made a distinction between the God of Israel and the Pharisees who claimed to represent Him, so you and I should made a distinction between Jesus Christ and the Christians who claim to represent Him.

    Here’s an experiment you can try: Determine in your heart to serve Jesus Christ without telling anyone else that that’s what you’re doing. Let your motives for kindness be pure in His sight. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” See how you feel after a few days or weeks of living this way. Remember: keep it a secret from everyone else but Jesus Himself. You will find that when you do the right things for the right reason that He will give a affirmation and blessing in your soul. In fact, you’ve already experienced this when you’ve lived this way.

    Where evangelical Christians have fundamentally (no pun intended) gone wrong is to make life with God into a social experience with them. You already have relationships in your community. A relationship with God is something private that will enrich those relationships, even if you are the only one interacting with God. Forget about Christians – relate instead to God. God does not make distinctions between Christians and other people because He loves us all. He does notice however when people are actually interacting with Him. Most Christians are too busy interacting with each other to engage with God. That’s why their behavior is not more like His.

    Please try the experiment and see if He doesn’t show up in your heart. Again, don’t tell anyone else about this. You can even reject my comment if you want and not publish it. No one else will know. Jesus Christ is worth following.

    • Sam says:

      Sorry, Mike. You and I have spoken before on your site. I tried your way for years and years. Just ask my wife if I was totally focused and sincere. It doesn’t work. The only way we know about relationships is through the ones we have developed here in this plane. You would have us in a “relationship” that is both invisible and magical.

      Toon asks an extremely important question at his other blog which I have also pondered for many years — to wit: If the Bible is verifiable, true, and simple to discern, why-oh-why cannot any two Christians agree about anything? Why hundreds of denominations and sub-groups? Why all these blogs? Have you read them all? Take a gander over at the blog of Dr. Richard Beck (where I first found you). Have you ever seen such an unmitigated mess? All enveloped in a shroud of faux-humility and aw-shucks “doubt”.

      I don;’t presume to speak for Toon. But I know for a fact that I am completely exhausted from speaking at the ceiling to an imaginary god. As I now, at age 62, finally begin to let the last vestiges of my theology go, I am FINALLY beginning to have some peace of mind. That says more to me than any other single piece of evidence, wisdom, or advice from anyone or anything else.

      • Mike Gantt says:

        Sam, far be it from me to deprive you of peace you are finding. All I can report to you is that in relating to Jesus in the way I described above, every single human relationship I have has improved significantly and permanently. The only relationships I have where any tension exists are ones in which the other person doesn’t like the stand I take for Christ. Even then, I have no animus toward such a person.

        As for how the Bible can be true when their are so many different denominations, I used to wonder the same thing myself…until I read it for myself. It took me years of reading, trying to obey, falling – in other words my progress wasn’t orderly and swift. Nonetheless, I eventually was able to see that the reason there are so many different denominations and that they continue proliferating is that people are more interested in following other people than they are in following Christ. They just use lip service to the Bible to legitimize their choice of man over God. Only when you care more about the approval of God than you do the approval of people can you find God and enjoy Him.

        Most evangelical Christians have their faith in evangelical Christians. Therefore, when they lose it they think they are losing faith in God, but they never really had faith in God. They’ve only lost faith in evangelical Christians. Faith in God is what genuinely changes a person’s life.

        Before I found Christ, I used to point out to people that the presence of a Baptist church on one corner, a Methodist church on another, and Catholic Church on another, and so on was proof that the Bible couldn’t be true. I eventually came to see, however, that this is like saying that because there are so many wrong answers to the question “What is 2 + 2″ that this meant there could not be a right answer.

        Jesus Christ is the right answer.

      • ToonForever says:

        Sorry, Mike, but it absolutely boggles the mind that you can finish your comment with:

        *I eventually came to see, however, that this is like saying that because there are so many wrong answers to the question “What is 2 + 2″ that this meant there could not be a right answer.

        When just one blog over you can’t bring yourself to answer a very similar question, the difference between 1 or 2 (and are they equal.)

        And really, guys, this blog isn’t the place to discuss Christian denominational issues and biblical veracity, etc. I mention my former Christian beliefs only to give context to my current mindset and some of the differences that color my understanding of the dharma. It’s not the place to debate whether I was justified in making the change I did. I prefer those conversations to take place at WINLB, if you don’t mind. Choose any post you wish. I have in my queue to write about the denominations and what their proliferation says about the biblical diety – we can all take it up there.

  2. ToonForever says:

    Well, Mike – I find a lot of your comments interesting. You don’t really seem to indicate where you get these particular ideas, isolated Jesus-following and the like. Based on the only source of information we have about Jesus, I have no reason to believe he is god, and that I can interact with him in any way. If you look at my other blog, http://winlb.wordpress.com/ you’ll note that I’ve left most of the vestiges of that life behind. I ascribe to an agnostic form of Buddhism, practicing most closely to the Zen tradition. There is much in the teachings attributed to Jesus Christ that lends itself to Buddhism. One might even wonder if some of the early Chan teachings that were known to be circulating in Egypt at the time had reached his ears. That said, finding nuggets of wisdom amongst a lot of unsubstantiated dogma isn’t really motivating me to actually serve and worship Christ as a god. Thank you, though, for your thoughts. It is my policy to allow all comments provided they don’t disintegrate into volatile flaming for its own sake. Cheers.

    • Mike Gantt says:

      My ideas come from reading the Bible, and trying to do what it says. Some people will be curious about where in the Bible these things can be found and i try to make sure that my blogs provide answers to those questions as well. I used to be a pastor but I finally realized that church was obscuring Christ – so I kept following Christ and quit following the church (not just mine – everyone else’s, too).

      There is a lot of unnecessary baggage in Christianity, church and all that goes with it being the most notable example. Jesus was trying to teach us how to live life with our Creator – not how to go to church and segregate ourselves from other people. Most people don’t know how to separate the baby (Jesus, though He’s of course no longer a baby) and the bathwater (church, sacraments, pastors, rituals, etc.). The purpose of my blogs is to provide help in that regard.

      I hear where you’re coming from and I glanced at your other site. I just wanted to put in a good for Jesus Christ. Thanks for having the hospitality to let me do so.

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