So this morning I'm writing about the new study my adult Sunday-school class launched this weekend.
The name of the class is "Everyday Christianity"; it's a reinvention
of the "Practical Christianity" class I taught for 12 years, and continues the theme of looking at faith in relation to the reality of everyday life. My friend Charles Willard is picking up a lot of the teaching, bringing his PhD, his status as an ordained minister, and years of top-flight scholarship to the table.
My teaching style tends to settle with material and concepts I'm already familiar with, a kind of "re-stated, comfortable orthodoxy." Simply put, my Sunday morning teaching has been fairly predictable of late.
So I was glad when Charles wanted to tackle a project that will expose us to different ways of thinking, push us to consider ideas outside of the box, and help us to develop a reinvigorated faith via learning from those outside of the Christian mainstream.
The book we're using is titled "Without Buddha I could not be a Christian." The author, Paul Knitter, is a Catholic scholar who has been wrestling with some of the really HUGE questions (such as - if God is perfect, unchanging, in need of nothing, and by definition "other", then how could God possibly value relationship...?).
That's not all that unusual; anyone who is a thinking Christian is going to struggle with the difficult questions raised by faith. What's unique about this study is Knitter's exploration of Buddhism and how what he learns helps his Christian faith.
I'm at the front end of this conversation, but this is what I've picked up so far. It may or may not accurately reflect the content of Knitter's book, but it is already an emerging truth as regards my faith journey...
...I have already articulated the idea (several times over the past year) that I believe all creativity is generated by the Holy Spirit; that life and newness and regeneration is the work of God no matter where it blooms; that music written by a Christian believer is no more intrinsically "Holy" than music written by an agnostic; that art created in a Tibetan monastery is no less an extension of the Creator's joy than a painting of Mary in a great cathedral.
(Let me throw in this caveat: both Christians and non-Christians are also capable of producing mediocre, uninspired, non-creative and generally crappy work - music, art, writing, talking etc).
It follows, therefore, that inspirational and revelatory thought is also God-inspired. (I'm not arguing the integrity of the biblical "Canon" here, I respect and accept the general Christian position regarding the scope of the authoritative scriptures.) But what I am suggesting is that more than Christians alone have been and continue to be inspired and blessed by God's Spirit in terms of creating original thought, and in contributing to our evolving understanding of what it means to be spiritual beings, and how we might grow.
The author we are reading, Paul Knitter, has found help from Buddhist thinkers as he struggles to experience his very real Christian faith. He is not becoming a Buddhist with a Christian twist; he is not suggesting that all religions are the same but with different terminology. What he is saying - at least this is what I'm getting from it so far - is that we can learn something about spiritual life from those who developed their religious practices in another place and within another culture.
I don't know about you, but I still have much to learn. I am thankful that God is willing to teach me via people and cultures that don't always look familiar. I am thankful to live in a world where everyone does not think like me and look like me and act like me.
I am most thankful that God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to a humble family in the Middle East 2,000 years ago, and that because of Jesus I can have an ongoing relationship with my Creator- a faith that constantly heals and restores.
Keep thinking, keep praying, and keep believing - DEREK