“Evolving Dharma” Review and Spiritual Update

I’ve discussed my interest in Buddhism and the practice of meditation before, so I wanted to update you on my journey so far, a well as give a small book review. As you may remember, I started to doubt the point of believing in Christianity some time ago. I have always felt firmly Christian, but the loss of my home church, my studies into history and theology, as well as some of my experiences as a queer individual have led to a crisis of faith. I became interested in Buddhism because of its lack of religious evangelization and the possibility to follow its precepts and practice in a secular context. Nevertheless, one of the very first books I read about Buddhism brought Christ to me in the most forceful and pure way I have ever experienced. That required a certain revision of my initial, secular goals and I have started to look at the intersection between Christianity and Buddhism and understand what it all means. 

Buddhism
Two of Michaelson’s books. I look forward to reading God vs. Gay? soon.

Jay Michaelson’s Evolving Dharma 

One of the most recent books I have read was Jay Michaelson’s Evolving Dharma which has been a seriously impactful revelation. Michaelson may be better known as a queer activist who wrote the controversial book God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality. He identifies himself as a “BuJu” or Buddhist Jew. He has numerous degrees in theology and has taught meditation and Kabbalah for years. His book was not so much a guide to practice as it was an argument for why meditation (and by extension a certain amount of Buddhism) is good for everyone. He includes scientific evidence of the efficacy of meditation as a brain-hacking technology and what it is like to experience meditation first hand. He incorporated some of his own demons, which I identified with as a fellow queer, and on the whole I was really touched by his story.

In particular, the ability (and often encouragement) of Buddhists to adhere to more than one religious tradition is fascinating. Being a Buddhist reinforces and enriches Michaelson’s experience as a Jew. The same is possible for any number of religious traditions. Consider this passage from the book:

“…Meditation is one way to cultivate wonder at and gratitude for being alive; religious reminders, signs, and communities are another. The two practices can reinforce one another. First, as Kenneth Folk said to me, religious practice can be a form of contemplative fitness: ‘Even if you say ‘Accept Jesus Christ!’ that’s fine if it gets you to stop getting lost in content of thoughts, which is the prerequisite to everything that I think of as contemplative fitness. Since this is really all about brainhacking, all about brain development, you can use whatever conceptual framework you want, as long as you do the work.’ And second, meditation can enhance religious practice… The quiet mind absorbs sacred text much more readily than the busy mind does, and the presence of mind that comes from mindfulness… also enables a richer, juiier gratitude for life’s many blessings.”

This and other part got me interested in the possibility that maybe I too could use Buddhist practice to enrich my Christian experience.

No Place Like Home

Buddhism
Everything about this says home to me.

I spoke to the Atheist Wife about how I’d been feeling about no longer being a practicing Christian. The fact of the matter is that I truly miss my Anglican tradition. For over 20 years, from the time I was born to the moment I left for Australia a year ago, I was Anglican, I said the words and sang the songs, and I loved every minute of the church service. If I wasn’t necessarily an unshakeable believer, I was at least comforted by the tradition, by the feeling of home that those unchanging words offered my life. And now I no longer have that.

I’ve begun to realize that doubt and disillusionment does not necessarily have to mean leaving. Buddhism does not require a conversion so complete that you cannot continue in your original tradition. In the words of Michaelson, “I see very little difference between the nondual God YHVH and the Buddhist Dharma with a  capital ‘D.’ As Ajahn Sumedho once wrote, one goal of meditation is to see all arising phenomena as dharma, and not self. Replace ‘dharma’ with ‘God’ and the theistic and nontheistic paths converge. It is what it is – that’s all there is to it. This is how God is always present… because the present is always present.”

I just wondered, could I allow that convergence to work in my life?

Jury’s Out

At the time that I decided to divorce myself from Christianity, I felt devastated. I wasn’t sure if Christianity had failed me or if I had failed it. In some respects, it’s a bit of both. There is so much good in the example of Christ and belief in him. At the same time, there is a lot that is negative and harmful in the religions claiming to be the truth path.

Buddhism
Sometimes the road between extremes is an exceedingly narrow path.

Buddhism offers a middle path, a middle way that leads between religion and non-religion and ultimately ends up at enlightenment. I could not only become a better person by cultivating calm and compassion through meditation; I could become a better Christian. In some ways, Buddhism offers the purity of focus that I felt was missing from standard practice of religion. That first recognition of Christ in the simple concept of practicing radical compassion is what I had not been experiencing in religion for many, many years, if ever.

So what does this mean? This is not a complete reversal of my original departure from organized Christianity. Instead it is a re-acquaintance with Christ in a context that lacks all the baggage of religion. It is me trying to have a relationship with God again, or at least the conception of God as all-love and all-compassion. Indeed, I am beginning to try to find God in everything rather than being self-centeredly focus on myself. As far as missing practicing church, I believe it will depend on whether I can find a welcoming parish home. As a queer person, that is a difficult task, but it is one that I hope will have a positive outcome.

As a side note, I’m sorry for the lack of posting in the last few days. I’m back working full time and I was participating in a contest at work. I’ve been writing all week, just not on here.

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