[I would like to thank Carness Vaughan, Senior Pastor of the Central Arkansas Methodist Church of Rogers AK, for this installment of guest posts on Perceptions of Buddhist Practice. Click here for some more Christian/Buddhist links). It seems that I’m on a Christian kick this month, maybe May will be a month devoted to Buddhist posts. Either way, read and engage with compassion and honesty. Feel free to check out some past guest posts here. ~ The Management]
My name is Carness Vaughan, and I’m the Senior Pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Rogers, Arkansas. Over the last few weeks, I have been preaching a series of sermons on Christianity and World Religions, based on Adam Hamilton’s book entitled, (you guessed it), Christianity and World Religions. Each week I am giving some background to a particular world religion, the basic beliefs of the religion (and how they compare/contrast to Christianity), and then some bridges for connecting the two. This past Sunday I dealt with Buddhism, and John has graciously offered to allow me to share a little of my viewpoint here. I’d like to focus on the bridges, as I believe that will be the most helpful.
These bridges are opportunities for Christians to be in conversation with our Buddhist friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Too often Christians have burned bridges with people of other faiths through words of judgment and moral superiority. We must be willing to admit that, and I am sorry that has happened in the past. I believe the Bible teaches us to instead build bridges through words of respect and kindness, even when we come to issues of disagreement. The Apostle Paul in the Bible is real clear about this point, when writing about how to interact with those who are not Christians: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive, so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Colossians 4:6) So, what are the two bridges we covered last week in worship?
- Acknowledgment of Attachment: We can learn a lot from our Buddhist brothers and sisters about being too attached to things that do not matter. We spend far too much time and money trying to keep up with the Jones’ and making sure we have the biggest and the best of everything. The iPhone is a great example of this; I have an iPhone, and I love it. It works fine, and it does everything I need it to do. So why do I start drooling when I see that the next version of the iPhone is coming out? I don’t need it, I shouldn’t be spending my money on it, but there’s a part of me that really wants it! Jesus reminds us in Luke 14, “Life is not measured by how much you own.” Buddhists do a much better job of realizing this fact, and we can certainly learn from them on this point.
- The Issue of Suffering: This is where Christians and Buddhists differ. We believe that God wants us to be attached to the things in life that really matter – we are called to love God and love others with everything we’ve got, every ounce of our being. We’re called to seek out and serve, to give and forgive, to live and love others just as God loves us. That lifestyle will inevitably lead to suffering, whether it be through sickness or death, pain or rejection. God’s promise is not that suffering will not occur; His promise is that we are never alone. He walks with us through the valleys of life (Ps.23:4, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me”). There’s a great song by Martina McBride that really hits home here. It’s called Anyway, and here are just a part of the lyrics:
This world’s gone crazy; it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Believe it anyway.
You can love someone with all your heart for all the right reasons
In a moment they can choose to walk away; love ’em anyway
God is great but sometimes life ain’t good
And when I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway; yeah – I do it anyway.
We believe that God’s love is most powerfully seen in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and was raised from the dead. Jesus came to show us a new way of living, a way where we love as he loved, live as he lived, serve as he served, and forgive as he forgave. We came to give us life; a life of joy, grace, and abundance here on this earth and a life everlasting with the Father in the next.
As we Christians seek to be in relationship with and have conversation with Buddhists, it’s my goal that we can do so in these two ways – being grateful for a chance to reevaluate the way we get attached to our “stuff,” and sharing what we believe about God’s presence with us in the midst of the difficulties of life. I hope this has been helpful, and I would love to continue the conversation anytime. I realize I speak about Buddhism as an outsider, and so I may need some correction in some areas. As I am preaching these sermons, I am trying to do so with the thought, “Would I say this if there was a Buddhist here in the congregation today?” I don’t want to make light of, fun of, or belittle anyone’s faith. If you get an opportunity to watch the sermon on the website, I’d love some feedback, either on what Buddhists believe or how it comes across. Thanks again for this opportunity; I realize this is long for a blog post, so I hope you’ve been able to stay with me here to the end. Take care, and God bless.