As I read the title of this post I can almost feel the people from my old tribe of conservative evangelical Christians begin to twitch and pick up their rocks.
Glenn’s gone off the deep end.
He no longer believes that Jesus is the only way to heaven.
First he challenges hell and now he talks about Buddhism?
So before we go any further I should tell you the origins of what I’m about to share with you. A few months ago I came across an organization called SpeakEasy, which is headed up by a guy named Mike Morrell. Mike runs around in a lot of the forward thinking Christian circles that I’m getting acclimated to and he heads up SpeakEasy where he puts new books from both well-known and not so well-known progressive thinking people into the hands of podcasters, bloggers, etc. who promise to read the books and present their thoughts and feedback to their audience.
The books are free – all we need to do is talk about them.
Anyways, so I applied to be a podcaster / blogger that partners with him, was accepted, and got to pick a book that felt interesting to me. So I chose a book with a fairly obscure title, “The Lotus and The Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Christianity”. The deal is that once you get the book you have 30 days to read it and share your thoughts with your audience and although I had every intention of doing just that, life kind of side swiped me these last few months.
If you’ve been tuning into the podcast every week, you know that …
I had 30 million changes to make on my dissertation.
My daughter got pneumonia.
I got a nasty sinus infection.
I got promoted at Apple and moved to a different store.
And so my life has been up and down and left and right and all over the place. I reached out to Mike and told him what was going on and he was incredibly gracious and said I could share my thoughts whenever I got around to it, which is right now.
So before I jump into those thoughts I need to tell you that I don’t want this to be a summary of the book because if you want a summary you can just go to Amazon or do a quick Google search and find out a bunch of things about it. I also don’t want this to be a time where I just tell you what I think of the book because that gets boring after about 30 seconds. I’ll tell you what I think, for sure, but I want it to be more helpful than that.
And so I guess you could say that this post will be partly a review of the book along with me sharing my biggest takeaway after reading it.
I’ll start with what I think. I loved it and I hated it, to be honest. I loved it because I loved the content and the ideas that the book presented. I grew up in a conservative evangelical world where Jesus is the only way, Western Evangelical Christianity is the only way, and if you don’t believe that Jesus died to save you from God’s anger against your sin then you’re on the highway to hell and it’s too bad for you.
I grew up with that.
I believed that.
I taught that.
I preached that.
And I’ve recently turned my back on that. I find all of that to be boring, irrelevant, irreverent, fear-based, exclusive, mean, and a poor description of the narrative we find in the Bible.
Like, I no longer believe that God sentenced Jesus to death so that by believing in Him God will forgive my sins and let me into heaven when I die.
(And I’ve shared this before, but it’s worth repeating.)
I believe that when God came to earth as a human being filled with love and grace and kindness and mercy for all, I believe that mankind didn’t have room for that in the chaotic Empire it had created and so humanity killed God; but then God continued to show love and grace and kindness and mercy as He hung from the cross and shouted forgiveness for all, an act that empowered Him to kick the stone away from the grave 3 days later and defeat death for everyone, everywhere – once, and for all.
I believe that Jesus came to earth and showed humanity how to live in the ways that are bred into the DNA of every one of us, ways that are often overshadowed and crushed and overcome by the world around us so that rather than live as people of love and grace we often live as people of hate and bitterness. I believe that Jesus came to show us that it really is love and grace and forgiveness that win and can empower us to overcome our greatest enemies, even Death.
And so I’m at this interesting place where I believe that those are truths that aren’t just found within Christianity, but also in Buddhism, Islam, and even Atheism. I believe that no one comes to the Father except through the Christ and so I believe that whenever someone acts or lives or treats another living thing in the ways in which Jesus modeled for us.
Then I believe that those people are walking in the footsteps of Christ and are in the embrace of the Father, their Creator … whether their eyes are open to it or not.
An unpopular opinion among my old Evangelical tribe, but I don’t really care. It’s where I find myself these days. It’s what makes the most sense to me, and it’s what I see more and more clearly in the Bible every time I open it. To put it plainly, I don’t think Jesus was as much interested in creating a religion in His name as He was in meeting His creation on their turf and modeling for us all how to live the best life.
And so I loved the book “The Lotus and the Rose” because it showed me how a Buddhist and a Christian can talk and relate and meet each other on the same level, recognizing that same DNA of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness and kindness that’s wired into all of us. I have a few takeaways from the book, one which I’ll share in a moment.
What I hated about the book, though, is that it’s basically the transcript of Reverend Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo talking at various conferences / events where they did presentations on the intersection of Christianity and Buddhism. Although it’s jammed with tons of good content and interesting points, I found it hard sometimes to follow what was going on because READING a conversation is much different than LISTENING to a conversation. And although the book provides links to go and listen to the conversations, when I read a book I want to read a book … not try to mentally re-create the conversation I’m reading about.
Does that make sense?
Like, sometimes Fox or Tsomo would make a joke, but I didn’t really get it because HEARING a joke is much different than READING a joke. Or maybe I would get it, but only after reading it 4 or 5 times. If I’m going to make a joke on this podcast, for instance, I’m going to write it very differently on my blog. Or maybe not make the joke at all because what works verbally doesn’t always work in text.
In addition to that, I can’t hear the fluctuation in their voices and I so while I was reading their conversation I felt like I wasn’t sure of the context of the conversation that I was reading. And so I struggled to follow along at times and found my mind wandering all over the place. A few times I had to put the book down and read something else and then come back to it the next day.
I’m not 100% sure how to fix this and maybe it’s just me, but I almost wish the book was still a conversation between Fox and Tsomo, but instead of a transcript of their conversation, it was a written exchange of ideas where maybe Fox would write one chapter and then Tsomo would write the next chapter in response to what Fox said in the previous chapter. I realize neither one of them might have the time to do something like that and maybe they would hate the idea, but I feel like it would allow their hearts and ideas to come through the pages in a way that makes reading them a little easier. For me, I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the book that way.
Aside from that, though, I found the book so helpful and insightful. Again, rather than summarize the book and tell you what it was about, I just want to share with you one thing that I took away that gave me some new perspective and some fresh things to think about in my own walk with God.
At the heart of both Christianity and Buddhism is the drive to be generous towards the world around you as well as the idea that the world around you is generous to you.
What does it mean to be generous?
Well, in the book Fox says that from the word “generous” we also get the words “genesis” or “beginning” and “generativity”, which refers to a need to guide people along who are younger or less experienced than you are.
Why is that important?
Because it means that generosity isn’t just about giving something or being a giving person, but it’s also about beginnings or origins because perhaps it’s a thing or a characteristic that has been imbedded into the DNA of the universe from the very beginning?
From the word GENerous.
We get the word GENesis.
And so perhaps this is important because it points to the idea of generosity being imbedded into the fabric of the universe from its genesis, from the very beginning.
In addition to that Fox says that generosity also includes the idea of being creative, which means that you can’t necessarily be generous without also being creative.
And that makes sense, right?
Because the very idea of creating something means that I will eventually, in a sense, give it away for the world around me to use and to enjoy and to take part in.
Fox spends a bit of time exploring the word “generous” and then closes with this idea, he says that …
“Generosity has to do with cosmology, our genesis, where we come from, our beginnings as well as our creativity. And again we have to go beyond the lineages that are human – even beyond the thing called Buddhism, beyond the thing called Christianity or Judaism, to all other beings that have brought us here.”
And so for Fox, generosity isn’t just …
A Christian thing.
A Jewish thing.
A Buddhist thing.
Even a human thing.
Instead, Fox points out that just as human beings can be generous to other human beings and other living things, so the universe is generous to humanity.
Check this out.
The sun, for instance – the earth and all of the systems of the earth run on one billionth of energy that the sun gives out every day. In other words, the sun shares its power and shares its life with you and me and every other living thing on the planet while also giving out light to the rest of the universe and doing things that science has yet to (or maybe ever will!) figure out. And so even on a day when the news is filled with terrible things about murders and rapes and kidnappings and bombs and people withholding generosity from each other, we can look up to the sky and see at least one thing in our midst that is generous all the time.
And I love that, right? Because it shows me that generosity has been bred into the universe by the creator, by the Divine, right from the very beginning; and generosity isn’t something that’s just limited to humanity – it’s wired into everything.
Think about it:
Plants share themselves with us.
Trees share their fruit.
Trees give of themselves to form our homes.
The dirt shares it’s nutrients.
Fire shares it’s warmth.
The earth shares it’s resources.
Do you see what I mean? Everything that has been made or exists has a way in and of itself that it can be generous and giving … and that includes you and me AND the people who we consider to be different than us.
You see …
Generosity isn’t a Jesus thing.
Generosity isn’t a Buddhist thing.
Generosity isn’t a Muslim thing.
Generosity isn’t a Jewish thing.
Generosity isn’t an Atheist thing.
It’s not a black thing.
A white thing.
An LGBTQ thing.
… Generosity, rather, is a creation thing, a universe thing, a cosmos thing. It’s hardwired into the DNA of the universe so much so that everything, everywhere is generous or giving to something or someone in some way, in some shape, or in some form.
And so THAT, my friends, means that …
You and I are connected to each other.
We are connected to those who believe differently than we do … because they have the capacity to be generous just like we do.
We are connected to those who live differently than we do … because they have the capacity to be generous just like we do.
We are connected to the rich … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to the poor … because they have the capacity to generous.
We are connected to people of from different sociological backgrounds … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to people of different color … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to people of different belief systems … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to people of different genders … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to people of different sexual orientations … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to different mammals … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to plants … because they have the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to water … because it has the capacity to be generous.
We are connected to the sun … because it has the capacity to be generous.
… We are connected to these people and to these things because in all the ways we are drastically different, we are all the same in that we all have within us the power to be generous.
It has been there.
Since the genesis.
Since the beginning of time.
And so the question is, will you act on that generosity today and every day going forward? Will you do something with it?
Buddha says you should, and so does Jesus. And so do many other spiritual teachers as well.
Much love, my friends.
NOTE: all of the ideas in this post are MINE. No one persuaded me to rate the book one way or another and no one knew of my thoughts prior to when I presented them. I received no payment for my review.