Why Not Inner Peace Solely Through Christianity?

Over the past year or so, I have somewhat frequently touched on my mindfulness practice and how I have essentially grown into a Zen Buddhist. In my post, From Middle America to Zen Buddhism, I talked about the seeds that were sown throughout my early life and how my mid-life challenges sealed the deal. But one aspect I haven’t covered is, why not seek inner peace through Christianity? After all, it is the faith of my family and my childhood. So first, let’s get this out of the way. Zen Buddhism is not my religion. Zen can be – and is often the case in Asia – practiced while holding true to another, or multiple other faiths. Among many things in Zen Buddhism, the “and” instead of the “or” appeals to me. But not so fast, let’s break it down.

Focus on the mind

Probably the biggest thing that pulled me into Zen is the focus on the mind. While Zen – which is a subset of Buddhism – offers plenty of instruction on behaviors, it is well more focused on taming the wild mind than Christianity. Christianity offers the hope of redemption in the afterlife for believing and following in Christ in this life. Those are admirable goals. However, in my search for inner peace, I was looking for ways to sort out the messiness of my mind in my life right now. The Bible offers learning through parable and the story of Jesus. Zen offers learning and guidance through the direct experience of right now.

A lot of Westerners think that Zen is all about getting blissed out in a hippie dippie fashion. Not at all true. In fact, Zen practitioners rarely talk about enlightenment. It also isn’t about going all Type B personality with a “whatever” attitude to accept things with resignation. Again, not true. Rather, the idea – in my novice words – is to stop putting ourselves through the weekly, daily, hourly, and even minute-by-minute torment that our minds are seemingly naturally wired to do. I’ll imply this a lot throughout this post, but I can easily see Zen philosophy and Christian faith working in concert in my inner life.

Writings that don’t take themselves too seriously

The next thing that I appreciate about Zen is that practitioners aren’t expected to believe every single word as the absolute no-questions-asked truth with a capital T. I have a cousin who is a Southern Baptist preacher. I love him dearly, and as we grow older in life, we plan to spend more time together. This winter, he asked me to read a book by Tim Keller called Making Sense of God. The book got bogged down into the historicity of the Bible, among other things. This approach does not appeal to me. I think there are just things we humans can’t know for certain, and that some things should be taken on faith without too much wrangling or backing into facts and figures. It feels cheap to me when I hear these kinds of arguments.

In Zen, practitioners have a concept called “fingers pointing at the moon.” In this case, the moon represents the Truth, which in my novice words, is kind of the individual goal in Zen. The fingers represent the writings and other messages from practitioners. Zen recognizes that some writing is parable, some is fable, some is historical, and some is a mix of all. But the idea is that there is something for everyone. If parable gets you closer to your own Truth, great. If picking apart historical facts and figures are your gig – that’s cool too. Use it all to find what works for you. This aspect of Zen actually helps warm my heart to the Bible when I hear people tell me that Creationism is an indisputable fact and Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. I respect your right to believe that, but I reserve the right to doubt it.

Compatible behaviors

Finally, what I really love about Zen is that the expectations are compatible with world religions. So practicing Zen – which in my humble opinion is pretty much ancient psychology – can be held in the same head and heart as a devout Christian. This was perhaps the bridging notion for me to delve further into Zen from the secular and generalized “mindfulness” practice. Zen is a peaceful, sensible, and effective practice that doesn’t try to extinguish other Truths.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen Buddhism, here are some really great resources:

My Mother is My Hero

My lovely Mom and me

My mother is the nicest person I know. She has kind words for everyone and she would give away her last loaf of bread. But she isn’t a pushover either. She’ll probably blush if she ever reads this, but one of my fondest memories of my Mom is this: After some completely unreasonable lady was yelling at her for something completely silly in the parking lot of our local soccer fields, my Mom flipped the lady the middle finger and spun out in the gravel parking lot. As a frame of reference, this had to be 1980 or so and my Mom would have been in her late 20’s. As we pulled away, she paused and said to me, “That wasn’t very nice. I shouldn’t have done that.” Oh, but the memory was sealed. She’s a sweetheart, but no pushover.

My mother is wise. She is discerning and knows when something isn’t right. But she chooses her words carefully to deliver the right message at the right time. There are so many examples to list, but I’ll pull from a more recent conversation. After the dust had settled from my Dad’s death and some of the hurt had started to subside, my Mom and I went out to dinner in a lovely little town of Delaware, Ohio. We met up and went to a local pizza shop for an absolutely fantastic dinner. This was an adult conversation about the past and the state of things today. When the conversation turned to Dad, Mom and I were both kind but realistic. Simply put, Dad didn’t have the tools to deal with his demons. We both articulated our understanding of this fact in our own way with all due respect. We both know that all of us have our burdens to bear. Neither of us blamed Dad for reacting in the way he did – even if we didn’t agree with it at the time. With complete and unconditional love, we celebrated my Dad that evening while looking out at life without him. I had always known that my Mom was wise, but that evening she showed me the depth of her human wisdom.

My mother is quietly confident in her faith. My mom was the backbone of our family’s adherence to Christian virtues. She took us to church when we needed it most. More importantly, she took herself to church when she needed it most. She became a Sunday school teacher, she stood up in front of a large congregation and sang her heart out, she taught my sister and me right from wrong; but treated us with kid gloves when we didn’t get it quite right.

My mother is able-bodied. Now a widower, Mom has bought her own condo, moved herself in and continues to chip away at the unpacking. She recognizes that she’s got a long life to live and a lot to contribute. Instead of throwing in the towel and pursuing her own interests, she serves her family, her community, and her church.

My mother just wants to help. If something needs done, Mom will be there. It doesn’t matter what she has going on or how she feels, service comes first. She gets value and purpose out of helping. Although I ask her not to, she still wants to give money to people on the street. She helps my sister with her school-aged children. She helps me with my not-so-school-aged children. She’s happiest when she’s helping, so give her something to do.

My mother gets buyer’s remorse before she buys something for herself – and then puts it back. My dad was the one who pointed this out. She will go shopping and buy for others happily. On occasion, she’ll find something she likes. It might go into the shopping cart. While she wheels around the store, her wheels are turning. Before she goes to the checkout, she puts it back. Its a sight to see. Dad used to – on occasion – go back and get the item and make the purchase himself. Now that I’m somewhere like her in my own ability to shop. I don’t think its actually buyer’s remorse. I think Mom is happy and she recognizes that stuff is just stuff. She recognizes that getting new stuff is a short run satisfaction at best and that in the long run, what really matters cannot be found on a shelf at a department store.

My mother is a saint. During my dad’s darkest times, he was tough to live with. In my own words, his behavior bordered on self-torture from the inside out. That came with health ramifications. Even when my dad wasn’t in and out of the hospital, there was a lot to clean up after. My mom handled it. I honestly don’t know how she did it. I went through a period of darkness in my first marriage and I wasn’t able to see it through. But Mom is tougher than me and that’s why she’s a saint.

My mother isn’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I know Mom isn’t perfect. She had and has her foibles just like all the rest of us. But if anything, that’s another reason to put her on the pedestal on this Mother’s Day. She accepts herself for who she is, she contributes with everything that she can, and for that and everything else that I’ve listed, my mother is my hero.

I love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.