Monday, August 10, 2009

The Sh***y Christian, part 1

Once in a while I like to buy the magazine “Shambhala Sun.” The Buddhist idea of attachment is a great source of interest to me, and the magazine’s articles explain that idea in ways that, oftentimes, is helpful in my own Christian faith.

The new issue (September 2009) appeared at the local Barnes and Noble. I leafed through and noticed the article by Shozan Jack Haubner, “The Shitty Monk.” I gotta read this, I thought.

Haubner reflects on the time he prepared for the role of jikijitsu, the teacher who supervises Rinzai Zen meditation. Thinking he’d prepared well for this authoritative role, his mentor told him, “You’re a train wreck of overzealousness… The primary ass you should be whipping in the zendo is … [y]our own. Don’t bring your personal shit into it” (p. 64). As it happened, Haubner became sick with diarrhea and soiled himself immediately prior to performing his jikijitsu duties, prompting his amused self-examination.

He commented that, earlier in his Zen training, he resisted the authoritarian aspects of meditation. “What I failed to realize was that my resistance was in itself a pose, a stance--a result of my conditioning as a free-spirited, individualistic American prone to respecting all paths and choosing none. I’d never been stripped of myself, and so I mistook a cleverly embroidered outfit of attitudes for my deepest self, which I had to ‘be true to.’ Through the path of negation of self, I began to get an inkling of just how thoroughly cloaked I was in attitudes and platitudes--in my own bullshit--and I also learned that despite this, I had to keep going” (p. 70).

This article prompted several ruminations on my part. To start with, I thought of the difficulties of the pastoral call in Christian ministry. We pastors do become “outfitted in attitudes” which can become a substitute for the “deepest self.” Egotism, overzealousness, inflexibility, a hypercritical spirit, the need to be loved, a hunger for success, a neglect of family, an inability to say “no”: all these can dressed in a “cleverly embroidered outfit” of corresponding scriptures and slogans. “God called me to preach,” we affirm with gratitude, but we too easily think, thereby, that God validates every aspect of our personalities, and so our admirable, ignoble, mature, immature and sinful qualities become all mixed up with our theological identity. We may not be “posers” exactly, but we may very well be “posing,” and thus stalled in our personal growth.

Pastors aren’t the only Christians who become trapped in “personal stuff,” of course. Laity also combine mature, immature, caring, hateful, and sinful qualities within ourselves, and become stalled in personal insight and growth. Unfortunately, in an analogous way as pastors, Christian faith and churchgoing can form a veneer of respectability that we place over our lives, rather than primarily a way by which we draw closer to God and open ourselves to God’s sometimes-painful work of sanctification.

It’s important to remember that Christian sanctification, unlike zazen (meditation toward enlightenment), is not supposed to be primarily a matter of personal effort. Although activities like spiritual disciplines and Bible reading are very helpful, Paul understands the work of sanctification as that of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit works in us because we have accepted the saving work of Christ which is already accomplished on our behalf.

That being said, how do we deal with our “s***”?  See the next post....

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