In the last post, I explained how lonely and afraid I felt in grad school. Afraid I wasn’t worthy of a satisfying relationship and afraid I wasn’t going to be able to take care of myself after graduating. I binge dated as a way to ease the loneliness and find someone to believe in me.
On one particularly lonely night, sick of scrolling through random profiles on OKCupid and Tinder, I prayed. This wasn’t unusual although I rarely felt like my prayers about loneliness went anywhere.
Afterwards, I didn’t pick up my Bible — a book I’d become increasingly frustrated with looking for answers. But I didn’t jump back on my phone either.
Instead, I picked up my copy of Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, a Buddhist therapist. I opened to where I’d left off, and this was part of the next section:
Willa Cather tells us, ‘There is only one big thing—desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.’ We can honor desire as a life force, but still see how it causes suffering when it takes over our life. Our natural hunger for food can become an ungovernable craving for food—ice cream, sweets, potato chips—comfort food or food to numb our feelings. Our longing for sex and affection can become an anguished dependency on another human being to define and please us. Our need for shelter and clothing can turn into insatiable greed, compelling us to possess three houses and closets full of unworn shoes. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes.
This hit home. I was searching for a substitute. A distraction.
Buddhism talks a lot about desire. Many think that the point of Buddhism is to end desire, and while I’m not expert, I don’t think that’s really the point. Instead, the point is to not let desire control you.
Pema Chodron talks about this as an act of letting go, otherwise known as nonattachment. She explains that nonattachment isn’t supposed to have “the cool, remote quality often associated with that word. This nonattachment has more kindness and more intimacy than that.”
You don’t get rid of your feelings. Instead, you approach them with kindness and curiosity. In this way, she also explains that loneliness isn’t a problem to be fixed.
What I learned from Tara Brach and others is that our desires are often tied to our belief in our own worth.
Compared to this, do I even need to get into the church’s toxic relationship with “desire?” Already covered that? Great. Moving on.
Growing up in the church, I was told over and over that my worth was found as a child of God.
Girls and women were told we were princesses of God, each uniquely special and worthy of the best things of life. But none of this gave me an inherent sense of self-respect or self-worth. I seemed to have no worth apart from God’s opinion of me.
And if everyone is uniquely worthy, then why was I special in any way that truly mattered? A worth that would help me stand out and find love and find a meaningful career.
In fact, the church taught me that I was inherently sinful and unworthy. I needed God to be complete: I wasn’t complete on my own.
Think about the parable of the prodigal son. No matter how far he strayed or what sins he committed, his father (God) still accepted and loved him. That’s where his worth was: that someone else (some God) still found him worthy of love.
Where Christian doctrine preaches that humans are inherently flawed and in need of a savior, in Buddhism, we are all born with a Buddha naturethat is perfect and good … we just forget. In Buddhism, the point is to reconnect with our basic goodness and reawaken to it.
It was through my exploration of Buddhism that I began to see a new vision of self-worth. First off, one based on my own innate worth and not that of God’s. One I choose to believe about myself.
Two summers ago, I took refuge — the first step in becoming a Buddhist. It felt like honoring that which the tradition had given me: a sense of self-worth.
But, here’s the thing. I’m not ready to give up on the Christian God.
That night when I was lonely and prayed, I still believe that the God I prayed to answered my prayers through Brach’s book.
What I want now is to save God from the church’s unhealthy views of worth and desire, just as many amazing queer, liberation, and feminist theologians and Christian leaders are trying to do. They’re all weeding through the two millennia of toxic theology that has done inexplicable damage and horror to so many. They’re finding a more healthy Christianity and believing that this damage was not what God intended.
To be honest, I just don’t know anymore. Maybe I’m not ready to give up because I so fervently want to believe in the God that spoke to Jesus and who seems so radically hungry for justice (something I don’t see as much of in Buddhist communities).
I also don’t know because I’ve prayed to a Christian God for over 30 years and have found comfort there. I’ve built a relationship and to abandon that relationship is terrifying.
I’m going to write more about this soon. But at the moment, I consider myself a Buddhist Christian.
My self-worth is based on Buddhist concepts, but my understanding of justice and purpose are both deeply rooted in Jesus’s Kingdom of God.
Read the next post in this series: Why I’m no longer a Christian.
2 thoughts on “My Story — Part Seven: Coming Out a Buddhist Christian”
I found your blog while doing research on a project in graduate school (I am a new PhD. student at Capital Seminary and Graduate School near Washington DC).
You stated that the point of Buddhism is not to get rid of desire but “to not let desire control you”. Like you, I am not an expert on Buddhism, but from reading Buddhist text, the point of Buddhism is something called “Nirvana” and it is about ending suffering. It seems that to end suffering and achieve “complete bliss” involves “the liberation from the limitations and desires of the physical world” [Mstanciu. “Buddhism.” Butler.edu, 23 Sept. 2016, http://www.butler.edu/cfv/buddhism%5D. Thus Buddhism is indeed about getting rid of desires.
However, not having our desires control us is more about self-control and that is an overtly Judeo-Christian obligatory principle. Now I admit that other metaphysical systems may include self-control as a positive value, but it is prescribed, i.e. mandatory in both Jewish and Christian religious duties. For example, in Genesis 4, Cain is told by God to master his darker desires and Christians are told to add self-control to their character and enhance it as a spiritual gift in 2 Peter 1:5-7 and Galatians 5:22-23 respectively.
Regardless, I wholeheartedly agree and am encouraged on my own journey by the idea of learning to not let desire control me – both good and bad desires. I really do not want to let my more base desires control me at all; desires such as greed, selfish power, un-restricted pleasure, extreme avoidance of pain – like avoiding loneliness. Instead, I want to embrace/acknowledge them for what they are – real desires that I do not have to give in to. In addition, I want to effectively learn – in healthy and godly ways, to manage my good and God given desires; desires for food, sleep, love, relationships, sex, beauty, refreshment, life, etc.
Finally, I think you would agree that human beings being interdependent on each other is good – not dependent and not co-dependent. Also, let’s assume that God is a relational being and God really did make us from the dust of the earth – the earth that this God also made. Also, let’s assume that this God, in some way beyond our own human limitations, is indeed good and loving. (Dealing with a problem of pain, suffering and evil given this premise is another topic – very important, but for our thinking, just accept the premise as given; God is good and loving). If these are accepted as true, then it is not weak, bad, nor inappropriate to, as you put it, need God in order for you or I to be complete. In other words, to be in an interdependent relationship with a being that has no dependencies (based on the assumptions given, God needs nothing), then by definition, my worth and value is derived from this being we call God. Like an automobile or a cell phone has no value without human beings who made these things, we have no value outside of the entity that made us. I understand the initial unpleasantness of such a proposition. Yet, if all the premises and givens presented above are indeed true, then the derivation I described is also true.
I would love to hear what you think about what I have written. My email is fullerming at gmail. Feel free to send me a note!