Dalai Lama and Me – A Year Later

At the start of 2013, I shared a rather odd thing that I would include as Number 11 on my “Bucket List.”  It is “meeting the Dalai Lama.”  (If you really need to know why this United Methodist Pastor would desire such a meeting – well, read the original post here.)  For the purpose of this post, a year has come and gone and I have not met him.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

I have, however, been reading little snippets of wisdom from a calendar “Insight from the Dalai Lama.”  It’s one of those “page-a-day” calendars that I often times found myself reading a week at a time in order to get caught up.  So much for my ability to be in the moment.

Despite my less than methodical trod through this year’s wisdom from a Buddhist monk, I found many gems along the way.  I would have to say that two from the last week have spoken to me in ways that made me think about my Christian life in very different ways.

The first was the offering from the day after Christmas [marked as Kwanzaa begins (USA), Boxing Day (Canada, NZ, UK, Australia – except SA), St. Stephen’s Day (Ireland), Proclamation Day (Australia-SA) – who knew the day after Christmas was anything but “Holiday-Merchandise-Is-Now-50%-Off Day!”].  That day’s offering is a prayer that I have found myself praying each day since I first read it:

“May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those that have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.”

I read that and was reminded of a story that Eugene Lowry once told about doing a children’s sermon.  He asked all the kids to sit down with him and said, “I have a special friend.  I have a special friend that lives in my back yard.  I have a special friend that lives in my back yard and likes to eat nuts.  I have a special friend that lives in my back yard, likes to eat nuts, and has a bushy tail.  Does anyone know who my friend is?”

One tentative hand went up and a child said, “I know that the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure does sound like a squirrel to me.”

I read the Dalai Lama’s prayer and I knew it was supposed to be Buddhist, but I couldn’t help it, it sure sounded like Jesus to me.

Maybe it has been because of that prayer that when I read today’s offering – the final one on the calendar – I found myself becoming both reflective about the past and extremely hopeful about the future.  I think that is a good way to be on New Year’s Eve.  Here it is.  I hope it says something to you.

“Time passes unhindered.  When we make mistakes, we cannot turn the clock back and try again.  All we can do is use the present well.”

Hmmm…sound like another squirrel to me.

Happy New Year!  Thanks for reading!  “Live in the present well” with me in 2014!

Ask Almost Anything…Question about the beginning

How was there nothing in the beginning?

earth_from_spaceWhen I set out to do the sermon series “Ask Almost Anything” on the suggestion of our awesome Technical Director at First UMC, Princeton, I assumed I would get questions dealing with the burning issues of the day…abortion, sexuality, and as shown from the last blog entry – divorce.  I assumed these questions would come up because, well, they are questions that are on the hearts and minds of people everyday.  And yes, the majority of our questions fell into a category I would call “social” questions.

Yet, every once in a while, someone would text in with what I would call a purely “theological” question like the one I am answering today – “How was there nothing in the beginning?”  [This question takes me back to Divinity School days when I studied such things as creatio ex nihilio (creation from nothing) and creatio ex materia (creation out of some external matter) and creatio ex deo  (creation out of the very being of God).  However interesting the arguments may be for each of these positions they end up being just that…positions in arguments that one person likes and another person doesn’t.  Talking about them doesn’t usually get us anywhere fruitful.]

One of the very many things that I have learned in 20+ years of serving as a pastor is: “there is no such thing as a ‘yawnpurely theological’ question.”  I keep this in mind whenever I am asked something like this.  It keeps me from slipping back into one of those “positions” and into language that most of the time is just, well, boring.  There is usually something more to the question than just wanting to know about the “beginning of things” and there is something more than just wanting to ask a question that might stump someone…or at least make them think really, really hard.

Since these questions were given to me anonymously, I really don’t have any way of knowing what the question behind the question might be but for the sake of this answer, I am guessing that this person, whoever they may be, was wondering about the truthfulness of Scripture.

Most translations of Genesis 1:1-2 have the two verses separated as two complete sentences.  The NRSV – which I happen to prefer most of the time – does not.  It reads:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Translation differences such as this one leads to the arguments about creation out of nothing, or creation being an “ordering” of chaos, or finally creation being something that came forth from God.  The two sentence translations lean toward “out of nothing” and the single sentence translations lean toward the “ordering of creation out of chaos.”  Either translation could be used for the idea that God created out of God’s own being.

What all these have in common and what ALL the translations of the Bible hold is that God was there in the beginning.  So, there has never been a time when there was “nothing”.  God has always been.  God is.  God will always be.  (Perhaps that is why God gave Moses the name “I am” when asked!  God simply is.)  On a side note…it is hard for me to imagine the existence of “nothing.”  Like “darkness,” which is really just the absence of light, “nothing” is the absence of “anything.”  Therefore, if “nothing” can’t exist on it’s own.  It’s just not logically possible.


So, even though the question of where this universe came from in the “beginning” is one that will be debated for a long time, the answer we choose doesn’t effect the Truth that Scripture is attempting to allow us to grasp – God created…therefore God was there in the beginning.  Scripture can be trusted to impart to us Truth…even if it isn’t as clear as to how to understand the truth that comes from that Truth.  (Yes…the use of capital letters is important here.)  Our task is to concentrate on the Truth – for that is what points us to God.

(And yes…I intend to see Star Trek this weekend!)  🙂  “Live long and prosper!”

Nest question: “What is the best way, when reading the Bible, to grasp a better understanding if you are unable to go to a study group?”


Dalai Lama and Me

A couple of years ago (even though it seems like a lifetime) I was an adjunct professor at WVU-Parkersburg. Although I taught several courses over five years, the one that I taught the most was “Religions of the World.” It was fascinating for me to teach this course mainly because I did not have a great background in other religions. So, each semester I found myself learning something new and different as I prepared for the course. I also learned quite a bit about how people view religion from the variety of students that I had taking the course. It truly was a fascinating time.

Part of the “Post-A-Day” recommendation for today was to write about the 11th thing on your bucket list. Well, I have never taken the time to write out a bucket list but the recommendation that I read early this morning had me thinking about some things. Later in the day, I was wandering through the Mercer Mall waiting for my eyes to be a little less dilated from an eye exam and I ran across one of those page-a-day calendars called, Insights from the Dalai Lama.  With my unwritten bucket list on my mind, I decided to buy this calendar (at 50% off) as much for fun as it would be for the insight I might gain from reading it AND the insight I might gain from people’s response to me reading it.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

Because of my experience with teaching about religions of the world, I think that meeting the Dalai Lama could well end up as number 11 on my bucket list. I could easily put it higher because I think meeting this man would be absolutely fascinating. I don’t think I would put it in the top ten because I really see no reason for the Dalai Lama and I to ever have paths that would cross close enough for me to meet him. Of course, even if they did there is the whole “Why would this Tibetan Buddhist monk want to meet a United Methodist pastor from Southern West Virginia?” that would have to be answered as well. So, I think meeting the Dalai Lama would make a great Number 11 on my bucket list!

BTW – if you are interested, here is the “insight” this humble man shares with us today…”If you are a compassionate person, then you build a compassionate family and then a compassionate community and then a compassionate world.”

Whether you are Buddhist or not – and I am not – I can hardly argue with the truth of that statement. So many times I wish the world would be a more compassionate place but that is only going to happen if it starts with me. I can easily rephrase the Dalai Lama’s words and say, “If I will love as Jesus loved, then truly I would change my family, my community, and the world.”

So, I will probably never meet the Dalai Lama but at least this year I will get to read his wisdom from time to time. (I would say every day but I am absolutely terrible at tearing off the pages of those calendars regularly…don’t know why, I just am.) And perhaps, I will share some of that wisdom on the journey we are all taking home…