I’m down in Foley, Alabama this week. My dad bought a place out here a few years ago and he’s recovering from recent heart surgery so I came down to visit before heading off to my European tour (see below for details, all events are still open).
Last night we ordered pizza and I went out to pick it up. The woman who served me was young and blonde and bubbly. After I got my pizza and paid my bill she said, “Have a blessed evening!” She pronounced blessed in two syllables, bless-ed.
The older I get and the more I write about it, the more I realize I had a pretty weird childhood. In my books and blog posts I often say I grew up in Akron, Ohio. But that’s not precisely true. Most of my childhood and teen years I lived in a town called Wadsworth, which is about 20 miles west of Akron. And from age 7 to 11, I lived in Nairobi, Kenya, where my dad worked for the Firestone Rubber Company, during which time we traveled extensively through Africa and Europe. I also spent a big part of my adult life in Japan.
So I have this very rural side to my upbringing as well as a side that’s decidedly worldly. I sometimes wonder what sort of person I’d have been if I spent my entire childhood in Wadsworth or even simply just in America.
It’s occurring to me lately that when someone who really hasn’t been exposed to much outside of a very rural American environment says they’re a Christian, this might mean something very different from what it means when someone who has been exposed to a variety of other options means when they say the same thing. This would be true for other people in other parts of the world who espouse the religion predominant in their area.
Saying you’re a Christian in Foley, Alabama may not necessarily mean you’re a Christian as opposed to a Buddhist or Jew or Muslim, etc. Rather it may mean that you are attempting to align yourself with what you see as the more ethical, thoughtful and just generally decent members of your community rather that those elements who drink and curse and fight and generally cause a lot of problems for everybody else. Saying you’re a Christian in places like this usually means, I think, that you’re trying to be one of the good guys.
Thinking about it this way, I’ve learned not to fear Christians as much as I used to. I was once quite literally scared of people who said things like “have a blessed evening.” I felt like folks who said those kinds of things were fearful of people like me who were not Christians and that their fear could easily turn dangerous.
Now I understand why. People who have not been exposed to other religions than the one they grew up with don’t know what to make of those who follow different paths. To them, the only people who try to be decent are the Christians (or whatever other religion they were raised among, but I’ll stick with the example I’m most familiar with). They have the experience that those who proclaim themselves not to be Christian are often lawless and unprincipled, disruptive to society, dangerous. To say you’re not a Christian is sort of like saying you don’t believe in the law. That could mean you’re capable of all sorts of criminal behavior from jaywalking right on up to murder and mayhem. I can see why you’d be scared of someone like that. I would be too if I thought that way.
We are in a transitional period in our history. We’ve only recently begun to have to confront and make peace with people who follow religions we don’t really fully understand. I get why people might think that Zen Buddhists sacrifice babies at candlelight ceremonies in the woods at midnight. We do sometimes dress in scary black robes and chant stuff that sounds like backwards-masked messages from Beelzebub. It even sounds that way to me sometimes and I know what it means!
It will take some time before there’s a general understanding that there are a whole lot of different ways to follow a path of ethics, to try to be one of the good guys. We’ll have to live with each other for a while before everybody gets the idea. I think it will happen. I see it starting to happen already. I have a lot of optimism, even in the face of seeing a lot of very bad things still happening.
For many among us this is not an easy transition. Coming to terms with people you don’t understand is not an in-born skill. Our more animalistic side wants to know who is dangerous to us and who is not at a glance. That’s a survival skill we needed for hundreds of thousands of years and that served us pretty well for most of that time. But I really believe we can transcend it.
Until then, have a blessed evening!
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK
September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT
September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP
September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED
September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT
October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova
November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT
April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
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