Not a choice but a blend

I loved the Merton piece I posted yesterday, but I did find myself wondering why it needed to appear at this particular time, in the middle of a series that was evolving around the premises in Alan Jones'  Soul Making.

Fortunately this morning I see a bit of a connection.  I am reading Jones' chapter on the importance of tears, and in the middle of it there's this curious paragraph that caught my eye:

"Christian believers have tended to be nervous about and suspicious of the waking-up process because it is thought that Christianity has nothing to do with enlightenment, but only with salvation.  The distinction is an unfortunate one.  Enlightenment, without some truly saving aspect to it, is little more than an intellectual exercise.  Salvation without the inner transforming power of self-knowledge is little short of magic."

Ah.  So war IS germane to the subject at hand; in this case, the war between Eastern and Western religions -- or, to bring it home to a more personal level, the war within me between Episcopalian and Buddhist. If I understand the tension there to be a misunderstanding, a sense that there must be either enlightenment or salvation, then how reassuring it becomes to understand that, just as I have sensed, we need both.

I've been cycling between the two for years -- going deep into Christianity only to be repelled by the lack of intellectual understanding, then drifting into Buddhism only to find myself longing for the salvation of a more personal God.  Perhaps I'm not alone in this -- certainly I have a number of friends who are involved in the same sort of whirlpool -- but isn't it possible that the massive exodus of young people from the church (and here I find myself thinking of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, and Holden Caulfield's distaste for "phonies") is related to the same sort of either/or stance the church tends to take?  Who wouldn't be appalled by an organization which insists on making all sorts of rules for others while never taking the time to explore, admit to and reform to its own flawed being?  Isn't that at least a factor in our corporate distaste for the mess at Penn State?

To be relevant to today's much wiser generations (they have learned SOMEthing from their parents, after all), it seems to me that Christianity might want to spend more time on the waking-up process, on the kingdom of God that is right here and right now.  Jesus, after all, was clearly a supremely enlightened being.  Perhaps if we spent more time exploring what he was trying to teach us about that and less time worrying about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or who's allowed to step up to the altar or put on a collar, our young people -- who are searching for the same things we longed for in a significantly more confusing world than the one we grew up in -- might find the church more a place of hope and connection and less a place of rules and exclusion.

You can lead a horse to water, as the saying goes -- and many of us parents have done just that with our children -- but no matter how thirsty the horse is, it's only likely to drink if the water is truly fresh.


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