Thursday, February 11, 2010

More Flies With Honey


I caught this, this evening, and Chaplain Cook made me smile. I wholeheartedly suggest if you didn't catch the piece, that you give it a listen. It's exactly the kind of thing that I think we need to hear, and certainly more often from The People of the Book.

Why the Buddhist keeps finding stories about the People of the Book, I dunno.

It on one hand seems heartening to see a positive story in the news about a Christian Chaplain. Not wishing death and boils and cancer on his accusers in court, not wishing death on the President, not in an adultery scandal, not touching boys or girls inappropriately, or any of the odd tales that we've seen in the news lately. On the other hand, you have to wonder, where the heck is the good news from Christians lately?

We see lots of stories about faithful marching to block gay marriage. To protest this. To protest that. To support a political agenda, and it disheartens me so very much to see these stories on the news.  And to see folks who are united in their faith to be angry, and who use their faith to cloak their prejudices.

Because, that's not the faith that was presented to me as a boy.

I was raised a Buddhist. Sort of a quiet thing, but my father married himself a smart native girl when he was in Okinawa after he did two tours in Vietnam. He had lied about his age to head out, and came to Okinawa a two tour veteran, and just 19.  He met a heart breakingly lovely girl, and I came along a some months later.

My father had been impressed by the culture of Japan, and while he and my mother didn't quite make it--a baby, a new husband, and a new husband who just found out that his blushing bride was NOT 18 like he'd thought, but 16, and just turned, is a lot to handle in the first months of a marriage--but he came back to the states with me, and as a quiet sort of Buddhist.

My Grandmother, not so much. She was a not terribly strict Catholic, and sort of a fair weather one at that, and when I was given to her for my father to head out for another over sea's tour, she took me in.  She raised me up as any good KC lady would, even displaced as she was in Maine, working for JP Regal. And she tried to raise up a precocious little boy, and instill in me all the values that she could, before my father returned, and again with a smart native girl. This time she was Korean.

Suk Cha was a different brand of Buddhist than my father--Zen being closer to how my father practiced, but not quite on the money. Suk Cha on the other hand was far more traditionally Korean Buddhist--the Koreans have a sort of 'reform Mahayana" that is a bit different than the Chinese and Japanese forms. Which isn't terribly surprising. So, our practice changed a bit, but I learned a lot, before she left.  In some ways, she was an excellent teacher in impermanence...

This is all as a sort of preface. Because while my father did well to raise my sister and I, once again alone, things took another odd turn, and my step mother returned to collect her daughter, and then disappeared again into Seoul.  And once again, my father was deployed as a trainer, and in such a job, it was going to be impossible to raise me and juggle everything else.  So, my grandmother stepped in, and I was whisked from Louisiana to South Carolina, where my grandmother had landed with yet another JP Regal plant.

Louisiana to South Carolina, one might think wouldn't be such a culture shock. But, I was a wee boy, who'd been raised a Buddhist, then thrown into a much more traditional setting home setting and on military bases, and had that yanked right out from under me, and back to a much more Zen practice, and a now twice divorced father, and had my sister taken from us.

Needless to say, it was a bit of transition.  From Monroe to Whitmire, South Carolina is only about 10 hours, but for me, it was a whole different world.

My Grandmother had dropped in the Deep South. In the middle of South Carolina's logging country and Sumter National Forest.  She had dropped Catholicism in lieu of her change of venue, and had taken up in a lovely Methodist church.  And in that church, was really my introduction to Christianity.

I had some passing knowledge. Stand up, sit down, sing some hymns, pass the plate, listen to someone talk about stories, while you looked through the red book with the ribbon for keeping your place, and NO pictures.  It was a little different than my Grandmother's Catholic church, and a LOT smaller, and bedecked with purple for the Minister, and the choir robes were colored, and I didn't miss the whole stations of the cross and the holy water business.

But what floored me, was Sunday School.

Before church, we broke up and went downstairs, and there were some activities, and we actually learned lessons from the Bible. And they were very different lessons than the somewhat soporific Masses that I remembered.

Above all, I learned the kindness and openness that Christianity promised.  More than just in the words and games, but by the people.  It was a small town. And most folks either worked at the mill, on a few farms, or at the textile plant.  Whitmire was that archtypical Southern town, with the old homes  in that vaguely antebellum style, with cherry phosphates and lemonade at the drug store--where I likewise purchased Matchbox cars and the odd magic trick like Magic Smoke that was much less impressive than the picture let it on to be, but still the idea of slathering a bunch of goop on your hands was still kinda cool.

And everyone knew one another. It was that kind of town. With the wide streets, and the shadey yards, and swings, and the like.

And for the most part, our side of town went to the Methodist church, and it was very much a comforting place.

I asked questions.  A lot of them. I drove my Bible School and Sunday School teacher a bit bonkers, I'm sure.  It was all pretty new stuff for me. And I invariably compared those lessons to the  Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths, and often, I found they were even compatible.  And this very Southern of congregations took in a somewhat wild, and unschooled in their faith,  boy, and applied in school--I went to church with most of my teachers and Principal--the same lessons that I heard about in Sunday School.

Not fire. Not brimstone. Not an emphasis on the wicked, though there were cautionary tales, but they weren't dwelled upon, but rather how we were supposed to act. How Jesus wanted us to be. Hoped we would be.  It was probably a better experience than my Grandmother could have hoped for to give me in her faith.  Not just her own example--she was a good Kansas City lady, and her unfailingly polite and firm way shaped my idea of what civility should be more than anyone else has--but all around me were these smiling people, who didn't preach and carry on (that was later, when my Father married again, and she became Born Again that I became acquainted with evangelical Baptists), but lived the lessons that I read about. Not sanctimonious glad handing, or attention drawing, but decent folks who lived their faith, and smiled a lot, and sang a lot, and loud, and often badly.  But that joy was what marked that experience.

Oh, there was conflict. Usually about pie. Rhubarb in particular, apparently was often a subject for deep discussion.  But the decentness of how folks treated one another still impressed me, oddly enough, as they had hoped to be treated by others. It wasn't pontificated upon. It was how they treated others. Their own behavior was the example, and if you happened to cross a line or two--and a somewhat wild boy whose family life had been thrown upside down a few times managed to cross those lines fair often--they corrected such behavior with a patience and faith that I'd get it.

Those people shaped my idea of what Christians are. What they should be. That Chaplain Cook is a Methodist is not much of a surprise.  But as I've grown older, and gotten to know other faiths, I've found that those the kind of religious folks that grab headlines, they rarely share anything with the people of faith that I've known for most of my life.

Chaplain Cook's story is more in line with the people of faith that I've met. From Unitarian-Universalists, to the Baha'i, the Sikhs, most Baptists I've known, the Jesuit brother who routinely trounced me at chess, and likewise pounded my interpretations of the Bible and the Dharma, the Muslims I've known, and the Mormons as well, were all people for whom, their faith was just a part of them. It shaped who they were, what they did on certain days, and how they looked at the world, but most likewise shared an affection for others. A desire to be useful to their neighbors. Helpful and supportive.

Stories like Chaplain Cook's give me hope for the People of the Book, and people of faith in general, because despite the stories that most often get the headlines, Chaplain Cook is more often the rule, than the exception, and I just wish that folks would report that more often.

But then again, people being nice to one another doesn't seem to be all that much of a story.

But maybe it should be. And maybe if those who crave attention saw more stories that focused on the positive and accepting of the faith among them, they might trig onto the idea that that what was going to get them noticed, and not the hate and the recrimination...

Originally posted on Thu Sep 10, 2009 at 02:09:03 AM EDT at The Motley Moose

No comments:

Post a Comment