Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Christian Among Buddhists

The Khmer New Year is near, a valued holiday among the Cambodian people. They gather around family back in the provinces and celebrate with a week of dancing, singing, feasting, and throwing water and baby powder on each other. It’s the year of the Dragon.
I’m told that about 60% of the population is Buddhist, the remaining 40% agnostic, relativists, or simply no avowal, and just a sprinkling of Christians. I respect Buddhism and find valuable teachings to be found within the tradition and its people. At the same time, my Christian faith is a living reality for me rather than a private preference. It’s a delicate balance of respect and understanding with conviction and truth. I try to share my faith rather than impose it.
I read my Bible on the steps of the orphanage every morning, occasionally enjoying a conversation about faith with an older student or staff member. The Easter holiday has led me to reflect more on the cross over the past few days. I try to wrap my mind around the dialectical complexity held within that divine moment: life in death, beauty in atrocity, strength in weakness, wholeness in brokenness. It’s perplexing, really. An all-powerful God could have revealed his message to mankind any way he wanted. This means that for some reason, the cross was chosen for a reason over all other options.

So in light of Good Friday and Easter, what does the cross mean to a 24 year-old Christian living in Cambodia in 2012? A Christian among Buddhists?
In all my limited understanding:
The cross is not a “get out of jail free” card. Its not something that just covers up our mistakes and justifies us before God. Jesus bore the weight of our sins to show that the Divine way is to bind oneself to humanity. It’s an invitation to share in the sufferings of the oppressed and join in the celebrations of just victories. To only take away a “salvation ticket” from the cross, to me, misses the point of the most beautiful moment in human history.
That when no one understood his parables, or his logic, or his sermons about the Kingdom of God, he took a frustrated and exhausted breath and said: “Fine… I’ll show you.” Its Jesus’ last and most important message to humanity spoken without a word: That when mankind is broken and desperate at the bottom of the dismal abyss, the only thing that can save us is love.
As Dean Brackely said, “[Jesus] will not be the conquering warrior-savior that people long for, and vote for, in every age. His role will be different. As servant of Yahweh, he will confront evil with the naked weapon of truth… and suffer the terrible consequences.” [The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, 78]
The more I come to understand Jesus, the less I worry about doctrine or ideology and the more I learn how to love better. To continue trying to embrace a Divine presence that enables us to respond to the pain, hate, and fear in the world with a fierce love.
So in the end I guess it doesn’t really matter that I’m a Christian among Buddhists, because whatever your avowal, I think we can always do for a little more grace towards each other. 
Celebrating the Khmer New Year
Playing a traditional New Year game
Buddhist monk at a pagoda

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