The latest 'perfect storm' comes to us from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan which just elected Kevin G. Thew Forrester as their bishop.
While some folks are screaming about 'the process' of nomination (he was the only candidate on the slate), others are tearing their garments about the fact that his man claims that Buddhist teaching and meditative practices give shape and form to his understanding of Jesus and his practice of Christianity.
Indeed, one particularly hateful 'orthodite' blog has started a letter writing campaign in a pathetic attempt to block the confirmation of his election (Gee, where have we seen this hateful dynamic before?)
I encourage you to read "Vocation, Shared Leadership at the heart Northern Michigan episcopal process" by Herb Gunn before you proceed.
As for his inclinations toward Buddhism, I encourage you to read the Bishop-elect's statement below. But first, a few observations:
(1) I think the entire flap about "the episcopal process" and the fact that there was only one candidate nominated for bishop is fueled by a decidedly un-Christian impulse for 'payback'. Like the horrible public Republican flogging of Bill Clinton was payback for the Democratic run impeachment of Richard Nixon, this is payback for the fact that the episcopal election of Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina failed to gain the number of consents of Standing Committees.
Oh, see how these uber-Christians love one another! Too bad they love what they believe to be orthodoxy more than those whom God has created.
(2) As for the hysteria about Buddhist-influenced Christianity, well, I think the newly elected bishop states his case very well and needs no defense from me. That being said, I do think the hysteria you hear from the Right side of the aisle is the sound of a line being drawn in the sand by conservatives who, now that the majority of 'orthodites' have left, are 'what's left of the Right."
This 'pissing contest' about Buddhism is just that, on a very deep psychological and spiritual level. This is about marking theological territory. This is about saying, as I read one blogger's lament, "We can not allow this Progressive runaway train to wreck our church."
I understand the impulse, but I question the understanding of how Christianity that is influenced by other cultural understandings is some how 'less-than' or dangerous.
Then again, these are the same folks who make such a fuss whenever any other spiritual practices are incorporated in Christian liturgy or theology.
You know. Like when Native American smudge-sticks were used for purification along with our beloved Anglican incense at the beginning of the service of Consecration of our Presiding Bishop at the National Cathedral.
You know. Like the guffaws that are heard in some circles whenever liturgical dance is employed.
You know. Like the sounds of protest fueled by ignorance when our Presiding Bishop used the words of the mystics and spoke of "Mother Jesus."
It is an attempt at Evangelical Christian hegemony writ large.
So, read the statement from the new bishop-elect. As he says, "There is nothing to defend here, only a gift." Amen. And, welcome to the "Junior House", bishop-elect Forrester. You are a fine, holy addition and I look forward to your leadership.
I now feel free, as the bishop-elect, to state my faith and zen meditation
practice in my own words. Please read below. I need you to know that I am deeply honored to have been trained in Zen practice and that it is integral to my spirituality. I state this below.
I also state clearly that I am a christian and not a buddhist priest. I find it rather tragic, however, that folks might try to put me/us on the defensive for the gift of interfaith practice and dialogue.
There is nothing to defend here, only a gift.
Kevin Thew Forrester
25 February 2009
As a Christian, I am deeply aware that I live and move and have my being in Christ – as does all creation. I am honored to be the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan with the opportunity to serve and work with the Episcopal Ministry Support Team as well as the people of the diocese for the next 10 to 15 years, committed as we are to the ministry of all the baptized.
Each of us is formed in the image and likeness of God. As a Christian, I owe my life to our Trinitarian faith. Over the years my faith and spiritual practice have been largely shaped and profoundly imprinted by the mystics and the contemplative spiritual tradition.
I have grown in my awareness that the grace of God, which is God’s very Presence, cannot be circumscribed. Because of my faith in the gracious goodness of the Godhead, I am open to receive the wisdom from, and be in dialogue with, other faith traditions; not to mention the sciences and the arts.
I am quite honored, as an Episcopal priest, to have been trained in the art and practice of Zen meditation. I am not an ordained Buddhist priest. I am an Episcopal priest eternally grateful for the truth, beauty and goodness, experienced in meditation.
I am thankful for the pioneering work of Thomas Merton in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue. I am also thankful for the current elders in our Christian tradition, such as Thomas Keating and David Steindl-Rast, whose practice of meditation (like that of Merton) deepened their own contemplative life and led them to explore the sacramental common ground we share through the grace of God. As a Christian I can be receptive to divine truth, beauty and goodness, because I know that “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.”
I have been blessed to practice Zen meditation for almost a decade. About five years ago a Buddhist community welcomed me as an Episcopal priest in my commitment to a meditation practice—a process known by some Buddhists as "lay ordination."
Literally thousands of Christians have been drawn to Zen Buddhism in particular because, distinct from western religions, it embodies a pragmatic philosophy and a focus on human suffering rather than a unique theology of God. “Lay ordination” has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition.
The essence of this welcoming ceremony, which included no oaths, was my resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering. Meditation deepens my dwelling in Christ.
My experience continues to be that through the grace of meditation I am drawn ever deeper into the Trinitarian contemplative Christian tradition. I have been able to bring the practice of meditation/contemplation to the wider diocese through the gifts discovery process and through the founding of the Healing Arts Center at St. Paul’s in Marquette.
The Center is devoted to assisting people in their own spiritual journey, which includes the practice of meditation within the sanctuary and the exploration of Christian contemplatives and mystics.
Kevin G. Thew Forrester
Diocese of Northern Michigan