March 7, 2009

The Appeal of Buddhism

Buddhism appeals to me in several ways. Primarily in terms of fashion, mind you. Who wouldn't jump at saffron robes and a shaved head? Also, mystical disciplines. And the lure of kung fu powers, of course. More philosophically, Buddhism's greatest appeal concerns its understanding of what causes human suffering: our desires or, as I think of them, our expectations.

Some people do a much better job of setting aside their expectations and taking life as it comes. My Uncle Bill, for example. And Llonio in Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer, who smiled and created a feast from whatever his children brought to him each day. These people see serendipity all around them. These people's lives are marked by joy and grace.

Most of what awareness I have of my expectations I credit to ESI, who gave me six weeks of training before sending me to a post-apocalyptic, third world wasteland to teach English.

"Expectations. What are my expectations?" was the mantra. What do I expect that I will accomplish? What do I expect from others in this crazy land? What do I expect from my teammates? Gene Edward's The Prisoner in the Third Cell later taught me to ask myself what I expect from God and what I will do when God disappoints my expectations.

The latter question is the more important one. How will I respond when my expectations are not met? And whose fault will it be? More on this another time.

These are crucial questions in a marriage. These are crucial questions in all relationships, including the church. What are reasonable expectations to place on the church, or on a pastor? Do I expect that people read my mind when I need prayer or am cowering in my sin caves? Do I expect that the music match my preferences? That the sermons address my most pressing spiritual needs each week? That a red carpet be rolled out for my gifts and talents to be used in the main weekly service? That the pastor become my best friend and invite me over for holidays and birthdays? Or do I expect that I "be fed," according to my definition of what spiritual feeding is, of course, and with the spiritual foods that I find tastiest--and as if my feeding were not my own responsibility.

If I am honest, I bring such expectations to my church, though I rarely voice them. Their common theme: Me. The "I" in the middle of "sin," as some have said. Are these expectations reasonable? Biblical? Selfless? Are they consistent with "preferring one another" (Romans 12:10)? Do they lead to greater maturity or testify of Christ's resurrection to a lost and dying world? Do they glorify God or bring him delight? Hardly.

What is worse, I often confuse my expectations with my rights, but not my right to remain silent, or my right to take up my cross daily--to "Die, sucker, die." And now I have a problem greater than disappointment, greater than the Buddha's "suffering." Now I am tempted to justify my displeasure, my boredom, my lack of love. And I fit my neck for a millstone.