I took a mythology class in college, and it really messed with my head. We studied Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth,” which makes parallels in the world’s religions based on similar folktales and religious stories. Basically, Campbell says that all religions, based on good and evil and heaven and such, have the same god – our God. I was so swept away by this concept that at one time I actually declared to myself that I would just believe all religions since they all pointed to the God I know and love. Thankfully, after a point-blank discussion under a shade tree on my college campus one spring, I did choose the God I worship, fear, honor and trust today, but I still didn’t really understand the difference between “my God” and “their God” until many, many years later when we moved to Thailand. This chapter reminds me of rituals I see every day here, like people lined up at temples where cleansing incense burns day and night and locals leaving bottles of Fanta and bundles of bananas at their spirit houses every morning. It was hard for me to understand as a 20-something why this could be such a bad thing. These people are following tradition, repenting for their sins and praying to who I truly believe is the same God you and I praise and beg for mercy. So what’s the difference? Why can’t I happily accept Buddhism? It’s beautiful! What is wrong with the Muslim faith? The customs are endearing, and those mosques – WOW! I felt guilty for feeling so peaceful as I gazed out over the Arabian Gulf during the evening call to worship, which my daughter and I could hear from our hotel room in Abu Dhabi. (We were on a short layover on our way to the US.) I stepped out on the balcony as the call started playing low and slow throughout the entire city. The breeze from the Gulf was chilly and clean and smelled like Heaven after coming from Thailand and being cooped up in airports and on airplanes and in buses for more than 14 hours. See what I mean??? How could I NOT love this moment??? Well, I could. And I did. But I did it a little differently than those around me were doing it. You see, I was praising God AND thanking Jesus for allowing that whole surreal moment to be possible. Others around me were physically going to prayer or kneeling in their homes in their traditional clothing to praise God, yes, but they had nothing to say to Jesus because they don’t know him. And that’s nothing to hate or be rude about or dislike. That is just sad. The same goes for Buddhism. With Jesus, we don’t have to set out daily meals to appease bad spirits. We don’t have to light incense at a temple for our sins. We don’t have to cover our faces and bodies according to Old Testament Scripture and stop what we’re doing each day so that we don’t miss the few short windows of opportunity we are afforded to repent from our sins. We can (and darn well better!) thank God from our balconies – or while walking in tank tops through temple areas wreaking of incense – for sending the only person and doing the one thing that could afford us that luxury. I know I don’t need to say it, but I need to type his name – Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Thank you, Jesus! That we don’t have to burn incense day and night, that we don’t have to drop what we’re doing and rush to prayer, that we can wear what we want and walk freely down the streets praising your name with no shame and no guilt. It’s funny, when I recall the intimate conversation I had with God that day under the shade tree on my college campus, Jesus was there, but it didn’t occur to me how significant that was until I was in my 40s. (Ok, like maybe just recently it occurred to me.) Jesus was there. I remember God saying to me, “Pick one.” And I remember saying back to him – and Jesus, “Well, I know you best, and you’re hear with me now, so I choose you.” And Jesus was there.
Writing prompt: choosing Jesus
It’s exciting in ministry when a person from a Buddhist or Muslim background accepts Jesus. I often wonder, though, just how much they understand about what it means to accept Jesus. Perhaps it’s easier for them because they get to physically shed themselves of participating in religious rituals many of them have grown up doing just naturally. Some of them, though, might miss those bonding times that often take place with families. Some may not have had any religious upbringing and therefore don’t have a clue what they’re gaining – or missing out on! Even if we don’t understand on a ground-shaking level what Jesus did for us, we all have an understanding that we are unique, holy and set apart from others who don’t know Jesus (or refuse to accept his life, death and resurrection). Let’s continue our thanks to him today: take a look at your “sin list” from yesterday, and write about all the ways you are thankful to Jesus for not having to make a trek to the Tabernacle to make a bloody repentance.