The Middle Way

Since yesterday’s post, Finding a Path, was running much longer than anticipated and I do have a life outside of the computer and social media I shall continue the discussion on this post. As I have given my definitions for Christianity and Paganism in the previous post this post will be about my own chosen path.

My grandfather being a United Methodist Minister and being my primary caretaker along with my grandmother allowed for interesting opportunities to see what the inside dynamics of the Church is really like. While religion in general should be above politics people are people and they must have a structure and leadership in place to know where they are going and to feel secure about an unknown future. Perhaps because I was raised by Depression Generation, World War II survivors I tended to connect with the older generations, the adults more than my own age group. Perhaps because my grandparents raised me and their own life experiences were so interesting is why I strive to learn and grow as a person. I will be in a future blog posting about my grandfather and his life. He was truly an amazing, if flawed human being.

Whatever the reasons I never connected with my peers well until late in my high school career and even then it was not necessarily the “popular” crowd. One thing I am definitely sure came from my upbringing was my public speaking and communication ability. I realize at this point I am seemingly off on a tangent but bear with me I will bring it back full circle.  Two key things happened between the ages of 3 years and 6 years old. One my grandfather constantly read to me, particularly Mother Goose stories and the Bible. This lead to my reciting the Christmas Story (I am not sure which version as there are two full gospel version and one mention/partial gospel version) almost verbatim at age 3 at the Family Christmas get together. I do not, of course, remember doing this but my Mother, Aunt and Uncle assured me it happened. The second thing was my grandmother taking me to Nursing Homes and Shut Ins to sing to them. The majority of songs being hymns. I suppose a third thing, which was somewhat self driven, was memorizing.  I was the first in my Sunday School class, when assigned the task of memorizing the 23rd Psalm, to have the entire thing memorized and before the class was supposed to have it all memorized. The teacher had set up sections every week to discuss and memorize and I was something like two weeks ahead. This is not to boast but to give perhaps a better understanding of my background with the Church.

I went to Church camp in the Summer.  I went to Annual Conference (which was the United Methodist’s Governing Body on the State level). I went to meetings I shouldn’t probably have been in because my grandfather said so and few people argued with him. Then I felt moved to become a Lay Speaker/Minister for the Church. The United Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley. It was in some ways an accidental founding as Wesley was a parishioner of the Church of England. Yet, he found it necessary to bring to the masses of an early America an orderly, methodical, way to worship Jesus Christ. He believed in accountability to each other in order to keep everyone on a good spiritual path.

One thing about early America outside of big cities on the East Coast, it was pretty much all rural and some of it still not tamed (Wild Wild West). So John Wesley and his brother began what was called Circuit Riders. Because people were so spread out the Wesley brothers would pack up their Bibles and their song books (Charles Wesley was big on worship through song) on their horses and ride out to the countryside. There they would meet at someone’s house or community place or even out in the fields. They would hit several places in the span of a Sunday but then they would not be back to those places again until later in the month. Thus creating a “circuit” with many groups of worshippers in all the spread out places.

Point being the United Methodist Church to this day have many small and rural churches whose buildings are not in a convenient location or whose membership is so small and middle class that the Church building in some cases don’t even have air-conditioning, let alone access for the physically disabled. Also as overall membership in the Church has declined many Pew and Gallup polls finding more and more Americans consider themselves “spiritual” and not attached to any one religion, so too has the number of people interesting in pursuing ministry declined.

Thus this has led to the United Methodist Church to ask for Lay Speaker/Ministers. These are members of the Church who feel a call to lead worship and mentor other parishioners but who do not want to pursue full-time Ministry. Lay Speakers cannot do the sacraments.  This is the biggest difference between.  Ordained Ministers can bless and administer Communion, conduct Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals. Ordained Ministers are also full time leaders of the Church who working with a board oversee Church finances, Church membership, help settle disputes within the body of members, promote the Mission of the Church, both Local and Conference wide and various other duties, including spiritual counseling. Lay Speakers can administer Communion but it must first be blessed by an Ordained Minister. They may also assist in some of the sacerments but an Ordained Minister must be present.

So I became a Lay Speaker for a time and was assigned a small, dying, country church. While I enjoyed doing Lay Ministry for a time as I became more aware of my own Spirtiual Path, I decided speaking from the Pulpit made me feel like a hypocrite.  There is more besides this feeling as to why I stopped Lay Ministry but that is whole other story and my own personal anger with the United Methodist Church system, though I will say I was also relieved when it happened.

I also for a time worked as a Church Secretary. So I was deep within the structure of the United Methodist Church and I throughly believe in a good many of John Wesley’s princples.  I also believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ.  However, there is that pesky thing about Jesus dying for my sins. I do not believe he did.  I believe he was perscuted and even died on a cross but not because of my sins or the sins of all of humanity but because of his own political prolivicies which clashed with the Roman’s Leadership at the time.

When I started college one of the first classes I took was World Religion. As we went through the various religions, including an objective but fair view of Christianity, I found my beliefs fell in line with Eastern thinking, particularly Buddhism. At first I did not want to let go of my Christianity and my heritage. So I saw Buddhism  as a way of life which is true of Buddhism as well as it being a religion. Many in Vietnam live this way. They are both Buddhist and Catholic, Catholicism being brought into Vietnam heavily by the French before and during the Vietnam War. So still clinging the fading belief of Jesus as my Savior I began embarking the Middle Way of Buddhism.

Two notes, one interesting, one funny. The interesting thing about Buddhism (which came waaaaay before Christianity) is the overlap of Buddha’s teachings and that of Jesus’. Some theorize the missing years of Jesus’ life, in the Bible we hear of his reading of the scroll at the Temple and then there is nothing until he beginings recruiting the disciples which estimates put Jesus’ age around 30ish, he traveled East and studied with practitioners of Buddhism. This explains not only the missing years but the overlap. Still others believe Jesus may have been an incarnation of Buddha. While these theories are certainly interesting they will mostly likely never be proven. Now for the funny thing. After I decided to pursue Buddhism and began attending a Sangha, that Sangha had a day long meditation retreat which was held at the Conference Office of the United Methodist Church.

Again it seems I have ran longer than I meant to. One more post to finish out this journey.

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