By Jim Rigby – Special to the American-Statesman / January 3, 2015
I was born into a pretty typical version of Christianity. My mom always said, however, that every religion has something to teach us. Mom said we should respect everyone’s religion as much as possible.
Until I arrived at college, I had never actually opened the scriptures of any other faith. Once I arrived here in Austin, I started a lifelong practice of respectfully reading the scriptures of other world faiths.
To my surprise, I began to learn things about Jesus I never might have discovered had I stayed in my little sectarian version of Christianity.
Sitting under a tree in the Northeast corner of Wooldridge Park, I opened up my first world scripture, which was Hindu. As I read the words of Krishna, it felt like I was hearing a missing track from a familiar song. It was like I had only seen through one facet of a diamond, and was now realizing for the first time that the true jewel was vastly larger than I could have imagined.
I could hear for the first time that Jesus, like Krishna, was calling us to something much deeper than traditional religion. I realized that both texts were cosmic hymns calling us into the vastness of our common life with all. What had been the comfortable wading pool of sectarian religion was suddenly beginning to feel like the vast open waters of life.
From Buddhism I began to understand that Jesus wasn’t calling us to dogma. Like Buddha, he was calling us to a deeper and wider wakefulness. In studying the spiritual riddles of Zen I realized that Jesus taught in parables for the same reason that Buddha did. If love is our aim, then awareness, not belief is our true path.
From Taoism I learned that heaven could be found in the ordinary gifts of nature. When Jesus told us to consider the birds of the air he was saying, like Taoists, that life itself can be our teacher. I better understood the Sermon on the Mount when I discovered the Taoist teaching that the soft (water) overcomes the hard (stone), and that “the ocean is the ruler of waters because it takes the lowest place.”
From Islam I learned to give myself fully to life, holding nothing back. From Sufi Islam I learned that humor can be a great guide to the sacred. It was Sufi poetry that first awakened me to scripture not as a joyless essay but as a cosmic song to which we should be dancing.
From Judaism I learned that love is inseparable from justice. From the Jewish prophets I learned that I needed to love the people in my religion and nation enough to tell them when I thought they were being unjust. From Judaism I came to understand that love is not a sentimental feeling, but a redistribution of the goods so that all may enjoy the necessities of life.
Finally, from atheism I learned the importance of radical honesty. Reading the compassionate appeals of freethinkers, I came to understand the second commandment (not to make images of God) means that doubt is as important to faith as is belief.
I am still a Christian after all these years, but I have left the little version of my upbringing and have come to understand my own faith as one voice in a larger choir. Most of all I have come to understand what Christian scripture means when it says, “whoever has love, has God.”
Rigby is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX. http://www.staopen.org/
Your take-away from Sufi is interesting in light of all we are experiencing today. What were you reading that led you to that insight?
I left comment on your “Courage” post, but the comment counter did not increment on my system for it, so I don’t know whether you’d see it. 07:59 CST, 1/10/15.