Well, here we go again. The Episcopal Church seems to have become the home of choice for Christian clergy who want to go the syncretistic route. Episcodruid Bill Melnyk and Islamopalian Anne Holmes Redding come immediately to mind. Now, it seems the Diocese of Northern Michigan is prepared to elect as its bishop a priest who has also received lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist. According to the Living Church News Service:

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, rector of St. Paul’s, Marquette, and St. John’s, Negaunee, was put forward by the diocesan search team to stand for election as bishop/ministry developer under the “mutual ministry model” used by the small, rural diocese on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A priest of the diocese since 2001, Fr. Forrester also serves as ministry development coordinator and newspaper editor for Northern Michigan.

In recent years, he also was a practicing Buddhist, according to the former Bishop of Northern Michigan, the late Rt. Rev. James Kelsey.

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

In his Oct 15, 2004 address to the diocese’s annual convention, Bishop Kelsey took note of some of the milestones among the lives of members of the diocese. After recognizing recent university graduations, the bishop said Fr. Forrester “received Buddhist ‘lay ordination’,” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together.”

Fr. Forrester did not respond to requests for clarification or comments on how as presumptive bishop he would model the two faiths in his episcopacy.

I’ll bet. It should also be noted that the Episcopal News Service story, which concentrated on Northern Michigan’s unusual process for seeking a new bishop, doesn’t mention this salient fact. Why am I not surprised.

Now, I know lots of Christians go all gooey over Buddhism, and think that Christianity and Buddhism are somehow compatible. But the truth is that in almost every respect, Christianity and Buddhism are polar opposites. Christianity posits a loving and righteous personal God who created the universe, called a people to Himself, and redeemed them when they were dead in sin. Buddhism is atheistic, sees salvation in terms of personal extinction, and requires that people free themselves from the worldly bonds that ensnare them. As for the spiritual practices of Buddhism that many Westerners find so fascinating, they do so in part because they don’t know the extraordinarily rich and deep spiritual traditions of their own faith. None of this is to say that Christians can’t learn some things from Buddhists, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with seeking to understand a religious tradition other than your own. But the evidence seems to be that Forrester isn’t in dialogue with Buddhists, or seeking to understand them, but has become one. I can only imagine what kind of theological contortions he must go through in an attempt to keep the inherent contradictions of the two faiths from blowing up in his head. But I got some picture of those contortions by finding this piece that he wrote in the July/August 2004 edition of the diocesan newsletter:

My soul-work has led me to see that the way of Jesus is the way of truth and life. Anointed by the Spirit, Jesus reveals to humanity that the way of God is the path of boundless compassion and of utter regard for all God’s creatures. I remember my astonishment upon first understanding that Jesus realized he was beloved by God at his baptism, and he had not even done anything yet. He had not achieved, changed, perfected, anything. He was loved by God simply because he was God’s child. We are beloved of God as we are, and nothing can ever change this. This is the simple truth so hard for each of us to know in our heart of hearts – at least it has been for me. Our hearts ache to know this love for ourselves. Awareness of belovedness, is, as I see it, the very life blood of the way of Jesus. For me it is sacred salve to the soul – salvific. It is the way of salvation – offering us healing from the fears, anxieties, and greeds of our own blinding egos.

I see now a Jesus who does not raise the bar to salvation, but lowers it so far that it disappears. Our own children, Miriam and Liam, have been welcomed to communion since birth not because of anything they know, but because of who they are – God’s beloved. There is nothing we can do or need do to win God’s love. That is precisely the good news. Human beings always want to make conditions. Jesus reveals that for God to love us there are no conditions. We are of God and belong to God because God has made us – each and every one of us, who are both beautiful and broken.

And yet, it has not been easy for me to see this belovedness in my own life, or in all of God’s creatures – such as those who flew planes into the Twin Towers. I seem to thrive on setting-up conditions for God’s love. My fear and ego needs have been blinding all too often. Sin is another word for such blindness. Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness. And when we are blind we hurt ourselves and others – sometimes quite deeply.

Zen , for me, is about learning how to see the bedrock truth of our baptism – we are beloved. To say this may sound odd, at first. But 2,500 years ago, an Indian prince became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, because he courageously sat and faced his fears, and after years of facing them, saw this basic truth about life: we are one, utterly one, yet we do not know it. We suffer because we fearfully cling to this or that thing (for me, trying to be perfect) in the hope that it will bring us happiness.

After his awakening, or enlightenment, it is said that the Buddha encountered some of his earlier friends. They noticed the change in him and asked if he were a god? He said no, I am simply a human being who is finally awake. The way of the Buddha is essentially about waking up to who we are, and what creation is – utterly one and sacred.

Universalism? Check. Pelagianism? Check. Gnosticism? Check. Pantheism? Check. Bishop of the Episcopal Church? Probably, but there are those who will squawk, according to the Living Church:

If Fr. Thew Forrester was an Episcopalian-Zen Buddhist, and if he was elected by the special convention as bishop, objections to his being seated in the House of Bishops would be raised, according to one senior diocesan bishop. That bishop said he hoped the House of Bishops was “still sufficiently faithful to recognize the total self-contradiction this would involve and deny consent.”

The House of Bishops? Sufficiently faithful? The same House of Bishops that thinks John Spong’s atheism is hunky-dory? I’ll definitely be preparing the flying pig for that event.

(Via Stand Firm.)

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