Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gospel of Christ

Christmas is just days away. One of the most magical aspects of the season is Christmas music. I love and enjoy it all (with a few annoying exceptions not worth noting), but there is one song that tends to effect me like no other - especially if the artist singing it does so with great passion. The song is O Holy Night. The climax of the song (usually sung with great power and intensity) is...

Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! 

 These lines, without fail, give me chills every time. This month however, a different line has been the cause of much emotion, Christmas spirit, and deep pondering. The following lines have been in my head all month long, and have managed to somehow embed themselves deep within my soul...

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.

The message of these lines are so simple, yet they pretty much sum up the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. I tend to view my faith in more symbolic terms that I do literal. I don't know if all the events surrounding the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ really happened exactly as I was taught (I suspect not), but if you were to ask a Buddhist how he could possibly believe all of the stories about the life of the Buddha (some of the events are pretty unbelievable) they would probably tell you that it doesn't matter if it all really happened or not. What is important is the message and essence of the teachings, and what you take from it. Buddhism is truly a beautiful faith. My feelings are the same about the gospel of Christ. What is important is the message I take from it, and applying it to my life. What does the life of Jesus Christ mean to me?

I was born and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love that we are named after Jesus Christ, the perfect example of how to live. I love learning about Jesus, singing about Jesus, praising Jesus. I love Jesus!

I have a problem however... with the notable exception of the Sabbath before Christmas, there seems to be very little mention these days of Christ in our weekly Sunday services. The emphasis instead is placed on our early and modern day prophets and leaders, building temples, and the ultimate emphasis - obedience, obedience, obedience. These messages begin at the youngest of age. Ask any primary youth (ages 3-11) what the most popular song in primary is and they will likely tell you - Follow The Prophet. A very catchy, chant-like tune... 

Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet... don't go astray. 
Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet... he knows the way!

Shouldn't our most loved songs be instead about following Jesus? Sure there are many songs about Jesus, but I am just not hearing them as often these days. Maybe this shouldn't bother me so much, after all, following the prophet isn't a bad idea. You could do much worse than to follow the commandments of the prophet and my church. For the most part it's all good stuff, my problem is that I feel like we have lost sight of of the true essence of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Christ wasn't about strict rules and dogma, power or prestige. Christ would have never spent millions of dollars to build fancy temples (not to mention the three billion dollars the church has spent to renovate a mall!) ...temples that are only allowed to be used by those within the church who have proven themselves worthy and obedient. Within these temples we devote our time performing sacred saving ordinances for those who have died without them. Christ wouldn't have spent a minute serving the dead (the dead are already in a place of pure love), it was the needs and suffering of the living that he devoted himself to. 

Jesus Christ preached love, peace, acceptance. He hung out with the saints and sinners alike, served the poor and the needy. Touched the lepers upon the face, offered love to all, and was a friend to everyone. "Truly He taught us to love one another, His law was love and His gospel was peace." It's so simple! Love one another... love one another... just love. Why must we complicate this simple message? So many just don't get it. But then again... some do. The message of Jesus was universal. One not need be a Christan to exemplify his teachings. Below is the story of Narayanan Krishnan of India. A beautiful man who was truly a Christ among us. He is a man who "gets it". (Please watch!)

I love you my friends. May you have a wondrous Christmas season, reflecting on the gospel of Christ, and what it means to you in your life. I wish you peace, I wish you happiness, I send you all the love in my heart. I leave you now with the words of the Dalai Lama (another great man who "gets it")...

"My true religion, my simple faith is in love and compassion. There is no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are - these are ultimately all we need." -the Dalai Lama

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Religion

(A brief dialogue between Brazilian theologist Leonardo Boff and the Dalai Lama....)

During a break at round table discussion about religion and freedom in which Dalai Lama and myself were participating, I maliciously and also with interest, asked him: “Your holiness, what is the best religion?”

I thought he would say: “The Tibetan Buddhism” or “The oriental religions, much older than Christianity” Dalai Lama paused, smiled and looked me in the eyes ….

He answered: The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God. It is the one that makes you a better person.”

To get out of my embarrassment with such a wise answer, I asked: “What is it that makes me better?”

He responded:

“Whatever makes you

more compassionate,

more sensible,

more detached,

more loving,

more humanitarian,

more responsible,

more ethical...

The religion that will do that for you is the best religion”

I was silent for a moment, marveling and even today thinking of his wise and irrefutable response:

“I am not interested, my friend, about your religion or if you are religious or not. What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your peers, family, work, community, and in front of the world... Remember, the universe is the echo of our actions and our thoughts.”

“The law of action and reaction is not exclusively for physics. It is also of human relations. If I act with goodness, I will receive goodness. If I act with eviI, I will get evil. You will always have what you desire for others. Being happy is not a matter of destiny. It is a matter of options.”

Finally he said: “Take care of your Thoughts because they become Words. Take care of your Words because they will become Actions. Take care of your Actions because they will become Habits. Take care of your Habits because they will form your Character. Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny, and your Destiny will be your Life … and … There is no religion higher than the Truth.”