Forgive me, but I need to begin with a joke (adapted from one I once heard told about Episcopalians):
Two elderly Anglican gentlemen are sitting in their pew in their local church waiting for a service to begin. Both are true believers, but have become distraught at the way the CofE has been going in recent years. Suddenly the lights dim, and a laser show accompanied by hardcore rave music begins. They turn to see a procession coming down the aisle, with girls and boys carrying statues of Buddha and Krishna. At the end of the procession, whirling and dancing around is the new naturist, lesbian Bishop. As she gets to the front, she turns and faces the congregation saying, “Goddess be with you.” One of the faithful old guys turns to the other, shakes his head and says, “You know, just one more thing, that’s all it will take, and I swear I’m getting out of here.”
So what is that one more thing? If you are a true believer still faithfully attending the CofE, where is your red line? I’m aware that there are many diehards who still think it their duty to remain, trying to reform it from within, but the antics and direction of the Church must be testing even their patience.
But no matter how determined such a person is, the “one more things” are coming thicker and faster. If your red line hasn’t been crossed already, could a little bit of Zen Buddhism in the church be the “one more thing” that tips you over the edge?
Actually, so far as I know, there haven’t yet been any Zen worship (or meditation) services in a CofE church as yet, but given the fact that it is currently being advertised under the “spirituality section” of York Minster, that day is probably hurtling towards you pretty quickly. Here’s the blurb:
“The York Zen Sangha meets on alternate Fridays at the Old Palace, in Dean’s Park, for Zazen (sitting meditation), led by the Canon Chancellor, the Revd Canon Dr Chris Collingwood and supported by Fr Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master in the White Plum Asanga of the lineage of Hakuyu Taizen Maezumi Roshi. All are welcome to attend the sessions, which run from 6.30pm to 8pm (please arrive by 6.25pm).”
Unsurprisingly, the Canon Chancellor appears to be more what you might call a Man of Doubt, rather than a Man of Faith – at least when it comes to Christianity – and in addition to leading Zen meditation, he is also due to host a Quiet Day of Faith and Doubt:
“Have you ever felt that people who are absolutely certain, can also be quite scary? On the eve of St Thomas (Doubting Thomas) this Quiet Day will explore how doubt can be an important feature in our relationship with God. Led by Revd Canon Chris Collingwood, Chancellor of York Minster. As well as being an experienced spiritual director and retreat leader in the Christian tradition, Chris also practices Zen and began a Zen group based at the Minster two years ago. He says, “I believe every single person, whether they come to church or not, is a uniquely precious manifestation of God. My task is to help people to become what they are, to love and to help others to love.”
Now while it is true that most Christians will experience periods where their faith is weaker than at other times, doubting, along with Zen, is not something actually commended in the Bible. Nor is certainty portrayed as “scary”:
Then he (Jesus) said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas. You know I find people like you with your certainty really quite scary.”
No that’s not quite right, is it? Here’s Jesus’ actual response:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
That’s right. Those with great faith – even certainty – are commended and described as blessed. Indeed, strong faith is commended all the way through Scripture. “The just shall live by faith,” says the Prophet Habbakuk and the Apostle Paul repeats this in his great epistles to the Romans and Galatians. The writer to the Hebrews pens a whole passage exhorting certainty of faith (Hebrews 10:29 – 11:40) using phrases such as, “since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus”, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”, and “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” And of course we have Jesus chiding his disciples for their little faith (Matthew 8:26), whilst highly praising those who had certainty of faith (Matthew 8:10 and 15:28).
As I say, doubts and little faith are by no means unknown to Christians, which is why such exhortations as those above were written, but the point is that leaders in the church are not given to the people of God to make them dwell on their doubts and portray those with certainty as “scary”. On the contrary, they are there to follow in the footsteps of Luke, who wrote his Gospel account to Theophilus, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
Zen and doubts. Just another day in the Church of Zengland (CofZ). But the good news is that there is an alternative. My own church in Salisbury is an Anglican church operating entirely outside the CofZ, being affiliated with the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE). Here’s their website. Check them out. Or are you waiting for just “one more thing.”
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