Monday, January 30, 2017

Matt Foster on Buddhism

For my Year of Faiths project, this month I'm immersed in Buddhism. Today I’m joined by Matt Foster, an ordained minister of Buddhism who hosts retreats, delivers dharma talks, teaches chanting, and leads a monthly Buddhist meditation at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in KC. Together, we speak of our religions, with a stunning emphasis on how very much they share in common.


In this podcast episode:
0:00 3 tempations of Christ & the Buddha
1:29 Introduction to Matt Foster
5:44 On overcoming anxiety through meditation
7:02 Sitting with negative emotions
8:38 Origins of Buddhism
11:30 3 poisons, desire, 4 noble truths & enlightenment
18:02 What makes Buddhism unique from other religions
20:31 Parallels between Buddhism & Christianity (birth narrative)
24:44 How Matt understands these parallels
26:40 Siddharta Gautama’s youth and enlightenment
30:49 The Dalai Lama’s take on other religions
32:04 An essential lesson Buddhism can teach all of us

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ginger Rothhaas & Divine Assignment

The ever-wise Ginger Rothhaas recently shared with me the secrets of navigating change, crossing thresholds, rising to adventure and embracing the Divine Assignment. Ginger is a public speaker, teacher, author and blogger whose work can be found at

In this episode of The Lift Podcast:
0:54 – Introduction to Ginger Rothhaas
1:44 – Elevator questions
2:18 – Growing up, did you always have a sense of Divine Assignment?
4:42 – Multiple Sclerosis at 29, and illness as the “ultimate reset button”
7:53 – On seminary, answering the call to learn and teach, and conquering fear

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Kelsey Starrs on The Divine Feminine

In this episode of The Lift, I sat down with feminist blogger Kelsey Starrs - licensed clinical social worker, women's advocate, writer/blogger ( and founder of GALs (Grown Ass Ladies clubs) - about misogyny, eating disorders, raising daughters, the pressures of womanhood and the Divine Feminine.

I can't think of a more timely conversation, as "nasty" women (and men) across the globe, alongside Kelsey, flooded streets and squares this weekend, marching and raising their voices in solidarity. Beautiful!

On iTunes:
On Stitcher:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tonglen, Kenosis & The Song of the Sea

Last night, the kids and I watched "The Song of the Sea" on Amazon Prime, a 2015 film that is both visually beguiling and psychologically immersive. The filmmakers, who also produced the equally enchanting "Secret of Kells," demonstrate a profound mastery of archetype, leaving the audience riven as the mythic journey tangles and unfurls with the seamless ease of its wise-fool, the Great Seanachaí's, incandescent hair.
The storyline follows a brother and sister duo, Ben and Saorsie, who are whisked away from the cliff-perched lighthouse where they live with their father and into the city with their Granny, who forbids them to entertain any negative feeling. After a grand adventure resplendent in symbology and deep magic, the Granny is recapitulated into the Matcha Witch, who dwells in a treehouse lair where she bottles up feelings and turns her victims to stone. 
But Saorsie is possessed of the unique power and destiny to reverse the curse, shattering bottles of stormy sadness, tornadic anger, cheery rainbows, lightning fear - and freeing its stoic victims - with Ben's help.
This tendency to reject and bottle-up negative emotions calls to mind the opposite Buddhist practice of Tonglen meditation, something I've been dabbling in this month. Tonglen teaches us to first empty our minds of excess thought and focus on our breath in order to create emptiness - a space within our souls to mix poison into an elixir of healing.


You use your own pain "like a stepping stone... tonglen starts with relating directly to specific suffering--yours or someone else's--which you then use to understand that this suffering is universal, shared by us all," writes Pema Chodron in her book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (p. 42).

Chodron describes Tonglen in four stages:
"1. Flashing openness
2. Working with the texture, breathing IN dark, heavy and hot and creating OUT white, light and cool
3. Working with relieving a SPECIFIC, heartfelt instance of suffering
4. EXTENDING that wish to help everyone" (Chodron, p.43)

The painful feelings that we bristle against and reject, we learn to entertain as guests. We enter into them, feel them viscerally at the micro level, then absorb them into our souls during meditation like a cosmic vacuum, cleansing the world at large.

Tonglen meditation shatters the Matcha Witch's bottles, and imbues the world with a higher pitch of compassion and love precisely through the act of entering without resistance into suffering. Is this not also the kenosis of Christianity, emptying oneself upon a cross, and absorbing not its agony alone, but the suffering of all creation - drinking the bitter vinegar of the cosmos?

The wisdom of Buddhism and Christianity teaches that the elixir is contained within the poison. The Resurrection of life, contained within the Crucifixion of death. 

This is tonglen. 
This is the cross.
This, too, the Song of the Sea.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Buddhism Week 2: A serendipitous meeting

So it's week 2, and as I've been "Going with the flow" (Year of Faiths Rule #3), that "flow" seems to have found me in the form of a serendipitous stranger: Dr. Phil Meckley.
You see, I was standing in line for lunch yesterday, when this guy from out of town (Phil) struck up a conversation with me about my loud, clopping cowboy boots. And somehow, as we got to talking, I learned that he had studied Buddhism at Naropa (THE American Buddhist University and hub), had a profound interest in the convergence between Buddhism and Christianity, and is the Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Kansas Wesleyan. (Not kidding!)

I told him about this project, and he insisted that I join him at the Rimes Center in downtown Kansas City. So tonight, I did just that.
He was a delightful tour guide, showing me the treasure trove of his favorite books and sacred objects, explaining their meanings.
And Dr. Phil sat beside me for a lovely Buddhist Healing Meditation, complete with bells and drums and incense. It was blissful!

 (Dr. Phil sneaked this photo of me at the end of our meditation - ha!)
And after he left, I met up with Lama Matt Rice and took a class on Tantra. That's right... but it's not as sexy as it sounds. :) Buddhist tantra is simply another branch of practice, and most of what I learned was way over my head! Still, it was great to pull up a chair and soak in a bit more of this fascinating tradition. I was especially taken by the wall hangings of various Buddhist deities, and to have their symbolism explained - it was so incredibly evocative of my trip to Greece and Turkey, and all the icons I encountered there.

To cap off this brilliant evening, God seemed to paint the sky with the diamond cutter sutra - just look at those clouds crashing in like a wave of impermanence upon the wolf moon!
This month of Buddhism is shaping up well - I've been practicing daily chanting meditation, devouring enlightening ideas and recording quotes, dedicating my mornings to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue, and maintaining my vegetarian diet (which has forced me to be intentional about what I eat - I feel so healthy). More to come soon... 

Monday, January 9, 2017

My "Year of Faiths" Project

It's 2017. And for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and my last year of seminary, I've adopted a kind of expansive life project. The idea came to me on January 5. I sat down to meditate, and afterward had the idea to read the Qu'ran (the one a beneficent stranger gave me after a chance meeting on an airplane HERE) all the way through this year, searching for points of convergence with my Christian faith...
Midway through Surah 2, another idea dropped into my head. A kind of crazy-fun, exuberant idea.
(Don't you just love those?!)
For the months of this year, I've resolved to adopt a different world religion (or variant from Protestant Christianity) and integrate it into my life. I'll read from its sacred texts and mystics, adopt a daily spiritual discipline, participate in its community, keep a journal of the journey, and (hopefully) record a podcast conversation with a faith leader: chronicling my experience, gaining deeper wisdom and performing a comparative study with Christianity at month's end. 

I call this grand experiment my:


I established some Ground Rules. These are to:
  • Streeetch myself. Growth is rarely comfortable and tidy.
  • Adopt and adapt practices, postures and words without being legalistic.
  • Go with the Flow - wherever that takes me...
Just to be clear, this Year of Faiths project is NOT in any way abandoning, neglecting, rejecting, denying, swapping, upgrading, degrading or painting Christianity, the beloved faith that so profoundly orients and reorients my life to the Mystery that is Love, a dull and dusty beige. 

The Year of Faiths, rather, IS an attempt at becoming a more enlightened, compassionate and loving Christian through a deeper embrace and solidarity with my good neighbors of other religions. Love thy neighbor (someone said once, can't recall who...) ;)

For the month of January, I landed on Buddhism as my adopted religion. Mostly because I discovered, when researching this Year of Faiths project, a class hosted on January 5. Nothing like jumping in feet first!

So that night, I made my way through slush and snow to the Unity Temple Buddhist Center... 

... and met Matt Foster, a vibrant teacher who guided me in the basics of Buddhism, and taught me a few traditional mantras/chants: Lama Chenno is the one I adopted for my 20 minutes of daily Buddhist meditation, calling forth the sacred teacher. The class was extraordinarily peaceful. I felt goose pimples up my spine as the community together chanted, and I was lost in some semblance of "Nirvana."

(RULE #3 again: Go with the Flow...)
 And the next day, hit up the library for these gems to begin my sacred reading & study:
 For the first time in my life, I've taken up a vegetarian diet. This is going to be difficult, something I've never done, and will require planning. All life is sacred to Buddhists, which means no meat.
This was my lunch today (Do eggs count? Please tell me eggs don't count...):
My other resolutions for January/Buddhism include:
  • Cultivating the practice of mindfulness
  • Doing an end of the day review before bed, as proscribed by the Dalai Lama, calling to mind virtuous attitudes before sleep
  • Dedicating the day each morning with the Dalai Lama's affirmation:
“I am spending my life as a full-fledged follower of [Christ]. May I remove the three poisons of lust, hatred, and ignorance! Destructive emotions, of course, will arise, but I will not voluntarily rush into them. Today I will do whatever I can to read texts, reflect on their meaning, and work at developing wisdom. I will also do whatever I can to generate the altruistic intention to become enlightened and implement compassion in my behavior. May whatever obstructs the generation of these practices be pacified!” -Becoming Enlighted, p. 19-20

On top of these PRACTICES and DISCIPLINES, I'm working to MEMORIZE the important tenets of each faith. This month, my study includes:

  • The Three Refuges/Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma & Sangha (introduced by Matt Foster @ class) 
  • The Noble Eightfold Path (including the Three Paths to Enlightenment: wisdom/prajñā; moral virtues/sīla; meditation/samādhi) 

  1. Right view

  2. Right intention

(Moral virtues)

  3. Right speech

  4. Right action

  5. Right livelihood


  6. Right effort

  7. Right mindfulness

  8. Right concentration
  • The Three Poisons (destructive emotions): lust, hatred, ignorance  
  • ... and the Diamond Cutter Sutra (about Impermanence): 
“View things compounded from causes

To be like twinkling stars, figments seen with an eye disease,

The flickering light of a butter-lamp, magical illusions,

Dew, bubbles, dreams, lightning, and clouds.”

Gripping poetry. It's going above my sink on an index card, for when I mindfully wash dishes, always by hand.

Wish me luck! I hope you'll follow along, as another pilgrim-on-the-way, for my Year of Faiths adventures!