Just a Little Reminder: We Are What We Do

My Facebook life has gotten a little exciting. Pope Benedict XVI’s announced abdication has generated various comments and in my circles more than a little snark. I joined in a bit by posting the Onion article titled Resigning Pope No Longer Has Strength to Lead Church Backward. Additionally a member of my congregation who has been running for UU pope has in the wake of the upcoming vacancy expanded his job search and I endorsed his bid. This proved too much for one of my Facebook friends (we can defer a conversation on that unfortunate usage, rather than something more accurate if less warm and fuzzy such as acquaintance for another time) who cited my citation as an example of “liberal bigotry,” and then demanded I take down the endorsement of my parishioner and friend. I thought the kinder act for me was de-friending the aggrieved correspondent.

Among the various comments a Buddhist religious leader offered an extensive rebuke, a) for being cruel to the pope, and b) for being involved in politics.

Personally, if I do say so myself, I think I’ve been admirably reticent in expressing what I think of the current Roman pontiff. But, whether that’s so or not, I found myself thinking, once again, about that other point, a fairly common opinion that religion doesn’t belong in politics.

Me, I’m trying to think of what a religion might be worth if it isn’t about how we live our lives. And I have an opinion, pretty much worthless…

At least in a democracy or even our oligarchic republic, speaking up and being involved seems the price of admission.

And, to do that without being informed by our spirituality is pretty much the weirdest thing I can think of.

Here’s the bottom line: You are what you do. I am what I do.

A certain kindness is called for. Absolutely. And we need to be careful about getting self righteous along the way.

And real engagement is called for.

Look at your hands. They are the only hands God has.

Put ‘em to good use…

If you’re not sure what to do, here’s a nice list from the Christian tradition:

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Personally I think it needs some tightening, but the drift is right.

I would add two things.

First, a comment on this from another Christian, Dom Helder Camara, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

And second, I would add we have a deep responsibility to stand with those who are put on the outside through no good reason, in our time two of those obvious areas are women’s rights and justice for LGBT folk, for whom finally the scales are dropping from eyes and we’re seeing the ages of marginalization and oppression have been a cruel thing that needs to be stopped.

I think between these comments we find a pretty good rule of thumb for all of us who get it that we are what we do.

And, let’s be frank, there’s not much else to what we are than that what we do…

  • Bob Shuka Merrill

    Two things: First, regarding the Pope (lovingly referred to as “God’s Rottweiler”) his resignation will be his legacy. He was conservative, thought Catholicism to be supreme to all other faiths, and has spotty history regarding the Nazi’s. So he only continued the tradition of worshipping the old, outdated and useless. His legacy is that he has opened the door after about 600 years for a Pope to retire. Usually, they kept on til death took their bodies long after their minds had abdicated. This is huge and we will only find out in years to come, how huge.
    Second, was it not Shakyamuni himself who said, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”
    You are tilling hallowed ground with this post. Deep bow.

  • Aaron Caruso

    Oooh Ooooh. James will you endorse me for Zen Pope? Keep rockin’ cyber-space.


  • Dosho

    Very nicely done! Hadn’t seen the Onion news breaker so thanks! Many belly laughs.

    Those who think there are no secular affairs in the Buddha dharma know neither the Buddha dharma nor secular affairs. Old boy Dogen said something like that.

    With deep appreciation,


  • http://www.fromtheloneoak.blogspot,com David Clark

    Good post, James. One of the interesting things that gets revealed on Facebook is how universal the holding of strong opinions is (despite most people having very little true knowledge of any given topic) and how upset many people become if anyone disagrees or even expresses a view that is different from their own. It calls to mind the passage in the Lankavatara Sutra “…despite being infected by mistaken conceptions and misled by distorted beliefs, and despite their lack of knowledge, fools claim to be wise.” Seems to sum up a great deal of Facebook content pretty well.


  • sittingbull
  • Chris

    “It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. In addition to the varied forms of terrorism and international crime, peace is also endangered by those forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism which distort the true nature of religion, which is called to foster fellowship and reconciliation among people.”
    Pope Benedict six weeks ago.
    Yes, he lumps unregulated financial capitalism with terrorism and international crime as threats to peace. Do a little digging and you get beyond the sexual taboos that we hear about forever to infinity in the media and the uninformed surface ideas we have about him. Vatican II affirms that anyone, even atheists, can be saved if they follow Matthew 25 which James quoted. Seems reasonable to me.