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The Top Ten List of Things Not to Do

By Belinda

My friend's uncle was a Buddhist and prominent in his community, so when he died recently, the memorial service she and her family attended was a large one, with over 300 people in attendance.

When they arrived, she and her sister were briefed, with other family members, on the protocol of a Buddhist memorial service.

At the front of the room was a large incense urn. Behind it they could see a statue of a god. To the right was a photo of her uncle.

The man instructing them said that at a certain point in the service, the family would file to the front, put some incense into the urn, bow from the waist and then turn and bow to the photograph of their deceased family member.

Alarm bells were going off for my friend and she and her sister looked at each other, then said to their guide, "We can't do the first bow, we're Christians."

"Oh, it's nothing," said the man (I'll call him Barry,) "I used to be a Christian too, until 1990. This is just to show respect to your uncle."

"Well, Barry," said my friend, "I don't know which god you served up until 1990, but with mine, that's up in the Top Ten List of Things Not to Do."

The service began and the two of them felt the tension increasing as the moment of "showing respect" approached. There were other family members there who are Christians and she watched them to see what they would do. They went to the front and bowed, as they had been instructed.

My friend's heart was beating so hard that she felt like it would jump out of her chest; it was like a loud drum in her ears. She felt as though all 300 or so pairs of eyes were on them as she and her sister took their turn to go forward. She felt huge pressure to conform as everyone else seemed to be doing, and yet she knew she couldn't.

Both sisters went forward but did not bow or put incense into the urn, but they turned towards their uncle's photo and bowed in respect.

It took courage not to bow to an idol at the risk of causing offence to a community and close family members and I admire my friend's courage not to cave under pressure. I can't help but think though, of her words to "Barry" about the "Top Ten List of Things Not to Do."

Bowing to an idol seems so obviously wrong and yet people went along with it. But are the items on that list in their less obvious guises, less of an issue because they are more culturally acceptable these days? Not at all. But they are ``the law;`` and though I cannot discount it, I have no hope of keeping it. I thank God for Jesus.

Romans 8:3-4 (The Message)

3-4God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.


Theresa said…
Powerful Belinda. I admire your friends and the decision they made. If we are that easily swayed in the small things, we have no hope should a time ever come when we are told to renounce Jesus. I hope I will prove faithful in the "small" things so that I have strength for bigger trials. I will be pondering this post for a while.
I guess the question I'd be pondering in this situation is 'Is the statue and idol?' Given that Buddhists, as I understand it, do not see Buddha as God - the statue is just a statue of a person who once lived, not an object of personal worship. Like I am not offended when Christians wear a cross or have crosses at the front of the church, the cross is a representation of a historical event not a object thought to have power in and of itself. Maybe I'm overthinking this or under-understanding - but I get this at a certain level because I won't read horoscopes because they seem to me to be a bit wicked. Anyways, I like reading blog posts like this because I end up thinking - and that's aways good.
Belinda said…
Theresa, I too, recognize the courage it took in that setting and being so "front and centre" as family. It was very difficult and terrifying.

I think the key is to be, as you said, "faithful in the small things," as we feel the Holy Spirit pricking our conscience. We can't judge the actions of another person, but we are responsible for ours and I am so aware of how we can become desensitized to the voice of the Spirit.
Belinda said…
Hey Dave, I admit some ignorance on what the statue behind the incense urn represented.

The commandment they referred to though, the one about not "having any other gods before me:" wow. If God held me to the law on that one I would fail. I confess that I have put many things before him. I confess it and I am sorry for it. I'm asking him to live so powerfully through me that I can say with the apostle Paul, that I consider everything else in comparison; the things that we tend to put so much stock and effort into; so much rubbish.
Bonnie Gray said…
Wow. It's so awesome that she thought of just what to say, in response to "Barry". I loved your friend reframed the 10 commands as the Top Ten List of Things Not to Do. Perfect for that moment!
Belinda said…
Dear Bonnie,
Thank you so much for dropping by and leaving a comment. Yes, I, too, loved her response. And I have prayed for "Barry," that he might be nudged in his spirit to reconsider the choice he has made.
Janet Sketchley said…
Belinda, I agree with Bonnie--what a clever way to phrase the commandments as a top-ten list. Very culturally relevant!

And Dave makes an interesting point. I don't know anything about Buddhism, but if the statue is like a photo for respect purposes, that's way different than it representing worship. The description your friend received, with the incense, definitely has a feel of worship and I wouldn't be comfortable with it either.

So easy though to compromise a little so that the grieving loved ones didn't feel offended!

This reminds me of a dinner theatre we once attended where they asked the entire audience to raise a hand in salute to the gods of drink (or party, or something, it's been a long time). I was SO uncomfortable. The whole thing was a joke, just part of the evening, and it "meant nothing". Everyone I was with went along with it in that vein, and I'm not accusing them of doing anything wrong, but from where my overly-serious mind was, I couldn't and wouldn't do it. Most of the details have faded, but that panicky feeling in my stomach comes back just thinking about it.
Belinda said…
Janet, I am surrounded by clever friends in the hopes that some of it will rub off! :)

I am a fellow Serious Sort. I am not a prude and I try not to be judgmental because I have enough stuff of my own to worry about, but some things, as with Dave and the horoscopes seem like if I partook of them, I would be crossing a personal line, even if nobody but God and me knew I'd done it or what my line was. It might seem silly to someone else.

Maybe it isn't a bad thing to consider all of this. I have a feeling that it may become more and more important to have the courage to be counter culture--maybe this is connected to offending people or offending Jesus.
Irene said…
Just catching up on your Blog...As the friend that didn't bow before that golden representation at the front of the church my lesson is all this was if you don't know what you stand for then you'll stand for anything. Every person needs to assess and make a decision they can live (and die) with :-)
Belinda said…
Hey I,
I have been so busy this week and kept meaning to call and say, "Hey, check out 'your' story on WHS!"

So true, what you said and what you did gave us all a lot to think about and discuss this week. Thank you my brave friend.

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