Lightly edited copy of a blast email sent out to participants in an online book discussion group Debi and I facilitate for our parish, Peace Lutheran Church of Springfield, Ill. (It meets Sundays at 6 p.m. — hence the name.) We are discussing “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her title comes from Harvard Divinity School dean (and Swedish Lutheran bishop) Krister Stendahl’s “three rules for religious understanding” — the third involves “holy envy,” being open to other faith traditions. This week’s chapter tells of Taylor’s visit, with her students, to a Buddhist monastery in a rented office building in Atlanta and explores similarities — and differences — between Christian and Buddhist faith traditions.


Hi everybody —

Our next session is Sunday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m. (we’ll be online from 5:45 p.m. to chat and work out technical glitches). This week we’ll discuss Chapter 3 of Holy Envy. It’s titled “Wave Not Ocean,” and it tells about Barbara Brown Taylor’s visit to a dharma talk, or public lecture, in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Atlanta with students from her world religions class at Piedmont College in North Georgia. The similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism remind her that as a Christian, “I am riding a wave made from a much greater ocean.” A Participant Handout is attached […].

Here’s a link to a three-minute video [also embedded above], with an introduction to the Buddhist faith tradition on Oprah Winfrey’s YouTube channel:

It’s narrated by Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California, who says:

Starting with the story of Prince Siddhartha, who wished to alleviate human suffering and became enlightened in order to help others, the religion does not focus on a god, but rather on self-empowerment and the belief that everyone is already a Buddha but not yet enlightened.

As such, Buddhism is compatible with, or complementary to, other faith traditions — to other waves in the ocean.

Pete was especially struck by Barbara Brown Taylor’s reference to Paul Knitter’s book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian. (In fact, he’s ordered it and it’s on his bedside table.) When Pete was working a 12-step spiritual program 30-plus years ago, he was indifferent or hostile to organized religion, and he associated Christianity with right-wing politics, de facto school segregation and the backlash against women’s rights. So he gravitated to Buddhist writers who didn’t carry that baggage. (Consequently, he reconsidered his opinion of organized religion and joined old Atonement Lutheran Church a few years later.) One book he read at the time was Living Buddha, Living Christ by the late Thích Nhất Hạnh of Vietnam and France, who once said:

During the last fifteen years while sharing the Buddha’s Dharma in the West, I always urged my Western friends to go back to their own traditions and rediscover the values that are there, those values they have not been able to touch before. The practice of Buddhist meditation can help them do so, and many have succeeded. Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements. Buddhism has no separate self. When you are a truly happy Christian, you are also a Buddhist. And vice versa.

Similarly, Taylor cites the Dalai Lama, who once advised a Jewish seeker to “learn about both [Judaism and Buddhism] and become a better Jew” rather than converting to Buddhism. He said the two faith traditions are entirely compatible, as are Christianity and Buddhism.

“I envy that,” says Taylor. “My tradition has a hard time blessing strong bonds to other traditions, especially those whose truths run counter to our own.”

As always, we like to open the Zoom session 15 minutes early each week so we can chat if we want to, or at least make sure our technology is working for us. So, if you want to chat or make sure your sound is working, etc., you can connect with us beginning at 5:45 each week. 

We hope to see you on Sunday, and look forward to a lively discussion.

Discussion questions from participant handout. As you read Chapter 3 on Buddhism and watched the video clip, what jumped out for you?

In Chapter 3, Taylor does an exercise with the group in which she raises the question: “What do you mean when you say God?” How about us? What do we mean when we say “God”?

When discussing Buddhism, Taylor asks, “Can one have a religion without God?” If you can, what takes God’s place? How do Buddhists manage without a deity to run the world, forgive sin, punish evil, and grant eternal life?

Taylor quotes author Paul Knitter, who wrote, “The more deeply one sinks into one’s own religious truth, the more broadly one can appreciate and learn from other truths.” Can you describe any instances where you’ve had this experience in your own life? How has maturing in your own faith helped you to appreciate other faiths?

Taylor seems to believe that Christianity and Buddhism are not only compatible, but that one can enhance the other, and a person can be both a Christian and a Buddhist at the same time. What do you think about this?

Taylor says one of the quietest revolutions in her Religion 101 class follows a student’s recognition that he or she has a worldview, a particular way of viewing reality that is not the only way. She adds that none of us knows we have a “worldview” until we see the world from a new angle. When did you come to realize you had a “worldview”?

How do we distinguish between our own worldview and objective reality? Or is there such a thing as objective reality? Some would say objectivity itself is a myth. Is it?

Taylor lists several things Buddhists and Christians have in common, as well as major differences. What could Christians learn from Buddhism?

[PublishedFeb. 3, 2023]

2 thoughts on “Sundays@6: Notes for online parish book study session on Buddhism, ‘Holy Envy’ by Barbara Brown Taylor

  1. I just had to send this to my son-in-law who grew up Southern Baptist in Mississippi and rejected the dogmas, became serious about Buddhism, joined an Episcopal church at the insistence of his wife my daughter and now attends a Presbyterian USA church across the street from their home where he is an Elder.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think a lot of people must follow pretty much the same path. Growing up in an Episcopal church (St. Francis in Norris), I didn’t have a big problem with the theology. But I had a bad experience at an Episcopal boarding school, and I had it up to the keister with the hair-splitting and intolerance of most popular religion down home in the 1950s. So it was a huge relief in later years when I discovered Buddhism when I was working a 12-step program and needed a spiritual awakening without all that baggage.


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