One of the first books I read about Buddhism was Sharon Salzberg’s book Faith. It is a wonderfully reasoned book about her transformation and journey that has ultimately brought us all here for this challenge. I have to say that I was intrigued by the title of the book because the word ‘faith’ is not one that I normally associated with Buddhism. And in fact, faith has always held more of a mystical and certainly Christian connotation for me. And I’m not a very ‘mystical’ person. I’m very pragmatic and practical, perhaps to a fault. To me, having faith in something meant believing in something you couldn’t prove.
When Sharon writes, “Faith is the animation of the heart that says, `I choose life.’ This spark of faith is ignited the moment we think, `I’m going to go for it. I’m going to try.’ “, I think to myself, ‘That’s it. That’s what faith means to me, too.’
So where am I going with this? On Saturday, the Westboro Baptist Church is going to travel to the Pacific Northwest and picket at the memorial service for the two little boys killed by their father, Josh Powell last Sunday. This ‘church’ is pretty much just one family headed by Fred Phelps and his daughter Margie. The reason they are going to picket is because Washington Governor Christine Gregoire has pledge to sign the bill to legalize same sex marriage in Washington state passed by our legislature two days ago. Their reasoning? God was punishing those two little boys for the actions of the legislature and the governor. Make sense now? I didn’t think so.
Now the Westboro folks are notorious. I won’t link to their site because frankly it is repulsive, but if you want to see for yourself, have at it. A few years ago, they came to Seattle to protest several synagogues and a high school. I had to work a plainclothes detail essentially to protect their First Amendment right to free speech and assembly. Suffice it to say, it was not a pleasant experience. However, I was so proud of our local high school kids who came out en masse to protest the protesters. And there was no violence despite the very heated rhetoric.
This is where I come back to faith and why this word really needs to be re-acquired by the good and compassionate followers of all religious traditions. The Phelps family uses the word faith as a weapon. They believe in a wrathful and vengeful God who compels them to compound the misery and sadness that so many feel in the name of ‘faith.’
As I sat this morning, I struggled mightily to put into some sort of context a world that rushes by us day after day bringing us everything from the joy of a new life to the sadness at the end of another. My faith will not be defined by anger. It will be defined by ‘the animation of the heart.’