Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Essence of Faith

(This is Conversations with Bob! We finished our faith/life stories and are on yet another topic--the essentials or essence of faith. Bob, always the gentleman, is letting me go first.)

First, I need to finish my faith/life story. I left Girl and Boy hanging out there in Montana without completing their stories.

Girl graduated from the University of Montana this summer with a degree in psychology. She is putting it to good use tending bar in Salmon, Idaho. Her parents are so proud.

Boy had attended the same university for a year and a half and had a lot of fun--a chip off the old block. So much fun he had that he is now living with his parents in Tennessee and attending East Tennessee State University. The darndest thing about college is that the professors think you should go to class.

Really, the both are doing very well. They are happy, bright, good-looking, and compassionate. We are seriously, very proud of them.
Lovely Spouse teaches vocal music at a local high school. She is the best they have ever had. No brag, just fact.

Now on to the essentials of faith. I don't like lists very much. I prefer stories. I have a fear that upon my death I will approach St. Peter with my list of faith essentials. With a scowl and a huge red fountain pen, he will make sweeping marks and scratches. "Three correct, Shuck, out of one hundred. Down the chute to the fire with you!"

Even grocery lists put me in a state of panic. I rarely find anything on the list LS carefully prepares. I enjoy wandering aimlessly through the supermarket jungle. "Hmm. That looks good." I take a bunch of those and handful of these. I end up coming home with an odd assortment of items.

A couple of months ago, an attractive ham caught my eye. It was a country ham in a big bag, hanging there with bunches of others. It was the biggest, and I grabbed it. That sucker must have weighed thirty pounds! I proudly brought it home to Lovely Spouse. Like a hunter with a big catch, I said, "Look what I have for you, a big bag of ham!" She looked at me with that look I have seen so often. It is a look that says, "Did I really marry you?"

One more ham story. One Easter when we lived in Lowville, I purchased a ham. It was very good. Lovely Spouse approved. She thought it was so good that she asked me what kind it was. "Big Ass Ham," I replied. Since I am a pastor, she believed me. I forgot about that. She didn't. The next year she went shopping for the Easter ham. She took Boy with her who was about 12 at the time. She went into the P & C in Lowville and went up to the meat man. "Excuse me, last year my husband bought a ham here. It was really good. He said it was a Big Ass Ham. Do you have Big Ass Ham?" Boy was in shock. "Mom! Dad was
lying to you!"

All right. Lists. I suppose if I had to put something on my list regarding the essentials of faith, I would put near the top, gratitude.
It seems that the essence of faith is to be grateful. I am grateful for the cicadas as they crescendo and decrescendo. I am grateful for LS, Boy, Girl, Sister, and the rest of my family and friends, church, oh, you know, all of it. I am grateful for breath. Gratitude for life itself is certainly an essential of faith. If our faith leads to gratitude then I think we can handle pretty much anything. Gratitude is on my list of faith essentials, Bob. What say you?


  1. Gratitude, indeed! I am grateful for this post! I chuckled through the whole thing, and especially the Big Ass Ham story. We used to have a great coffee house in our old neighborhood in Minneapolis. They introduced a 6-shot latte to their menu. One dreary morning I felt I needed it, so stopped in, and not wanting to be misunderstood, told the barista, Connie, that I wanted "That Big Ass Latte" you make. The next timed I came in, that's how it was listed on the menu. Even better, Connie and I have been great friends ever since. Talk about something to be grateful for!

  2. I like a lot the idea of gratitude being an essential of faith. If I understand Jodo Shinshu Buddhism correctly, I believe that gratitude could be described as an essential of that faith as well--perhaps even the essential of their faith.

  3. ha ha!

    Thanks, Snad! We'll have to have a big ass latte some time!


    Thank you for that. Gratitude and other essentials can unite us, I hope...

  4. I really appreciate your sharing the truth about gratitude within the Shin Buddhist tradition. My wife's side of the family live in Japan and are Shin Buddhist. Our children have been raised in an awareness that there are different ways of relating to transcendent reality. From my side of the family the learn of the Gospel of Jesus: the gift of salvation through a living faith relationship (friendship) with God and the liberating realization they are the faith sons and daughters of God, and the compassion and joy of loving service to one's fellows who sit in spirutal darkness and are in need of God'sforgiveness, mercy, and compassion. From the Asian side of the family they have learned of the salvation through shinjin-realization--the true and real mind of Amida Buddha bestowed upon all sentient creatures in Amida's universal spiritual embrace. The essence of accepting the true and real mind of Amida Buddha is shinjin. Shinjin is rich concept that corresponds to faith, but is best learned in context. It encompasses both the concept of being "born of the spirit", as in the "turning of the mind" (eshin) and the matures into the fruition of a oneness of our mind with the true and real mind of Amida as in the "diamond like mind" or the "mind of nonretrogression" or "nonbacksliding." So the essential of Shin Buddhism is shinjin-realization, and gratitide is a spontanious response to the Amida Buddha's gift of salvation brought about by his spiritual embrace.

    Shinran emphasized absolute Other-Power in all aspects of religious faith and activity. No matter how evil a person may be, he or she is never beyond the embrace of Amida. Shinran had a vision of Amida Buddha's all-encompassing compassion and wisdom in which every feature of religious life is grounded in Amida Buddha's Vows. Also the assurance we have of final enlightenment liberates us from the many religious fears and superstition common to Japanese society. Shinran's teaching involves a transformation of the self-striving mind to the mind of reliance on and trust in the Vow. Shinran calls it the "turning of the mind" (eshin) or the one moment of entrusting (shinjin-ichinen). All efforts subsequent to that moment are responses of gratitude and commitment, supremely expressed in reciting namu-amida-butsu. The sense of oneness with Amida Buddha, experienced through trust in Shinran's thought, never overwhelms the awareness of our evils. Rather, it prevents presumption or taking Amida's embrace for granted. While conducive to a deep humility, Shinran's faith gives rise to a strong religious commitment and self-concept as a person who has been embraced by Amida Buddha, never to be abandoned. (Bloom 2006: 165)

    (....) According to Rennyo, faith is fundamental and is the source of nenbutsu. Faith "is granted by Amida Tathâgata...this is not faith generated by the practicer, is Amida Tathâgata's Other-Power faith.["1] The term shinjin is taken by Rennyo to be Amida's Other-Power true mind which displaces the believer's mind of self-striving. An alternative term for faith is anjin or yasuki kokoro, which for Rennyo has essentially the same meaning as shinjin, but with emphasis on the aspect of the peace or tranquility that attends reception of faith. (Bloom 2006: 166)

  5. The quote from "Shinran emphasized" is from:

    Bloom, Alfred . Rennyo and the Renaissance of Contemporary Shin Buddhism. In Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism. (eds., Blum, Mark L. and Yasutomi, Shin'ya). Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2006; p. 165; 166.