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Presented February 7, 2010, by Rev. Dr. Rob Manning
I realize the last thing some of you probably want to talk about this morning is Tiger Woods. We may have all heard far too much about him by now. We all want to live in a culture and a world where truly important things are recognized as important and trivial things are recognized as trivial, and I don't want you to think I am trying to take the Tiger Woods scandal out of the trivial category and put it in the important category. The Tiger Woods womanizing scandal broke last December about the same time President Obama was announcing his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At that time I gave my students a bonus question on an exam: To what country is Obama sending more troops. Out of 43 students, only 8 got the correct answer. Now if I'd made my bonus question about Tiger Woods, everyone would have gotten that precious bonus point.
We, people here, Unitarians, lots of people in this country and everywhere, we really don't want to live in that kind of society and world where most people know and care more about trivial things than important things. This reality is doubly sad when you remember that right after September 11th we realized this regrettable trait about ourselves and vowed to be different. We realized that Osama bin Laden and Al Quaeda, gee, we never heard of them, even though they very publicly vowed war against us. We didn't pay attention to them but we certainly paid attention to a vast array of stupid trivialities no more important than Brittany Spears' hair or the romantic ups and downs of J-Lo. If we learned something important about ourselves on September 11th and vowed to be different, we quickly forgot the lesson and the good intention and went rather quickly back to knowing and caring more about Barry Bonds' and Mark McGuire's steroids than Sunnis and Shias in Iraq.
Now if you put all of sports in the trivial category I wouldn't disagree with you. I only wish my students knew one third as much about politics or history or current events as they do about sports. But sometimes things from the sports world intersect with important issues in the culture at large and call for intelligent and educated reflection. I think the entire event of Tiger Woods' philandering and Britt Hume's religious commentary about it is one of those times that calls for intelligent reflection.
I'm sure I don't have to inform you about Tiger Woods and his womanizing. We all know about that. What is more deserving of reflection is Britt Hume's commentary upon this. One morning on the Fox Sunday morning news show Hume made his very odd remark about Buddhism and Christianity and definitely recommended the latter to Woods in his present travails:
The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.
Of course these remarks set off a storm of controversy. They seem odd and out of place to say the least. Hume is clearly proseletyzing and evangelizing for his own religion, Christianity, and in the process not surprisingly insults one of the great philosophical/religious traditions of the world. What he says seems so 15th century. And for this comment to happen in the middle of a secular news show within our democracy strikes many people as outrageous.
Hume's remarks probably offend us, we religious liberals here and Unitarians in general, and make us mad. Let's face it. Fox news in general makes us mad and Hume's remarks are just what we would expect from Fox news and so they makes us even angrier. Now all kinds of people have responded to these strange remarks from Britt Hume, from Pat Buchanan to Keith Olberman. Nearly all of the people whose responses are out there on the internet and available for reading or viewing have one thing in common: they don't know much about Christianity and they know even less about Buddhism. I believe Unitarians are needed in this situation to give an intelligent response to Britt Hume. I believe Unitarians in this situation occupy something of a privileged position in our country because we know something about Christianity and we know something about Buddhism too. Our liberal religious tradition challenges us to live out of the spiritual and intellectual depths of both of these great traditions.
So let's respond to Hume's remarks about Tiger Woods and about Buddhism out of our knowledge of the spiritual and intellectual depths of Buddhism. We hear Hume's remarks and we get angry. Fox news makes us angry and these blatant religious remarks on the airwaves in our secular democracy where we are supposed to have separation of church and state make us angry. But now we hear the Buddha say "Be a refuge to yourself" and so we draw deeper into ourselves so we can experience ourselves being angry. We make ourselves and not the other person and his actions the focus of our attention, of what Buddhism would call our mindfulness. We become more aware of our own anger and we need to calm the inner fire of anger. Our Buddhism teaches us that only when we calm the anger within us and reach stillness can we do what Buddhists would call "deep listening" and really hear Hume's remarks with calm and quiet attentiveness. If we can hear his remarks out of our own inner calmness then we can listen well and closely to what he is saying.
When we calm ourselves we can hear out of deeper understanding and compassion. When we do that we can hear Hume's remark differently, we can even hear the compassion in his remark. Hume shows from the beginning that he is more concerned with what is happening to Woods as a human being than a golfer. In talking about Woods he is talking about a fellow human being who is in the middle of a terrible and tragic life crisis and that that is a lot more important than golf. Hume says what is at stake is Woods's whole life, his marriage, his relation with his children and that that is a lot more important than winning tournaments and endorsement money. We begin to hear Hume's voice speaking with compassion about a fellow human being in a horrible crisis, a tragic situation, as Hume says. What Hume says to Woods, his religious advice, comes out of a sincere desire to see Woods get through this crisis and put his life back together, his marriage back together, his family back together. Listening deeply, we can hear the concern Hume has for Woods and come to respect Hume for this.
Of course at this point Hume gives Woods his religious advice. "Tiger Woods is a Buddhist and that religion doesn't offer forgiveness and redemption so he should turn to the Christian religion . . ." Now we can feel ourselves getting angry again and angry thoughts rise within us and we begin to think and maybe even say angry words: stupid, ignorant, insulting, etc. But again we need to be very aware of the anger inside and restore our inner calm so we can think and respond calmly, clearly, and intelligently. Only then can we evaluate the situation clearly. Hume is clearly concerned about Woods as a person and about the tragic situation he finds himself in. Hume finds himself on camera responding in a very honest way and saying something we don't expect him to say in this situation, on TV, in the middle of a political talk show. He says Woods desperately needs forgiveness and reconciliation and says Woods can find it in Christianity.
Obviously the Christian faith and its ability to offer a person forgiveness and reconciliation is very important to Hume. He is obviously very attached to the truth of what he is saying, so attached to it that he says it here, where we don't expect it, on TV. Now we become deeply aware of Hume's attachment to his truth. The Buddhist in us wonders about Hume's deep attachment to his truth, his truth he offers here to Woods, the truth of what Christianity can do for and can offer a person in such desperate and tragic circumstances. The Buddhist in us remembers what Buddha teaches about the pervasiveness of human suffering, that all humans suffer, and many suffer profoundly. We see how attached Hume is to his truth. We see how he seems to understand well the real tragedy of Woods' situation and how sincere Hume is when he tells Woods of a way out of his tragic situation. We begin to think about the possible sources of suffering in Hume's own life. We begin to think about whether there might be some connection between the religious advice Hume gives, the truth he is so attached to-that Christianity can help a desperate man in a tragic situation-and some suffering in Hume's own life. This deep wondering restores our inner calm.
When we have inner calm, we are open to listening and to learning more and seeing more deeply into every situation. Now we are told that Hume several years ago had something of a conversion experience or what Protestant Christianity might call a born again experience after a terrible personal tragedy for him and for his family, when his son committed suicide. When we hear that our entire being absorbs sadness. We think and feel sadness. We need a long time to reflect on and to feel suffering, loss and mourning. We recall to ourselves our own experiences of deepest suffering. After we have thought about and felt deep suffering, we gradually let ourselves understand that what Hume is saying to Woods is that Hume's Christianity helped him in his time of great suffering, helped him put his life back together again. Now we are glad that Hume's Christianity was a help to him in his terrible suffering. We let that awareness and that gladness sink deeply into our consciousness. We become deeply thankful that Hume was helped so much by his Christianity and that he is so honestly and sincerely trying to help Woods in Woods' own truly tragic situation.
Now that we are happy and glad about Hume's Christianity and filled with compassion for Hume, only now can we respond to what he says about Buddhism and about Christianity out of the right mindset, out of a heart and mind of compassion. Now we can state our disagreement and correct what Hume has to say not out of anger and upset but out of love, compassion and understanding. We can tell him we really respect his concern for Woods in his tragic situation and we can agree with him about the need for forgiveness, but we can also ask Hume if he is thinking about forgiveness only as God's forgiveness for Woods's sin. We can ask Hume if he really thinks he is going to help Woods if he only talks to him about God and about how he needs to ask God's forgiveness. We might tell Hume about the Buddha's story about the man who was shot with an arrow and the doctor asks about the type of wood the arrow is made out of. The Buddha believed that worries about God are like the worry about what the arrow is made of, not very helpful in a crisis situation. The important thing, says the Buddha, is to get the arrow out. Surely Woods' situation too is a crisis situation and the important thing is to look deep within himself and understand what led him to the actions that have done so much damage to his own life and to the lives of all who are most important to him. We can tell Hume we understand that from his perspective as a Christian his focus is upon God's forgiveness and God's redemption but from our perspective as a Buddhist we have a more this worldly perspective and less God-centered perspective. But even though we have different perspectives we can both agree that we have great compassion for Woods as he painfully has he deal with the damages his own actions have done to his own life and the lives of his family members. We can tell Hume that a deeper understanding of Buddhism could be very helpful to Woods right now and just what he needs because it could really help him understand how and why his life has gone so disastrously off track. We could explain to Hume calmly but convincingly that Buddhism can really help Woods think deeply about his own desires, his inability to control his own desires, and what this has done to his life. We will need to explain to Hume very carefully the Buddha's 4 Noble Truths. We will need to explain to him how Buddhist thought and meditation could help Woods see more deeply the suffering he has caused himself and other people. We will need to explain to Hume that the way Woods has been living, pursuing so recklessly his own desires at the expense of other people, is absolutely contrary to the Buddha's Noble 8-fold Path. We would need to explain to Hume that the way Woods has wrecked his own life and the lives of his wife and children is exactly the kind of out of control, ego-centered, damaging life the Buddha's whole philosophy is trying to save us from. In fact, the entire 8-fold path is a corrective for such a destructive life.
All this of course is something we couldn't explain in a few minutes or a few hours. We would have to have several long deep conversations where we make sure we are not too eager to talk and give our own opinions but would really listen to Hume as we speak together about our views. We would have to be sure to maintain our mindset of compassion and openness to Hume and to be deeply grateful for his Christianity and for this opportunity to understand better a sincere Christian. This wouldn't all happen quickly, but given time and patience and deep listening and real compassion on both sides, surely he would understand our Buddhist perspective better and we could grow in our respect and appreciation for his Christian perspective. Both of us could understand and appreciate more our different perspectives. We probably would not agree, and we would not want to become a Christian nor would we want Hume to become a Buddhist. But we would understand each other better and move ourselves and each other far beyond anger and rancor to true friendship and brotherhood.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.