Tag Archive: Service


When I think of the “Upstate Atheists,” I think of Walter Bristol’s comment, “Economic inequality is one of the most imminent issues facing Western society today. Any progressive movement that chooses to dismiss it is and will be rightfully dismissed themselves.”

In case you haven’t heard, the Upstate Atheists from Spartanburg, South Carolina has worked with Adopt-A-Highway, Habitat for Humanity, and the Generous Garden Project. Recently, the group made plans to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen. The group was rebuffed for their effort, indicating they were not welcome because they are a “place of God.”

That leads to a larger question, “Was the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen rebuke an example of the life and ideas of God?” Obviously not! It’s easy for Christ’s message of goodness and holiness to become an obstacle versus an example of simply being called to the openness and grace of God.  The call to service cannot simply come from only God, there are many across the planet who serve in faith, yet are not aligned to Christ alone. Many are not forced to serve as a duty, yet many find a profound sense of love when giving to the needs of another.  Serving in faith means leading in love. And that’s a large message missed by the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.

The “Service to Others” movement must address bigger, more prominent social issues. What purpose does serving the poor mean, in and of itself, when the biggest issue of our time remains income inequality? Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the most unequal distribution of income. In the past decade, 95 percent of all economic gains have gone to the top 1 percent. A mere 400 individuals own one-half of the entire nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, median household income keeps falling, and our poverty levels resemble that of the Great Depression era. In other words, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being decimated.

To know our call requires faith. If we are created in love and called to a life of service, then we must understand that the clarity of faith a Christian has can be just as powerful as that of a Buddhist, Atheist, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, etc.  Christians do not own the garage door of faith.

I believe many of the poor see faith and love in those who serve. But Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Atheists alike must be willing to see the crucified, suffering Christ in all we serve. In other words, Christ’s real message was service in love. And to all who serve, we must see that love in all our brothers and sisters, broken by unemployment and enforced idleness; struggling to feed, clothe and house their children, no job, little income and constant challenges. Those beset by the demons of mental illness, constrained by addiction, or the guilt of lost family members mirror the sufferings of not only Jesus … but of all nations … all faiths … and all who serve.

Are we able to see with the vision of faith? Can each of us, regardless of faith, see the presence of the suffering in everyone? What are you open to see?

Guiding the downtrodden to a seat for a meal takes strength, but no great skill or wisdom. The real weakness is our wasted talent and willful neglect by bickering over whose faith is more righteous.

51aKGSNmlOL._SX300_On September 12, Burn Notice closes its doors for good. In its wake, the characters will have to finally do what most of us have haven’t: move on. I seriously doubt the show’s creative genius, Matt Nix, intentionally made Burn Notice to mirror life, but from a Buddhist perspective, some of the show’s life lessons are spot on.

First of all, Burn Notice epitomizes the Buddhist theory of “attachment” and “suffering.”  The notion of knowing the truth would never bring redemption. Yet so many of us in the world today are attached to knowing every detail or delusionally lost that revenge will somehow bring redemption. In truth, a lot of people in Michael Weston’s life would be more adjusted had they simply learned to move on.  In truth, all of us have been there. Some us are still there. There’s no valor in death so don’t forget to live.

Secondly, the Buddhist precept of “Do No Harm” oozes throughout each and every season. Simply put, many us of believe that doing things for the wrong reasons to only make things right is acceptable.  In season three’s “Enemies Closer,” Michael quoted, “After a career spent doing bad things for good reasons, it’s hard to say exactly where you draw the line. You might not know exactly, until someone asks.” In the final season, Michael broke the trust of his true love, denounced family as well as killed both friend and foe.

Symbolically, these scenarios occur in everyday life.  From a Biblical perspective, there is a set of laws concerning ethics that has been given by a higher authority. Yet many of us pretend to befriend coworkers, supervisors and claim the love of committed spouses. But secretly we plot. And affirming our own personal righteousness, we slay our lovers, destroy our coworkers and crush those whom we hate.  If we examine ourselves honestly, what are we really aiming for? Most people are not really aiming for enlightenment. They’re not even aiming for liberation. Most people just want to make their samsaric situation – their normal everyday lives – a little bit better. But violating key human principles neither brings justice nor reinforces divine love.

In Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” These seem to be among the hardest commands in Scripture to carry out. The foundational plot line of Burn Notice in many episodes involved Michael and his friends helping to protect someone else—from clueless civilians of every variety to retired spies. Nobility is not particularly spiritual or even morally grounded, aside from the “good triumphs evilscenario.

In truth, the one all encompassing lesson is simple. Sometimes, the only way to find yourself, is to lose yourself to the service of others.

With that, as a Buddhist, I ask you to go find yourself.

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