I get a lot of questions — several times a day, actually — about what I mean when it says in my Profile that I’m a Zen Christian. So you’ll pardon me if I indulge myself and take a moment to explain what I mean. If this isn’t your thing, I have lots of political articles below this you can peruse. I should also explain that the terms I use in this article are of my own definition. They may or may not be what you might call a standard definition of the word.
When you say the phrase ‘Zen Christian,” you have two words there — “Zen” and “Christian,” obviously. The word “Zen” comes from the Buddhist philosophy and refers to the concept in Buddhism of simplification. “In all things, simplify” might be the guiding philosophy of Zen. Simple, neat, orderly, harmony with the things around it. Buddhist thought is actually less a religion and more a way of thinking that emphasizes the self-improvement of the individual through meditation and self-examination; which is remarkably adaptable to Christian practice. Self-examination of the Christians’s life and practices only makes the Christian a richer, more complete individual. Zen is the application of the self-improvement principles practiced by the Buddhist (or Christian) attempting to refine their practice and become more streamlined, more devoted, more committed to the ideals of Buddhism (or Christianity).
So as a Zen Christian, what exactly am I trying to refine, or simplify? I was raised a Presbyterian, which is very “high church” — meaning it has a lot of dogma, belief practices, and ritual that is not explicitly stated as necessary in Biblical teachings. A typical “high church” service will typically include serveral songs, at least one or more scripture readings, a sermon on scriptural topics, and possibly (depending on the time of year) participation of the Lord’s supper. There will also be at least one Responsive Reading (where the worship leader and the congregation take turns reading from a prepared script or prayer), a ritual congregations blessing and/or ritual call to worship (or both), Musical interludes by a congregational choir, a solo by a soloist, and possibly some kind of informational announcements directed toward the congregation. While the songs, sermon, Lord’s supper are practices supported by scriptural precedent, the others are not, being items adopted over the years by various churches as ritual that the congregants found comforting.
Which is nice, of course; but the Zen Christian seeks to “in all things simplify.” Therefore, dogma and ritual stand in the way of me developing a personal relationship with God, and must be jettisoned in order to streamline the Christian experience. As a general rule of thumb, the First Century is where I want my head to be. If it was good enough practice for Jesus and the apostles, it’s good enough for me.
As another way of explaining where some of my beliefs comes from, I have at various times worshiped with churches as varied as the Evangelical Free Churches of America (EFCA), as well as churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ Churches. They are all evangelical organizations emphasizing Biblical based worship with a fundamentals viewpoint. The sole difference I’ve been able to see in their practices is that churches of Christ do not believe in using instrumental music in worship; something that I understand their reasons for doing, but don’t necessarily agree with.
Being a Zen Christian also means I must not only devote myself to worshiping once a week with other Christians, but doing something daily to further my walk as a Christian. Prayer. Reading Scriptures. Meditating on how I could have handled a situation better from a more Christian perspective. Singing my lungs out on the expressway to K-Love to put my mind in a more Christian attitude before work or worship. Volunteering at a shelter.
This is how I define and practice “Zen Christianity.” Simplicity. Specificity. First Century. Personal Relationship Improvement. dogma, Ritual, and Automaticity left at the door.