- The 2004 Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies
The 2004 meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies was held in San Antonio, Texas, 19–20 November 2004. This year's theme was "Dealing with Illness and Promoting Healing: Buddhist and Christian Resources." During the first session panelists Laura Habgood Arsta, Jay McDaniel, and Beth Blizman presented Christian views on dealing with illness, and Rita Gross responded from a Buddhist perspective. The second session focused Buddhist resources for promoting healing by panelists Francis Tsio and Grace Buford, with Laurel Curran presenting a Christian response.
Laura Habgood Arsta presented research done by undergraduate students in border communities between the United States and Mexico. The topic was the connection between the Pentecostal movement and environmental health. Pentecostal Christianity (250–400 million members worldwide) emphasizes the signs that accompany the presence of Christ, evidenced by experiences of spirit baptism and faith healing.
Their sample indicated that poor and minority people don't identify with the environmental movement until personal health problems emerge. One possible reason for Pentecostal religion thriving, according to this research, might be that exposure to toxins and poverty draws people to healing, a theological pillar of Pentecostalism. Religious services provide an emotional outlet and inspire self-confidence, which can become a mental health component of a healing solution. Women are free to share and lead services, finding leadership opportunities and a social group in churches. As an inexpensive alternative to medical care, healing in the Pentecostal church provides a sense of physical healing as well as help in overcoming addictions.
Beth Blizman informed the group of the toxicity of the Lake Erie area of northern Ohio. Cancer is becoming normalized in this region, which has the highest level of multiple cancers in the United States. Beth feels called to heal her own body and become part of the healing process of that region. She argued that an attitude that disrespects the earth leads to disrespect of one another. "How can healing be found?" she asked. She discussed many resources from ancient monastics to modern women religious, from process and feminist thought to new cosmologies. Finally she connected [End Page 149] Audre Lourde's work on the rejection of difference to the bioregional studies that she has been doing on toxicity and illness.
Jay McDaniels followed by giving a Christian perspective on Alzheimer's disease as an ecumenical Christian influenced by Buddhism. He addressed three questions that Christians ask in this situation. The first question is "Where is God now? Is God inside my loved one? How?" In response to this question, Jay outlined an evangelical view of God that understands God as a transcendent being, "way up there, watching from a distance." He contrasted this view with a process view of God as an "umbrella of compassion that envelops the world without smothering it." In this view, God is the great companion, sharing the confusion and anxiety of the ill person.
So where is the person as they experience personality changes caused by the disease? Jay addressed this second question through process theology, stating that in process theology the person is defined in Buddhist terms, inheriting from the past and contributing to the future. A person is constantly in flux or transformation, so the person with illness may be a different person than they once were but can be embraced as the person that they are now. The multidimensional universe of process theology allows for a person to live "with one foot on earth and one foot in heaven."
Help for dealing with Alzheimer's disease, Jay's third question, can be found in the Benedictine vow of obedience, stability, and ongoing conversion. The deepest need for those with Alzheimer's is to be with them, being available to others to listen. Stability is the vow to stay with the relationship through these changes. Ongoing conversion can come through Alzheimer's as those with this disease invite us into a space of creative imagination and a new kind of respect.
Rita Gross responded to the three presentations by arguing that how one perceives a situation changes it tremendously. Two Buddhist principles that apply here are...