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John B. Buescher


Everything Is on Fire

Tibetan Buddhism inside out.

The Buddha said that the world is like a house being consumed by flames, and that we are inside it. I remember when I first read that, almost forty years ago. I thought, someone has stared into the depths of suffering and has told what he has seen.

To me, his statement seemed ironically to contrast with and to confirm a truth most evident about Catholicism, in which I had been raised. It appeared to be burning up in front of me, but, at the same time, it could no longer recognize the flames. I wouldn't have put it this way then, because I vaguely welcomed the changes that were occurring in the Church, but as I look back on it now, I believe we were losing our nerve. We refused to appreciate how deeply into the very particles of matter and spirit our suffering and sin were implicated, and how vain were our attempts to engineer a new Church, a new society, a new human being, and a new age. We saw evil, but it was outside us, we thought, in "structures of oppression."

We made felt banners and no longer talked about Hell or sin or guilt or penance. We no longer knelt much, or fasted, but feasted instead. We gathered around a table and held hands or played guitars. We sang about happiness and love. We did street theater to speak Truth to Powers and Principalities. We pretended we were already in Heaven. We supposed we were as gods, and as The Whole Earth Catalog put it, that we might as well get good at it.

We were no longer serious. The only real sin seemed to be to believe that one was a sinner. So why be Catholic—or Christian—at all? Why bother going to church or to confession? Judging by the decline in church attendance over the past decades, I was far from being the only one who asked those questions.

Kierkegaard has a parable in which a clown, not having time to take off his makeup, suddenly appears onstage and shouts "Fire," but the audience thinks it is part of a comedy. They laugh—but soon they perish in the flames. while I sat on my living room couch ...

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