troubles with god

Oh lordy, trouble so hard

Don’t nobody know my troubles but God

Don’t nobody know my troubles but God

So many people love this song.  It’s a connection with God — life has troubles, and no one can really walk in your shoes, but God can understand, and know, and love you anyway, and there’s always that promise of the next life and Christina Ricci with the wind machine blowing her hair around.

I love this song too, but when I hear it I feel very conflicted.  For years I misheard the lyrics.  I thought it was

Oh lordy, trouble so hard

Don’t nobody know my troubles with God

Don’t nobody know my troubles with God

It’s a tiny change, and now that I know what the words really are I don’t know how I ever heard it that way (the diction really is quite clear), but I liked the song better when I thought it was about a conflict with God.  I thought it was anger disguised as lament.  I thought the singer was feeling the tragedies of life, and carrying that conflict through to the God (or the perception of God) that could allow earthquakes, hurricanes, Holocausts.  The “don’t nobody know” felt terribly lonely, like the singer was carrying around all of that torment and anger without sharing it, and finally letting it out in this song that’s stylistically reminiscent of a type of religious song — for a final bit of irony.

Yeah, I know, project much?

I’ve written before about my own troubles with God (parts 1, 2, 3, 4), or rather, with religion.  Since the fall I’ve been taking classes at the local Buddhist center.  It’s a jump from reading books to actual human participation and it hasn’t been easy for me.  Living as I do in the great American Heartland, there are not a lot of choices for would-be Buddhists in my city.  There is a Unitarian church that hosts a Korean Zen group, and there is a Tibetan Buddhist center, which is where I’ve been taking classes.  Out in the suburbs a group of Lao Buddhists are trying to build a center but are experiencing what can only be described as discrimination (their plans are being held up in zoning meetings for things that are rubber-stamped for churches).

I am finding myself very resistant to a lot of things that go on at the Buddhist center.  If I replace my (long-forgotten) rosary with a mala, for instance, am I engaging in a spiritual practice, or in religious tourism?  And what right do I have, as a member of a dominant culture, to appropriate (colonize?) another culture’s belief system, given the history of the past few centuries?

I know it’s a super-duper cliche:  middle-class overeducated whiny liberal American turns to the Mysteries of the East to find meaning in her wasteland of a materially-comfortable life.

Is that what I’m doing? I hope not.  Then again, my whole life is a liberal cliche.  Do I

  • Get my panties in a knot about locally-raised food?  Check.
  • Live in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in a decayed urban core?  Check.
  • Pontificate earnestly about public transportation?  Check.
  • Spend $10 for a pound of coffee in the hope that the Latin American workers who picked it got a fair wage?  Check.
  • Work at a nonprofit?  Check.
  • Consider myself culturally aware because I lived abroad for two years?  Check.

I’m a freaking parody of myself.  I’m only two steps away from drum circles, dreadlocks, and lots and lots of pot.

This is why I’m suspicious of my own motives when it comes to my interest in Buddhism.  Maybe I should just keep my troubles with God to myself for the time being out of respect for this very old, very developed tradition.



9 responses to “troubles with god

  1. Seriousness aside, I knew there was a reason I liked you.
    I get your anguish over seeming disingenuous about your interest in Buddhism. But if you are genunienly drawn to it, who cares if you are living out a cliche. Isn’t it about acceptance?
    For the most part, I feel good about my liberal cliches. I don’t want to be made to feel ashamed because of my beliefs. Made fun of, sure, but there is nothing wrong with caring about what you put into your body & knowing the person who created it is appropriately compensated.
    Preaching to the choir may not give you a thoughtful debate, if that is what you wanted.

  2. Sometimes I think cliches are chliched for a reason. Because…they’re true. What’s wrong with searching for meaning in bigger places than your own back yard? Buddism isn’t for me (WAAAAYYYYY too much desire in my heart), but I’m glad I explored it enough to know. I think if it works for you, you can give it a try. And if you make a patch-work of “borrowed” ideas–some yoga, some hippy teas, some Buddhist sayings–that works for you, there’s nothing wrong with that. (Trying to pass it off as “I’m a true X”, then yeah, ok, but as long as you admitt to being a hybrid mutt, no problems.)

    Just my opinion, of course.

  3. Ginger, questioning and assessing is good – and natural, a very natural method of investigating adding “something” to your life. Don’t be suspicious of your reasons – religious tourism isn’t a bad thing, it’s part of the process when you’re considering becoming a part of something bigger than you. How else can you know?

    Marissa’s “patchwork” suits me, I think… and, sure, I wonder if pulling a little from here, and a little from there, is cheating but that’s just the label I put on it. Really, we should do what makes us feel good.

    • Thanks for this comment. I think I agree with you — and how will I ever develop a way of looking at the world that works for me, if not by exploring and investigating.

      It’s the “pulling a little from here, and a little from there” that I find problematic. Westerners have for centuries had the luxury of taking the bits of various Asian cultures that we have found attractive (look at what has happened with yoga, which I also love, over the past ten years) and appropriating them into our own worldview, leaving the rest (how many people can do a beautiful ardha chandrasana but have never heard of the yamas and niyamas?). It’s a position of privilege, and I fear that it could be disrespectful. Not that it *must* be disrespectful, just that it *could* be. And being the all-or-nothing thinker that I am, that’s enough to give me pause.

  4. I am a terrible liberal chiché, but I can’t help it. I’m too lazy to go all the way. I like what the others say–there’s nothing ultimately wrong with exploring and incorporating those things that make sense to you. It may be a bit touristy, but not all religions are all THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME on your ass, so hey.

  5. I thought it was ‘troubles with God’ until I read your post. Wow. That changes the whole song for me. Amazing what one can learn on the IF blog network.

    yeah, I have many of those checks besides liberal clichés. And I stress about surpassing what I think I should be. Like, maybe I am this kind of bobo (bourgeois bohemian), but an enlightened one. What a farce! Then I just laugh at myself and it feels good. Just a little human, is what I am.

    I’m interested in Buddhism and incorporated mindfulness into my Ph.D. dissertation. Talk about appropriating cultural traditions from the east. But at the end of the day, I just think that the way that Buddhism approaches spiritual concerns speaks to me. So, being the opportunist that I am, I just grab on to it, like I’m at a salad bar. And sometimes I say the Lord’s prayer. I’m sure you I repulse you by now 😉

  6. G&L. I read it twice.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the label cliche. I wish I could be more like the list of “generally acceptable characteristics”.

    I have been a tourist for several years now myself. I only recently settled back in to a home practice. It is madness. Crazy how good it feels to have a set of guidelines to follow, then the right to do the exact opposite with blessings. What.

    All the while, I have a pocket full of crystals. Not sure they need to know about those…

    Great post.

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