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Jesus or Buddha ... or both?

A Christian/Buddhist summons seekers and finds it's like herding cats.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007


Don Erickson, who leads the Tao Gathering: "dilemma has been that I don't fit neatly into any religious category.
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[JAMES BORCHUCK, Times]
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photo
[JAMES BORCHUCK, Times]
Tom Lacey, right, meditates with others Sunday. After the group first met, a few said they wanted Christianity excluded from the teachings.

PINELLAS PARK - Don Erickson wants to start a church like no other. He envisions delving into Christianity as espoused by Chinese texts from the seventh and eighth centuries and embracing Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.

The Tao Gathering: People Finding Their Way met for the first time Sunday, attracting nearly two dozen people from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, among them Buddhists and Christians and those who shun institutional religion.

Days after the meeting, though, Erickson's hoped-for community of like-minded thinkers is in flux. After discussions with some who attended Sunday, the Dade City resident is considering restructuring the group.

A few participants, he said, want Christianity excluded from its teaching.

"My dilemma has been that I don't fit neatly into any religious category. I am a Christian who cannot accept the notion of a personal God. This has caused me to question my viability and possibility as a Christian minister, despite being part of the most liberal of Christian denominations," said Erickson, 36, an interfaith chaplain certified in pastoral care and in the ordination process with the United Church of Christ.

"At the same time, I am a Taoist/Buddhist who still finds deep value and truth in the teaching of Jesus. I have been attempting to create a more universal 'community' of people and saw the Tao Te Ching, a sacred text that I believe to be the most beautiful and profound there is, and the little known Jesus Sutras as a way to build a universal community that is not bound by religious labeling," he said Monday in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

Denise and Doug Becknell, both Buddhists, came from Tampa for Sunday's program. She brought the latest book by Wayne Dyer, known to public television audiences for his positive-thinking philosophy.

Becknell said she was drawn to Erickson's gathering because of its focus on Tao, addressed in Dyer's book Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

She has suggested that Dyer's book be used as a study guide by the new group.

"I thought it would be a great basis to start," she said.

Sunday's gathering included meditation and an introduction to the Jesus Sutras, Chinese Christian texts written in the seventh and eighth centuries, and the Tao Te Ching, a short philosophical work dating to about 300 to 600 B.C.

The gathering met computer programmer Mark Howard's expectations.

"This meeting is very interesting to me because they seem to be bringing together two different religions," he said.

"I think I will be attending a couple more sessions. I'm looking for people that are searching for a way to bring various religions or denominations together. I think other people have other goals."

"It is like herding cats," Erickson said of attempting to lead the assemblage of disparate thinkers.

"I call them seekers, which many of them were, and they are free thinking and leery of anything organized or institutionalized.

"My thing was to make it informal and discussion- and learning-oriented and through teaching and pointing to the texts, allow them to sort of find the way. And the way to me is being wise and compassionate."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 727 892-2283.

IF YOU GO

The Tao Gathering: People Finding Their Way

11 a.m. Sunday, Chinese Community Church, 4600 78th Ave. N, Pinellas Park. Call (813) 965-1784 or go to taoism.meetup.com/147.

[Last modified November 13, 2007, 23:00:17]


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