"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, October 03, 2006 Come Together. Right Now. Over Me.
A couple weeks ago, I was in Buffalo to preach at an evensong at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, whose rector, the Rev. Sarah Buxton-Smith, is a friend and seminary classmate of mine. It was a great time. Got to meet some wonderful people in her congregation. A group of youth from one of the local deaneries showed up and I spent a half hour afterward with them talking about the MDGs and how they could get involved. the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell, another seminary classmate and one of the coolest people alive, drove all the way from Rochester with her husband and two girls to come to the service. Met with some excellent clergy from Western New York and had a great dinner with Sarah and Steven and the Bishop of Western New York and his wife (who is just fantastic).
And as if that weren't enough, the next day, the Dalai Lama was in town at the University of Buffalo. When Sarah first told me about the gathering on Monday, it sounded like an intimate gathering of religious leaders that she would be able to sneak me into. Well, it turns out it was an intimate gathering of about 8,000 in the basketball arena ... which was a lot more intimate than the gathering of 40,000+ in the football stadium the next day.
And it was great. Going into the arena was somewhat surreal. There were stands where people were selling Dalai Lama t-shirts ... what a completely American incarnation of a Dalai Lama visit! They were very understated and cool, so I bought one for Robin. (I was disappointed that they didn't have a "I went to see the Dalai Lama and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" ... but what're you gonna do?)
When we got inside and got to our seats, they were 8th row floor. Pretty cool, huh? Floor seats to the Dalai Lama!! Dude! And it's actually pretty fitting because the guy really is like a rock star. There were signs as you entered the arena that everyone was to observe silence ... which I thought would have been exceedingly cool if it had been pulled off. Not surprisingly, the signs were ignored and while the crowd wasn't rowdy, it wasn't exactly a prayerful atmosphere ... more like people in a movie theatre waiting for the coming attractions.
The occasion was an interfaith service and it was carefully scripted to last only an hour. Most of the service involved representatives from different faith communities getting up and reading passages of sacred text from their traditions -- interspersed with some modern dance from UB students that was actually rather good. Then the Dalai Lama stood up to talk. He really didn't say much. He spoke in rather halting English for about 7-8 minutes and basically said in several different ways that it was gatherings like this of people from all different faith traditions that was the hope of the future ... and that we should do more stuff like that.
It wasn't exactly the life-changing words of enlightenment I had been secretly hoping for. I mean, talk about a guy who gets built up as the ultimate living bearer of wisdom. So I have to admit my expectations were a bit higher than "this is pretty cool ... you should do this more."
But there were a couple things that made the event incredibly powerful.
The first thing was just being in his presence. I don't think it was the fame thing, because I've been around famous people before and I know what that feels like ... and frankly that doesn't really do much for me anymore anyway. No, it was the same feeling I got when I have been around Desmond Tutu and the time I took the ECM students to see John Paul II in St. Louis. That I was in the presence of two things - someone who had an incredible spiritual presence and someone who had an incredible amount of other people's spiritual energy focussed on him. Both are incredibly powerful. It creates a beautiful space ... kind of a time-suspended feeling ... where even though all hell might be breaking loose outside the door that in that time and place with that person there was some sort of peace, a high consciousness, a deeper joy.
But the second thing was even more powerful. It was the people that presence drew together. People from all sorts of faith traditions. And it wasn't just a perfunctory interfaith service. I've been to lots of those where people stand up, say their piece, the liturgy feels awkward and forced together and you walk away feeling like you did something you should have but not really anything that made a difference. But the Dalai Lama's presence made it different. When people read their texts it was with a deep sense of offering, of coming together around, if not him, than the presence of God that he carries with him.
And so it turns out he was right. And what he said was probably the best thing that could have been said. This was really, cool. And we should do this more. I would imagine he finds his fame incredibly amusing and would tell us all that the presence, peace and harmony that moved us to come together, right then, over him, wasn't about him but was something that was in each one of us, in all of creation. That he might have been a catalyst for this event, but certainly not a necessary component for the place that was created.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."