Emory Report
October 29, 2007
Volume 60, Number 9

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October 29, 2007
Dalai Lama’s visit a model for interfaith dialoguex

Jan Love is dean of Candler School of Theology.

Like my colleagues at the Candler School of Theology and around the University, I am grateful for the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Emory. Welcoming a globally acclaimed leader of a non-Christian religion provides a remarkable opportunity to examine and practice interfaith dialogue and understanding.

I engage in relationships with people of other religious traditions in the only way I know how: as a person who embraces salvation through Jesus Christ. In strange and wonderful ways, my encounters with people of other faiths have revealed Christ’s love to me anew and deepened my own convictions as a follower of the gospel. I have rediscovered through these experiences the wide wonders and profound mystery of God’s good creation.

A Hindu friend taught me an important lesson in evangelism when she implored me to speak more boldly about my experiences of the power of Christ’s saving grace. While honoring her religious commitment, for which she was deeply grateful, I had failed to express the passion of my own. She wanted to know the fullness of my salvation story, why I need Jesus. My friend is still a Hindu, and I am still a Christian. Yet, we both grasp more of our own and each other’s faith journey because we dared to explore together our different convictions.

From a Buddhist monk, I learned something of how to live with and persist through pain. His meditation techniques, combined with the unceasing prayers not only of Christian but also Bahai, Hindu and Muslim friends, proved to be crucial during the years of our daughter’s difficult health problems. These experiences gave me new understandings of intercessory prayer and those wonderful verses from Romans 8:38-39, that “neither death, nor life ... nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers ... nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God ...”

Being open to faith journeys of those from other religious traditions is tender and tough territory. If done well, the rewards for navigating it can be extraordinary. The practical outcomes for communities are also powerful. We live in a deeply religious nation where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others share the same neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, supermarkets and university campuses. Across America, very different faith traditions increasingly bump into each other in small towns and big cities alike. How can we ensure that our inevitable encounters will enrich our communities, not destroy them?

Jesus teaches Christians to love our neighbors, to seek to live in community with them. In an era of considerable inter-religious conflict, I hope that pastors and other Christian leaders will model how we can creatively and productively encounter believers of other faith traditions. The health and well-being of our communities, our country’s democratic traditions and peace with justice across the globe depend on it.

The Dalai Lama’s visit offered a dramatic illustration of more commonplace inter-religious encounters occurring every day at Emory as well as in Atlanta, the nation and the world. Deeply committed to drawing on the strengths of Eastern and Western civilization, his vision of education stresses the importance of cultivating both heart and mind. Such a vision accords with the Wesleyan heritage of Emory University, founded in memory of Methodist minister John Emory and his commitment to “mold both character and intellect.”

At Candler School of Theology, we preach Christ, proclaim the gospel and strive to witness in word and deed to Jesus’ love. We do this, however, while seeking to understand our neighbors of other religions, often encountering God in new ways as we encounter them.

As a leader in exile of a people suffering from foreign occupation, the Dalai Lama embodies, as he has done throughout his life, calm in the face of crisis, patient endurance in the midst of agony, determination in meeting daunting challenges and bold hope in circumstances of seeming doom. With humor and intelligence, he reminds us of the graceful gift of human possibility. For the power of this remarkable witness, I give thanks to God.

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 18, 2007, issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution