Hello Dali... and where do you belong?
I'm sitting in the airport, getting ready to board the flight to Great Falls so that I can teach I Corinthians this week in a Bible School there. Meanwhile, the Dali Lama will continue his teaching/preaching tour of Seattle, finding record turnouts everywhere he goes.
What I find intriguing is the response I've receive, via e-mail, from various members of the Christian community. To my right is an e-mail vilifying the Dali, warning me sand mandalas are thinly veiled disguises for labyrinths, which are thinly veiled disguises for eastern monism, which is a thinly veiled disguise for Satan himself. Ergo: sand art = Satan. To my left are friends praising the Dali Lama's teaching as "precisely the right word for our time." If you want to know what he said in Seattle yesterday, you can find that here.
What do I think of what he said?
1. Anyone who tries to argue with kindness and compassion, or be antagonistic towards someone's call to move beyond a simple loving of our friends to a more mature kind of love, that which reaches out to strangers and even enemies, seems to be sticking their head in a doctrinal bucket of sand. These things are the very stuff to which Christ calls us, the stuff of the kingdom, the stuff of the sermon on the mount. Why do we need to trash talk those who share God's heart for a better world? Isn't this a good starting point for dialog instead?
2. Anyone who equates the Dali Lama's messages with Christianity, making his message and the message of Jesus synonymous, is missing THE single point which distinguishes Christianity from all other world views - namely, the centrality and necessity of Christ. His incarnation, teachings, death on the cross, and resurrection are, in the Christian story, the fulcrum of history. These events open the way for the very things of which the Dali Lama is speaking.
I'll have lots of encounters in my lifetime with people who are passionate about the ethic of Christ, but not passionate about Christ. I think what concerns me about my friends to my right is their insistence that they get "Jesus" right before they'll be acknowledged as anything other than a tool of Satan. I don't think this is how Jesus himself would have approached the matter. But I'm concerned too, with my friends on the left. Jesus was also very clear that His identity and our belief in, and acceptance of that identity, were essential elements because God's vision isn't simply for humanity to embody an ethic. That was tried in the past, has been tried thousands of times in various civilizations, always with the same result: collapse. Instead, God's vision is for people to live in experiential union with their creator, so that the power, wisdom, mercy, kindness and compassion of God would be seen. That doesn't happen through warm speeches alone, though they can be a starting point. Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing" which was His way of saying that it takes more than sand and romantic notions, more in fact, than church services and mission programs, more than social action and high ethics - it takes a Person (Jesus) living inside of a person. That union is the core - Jesus' version of the lotus flower, out from which will blossom the reign of God, bringing beauty to our world in big and small ways. It was, in fact, this claim coming from his own mouth, that got Him killed. We don't like people making grand claims about their centrality... even, it seems, if it's true.
What do you think?