What do President Jimmy Carter, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama have in common? Knowing the source of this blog, you can probably guess that these three distinguished individuals were recently on campus at Emory University, but how often can you experience three dialogue partners of this caliber in one week? While every week at Emory does not draw world renowned speakers, theologians, and politicians, this is an exciting time to be at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. In fact, both President Carter and the Dalai Lama spoke in Cannon Chapel this week, focusing on what it means to be a religious person in this day and age.

The week of great speakers began when President Jimmy Carter gave a talk about being a Christian in the 21st Century to an engaged and intimate audience of Candler students, members of the religious life community in the college, faculty, staff, and guests in Cannon Chapel on Thursday afternoon. Less than 24-hours later, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor visited Emory Law School on Friday morning, for a conference on “A Fair and Impartial Judiciary,” where she gave the keynote address. The national and local news began to take notice of Emory when the Dalai Lama arrived on campus for a visit, just days after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C. What great resources we have at our fingertips by being situated within Emory University. Candler is one of very few seminaries connected to a major research university, and Candler students are invited to take full advantage of every opportunity at Emory, from concerts to community service and from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was the Cannon Visiting Distinguished Professor of Theology at Candler from 1998-2000 to Salman Rushdie, whose archives are in the University’s Woodruff Library and began a five-year appointment as Distinguished Writer in Residence this year.

Emory’s invitation to the Dalai Lama to join the faculty is the only academic appointment the Dalai Lama has ever accepted. His visit was marked by a conference on “Mindfulness, Compassion, and the Treatment of Depression,” several performances including Tibetan music and dance, the creation of a Mandala sand painting, a lecture and summit, and concluded with his installation as a Presidential Distinguished Professor and a public talk on Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. After standing in line with my Emory ID and entering a lottery (please forgive me, The United Methodist Church), I received a ticket for one of the many events featuring His Holiness. I had the privilege of attending Emory’s first Summit on Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding, on Sunday, October 21, 2007, which was right up my ally, as I have an interest in conflict transformation and interfaith dialogue.

Simply hearing the Dalai Lama speak on this topic would have satisfied me, but he was joined by four other panelists from the Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith traditions, which added such rich dialogue to his sage comments. His Holiness the Dalai Lama began with a statement, which was followed by responses from Rabbi David Rosen, Sister Joan Chittister, Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, and Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im. Gandhi offered a high compliment to His Holiness at the beginning by saying, “People of all kinds are at home with this homeless man,” for the Dalai Lama has been in exile in India and away from his home of Tibet since 1959.

I really appreciated that various times during the dialogue, panelists and the moderator, Dr. Lauri Patton, reminded participants that we can create peacebuilding moments in our local context. In fact, Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im suggested that we stop to using “we” language and start using “I” language. Having been raised in The United Methodist Church, in the west, and being from a large family, I often feel most comfortable using “we” language, as a way to be more inclusive. However, he made a compelling point that individuals should not wait for others to join them, rather “individuals have the ability within themselves to create change.” He suggested we focus on our own human agency rather than relying on others to enlist in the movement for change, dialogue, or peacebuilding. In that same spirit, Sister Joan Chittister ended her time by stating, “If the people will lead, eventually the leaders will follow.”

Some of the questions that emerged out of the summit, and that I offer here for further reflection and dialogue is:
What are the best local peacemaking practices in places affected by religious violence?
How are people addressing these issues of religious violence “on the ground” in cities, communities, and neighborhoods?
For that matter, what is the role of religion in creating suffering in the world?

The Dalai Lama’s message was a message of love and affection. He said, “We really need a closer understanding of each other. It’s essential.” The Gospel message, which is my faith tradition, is to Love, and I believe is also the basic function of all religions and faith traditions. Sister Joan Chittister responded to the Dalai Lama by asking, directly to western Christians, “What do we have to contribute to the history of love?” What will we, as seminarians and discerners, future denominational leaders, community organizers, Christian educators, and global citizens, have to contribute to the history of love?

Sister Chittister told a story of a young man asking an older, religious sage, “Is there life after death?” and the sage asked back to the young, “Is there life before death?” Change can start in the here and now, for we all hold the possibilities for change and reconciliation. One of the final words from the Dalai Lama was in response to a question about Human Rights, in which he said, “If certain traditions don’t go well with current conditions, we have to change those traditions.” What hope for the future he offers!

Each panelist at the summit painted a beautiful image of change, transformation and dialogue, which Rabbi Rosen reminded us, is a powerful thing and can often be more affective than action. If you would like to be a part of a seminary within a university that offers outlets for dialogue about religion, conflict, and peacebuilding, Candler is the place for you. Pease contact us in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at candleradmissions@emory.edu, call us at 404.727.6326, find us online at www.candler.emory.edu/admissions/ and look for my profile on Facebook (Candler Intern-Theology) and the Candler School of Theology Group at www.facebook.com.