Monday, January 15, 2007

Joel the Buddhist and MLK Day

At 8am this morning Russ Baker and I sat in the TUFW dining hall to remember MLK and his legacy. I didn't know what to expect, I'd never heard of the speaker - all I know is that the Mayor's office emailed my church an invitation and I accepted.

As I walked into the facility, I met a guy about my age. We said hello to each other. We exchanged names. I asked him what he did: he said he was a youth leader for a Buddhist organization based in LA - he oversaw the Midwest region of 15 states. So I asked him to sit next to me, and then I introduced him to Russ.

Joel the Buddhist was there to honor the nonviolent theme of MLK. I'd never talked with a real person who really believed in another religion. It was a fascinating experience. I asked him how he became a Buddhist. He said he had been a good Catholic kid, went to school at Ball State, where his Terets Syndrome worsened. Doctors were unable to help him. His girlfriend suggested he try Buddhism. Joel, being skeptical, said that if it helped him, he'd convert and promote it for the rest of his life. The Terets was that bad. And Buddhism worked. And now he promotes it.

His story sparked two thoughts: my civil, kind conversation with him was a picture of what America is all about. What made the USA different then pretty much any other nation in the world was that people could practice any religion they wanted. I've only interacted with other Christians of many different stripes. But this was a real life Buddhist sitting next to a evangelical Protestant pastor in an evangelical college dining hall listening to black ministers preach and pray with great power. Fascinating. The other thought: Joel's story sounds like a lot of Christian stories I've heard. What was it about Buddhism that worked? Does Buddhism have any merit? Does it contain any truth? Does it consist of anything that is constructive and beneficial to life as created by God? Apparently it does. But does this undermine or weaken the claims of Jesus about reality? No. Hmmmm...I'll have to be thinking on that one.

And then I had to leave after the breakfast before the main speaker spoke. Two things I'll never forget about the speakers - Mayor Richards read a portion of MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail; and a black woman read a portion of Scripture from Isaiah with such passion and power and intensity...

Go to to read and watch MLK speeches. Do it.

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