Driving home from an interfaith speaking engagement this week, my cell phone flashed a text message from my administrative assistant: “If you want to have lunch with the Dalai Lama, you must call Chris ASAP.”

Chris is the Project Administrator for the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope in Peace—of which Communities of Shalom is a charter member.  We are  participating in the upcoming Peace Education Summit  in Newark withthe Dalai Lama,next weekend, May 13-15, at the NJPAC.  

No way did I want to miss the opportunity to dine with the  Dalai Lama after his keynote address. It was thrilling enough just be on the same program with His Holiness (as well as with Rabbi Michael Lerner,Deepak Chopra,Imam Deen Shareef and other interfaith leaders). 

Our Coalition had been invited to offer two workshops at the Peace Education Summit.   The one I am co-leading is PW 104 Interfaith Conjunctions: Buddha, Jeremiah, Jesus and Muhammad on InnerPeace/Shalom/Salaam 

Doing a workshop at a conference is one thing, but a private luncheon withtheXIVthDalai Lamawas a dream come true for a fan like me (I’ve been to Tibet, and seen too many films on the plight of the Dalai Lama not to be in awe of their rightful king).

Promptly, I called Chris back, who wanted to know the full spelling of my legal name, date of birth, and place of birth.  

“Why?” I asked.  

“Background checks by US State Department for the security of the Dahlia Lama and his host, Mayor Corey Booker.

“Of course,” I said as I provided the information.

“And Chris,” I added jokingly before ending the call. “Be sure you seat me on the left side, and not on the right hand of His Holiness.” 

“Why not on the right?” asked Chris with a chuckle. 

“Well, only James or John can be on his right.  I only want to touch the hem of his garment. So just put me on the left.”

I could tell that Chris did not fully share my odd sense of religious humor, so I reminded her of the bold request of James and John to sit on the right side of Jesus at the Table for the Feast in the coming kingdom of God:

 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Matt. 10:35ff)

Comparing Jesus to theDalai Lama, inappropriately, was my light-hearted way of recognizing and affirming His Holiness’ place of honor at the table, and my humble, hoped for place somewhere in close proximately to the master.  Seriously, though, I am thrilled beyond belief for the chance to meet one of the great religious leaders of our time.

As a Christian, I think it is important to enter into respectful yet humorous and light-hearted dialogue with representatives of other faith traditions as we seek common ground to build the Beloved Community of Shalom/Salaam/Shanti and Inner Peace together.  If we don’t learn to love each other, we will end up killing each other, I’m afraid.

Perhaps you can join us at the Peace Summit next weekend, or let the occasion remind you to pray for peace among the angry religious of the world, that we can find ways to work together to eliminate violence, injustice and poverty, rather than destroy, dishonor or diminish the “other.”

As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed to the exiles living in Iraq long ago, to those living among people of a different faith and culture: “Seek the shalom of the community where you have been sent, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in it’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” (Jeremiah 29:7)