I had breakfast with Bishop Tutu and the Dali Lama last week. Of course another 175 people attended this “intimate” affair, but I felt both honored and very fortunate that I was given another opportunity to see and hear such exceptional people in such exceptional times. The prayer breakfast was held on the last day of a five day event organized by a volunteer group called Seeds of Compassion. Most of the events were conducted at the University of Washington campus in north Seattle, although the breakfast was catered in a meeting room in a large hotel in downtown Seattle. The Dali Lama had anchored the five day gathering and Bishop Tutu, long time friend, was joining him on the final day.
When the two spiritual giants, both in their seventies, saw each other that morning for the first time in several years, they both shouted their welcomes across the room. As they approached each other, they laughed and giggled. In the last ten yards, surrounded by security people and people just trying to get close, they literally jumped up and down, finally embracing, laughing, and touching each other like very young school children on a playground. At one point the Dali Lama pushed Bishop Tutu back a couple of feet, looked at him and laughing and said “My goodness, you have gotten fat!” They both started laughing again and Bishop Tutu playfully shaking his finger at his Holiness, said: “Now you start acting like a Holy man.” Again there was joyful laughter by these two playful men and of course at that point it was delightfully infectious. Those ten minutes of joyful expression were worth the sleep I had lost, the hour drive in traffic and a giant hunk out of my busy schedule that week.
The Seeds of Compassion organization is a very interesting organization and I believe it has a lot to tell those of us that are still trying to grow Christian churches. The organization came through the collaboration of the Kirlin Foundation and the Venerable Tenzin Dhonden and many other religious, educational and spiritual people from the area. These dreamers wanted “to bring concrete public awareness, public will, and an empowering call to action to address our local and global need for the social and emotional well-being of children…As an outcome, they seek to bring social and emotional learning into families, to caregivers, and to schools so that all who touch the lives of children have the tools and empowerment to provide the foundation for kinder and more compassionate children, communities, and society.” (Quotes from their own brochure)
One of the fascinating things about this major event was that it was planned by religious leaders from over a dozen traditions. The breakfast event that I attended was represented by 17 different traditions-from Roman Catholic to Wicca. Even so, there were many letters to the editors of the local newspaper complaining that the local children were allowed to attend these events on school days to be “indoctrinated” into the “Buddhist religion.” One writer complained that since Jesus knew more about compassion than Buddha, we should let our children out of school to hear the Sermon on the Mount. If this were not so sad, it would have been funny.
Although I was unable to attend some of the larger events, the ones that I did attend were enough to get my head spinning. It is a powerful experience to sit with over 10,000 people to hear grounded, bright spiritual people talk about the importance and the joy of learning to live more compassionately. I listened to a couple of panel discussions that included youth and young adults along with such sage leaders as Sister Joan Chittister, Bishop Tutu, Roshi Joan Halifax, and the Dali Lama. One 12 year-old girl, in front of 10,000 people, comfortably shared her view that compassionate living is really a gift for the giver. When she was done with her extemporaneous comments, I thought the Dali Lama was going to get up and give her his seat of honor. My confidence in our youth who will be able to handle the challenges of some of the big messes we have created for them has dramatically improved.
The statistics alone for this amazing event should cause us all to pause and reflect. Over 150,000 people paid to attend these events over the five day period. Over 100,000 others were turned away because the tickets were sold out. Tens of thousands of people have already viewed the webcast of the event on the Seeds of Compassion website. This, in itself, is pretty impressive in what is supposed to be one of the least religious areas in the United States.
But I found the mix of people at these events fascinating. Not only were there thousands of school age children there, but the arena and the classrooms were full of young adults, the kind we can not seem to bribe, drag, scare or beg into our local churches across the country. I am so used to seeing a grey hair like mine whenever I go to national and regional church events, that I was almost startled to discover that I was such a minority. It was exciting to see, however.
So I leave you with some questions. What was it that instilled the desire in 250,000 people to attend such an event? Why did so many youth take this event so seriously, attend the lectures, and participate in the workshops? What was it that got so many young adults in their 20s and 30s to take time off from work or play and attend these events? What was it that scared so many people who call themselves Christian? Are we as parents providing the seeds of compassion for our children? Are our churches?
I believe, in part, that many young adults are tired of a life-time of extreme division, of war, of bad news, of fear mongrels, of hatred, violence and ignorance. I believe that these people, who will one day run this country, are ready for compassion, openness, inclusivity, change, and peace.