A Baptist Preacher’s Buddhist Teacher
Lawrence Edward Carter Sr. recalls in his new book “how my interfaith journey with Daisaku Ikeda made me a better Christian.”
by Dave McNeill
Director of Middleway Press
Lawrence Edward Carter Sr. was in crisis. As dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, he had spent nearly two decades striving to spread Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of peace and nonviolence. But the results were not what he’d hoped and dreamed of. He felt despair and grief at all that had yet to be accomplished.
Fortunately, around this time, in 1999, Dr. Carter was introduced to the work of Daisaku Ikeda and the SGI. He soon realized that the SGI leader’s vision for peace and happiness, or kosen-rufu, “was in the very process of realization and was no different from Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the world house.” His despair soon lifted when he sensed that President Ikeda and the SGI could provide him with “a blueprint for a world without violence.”
He thus embarked on a journey of learning and partnership with President Ikeda that has spanned nearly 20 years, a journey he relates in moving detail in his just-released book,
A Baptist Preacher’s Buddhist Teacher: How My Interfaith Journey With Daisaku Ikeda Made Me a Better Christian (Middleway Press).
At an event to launch the book, held at the SGI-USA Atlanta Buddhist Center on Nov. 8, 2018, Dr. Carter focused on the power of curiosity and courageous conversation to bring about harmony in the world. The power of curiosity, he said, is the power of being open to learning from different cultures and understanding different ways of thinking.
“If you ask, What is war? the answer is fear. If you ask, What is hatred? the answer is fear. If you ask, What is intolerance? the answer is fear,” he said. “All of these varying forms of fear are rooted in ignorance. We don’t know each other, so we cultivate fear and hatred for those who are different.”
The world is a challenging place because it is a place of fear, he said. But the fearless will practice the words of Marie Curie that he asked the audience to repeat after him: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
To understand more, we have to think differently, he said: Not in the box or out of the box but with no box. “The only sustainable way of thinking is thinking without a box, to think without limitations. Nichiren Buddhism is not a closed box. It places no limitations on your curiosity.”
Dr. Carter said the SGI president is a great example of a curious mind, citing his more than 80 published dialogues with people of all faiths and backgrounds as examples of President Ikeda’s willingness to learn from anyone.
“He’s setting an example for all of us to follow to become truly cosmic citizens,” he said.
Of course, “expanding your address,” as Dr. Carter noted, to include the cosmos isn’t easy. “Talking with people can be dirty,” he said, “but empathy comes from human interaction. President Ikeda sets a powerful example; he’s the tip of the spear of self-motivation, self-initiation and lifelong learning.”
The evening included Dr. Carter signing books and greeting most of the 250 people who attended, including guests from the Atlanta interfaith community. Dr. Carter will also visit SGI-USA centers in New York in December, Chicago in January, and in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in February and March.
Just as he credits President Ikeda with helping him become a better Christian, perhaps Dr. Carter can help SGI members become better Buddhists. He certainly has great hopes for the work we do.
“President Ikeda is a nonviolent prophet, a prophet in the style of the Old Testament prophets,” Dr. Carter concluded. “In the long shadow of Gandhi and King, he’s saying today what they would be saying. Follow his example more seriously, enlarge your address and heal the world.”
The book is available for $14.95 at major bookstores, including Amazon.com. Please note that it is available at select SGI-USA bookstores but not on the SGI-USA website. For more details, visit middlewaypress.com.