Five years ago, Lawrence Carter published a book. Two years ago, I received my signed copy and sat it on my bedside table. Two weeks ago, I picked it up and started reading. I’m glad I did, and so will you when you open this captivating narrative of his journey as a person, as a scholar, and as a seeker after truth.
Lawrence Carter is Dean of the Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel. I met him when I went to Atlanta promoting the Academy of Preachers in 2009. I had never heard of him, and he had never heard of me. But he welcomed me to the chapel, and his students became the largest contingent of young preachers to attend our regional and national festivals.
To be honest, it was years before I understood he name is Lawrence and not Dean, because everybody referred to him as Dean Carter (and always with great affection and respect). After all, he is in his 44th year in that position, one he secured after completing his PhD at Boston University.
Dean Carter tells that story—how he got to Boston and why—in this book as part of the larger narrative about the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. He met King while still a teenager, and met him later several times. But it was King and his philosophy of non-violence that pulled Carter into his professional path and life ambition.
King was powerfully influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu scholar and activist who led the movement in India to freedom and self-determination. In this regard, Gandhi confessed he was shaped by the character and values of Jesus. These multiple layers of cross-cultural influence opened up Carter himself to the same experience. When he discovered Daisaku Ikeda, he was ready.
Ikeda is a Japanese philosopher, author, and organizer, who served as founder and leader of Soka Gakkai, one of the largest and most diverse Buddhist associations. It is not strictly speaking a religious entity, but insofar as its mission is to promote dialogue, understanding, and peace, it shares much with many of the world’s religious traditions.
Like Jesus, Gandhi, and King, the man Ikeda and the organization Soka Gakkai embrace non-violence as a political and personal life strategy. In this way, Ikeda presented himself self to Carter as one way Carter might fulfill his life ambition to further the influence and mission of King. Thus, Carter the Baptist preacher entered into this new frame of life, the one embodied by Ikeda the Buddhist activist and organizer.
Toward the end of the book, Carter describes this vision as “building strong institutions, cultivating a respect for the interdependence of all life, and recognizing the importance of courageous and controversial dialogue as a method of promoting peace” (223).
Earlier, Carter summarized their perspective on violence: “Violence—even violent speech —creates an atmosphere of tragic bitterness between two parties…. The aftermath of violence is always tragic bitterness, but the aftermath of nonviolent resistance is the creation of the beloved world community” (221).
The phrase “beloved community” is borrowed from King and is a consistent theme of this book (and of Carter’s journey). King himself tended toward the global vision of “beloved world community” but it was the life and work of Ikeda that opened up the wider path for Carter. To his credit and our blessing, Carter understood the importance of what he encountered in Ikeda and had the wisdom and courage to affirm it, embrace it, and employ it in his own ministry at the King Chapel.
This is a winsome book, confessionally written and, in my case, warmly received (see my accompanying essay “Two Roads Diverged”). It is not always clear when new ideas, new people, and new opportunities are right for us, are divinely intended paths for the fulfillment of our own life’s work. Too often, we dismiss such things as distractions, or worse, dangers. Sometimes they are, I suppose. But sometimes not, and this moving testimony by this precious and precocious minister of the gospel of Jesus is a welcomed invitation to all of us to pay attention, to be open to what appears, and to receive as from heaven some things we least expect. If so, we will be able to write a subtitle like Carter: “How My Interfaith Journey With Daisaku Ikeda Made Me a Better Christian.”