Can we be good to His Holiness?

I was thrilled when my ticket to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama finally arrived in the mail recently. I checked it over in an attempt to see just how far away I’d be from the speaking platform (it looks like I’d see him better if I was actually standing in Tibet, but who cares) and was startled by the admonition on it to come early to get through the security system.

I shouldn’t have been startled. The Dalai Lama is a political as well as religious leader after all, and his government is currently in exile. No doubt he has to be protected from sinister forces wherever he goes. According to some things I’ve heard, the tight security around him has prevented some fairly nasty incidents in the recent past, and I was happy to see we’ll do our best to protect him here in Portland.

But what was eating at me? I couldn’t figure out why I paid any attention to such a common-sense thing, until I walked through the Park Blocks recently and saw one of the many incidents of mutual disagreement between onlookers and a local street preacher. Both sides were red in the face and shouting. Both sides were waving their arms. Both sides needed to be calmed down by other people.

Then it came to me: Oregon is the least-churched state in the Union, and Portland is the least-churched place in Oregon. Many Oregonians appear to be proud of their complete independence from any school of religious thought. In fact, the state has a long history of ignoring or harassing religious institutions, including attempts by the Ku Klux Klan to close parochial schools way back at the turn of the last century.

Some people of faith have in their not-too-distant memories episodes of being chased down by belligerents while attempting to get to their place of worship. Not a week goes by when I hear some student or another make negative comments about people of faith or a faith itself. Just read a few back issues of the Vanguard, and you’ll realize this isn’t a place where religion is well-tolerated as a part of our belief in the strength of diversity.

So what I was worried about, apparently, is that someone will confront the Dalai Lama as he speaks or appears at one event or another. Given the intolerance which appears to be rampant in Portland, it is very easy to believe that a good portion of the security precautions will not be directed solely at political opponents of the Tibetan cause, but rather, those who cannot tolerate a free and open discussion of any faith, let alone Tibetan Buddhism.

Perhaps there is a difference here, however. Perhaps the sad story of his exile, and that of his faith, will calm people down. Perhaps the fact that obviously this is not some lone Christian street preacher will also give some people pause.

But the fact remains that intolerance hangs in the air of what is otherwise a pretty fair place to live, and the Dalai Lama is walking into it.

I hope the security works, for his sake as well as that of Portland.