Perhaps this is what an evening of “contemplative rhythm” feels like.
The evening’s events had nothing to do with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) directly. But its spirit called to mind the words of Franciscan Sr. Pat Farrell, President of LCWR in early August. She was describing how the sisters would deliberate on their response to the Vatican’s harsh, and in the eyes of many, unjust critique of the nuns’ lives of service.
First, a Mass of the Resurrection at the Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University to celebrate the life of the late Prof. Henry Halenani Gomes. The eulogy and homily told the story of a man who put his life’s energies into discerning the interconnectedness of his identity as a Native Hawaiian man and as a Catholic educator, dedicated to teaching students that service is what gives enduring meaning to success.
Then on to the Pacific Buddhist Academy’s 7th Annual “Lighting Our Way” Awards dinner where the conversation at table seemed to pick up the threads of thoughts expressed at the Mass to create a “seamless garment of discernment.”
David Randall, Head of Hongwanji Mission School spoke of starting each day with a smile. “How can I not? I start my day over-hearing an elementary school kid tell her Dad, after exchanging a high five with me, that I’m ‘doing a real good job of saying hello in the morning’!” The twenty year veteran of public schools and the Department of Education, who has fought to protect P.E. and music and art from budget cuts, is savoring his new role as head of an independent school.
As the program unfolded, it became easier and easier to understand David Randall’s enthusiasm. Dr. Walter Kunitake, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, said he never wondered why he was on the Board. “It’s a joy.” Pointing to one of the evening’s honorees, the Inspirational Organization, Da Moms co-founded by Jo Chang and Susie Roth, he spoke of the Hongwanji’s decision to speak out in favor of LGBT rights and civil unions. “We saw it as something that fit naturally with the Buddhist view of how life should be lived: with compassion and in recognition of our interconnected humanity.” In a moving expression of those values, Pieper Toyama, Pacific Buddhist Academy’s Head of School began his introduction of Da Moms by identifying himself as the grateful father of a gay daughter.
It was hard not to think in that moment of how the tears of so many LGBT children might be wiped away if other parents could do what Pieper did: lovingly embrace the diversity of their children. Apparently that kind of acknowledgment is encouraged and practiced at Pacific Buddhist Academy. That alone makes it an exceptional place of learning.
The profiles of the honorees were written by the students and their independence of expression came through clearly. The first person recognized as an “Inspirational Leader,” John Dean was introduced by student Mark Hayashi, as a “banker who is not dastardly”—high praise indeed in these times! The message of interconnectedness was told through the account of the 900 families whose jobs were saved at Central Pacific Bank under his leadership. Creating “opportunities to do good” also prompted Dean’s founding of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii to enable successful start-ups to make the turn to philanthropy.
Ninety seven year old Shimeji Kanazawa was recognized as an Inspirational Leader for her fidelity to the Buddhist virtue of “dana” or selfless giving. Her signature Project Dana, started in 1989 has brought companionship and practical help to over 1000 elderly people through the generosity of over 850 volunteers.
The third Inspirational Leader, Dr. Fujio Matsuda, was introduced by his grandson with an endearing “Hi, Grandpa!” from the podium. The man who once helped make noodles for his family’s saimin stand went on to become the state’s Director of Transportation and later President of the University of Hawaii. He joined the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor and used the G.I. Bill to earn a doctorate in science from M.I.T. Along the way he discovered he was “spiritually ambidextrous,” never abandoning the Christian church of his youth but embracing Buddhist living whole-heartedly. Calling himself a “dual citizen” of faith, he spoke also of the lasting friendships he formed in the Army, despite being the only Asian in his cohort.
“We all value the same things, no matter where we come from,” he said. “Imagine. What kind of world do we get if we stop thinking in terms of “I win/You lose?” And he offered this answer: “Maybe we get a peaceful world.”
Connecting again to the reflective spirit of LCWR, perhaps this evening was a reminder that we all need to pray, as the sisters did at their conference. Whether we invoke the Holy Spirit or the teachings of Buddha, we are all called to “keep our hearts soft and our minds open” if we yearn for a better world.