Friday, September 28, 2007

On not being afraid.

Star Simpson a junior here at MIT got her 15 minutes of fame last week. On the front page of the Boston Herald she looked bemused. Those who know her say she feels like she was hit by a train. Wearing a name tag from an event at the Media Lab, she went to Logan Airport to meet a friend, a circuit board was on her sweat shirt with wires dangling. A few unanswered questions later she found herself the object of more attention than she wished. "So smart, so dumb." lamented a critic. Others took shots at MIT where they perceive a permissive environment that abandons commonsense. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the attention shifted to John Harvard dressed to participate in Halo 3.

I have been watching Ken Burns' The War. I am old enough to remember the times, to have felt the emotions and to have celebrated VJ Day. Watching the documentary, listening to contemporary conversations of those among the Greatest Generation, I have been reminded that we are often only a step away from high heroics and mind-numbing villany. The stories of the Japanese Americans who fought in Italy while their families were in camps behind barbed wire remind of both extremes.

Victor Frankl once remarked that being human means to be conscious and to be responsible. Now is the time to be responsible. What happened on 9/11 has made us fearful and some have used that fear to advance agendas and create climates where a college girl feared for her life in an American airport. Others decry entrepreneurial creativity as a luxury we cannot afford.

I worry more about a time where fear is our first emotion, and our default response to the unknown. That does not leave much room for building a better world and that is, what we are about. Star should have known better. So should we. Churches, synagogues, mosques and universities are meaning making communities. We offer a context in which we take the stuff of living and make sense of it. Now at the end of an eventful week we have a lot to work with. I pray we will do our
work well.

An Invitation

Join us at 5:30 PM on Sunday (September 30) for the Installation of the Chaplain to the Institute.
On Monday (October 1) at 4 PM in the Wong Auditorium (E-51) you are invited to join us for The Chaplain's Seminar where we will reflect on Religious Leadership in the 21st Century: How Are We to Avoid a Clash of Cultures? The Seminar will feature Dr. Ronald B. Sobel, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Emanu-el, NYC, Dr. Richard Hughes, Messiah College, Dr. Elizabeth Parsons, Quincy College, The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, Buddhist Chaplain at MIT and Suheil Laher, Muslim Chaplain at MIT.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Thursday, September 20, 2007


This morning as I finished my run around the Charles River change was all around me. I obviously have changed. My arms are smaller, a bit flabby. I run slower and my joints creak. When I mention that I run I am told I am foolish and need to consider low impact exercise. It used to be that when I talked of running folks thought it was cool. “You ran how far?” they would ask.

The trees are beginning to change; the air is a bit more brisk than in August. My fellow runners are different too. Used to be all men, but now from my perspective there is additional beauty to be seen. Women outnumber men 3-2 or thereabouts. I don’t count. I guess that is not a surprise now that there are more women than men in the college/university. Most must run and in taking care of themselves they once again outdo the men. I run because it allows me to think, to put things together in helpful ways. These days that has become more difficult. Some things don’t change.

Next week (September 30th) we will install the first Chaplain to the Institute. It marks a change at MIT. Attention is being paid here to the role of religion in the human experience. I will be Chaplain to the whole Institute, believers, non-believers, the uncertain. This change reflects recognition that religion contrary to expectations seems to be more important today than ever in our world lurking as it does on the edges of both conflict and comfort.

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe announced another wave of change. More young adults are declaring themselves non-religious. I might have done the same if I had to suffer through the smug God talk of many politicians without the perspective of age. We are always a bit behind the curve. I expect that before the godless become a majority another trend will develop. In any case, on Saturday at the close of Yom Kippur, Muslims observing Ramadan and Jews who have observed a Day of Atonement will break fast together on our campus. In this world of conflict and tension, that is a change for the good which we all should celebrate. Still today something good can come out of Jerusalem.

Robert M. Randolph

Friday, September 7, 2007

New Beginning

Just over a week ago the Class of 2011 arrived on campus. They are an eclectic lot, bright eyed and able. The mood on campus is electric; the Chaplains hosted a PB&J Bash inviting those interested in their ministries to drop by and get acquainted. The annual Duck Float, close now to a tradition, invited frosh to choose a yellow duck from those floating in the moat. Over 500 were taken. Having your own yellow ducky might not have the cachet it once had, but they do get attention.

Johanna Kiefner, the Lutheran Chaplain for the last seven years, leaves this month to complete her Social Work degree. she has been a valuable, caring member of our community. Her interim replacement, Diane Ranson, has the challenge of following a compassionate professional. At the same time, we are welcoming back Amy McCreath from a summer sabbatical. She and Diane will lead this year's iteration of the Lutheran-Episcopal Ministry. Known at LEM, the program has a storied history here at MIT.

While we celebrate what Johanna has done and welcome Diane to our community, we also must deal with the absence in our midst of James Albrecht '08. A former President of Baker House, James died in New York City this summer. He was a campus leader, a math major with enormous talent and intellect, and a friend to many. Services have been held in his home town, but on campus we are just now back so today led by Fr. Richard Clancy we celebrated James' life.

Our year begins celebrating the promise of a diverse and talented new class. We say good by to a good friend and caring pastor who knew how to foster and support faith in both thought and action. As well we come together to grieve and to begin to heal. It is a new year and a new beginning, but already we are reminded of the fragility of life and friendship and the value of a caring community. It is ever so.


Robert M. Randolph