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