Thursday, December 11, 2008

Religion and the Election

Those of you who are having trouble coming down from pre-election highs will find the new MIT World offering, Religion and the Election: What do we think we know?, worth a peek. Go to the MIT home page and click on Videos. Shaun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary and Alan Wolfe of Boston College talk about how things were playing out in the run up to the vote. This was the second annual Chaplain's Seminar.

On campus things have quieted down as exams approach. Last evening the Lutheran-Episcopal Ministry held their annual Lessons and Carols. It was a lovely, candle-lit evening followed by caroling and dinner. Earlier in the week MIT paused for cider and cookies in Lobby 7. Hard work seldom gives way to reflection at MIT, but this week a lot of people are doing a lot of thinking about what is important. The weather is contributing as it is cold, wet and dark. It will be better come Christmas. This Sunday at Harvard's Memorial Church you can attend a traditional Lessons and Carols at 5 PM. On Monday the time is 8 PM. Come early!

This season is also a good time to give thought to the topic of Kathleen Norris' new book: Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer's Life (Riverhead, 2008). Acedia is the spiritual aspect of sloth, often mistaken for depression, and treated by spiriitual disciplines. Norris knows depression and acedia. Her skill as a writer makes this part memoir, part theological reflection a restorative read for a holiday known for its emotional highs and lows.

Let me also point out for you a class to be offered in the spring--24.S10 Undergraduate Ethics Seminar To contact those involved go to This is a small step taken to introduce students to the need for ethical reflection in the work they do in and beyond MIT. It is a slight beginning, but one with great promise.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Now that the holiday is past, I find myself dealing with the implications of its passing. For example, in an academic setting such as MIT, we are on the edge of final exams. Usually when Thanksgiving comes earlier, we have three weeks to get ready for finals and then a few days to wrap up details and exams follow. This year, no such luck. There are ten days, the wrapping up, and finals begin. That means everyone is about a week behind.

For students, especially frosh, it is jolting. The good news is that most adjust and my sense this year is that the trajectory of the year is ok. For faculty and staff, there is a the recognition that it all comes pretty quickly, but given the economy the pressure seems off on the gift giving: light and easy is the mantra.

The economic downturn balances out the normal hopeful sentiment that follows an election. The news at MIT is 5% cuts each year for the next three and the fear is that this is just the beginning. This is where thinking about Thanksgiving comes in handy. To give thanks for what we have pulls us away from our fears--even if for a moment. Let me suggest some of the things we are thankful for:

That we live in a nation where the transfer of political power occurs without disruption and danger.

That we are at an institution where hard times are manageable--even if painful--and the values of the institution remain constant.

That we are in a region of the country known for its beauty and the depth of cultural opportunities.

That we live aware of divine presence and purpose; from the Pilgrims until today Bostonians live in the presence of the sacred. We joke about it, i.e. God dangles the Red Sox over our hearts each year. We see it when we visit Plymouth Rock. We hear it when we walk near Park Street Church on Sunday afternoon or Symphony Hall.

Each of us has blessings to be grateful for: family, friends, work that draws out our best, projects that give meaning. We have needs as well: for health, for friends, for meaning.

This time of year challenges us at MIT to do something we find hard: to be introspective. To ask why is harder than simply solving a problem. It is a process we need to practice so we can do it better. I am grateful to be so challenged and I hope you are as well.
Robert M. Randolph

A new offering for the spring: The Technology and Culture Forum at MIT offers an Undergraduate Ethics Seminar 24.S10

Thursday, November 20, 2008

World Aids Day

The AIDS crisis . . .

AIDS is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, leaving an entire generation of orphans and vulnerable children in jeopardy. Around the world, another person dies because of AIDS every 15 seconds.

Mothers. Fathers. Children. Farmers. Teachers. Gone.

Nearly 33 million people live with HIV.

Last year alone, more than 2.5 million people were infected.

6,000 people die every day because of AIDS.

. . . another person dies every 15 seconds.
Source: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2006

By 2010, more than 20 million children will be orphaned due to AIDS.

By 2020, AIDS could kill up to 12 percent of Africa's workforce - as many as 58 million people.

. . . this crisis will not go away by itself.
Sources: UNICEF, August 2006; International Labour Organization, November 2006

Monday, December 1 is World AIDS Day. Many in the MIT Community have been planning ways in which each of us could be involved in this campus wide and global wide effort. MIT has been doing research for years on eradicating the AIDS virus and many of you have directly or indirectly contributed to this ongoing effort. One of the UN Millennium Development Goals is aimed at the issue of AIDS.

Listed below are several ways for you to participate on 12/1:

11:00 am – 5:00 pm: The MIT Board of Chaplains will host a "time of reflection" in the MIT Chapel. Pick up material for reflection in learning about the AIDS pandemic; light a candle for some one you know who is suffering or may have died from AIDS; Write a note of compassion to a friend who has HIV; meditate on prayers submitted from various religious traditions; ask a chaplain for comfort and encouragement.

11:00 am – 3:00 pm: Stop by Lobby 10 and pick up your World AIDS Day commemorative ribbon to show your support for those suffering from and affected by AIDS. Sponsored by lbgt@mit and MIT Medical.

5:30 pm – 7:00 pm: Two Brave Lovers – South Park Sparks Conversation on HIV/AIDS, which will take place in the Rainbow Lounge, Bldg 50-005. Sponsored by lbgt@mit, CHPW, and MIT Medical Center.

7:00 pm: The Technology and Culture Forum is bringing Elizabeth Pisani, author of "The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS" at the MIT Museum.

The MIT Sloan Fellows are supporting an ongoing effort called World Vision Boston AIDS Africa. This effort is to build kits to provide to caregivers to AIDS patients in the poorest areas of Africa. ( They are trying to raise enough money for 1000 kits, at $30 apiece. For information and to donations, visit:

More information on these and other events:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Lutheran Chaplain at MIT

New to MIT

My name is Tim Seitz and I a pastor in the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and I have recently been appointed Lutheran Chaplain to MIT. I am married to Kathryn Lohre and we recently had our first child, John. I have been serving at Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge for two years as the assistant pastor. This summer I was invited to come and work for the Lutheran and Episcopal ministries at MIT. Amy McCreath is the Episcopal priest that I have the great privilege of working with. I have been serving as the Lutheran Chaplain for just over two months now and I have yet to figure my way around MIT.

Aside from getting turned around in the infinite corridor, there are so many different groups, events, faculty, staff, and resources available at MIT that it is impossible to keep them all straight in my mind. I absolutely love it! I have never served as a chaplain in campus ministry before so I have little to go on; that said, I believe MIT has one of the greatest chaplaincy programs that one could find. We have full time chaplains and part-time chaplains to represent basically any faith and/or denomination you could think of. How incredible to live and work in a real pluralistic environment. I engage people from other faith traditions in conversation merely by walking to my desk – while many others strive to find ways to start pluralistic dialogue. For me it is as simple as saying good morning and I have bridged the communication gap between Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist communities!

The greatest epiphany however has been how amazing our students are! Whether involved in our ministry LEM (Lutheran Episcopal Ministries) or another group or no group at all – I have been awestruck by the depth of my conversations with students and their ability to ask incredibly poignant and insightful questions. I have been blessed and challenged by this appointment and I know that I will continue to strive to communicate the Gospel according to MIT standards: to live, serve, and love God in ways that are relevant, mission oriented, and fun. LEM worships in the Chapel at 5:15pm each Wednesday evening – I hope you will worship with us if you get the chance.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dalai Lama Center

As Chaplain to the Institute I am pleased that we have been given the opportunity to develop the The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. This program will complement our leadership programs coming out of the Dean for Student Life Office. These programs now include The Technology and Culture Forum, a program begun over 50 years ago by the Episcopal Chaplain at MIT and still supported by the Episcopal Church and led by the Episcopal Chaplain, The Reverend Amy McCreath. The Public Service Center led by Sally Susnowitz is the third program. Each program offers students opportunities to learn and to sharpen their leadership skills as they prepare for careers beyond MIT.

The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT is dedicated to inquiry, to dialogue, and to the creation of programs that affect the ethical and humane dimensions of life. This nonpartisan center is a collaborative think tank focused on the development of interdisciplinary research and programs in various fields of knowledge from science and technology, to education and international relations.

The Center is founded to honor the vision of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his call for a holistic education that includes the development of human and global ethics. It will emphasize responsibility as well as examine meaningfulness and moral purpose between individuals, organizations, and societies.

The Center invites distinguished thinkers, educators, researchers, social innovators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, artists, and other leaders from diverse cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds to contribute to its objectives.

Web URL:

Robert M. Randolph

Friday, October 31, 2008

Visiting Messiah College

I just spent two days on the campus of Messiah College. Messiah is a small, 2800 undergraduate students, college in central Pennslvania near the capitol. This time of year, and I suspect, at all times it is a lovely venue. It is a college founded by the Brethren in Christ, an Anabaptist church related to the Mennonites by history if not by organization. i was there to celebrate with the editors, Rhonda and Douglas Jacobsen, their new book The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008). The event was held in the Boyer Center named for Ernest Boyer famed for his many thoughtful inquiries into the educational process. Boyer was a graduate of Messiah College.

With its religious roots, Messiah is awash with Christian language and focus, but witnessing to the broadening of the evangelical movement in America, Barack Obama signs were ubiquitous. On the day I visited, representatives from the Obama campaign were on campus meeting with Falcons for Obama, or to be more precise, there met with students who were supporting Obama.

I was pleased to tell the folks at Messiah that the community at MIT is wider than theirs is, but that it is also no less religious. There are more communities here and some wear "we haven't figured it all out yet" signs. That is what the Jacobsen's have written about in several volumes. It is good for us to be reminded that out in the heartland of Pennsylvania there are those who are grappling with the place of education in formal religion and vice versa. The conversation is lively at Messiah just as it is here at MIT. We live in a new time! I think Ernest Boyer would be pleased.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A New Book

Let me tell you about a new book edited by Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen and Douglas Jacobsen. It is called The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008) and it grapples with the place of religion in the contemporary university/college. The conversation is balanced and comprehensive talking about students and faculty and the myriad of ways religion impacts the university environment. The authors recognize that no institution is without religious threads that tie together otherwise divergent patterns of belief and practice and with honesty reveal some of those threads, e.g. "Why Faculty Find it Difficult to Talk About Religion" and "The Religious and Spirituality Journeys of College Students".

There are those who do not think matters spiritual should be the object of concern on campus; my response is that we cannot ignore such matters. Our residence halls, our classrooms are shaping lives, molding futures and not to recognize the importance of fundamental questions such as "Who am I?", "What am I about?", "How shall I live?" would be to abdicate responsibility. I am reminded of Reb Saunders in The Chosen who worries that is son will have a well developed mind but have no soul. Saunders says " Because this is America, Reuven. This is not Europe. It is an open world here." It is an open world here, but that does not mean that we are not concerned with the quality of the minds we are educating.

We are preparing the next generation of world leaders. At this time of the year I am particularly mindful of the things we have left undone. It is a good thing to be reminded of what we can do better in the future. The Jacobsens have given us a challenging recipe for educating minds and souls.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time Away

Lately it is hard to get away during the summer. People come to see us. This past week, however, Jan and I went west for a transfusion of scenery and dry air. While New England prepared for fall, we dried out, saw golden aspens and enjoyed New Mexico. I read The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008) edited by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen of Messiah College. It is always nice to read something that confirms what you sense you are seeing. This book does that as it surveys the conversation about the place of religion in contemporary education. The message, "PAY ATTENTION There may not be a clash of cultures, but there is plenty of pushing and shoving as religious inclinations nudge their way back into the academy. I see it here at MIT.
Another book, Progressive and Religiousby Robert P. Jones (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) was the object of conversation last evening after dinner with the Lutheran and Episcopal Ministry. Jones was here and argued strongly that there is emerging a movement in the public sphere uniting the religious left with progressive causes that will break the hold on public religious life by the religious right.

Both books are worth reading and in this season of holidays (Ramadan ended yesterday, Rosh Hashanah last evening) books on religion and the public sphere will take your mind off your 401K or retirement plans revised once again.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The New Year

For most the new year begins in January, for those in academia it begins in September when the new school year starts. There are milestones of change all around. Stressed trees begin to change color; clouds shift from summer's billowing thunderheads to the ominous gray slate banks of cloud portending rain and cold. New faces grace our community here at MIT and each class has its own personality. The Red Sox wind down and the Patriots and Bruins begin anew their pursuit of glory or redemption.

I walked yesterday to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate platelets and noticed that the nameless "They" have finally finished the T Station at Charles Street and MGH; the Liberty Hotel has had a summer to get it's act together and the Charles Street Jail and Buzzy's Roast Beef fade into memory. We have also said good bye to people here at MIT. Robert Hulsizer, Alex D'Arbeloff, Robert Seamans, Jr., Joe Kuchta, Jack Howard, Laura Capone, Michael Hammer, Lucian W. Pye. There will be a memorial service for Alex on October 17th at 3:30 PM in Kresge Auditorium. Bob Hulsizer will be remembered on October 19th at 3 PM in the MIT Chapel.

Bob Hulsizer brought new life to Ashdown House, the graduate dormitory on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Amherst Street where he and Carol presided. But even Ashdown has changed moving to the northwest corner of campus where it has been reborn with a new Hulsizer Room. The old Åshdown is now called W-1 and is in the process of being reborn as a home to undergraduates.

Some find transitions difficult, and the pace of MIT makes it even more important that we pause and note what we have gained and what we have lost. It does not balance out, but remembering allows us to enliven our community by holding close the contributions of all to our collective memory.

I like to think that MIT folk were more familiar with Buzzy's than they were with the Charles Street Jail. I know that the gifts to this community given by Bob Seamans , Bob Hulsizer and Alex D'Arbeloff were enormous and the contributions of others made us all richer. Because things change does not mean that we forget. That is a good thing to be mindful of at the beginning of the year.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Religious and Progressive

E.J. Dionne,Jr. of the Washington Post writes "Throughout American history, religious voices have played a central role in progressive politics, but we seem to have forgotten that in the past two decades. Robert P. Jones is one of the most searching, thoughtful, and practical thinkers in the revival of religiously rooted progressivism and his book is a great blessing for that cause and for the country. Anyone-left,right, or center- who wants a guide to this new movement would do well to spend some time with this book. " This book is Progressive and Religious How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders are Moving beyond the culture wars and transforming American public life.

Robert P. Jones will be at MIT on October 1 speaking about his book at 7:30 PM in W-11, the main dining room.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Crab Grass Factor

At this time of the year crab grass becomes evident. In April the ads talk about putting down a pre-emergent product to keep crab grass from germinating. Now it is clear why. Given moisture and space the tentacles of grass will spread and crowd out other desirable grasses. Then when frost comes the plants die and the lawn appears to have a multitude of spaces where grass used to be. The key is to fertilize the lawn and plant new seed thickly so the crab grass plant cannot take over.

In politics, a lie if not answered will grow to expand all the space it can fill. That is why politicians often spread wild accusations hoping that some of them will stick. Equally, those attacked often appear to be simply responding with answers even though it prolongs the shelve-life of the accusation. Untruths ignored grow just like crab grass until they are forgotten and disappear leaving only a gaping hole where truth might have resided.

Religious communities often spread lies about one another; sometimes they do not have to since the behavior of the group, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, makes telling lies unnecessary. When i was growing up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a scurrilous anti-semitic bit of propaganda often made its appearance in one form or another in our church. No one knew enough to call it a lie until finally one day someone spoke the truth. The same was true with notions about Catholics; we just knew they were out to destroy the Protestant world we knew. Such notions had been around America since the founding of the nation and were partially blunted by the election of John Kennedy.

In this political season rumors and untruths about Islam abound given the fact that Barack Obama will be the Democrat's nominee for President. I like to think we are wiser than we were in 1960, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Barack Obama is not a Muslim no matter what some people say or think. Knowing the truth is important; telling the truth is even more important. Not to speak out when we know untruths are being passed around is cowardly, but often excused because many people do not know better. By November the crab grass will be gone; let's hope the lies are too answered by courageous people will to speak out.


Robert M. Randolph

Friday, August 1, 2008

Change Comes

This past week I was with a group of black and white Christian ministers in Nashville, TN. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of a gathering in Atlanta after the death of Martin Luther King. In 1978 we lamented the separation that existed between black and white Christians. Now with a new generation we noted how complicated the world has become. Divisions between black and whites seem almost simple against the backdrop of ethnic and religious strife common today.

I have just finished reading Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering Death and the American Civil War (2008). Faust, now the president of Harvard, opens a door into understanding the shaping of the South in the post war period. The anger and hatred of blacks who dared challenge the peculiar institution boiled over and the cowardly retreat by the North is better understood when you realize the breadth of loss suffered by North and South in the Civil War. The enormous cost of the war in human terms came to overshadow the commitment to equality.

We live today with the implications of the divide between black and white and the new challenges of ethnicity and race are difficult to meet because we have not really understood that the human community is the only game in town. What diminishes one, diminishes all. Those who sell policies based on fear look backward to the bad old days and last week-end I was reminded how bad they were. But in the Nashville Public Library's Civil Rights Reading room we caught a glimpse of hope and were reminded of an idealism that changed America. It may be that we have come farther than we have thought.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Que Sera, Sera

Here is a reminder that sometimes out of the worst of situations good can come.

Que será, será
Language lesson for today: “Cullen Murphy, author of the book Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (Mariner), muses about how the war in Iraq might leave us a new word to match a new sense of our own limitations:
“Not long ago, in a Q&A on the website of the New York Times, an Iraqi trans¬lator was asked to explain the points of difference he saw between his own people and the Americans he encountered in Iraq. He brought up the Arabic phrase inshal¬lah. The Americans, he said, ‘have respect for time’; Iraqis, in contrast, ‘use the word inshallah, which means “if God wishes,” to postpone things.’ ”
“It may be that this point of difference won’t be a distinction much longer. An American colonel in Iraq, writing to the Washington Post’s Thomas E. Ricks, recently observed: ‘The phrase inshallah, or “God willing,” has perme¬ated all ranks of the Army. When you talk to U.S. soldiers about the possible success of “the surge,” you’d be surprised how many responded with “inshallah.” ’ The phrase seems to have permeated all ranks of the diplomatic corps, too: Zalmay Khalilzad, when he was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, once stated at a press conference, ‘Inshallah, Iraq will succeed.’
“For better or worse, philosophical acceptance has rarely been America’s default frame of mind. As the Historical Anal¬ogy Police might hasten to note, here’s one place where analo¬gies with a previous superpower, imperial Rome, break down badly. The Roman elites were a supremely self-satisfied lot whose motto might well have been the old advertising slogan ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ With a faith that’s sometimes messianic, sometimes endearing, and often very destructive, Ameri¬cans believe they can always make it better than this. From diets to diplomacy, we’re suckers for regime change. Is it possible that a little less faith in our convictions, and a little more skepticism toward our capacities, would itself be a form of self-improve¬ment? It may yet be a while before Waking the Tiger and Getting to Yes are knocked off the shelves by If It Happens, It Happens and The Seven Habits of Humbly Accepting People. What we can say for sure is that many hundreds of thousands of Americans have endured tours of duty in Iraq. They are writing blogs and e-mails with a new word at their fingertips. They are returning home with a new word on their lips. It
will have an impact on the American Experiment, inshallah.” Now it’s available for use in villages and hamlets everywhere, places which have never been host to
a Muslim.
—The American Scholar (
au07/inshallah-murphy.html), Autumn 2007

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On marriage

I have just officiated at another wedding. There have been two each month since April. All have involved men and women. As we prepare, we talk about what they want the marriage to mean, why they are getting married in a chapel and why they have a minister. In some ways the last is the easiest to answer. The MIT Chapel and Memorial Church do not invite public officials to officiate at weddings.
I have talked here about the changing nature of the partners: already living together, often interracial, often Asian. What they hold in common is that they take marriage seriously. Tears still flow when vows are exchanged whether they are in English or Chinese.
Some wonder if same sex marriages take away from the institution of marriage. I find it an odd question. Most would think if an increased number of people wanted to participate in a ritual, it mean that the importance of the ritual was increasing. If more people bought fishing licenses few would declare the future of fishing imperiled. The protections marriage as a legal state offers couples are important and should be granted if not by marriage, buy some other recognition. Religious folk who have objections to same sex ceremonies do not have to bless, officiate or even attend, but they do need to think about the message they are sending. Given the emotion these ceremonies elicit, I suspect many do not think much about things; they should.

The greatest danger to marriage is not gay marriage, but the serial monogamy that has become common place in our nation. Those who wish to commit their lives to each other until death parts them remind each of us of the vows we have made to spouses family and friends. My hope is that over the next few years this issue will fade and we will give our attention to those issues that do affect the quality of life in our nation and the world: poverty, endemic violence, war and the need for peace.

Marriage is an important topic of conversation, maybe more important than most realize. If we devalue marriage, by claiming it is only for some and not for all, then the harm we do will be far greater than we suppose. We will also need to think about other matters related to marriage, e.g. would we endorse polygamy? I think not. We have been there and done that and the picture was and is not pretty, cable TV not withstanding.

More importantly, we need to give attention to what marriage is about and how we can bolster its power to create new communities across lines previously impermeable. Religious communities need to think again about what their ceremonies say and mean; when they do it may be that a a conversation about the broader notion of marriage will break out. That would be a good thing!


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Upcoming Event

Topic: Reason, Experience and Search for Happiness
Speaker: Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete
Date: April 30, 2008 7-8:30pm
Venue: 3-270

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Campus Preview Week-end

Today is the nicest weather we have had in weeks. Maybe it has something to do with Campus Preview Week-end. We are entertaining over 1000 admitted students and their parents. There are over 300 events planned during the next few days and if past history is a guide, many if not most of these students will conclude that MIT is the place for them.

Late in March we entertained Jenny Small about her doctoral dissertation at Michigan where she looked at College Student Religious Affiliation and Spiritual Identity. The chaplains serving MIT talked with her about her work and results. She has done some good work that can inform our varied ministries here at MIT.

Jenny noted early in her research that the model for faith development among college and university students was primarily based on research done among white Christians. Her questions began there as she sought to tease out what it meant to have a religious or spiritual identity in college/university. It became clear to her early that faith matters and as she looked as Christians, Jews, Muslims and non-believers. She noted the evolution of increasingly more complex thought about religious/spiritual matters. Early on groups understand their place in the hierarchy of religious/spiritual organizations. For example Jews know early they are a minority; Muslims understand they are "other" and Christians carry the burden of being entitled. Non-believers feel themselves to be really on the fringes. In some ways the outsiders are clearer about their self-identity than the Christians who often know only that they are in the majority, but have little sense of why or what that means. This is a bit odd given the rhetoric we sometimes hear about the threats to Christianity perceived by some true believers.

As the Chaplains know, the MIT experience modifies these perceptions and if our endeavors do their work, the students graduate as thoughtful, grounded young adults who know better who they are and where they stand. I look forward to seeing Jenny's work in print and to the ongoing conversation it should precipitate.

This week-end we will see some of our students at the very beginning of their journey and it is good to remember that it is a journey they are beginning. They are growing quickly and we are blessed to be part of that process.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Guess it Depends

I guess your level of outrage at religious rhetoric depends on who is doing the talking. Jeremiah Wright has gotten lots of press because of who he has mentored. I get a good deal of mail from religious publishing houses and various church groups. Today I heard from one and the minister concludes his appeal for support: "All thinking Americans are greatly concerned about the religious and moral conditions of our nation. We Christians, ought to be especially concerned. .... (the denomination the minister represents) must address these issues. We simply MUST stand up and speak up for Christ in these matters. Pray for us that we can do so with a stronger voice!"

This is in print, but you can imagine the minister pounding the pulpit to make his point in dramatic fashion not unlike Wright's "No, No, No" phrasing on the You Tube snippet. Not much difference it seems to me. Wright is concerned about the "religious and moral condition of America" but he happens to be part of the minority community and feels that some of the moral failings of America have affected those he serves. That is not an unreasonable sentiment and it is also not unusual for members of the minority community to express such sentiment.

The rather bland minister who speaks for all "thinking Americans" is not likely to offend many. So I wonder why Wright seemed to draw such heat? is it because he suggested that America might not be perfect? For those of us who remember singing "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" this is not news. We sang "God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law." No one said much about it so it may be that it is not sentiment that is being faulted but the one doing the faulting.

Jeremiah Wright's ministry in Chicago is probably not with out fault. Whose is? But when you scare people in power you need to be ready for the backlash. And when you influence those who may wield power in the future, then you are really dangerous. That may be the problem here. I like to think that "all thinking Americans" do exactly that; if so, this flap will pass.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday at MIT

It is Good Friday in a week where the Dalai Lama had to remind his followers what the way of peace might look like. For those who think the influence of religion is all negative, it is not a "good" day. Outside my office students are returning from Good Friday services, others are preparing for the Sabbath meal and Friday prayers have just let out. The voices of the Muslim community are loud, friendly and just like coffee hour at any white suburban congregation in Atlanta. A young friend has just dropped in to vent about his advisor and to tell me what is being done to fund Muslim relief efforts. We both think there is a lot of good work that can result if more resources can be developed for our shared religious enterprises here in the Religious Activities Center.

As Good Friday draws to a close, I will be home in Rockport with my wife; we will spend Saturday preparing for Easter. In the evening we will return to Cambridge and Easter Vigil Services at Harvard's Memorial Church. I will assist with communion at mid-night. The usual crowd is about 300 and there is comfort in knowing that Easter begins for us at the heart of Harvard. Growing up in a serious evangelical community Harvard was always preceded by "Godless". It is not.

Here at MIT we are not Godless either; we are a community of many traditions and sometimes it is unclear if our notion of the divine is but a reflection, but I take comfort that the conversation is vital and the voices are loud. Out of the cacophony meaning can emerge! Easter will be celebrated and for a brief time for Christians there will be clarity. On Monday we go back to reflecting the diversity of our world. That is the way it is.

May your Easter be blessed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Way Things Are: Losses and Blessings

To the MIT Community

Over the past weeks we have lost several members of the MIT family. Robert Wells died in a fall from his place of residence. J. Mark Schuster Professor of urban studies and planning lost a valiant battle with cancer. We said good-bye to emeritus faculty Louis Menand of political science and Frances Reintjes of electrical engineering.

At one level this is the natural order of things. At another, death always comes too soon. What we are reminded of, however, is that we are bound together in a shared enterprise. We are all touched by loss no matter whom, no matter when and no matter why.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have suffered loss. Members of the DU fraternity traveled to be with Robert’s family at a service in New York. Later this week and next month we will celebrate their lives. This is as it should be.

As the same time, our community is also blessed. On March 6, Prof. David Mindell and his wife Pamela, Housemasters in Edgerton Hall welcomed Lucia Flora Mindell to their family and we welcome her to ours; we celebrate with them.

Sunday morning our clocks turned forward, the sun stays with us later in the day and prospects of spring seem more real. Spring break is around the corner. Let us all find new energy for our work together, and for the ties of friendship and family that knit our community ever tighter. With time healing will come, but as the days pass let us resolve to be better friends, colleagues, workers and companions. The ties that bind us are wonderfully strong and should be celebrated each day.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Monday, February 25, 2008

Musing in February

As the day comes to an end, I have just returned from hearing MIT students talk about their trip to the Middle East and to Africa telling other students about what it is like to study in America. The College Admissions Arab Mentorship Program (CAAMP) is now two years old. This year students spoke to 3500 students and their parents in eight countries in the Middle East and North Africa. They report great interest on the part of young people who want to train so they can return to make a difference in their country of origin. This desire cuts across the ethnic and religious boundaries that divide the region. I am encouraged by this program and by the enthusiasm of students who take their time to make sure that others benefit from the opportunities they have had. CAAMP is one reason to have confidence that our future will be better than our past.

Another reason is an article recently in the New York Times noting that Dr. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, of he United Church of Christ has called for a dialogue between science and religion. Google the United Church of Christ to see their home page. The theological notion behind Thomas' call is the belief articulated strongly by the UCC that God is still at work in our world. In their phrase, "God is still speaking." You will see this banner on some of the UCC buildings in New England and I suspect elsewhere. The conversation Thomas call for is important for all involved if we are to be whole human beings. I hope that Dr. Thomas will visit MIT inviting our students to be part of the conversation.

The UCC's notion is in stark contrast to the position of many Christians who while holding to the notion that God is alive and well, suggest that most of the conversation stopped when the Bible appeared in the King James translation. Some will find of interest a recent book by Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer of L'Abri fame. For evangelical Christians everywhere the Schaeffers as as near to royalty as you are likely to get. Frank, a novelist, sometime artist, and self described spoiled son, puts them and many of those who found their way to L'Abri in context in Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All) of It Back. It is a good winter read.

Schaeffer lives near by. Maybe we can coax him to engage John Thomas in a conversation modeling the kind of civil dialogue our CAAMP students had in the Middle East and North Africa and the sort of conversation so valued here at MIT.

Blessings as daylight savings time draws ever closer.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This week over the Martin Luther King Holiday MIT hosted the Religion and Violence seminar from the Trinity Institute in New York City. Sponsored by the Technology and Culture Forum, the Addir Fellows and the Chaplain to the Institute, and part of the IAP schedule, the program registered over 65 people and included a stellar group of speakers, small groups and lots of good conversation.

For me it was a good way to reengage MIT. I had spent the week in Guatemala a few hours from Guatemala City at a health clinic with a group of doctors doing surgery. Those served were often from local communities scheduled as a result of diagnosis at the regular mobil health clinics. Over 70 individuals were seen and there were 93 surgical procedures performed. Patients ranged from children to very elderly men and women. For many the clinic provides the only medical and dental care available.

The motivation behind the clinic and the work being done very day of the week, is that it is the responsibility of Christians to live up to the best intent of their religious convictions, i.e. to love others asas they have been loved and as they love themselves. Nothing more and nothing less. The group was quietly ecumenical, drawing on Christian communities across the Protestant and Catholic spectrum. It looked a lot like MIT.

At the same time 7 students from MIT were in the Middle East encouraging Muslim students to come to the US to continue their education. Apart from some difficulty getting into Israel, the group had little trouble. In Jerusalem 250 students attended the session with the MIT students.

From Beruit one guidance counselor wrote: "Getting students to apply to the US is always a challenge. Getting those who can to apply to MIT is even a greater challenge. When you are at the top, realistic applicants tend to shy away, or at least my kids. Of course you always have the unrealistic applicants who are ready to apply regardless. I work hard to screen. So your initiative is very helpful as is all face to face contact."

The religious communities at MIT are all active during IAP in many ways. It is a vibrant and living community expressed in many forms. To be involved is to be blessed and to see beyond this corner of the world to what students often call "the real world". The surprise is that many find that what is real often looks a lot like the MIT they know and love. That is the way it should be.

One more week of IAP and then a new term begins.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute