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