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