Monday, December 7, 2009

A Chapter in the Life of David

1 Samuel 20:41-22:3

We have come to an episode in David’s life where he has fallen on hard times. The solitary life of the hillside shepherd became so easy for David that not even lions and bears could keep him from success on the job. But now he was far from the comforts of that routine. Pulled out of that routine he was put in another: in charge of an army. That was probably okay, and it was probably also okay to have freedom to roam the palace as the best friend of the king’s son.

But now the king wants him dead and David is on the run. And though he was capable of raising up an army to launch a coup, or just as capable of assassinating the king, or though he could count on the heir to the kingdom as an ally, instead, David resorts to what he knows best: get out of Dodge for the solitary life. Probably an okay move all things considered. But in search of relief, David does what we all tend to do: either in fear or in ignorance, he goes out of his way to add things to his life that he really doesn’t need.

He journeys away from the palace to Nob and where the priest Ahimelech, trembling, comes out to meet him. There’s no way this VIP travels alone and the priest knows trouble when he sees it. The first thing David does that he really doesn’t need to do is he adds a lie to his identity. Ironically, he does so in order to protect himself. And yet Ahimelech might be a citizen who probably wants to protect David just the way he is, as a fugitive from the king whom everyone knows is a tyrant. In this first instance of an opportunity to trust God, in order to protect himself in the present, David instead trusts in himself, by making a false claim to strength rather than trust God with an honest claim of weakness.

The second thing David does, that he really doesn’t need to do, is he asks Ahimelech to compromise the law and give him an abundance of bread: far more than he needs, but enough to maintain the lie he has started. In this second instance of an opportunity to trust God, David again trusts in himself. David constructs another false identity, and this time, projects it into the future.

The third thing David does, that he really doesn’t need to do, is he asks the priest to give him the weapons he used in the slaying of Goliath, weapons he himself gave up in memorial to the Lord. In this third instance of an opportunity to trust God, David again trusts in himself. David constructs another false identity, and this time, projects it into the past.

So how far did David get with these false identities? David’s unnecessary manipulations are laughable and it is God who has that last laugh. After deceiving others, David even manages to deceive himself into thinking that he can truly save himself by deceiving his enemies that he’s on their side. However, his enemies are not deceived. This would likely have been the end for David, but in beginning to come to his senses, David actually does save himself. Instead of claiming things, now he’s giving them up: feigning insanity, he gives up his present identity, the bread he was counting on, and his weapons of glory. Dribbling down his beard, David has given up everything, even his self-respect.

Giving up everything you have, even if it’s to your enemy, is safer than keeping anything for yourself. With nothing left, David escapes to the cave of Adullam. And then rather than having nothing, he now has more than he can handle. 400 men who would not submit to the corrupt administration of a tyrant are now his companions, including a family of brothers who never thought much of him in the first place, but now see David as all they’ve got.

The strength and resources of 400 men would be a significant source of relief for any man, especially one trained in statecraft and warfare. The loyalty and guidance and support of a family are often enough to encourage a man through any difficulty, especially when they’re relying on you. This is a collection of ordinary, reasonable people who have suffered loss and want just one ordinary, reasonable solution: to get back what belonged to them in the first place. And now David is captain over 400 ordinary, reasonable angry people.

What more is there to pray about and what more is there to do except to prepare yourself to bring about what’s fair and what’s right and what’s just? But David is not just any ordinary, reasonable man. David has seen God strip him of the serenity of the hillside, a friend who was closer than a brother, his rank, titles, and privileges, and even his honor, having surrendered to sins of lying and deceit. Where David finally arrives at is in the place God wanted him to be from the very beginning: David says to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you until I know what God will do for me.”

It’d be nice if he knew that from the beginning: to wait until he knew what God wanted to do. But David, like many of us, are too talented for that. In these hard times, what’s ordinary and reasonable for talented people like us is to do what David did at first: trust in no one but yourself, glory in the past, and prepare for the future. No one wants to be in a cave with 400 angry men and wait on God. Hard to imagine? It’s probably like waiting in front of Macy’s with 400 angry women on Black Friday, or in front of Best Buy with 400 angry teenagers. Maybe those images make a smelly cave sound not so bad? Quite plainly, David re-learned the only lesson that really matters: when in search of relief, whether alone or as captain of 400, it’s time to trust in the Lord.

David Thom

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christian Hope

This semester in chapel we have been looking at the importance of having hope during hard times. Last week, I watched a PBS special about how deregulation policies led to the fall of our economy. The economic experts placed too much confidence in the market to correct itself, and so advocated for a strong separation of state and the economy. This confidence in the market was based on a hope that there were large amounts of money to be made. Greed and a lack of accountability led to fraudulent activity, so we find ourselves in a recession.
God’s intention for His creation, this world and society, is described by the beautiful Hebrew word shalom. It is translated into English by the word “peace,” but it is much more than just the absence of violence. Shalom means flourishing at every level, economically, agriculturally, ecologically, psychologically and spiritually. But this is not a picture of our world and society today, is it? Things are not the way they are supposed to be and the problem doesn’t just lie in global forces that affect the economy. In the early 20th century, the British newspaper The Times invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" One of the invited authors was G.K. Chesterton. He responded:
Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton
As a Christian, I think Chesterton rightly understood that problems of the world lie ultimately within each of us. This resonates with me. When I place other things in my life—even good things like financial security, professional success, my children’s welfare—above God, shalom is broken. My kids resent me when I try to live my life through them. My ministry to college students becomes a means to make a name for myself rather than God. Service becomes self-oriented, a means of justifying my existence rather an overflow of joyful desire to serve God. When we put secondary things in Gods’ place, we become out of tune with God’s intent. We become like instruments in a symphony doing their own thing, rather than following the lead of the conductor. Now, economic, political, social and technological solutions are needed in the world, but the human heart needs to be re-oriented so that the right solutions are applied for the right reasons and in a right manner. Most essentially, we require a spiritual solution.
One of my favorite passages from my Christian tradition that gives me hope for the human condition (especially my own) is found in Hebrews 6:19-20: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever.” Jesus is personified as hope because of two essential roles he plays. One is that of high priest. By his life and death, he paid the penalty we owe for how we have vandalized shalom. In Israel, a high priest would make atonement in the temple for the sins of the people annually. Because this was a continuous cycle had no end, the question remained, “Are my sins forgiven?” But Jesus died for the sins of the world, once for all. God wants us to know that in Christ, we are forgiven and have free access to Him. This brings me levity, because the guilt and burden of my sin is gone. But there is more.
Secondly, Jesus plays the role of forerunner. That is, he has gone before. He is very much like the character Andy Dufrense in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Andy, played by Tim Robbins, befriends another inmate Red, played by Morgan Freeman, in Shawshank prison. Red has been in prison for the majority of his life and he struggles with hope. Andy repeatedly attempts to give Red hope, but he fears hope will let him down. Andy tells Red of his plans of restoring a boat and sailing it in Mexican waters. He tells Red that he will leave a stash of money hidden under a stone in local field. If Red were to make parole, he could pay for the bus fare to Mexico. One day, Andy escapes from prison and eventually crosses the border of Mexico. Andy sends Red a blank postcard, post-marked from a particular border town, letting Red know that he has found freedom. Red finally does make parole and the end of the movie, pictures Red walking down a Mexican beach towards Andy, who is sun-tanned and working on restoring a boat. Andy was Red’s forerunner. The Christian hope is that Jesus is our forerunner. He has conquered death and returned to the Father’s presence. Because he has gone before us, he can guide us, helping live not only without the burden of sin but with hope—a hope that recognizes that the restoration of shalom is at work now, within us and around us, and that this hope will be realized at a future time when shalom will be fully restored when Jesus ushers us into God’s presence. Then, we will flourish at a global level and at a personal level as God intended.

Mike Bost
Campus Crusade

Monday, November 16, 2009


Morning Prayers * MIT Chapel * November 10, 2009

In the fall of 1995, I arrived at the seminary I was to attend excited to meet my classmates. As it turns out they were an impressive bunch: lawyers, professors, a professional calligrapher, most graduates of fancy universities, most accustomed to succeeding at whatever they set out to do. We studied Church history together, we ate together, we prayed together in the chapel three times a day, we planned Holy Week services together, we did service work together, and we socialized together.

By the middle of our second year of seminary, none of us were speaking to one another. We were entirely fed up of one another. Rivalries had bred resentments
and disagreements had festered into deep irritations. We had frustrated one another's project (which was, generally, to shine like a star wherever we went). The ego is the last idol, as Anglican theologian John Macquarrie writes, and we were each clinging to ours like a life bouy.

The mutual, seething silence didn't last forever. Eventually, by the grace of God, we let go of those idols, we forgave one another for the sin of being
human, and we slowly helped one another recompose themselves as a more authentic human being. By the time we graduated, each of us had survived the shipwreck and were able to look back, see how far we had come, give thanks for one another's role in building up one another's capacity to love, and move out into our ministries much clearer about what we had to offer and what we didn't. We spent the next year and a half traveling all over the Midwest attending one another's ordinations, so committed were we to one another's ministry.

Community is the frustration and the fulfillment of the individual (John Macquarrie). We become who we are in community, and that is by design. My Christian faith teaches me that we are created by love, for love, and so we are necessarily relational. Our very personhood is never autonomous, and it is in the rough and tumble of real families, real friendships, real communities that we are shaped into the fullness of ourselves. It is unusually much less romantic than it sounds. But it gives me hope.

One of my favorite things, as a chaplain, is seeing how community mentors a student. In our Lutheran Episcopal Ministry community, we have lots of mountain-top
Experiences -- winter hikes, hymn sings, deeply moving sharing of stories, healing prayers. And all of that is great. But what is even more great, I think, is when things go wrong, when heated words are exchanged or anger voiced, when students are tempted to give up or walk away, but by the grace of God they stick with it, they stick with one another, they are honest about
their feelings and they work back towards relationship, a relationship that feels different now, bringing a self that feels different, too. This process helps them to be less fearful, to trust their voices, and to trust that they will be loved regardless.

Community like this is the real deal. It gives me hope. More than that, I need it. Living as I do in our "Bowling Alone" culture, I need social capital
that will not disappear if I dare to cry or yell or mess up. Communicating as I do in a Twittering world, I need people who will listen to me blather on from
time to time. Working as I do in a time when employers demand super-metrics and double overtime, I need people who will affirm that my value as a person cannot
be measured on a spreadsheet. Bear one another's burdens, Paul wrote to the Galatians. That's really what Jesus was talking about. That's really what
Amos and Hosea were talking about. That's really what God has always been talking about. That gives me hope.

I want to end with an excerpt from one of my favorite essays by one of my favorite authors. This is from Anne Lamott's "Why I make Sam go to church." It's not really about church; it's about communities and hope.

"[My son] Sam is the only kid he knows who goes to church -- who is made to go to church two or three times a month. He rarely wants to. This is not exactly
true: the truth is he never wants to go. What young boy would rather be in church on the weekends than hanging out with a friend?

You might think, noting the bitterness, the resignation, that he was being made to sit through a six-hour Latin mass. Or you might wonder why I make
this strapping, exuberant boy come with me most weeks, and if you were to ask, this is what I would say.

I make him because I can. I outweigh him by nearly seventy-five pounds.

But that is only part of it. The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want -- which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy -- are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful. I saw something once from the Jewish Theological Seminary that said, "A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be a part of a great meaning." Our funky little church is filled with people who are working for peace and freedom, who are out there on the streets and inside praying, and they are home writing letters, and they are at the shelters with giant platters of food.

It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools -- friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty -- and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they're enough."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Created from the same dust

Tuesdays in the Chapel
October 27, 2009
O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all fromthe same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.
-from The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh

In this passage, our redemption as spiritual beings is linked to our realization that we who live on this planet are indeed one family. And yet how far we seem at times from heeding His counsel to live as one human family.

Today I would like to share with you some insights from my tradition, the Bahá’í Faith, on why we should have hope when there is so much going on that can be cause for despair. The Bahá’í writings propose that the human family, collectively, has passed through stages of maturation analogous to infancy and childhood in the life of an individual. The “adulthood” will be a world civilization that functions according to principles of justice and unity. Right now we are passing through an adolescent stage, which is an extremely turbulent period. Teenagers, as we know, often learn the wisdom of adulthood the hard way; so it is with humankind. In this phase, we see both constructive and destructive process. Institutions that function
according to archaic values decline and collapse; this leads to hard and painful times. But it also clears the ground for the building up of new institutions and the cultivation of new ways of life. The processes of decay and destruction grab the headlines, while the constructive processes often go unnoticed, at least in the short run.

Consider race relations in the United States. I live in Cambridge, a city with an African-American mayor in a state with an African-American governor in a country with an African-American president. 150 years ago, slavery was a legally sanctioned institution in the US. Many back then, I am sure, thought that slavery would be around for a long time, that it’s abolition was a “pie in the sky” idea that does
not really accord with human nature. 150 years. Think about that! On a historical time scale, that’s blazingly fast and profound social change. This did not come about through some smooth and orderly progression of rational reforms. There was a lot of turmoil and struggle and sacrifice. But the point is we did succeed in moving forward, not only in terms of the outward legal and social changes,
but also in terms of our inner struggle against prejudice and alienation.

Now we are experiencing an economic crisis. I suggest that this is a blessing in disguise. Indeed the word crisis means a turning point; the Chinese character for crisis is a combination of the idea of “danger” with the idea of “opportunity.” Where is the opportunity in this economic crisis? For one thing, it makes us ask important questions that we would otherwise not be motivated to ask. How can
we devise an economic system that has the dynamism and flexibility of the market, while at the same time fostering the pursuit of something greater than a myopic and narrowly defined bottom line?

How can we learn to talk about such issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and open-minded investigation, rather than rancorous debate among adherents of rigidly defined ideologies? I obviously don’t propose to answer such big questions in a seven-minute chapel talk. My point is we are asking such questions. And each of us, motivated by the enobling teachings of our faiths, has the power to make a difference and to help the world get to the right answers.

In it’s 1985 statement on peace, the international governing council of the Bahá’í community makes the case for having hope in hard times: A candid acknowledgement that prejudice, war and exploitation have been the expression of immature stages in a vast historical process and that the human race is today experiencing the
unavoidable tumult which marks its collective coming of age is not a reason for despair but a prerequisite to undertaking the stupendous enterprise of building a peaceful world. That such an enterprise is possible, that the necessary constructive forces do exist, that unifying social structures can be erected, is the theme weurge you to examine.

Brian Aull

Monday, November 2, 2009

Richard Yamamoto Memorial

I wanted to talk today about the word “grace”.
When we see something sublime or beautiful, we say it is graceful.
But, as a noun, a grace is a favor granted us by the world.
All around us, every day, there are hundreds of graces, large and small. Little beautiful things everywhere.
We stop and look at them if we have the time; sometimes we are too busy to notice them.
Richard Yamamoto was seldom too busy – he saw the wonderful things around him, appreciated them and gave thanks.
I will always remember that my conversations with him inevitably began with a remark about some little grace: a tree, the well executed experiment in Junior Lab, frequently a car. There was always something he had just seen or done that had made an impression.
He always seemed grateful for the graces the world had given him and was always ready to share them.
And now, today, I see his life as a grace granted to me and the rest of us.
And today, with you, I am grateful for the life of Richard Yamamoto.

Prof. Peter Fisher

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesdays in the Chapel

We’re looking at finding hope in hard times. In this parable (The Prodigal Son) that Jesus told, certainly this younger son has fallen upon hard times. But it is the father, too, who has fallen upon hard times. What mother or father does not know the pain of witnessing a son or daughter make poor choices? Those poor choices sometimes throw into question the quality of the parents, resulting in shame or dishonor. What about a spouse who is unfaithful or who has given up hope? Or a friend who now doubts or rejects you? What do you do when those who are dear to you make choices which reflect poorly on your reputation?

Much has been made of the notion that because the father saw the son from a long way off, that the father has been anticipating or hoping for his son’s return. I think this may be true. But when you consider the hard times that the father might have been going through, any notion of joyful anticipation and hope is counter-intuitive. In a culture of honor, the son has not only wasted an inheritance, he has brought shame to his father and his household. Surely, a good father wants to restore a wayward son, but a proud father would certainly have difficult feelings about such a son.

Why do people look in the direction of another from a distance? We can well imagine the son standing in a tavern doorway at night, looking toward his father’s estate half-way through his indulgent excess saying, “Take that, old man.” What drove the son to such prodigal excess? That is the definition of a prodigal, by the way: to be excessive. The parable is known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But it may as well too be known as the Parable of the Prodigal Father. The Father is himself excessive. And his excessiveness may be behind how the boy ended up in his own excess.

If you really had a father who was genuinely graceful and giving in every way, embodying both love and truth, justice and mercy, such excessive goodness would be too much to behold. Such incredible love should drive you insane. Such love does not fit our realities. We need a whole lifetime to grasp the unconditional love of God. How can anyone be so genuinely good? As a child, you simply receive such goodness. But as you mature, your response is that you can’t possibly deserve such goodness, so you work hard to justify the goodness that you are surrounded by. You’re not working to earn it ~ you’re working to feel good about having it. You begin to feel justified in being so blessed because after all, you’re good too, by golly. That’s the state of the older brother in the parable, though I regret that we don’t have time to stop and try to understand him today.

But then that feeling gets old. Working to justify the goodness that you are surrounded by is unsatisfying because you weren’t designed to satisfy yourself. You chafe and you twist and you wriggle but you can’t shake the feeling that you now feel even more distant from the source of goodness in your life. When you can’t take the pressure you put on yourself to assure yourself of your worthiness in stoic excess, you turn and begin to assure yourself of your worthiness in nihilistic excess. When that too proves unsatisfying you have nothing left except one thing: to go back to work. To be productive. To serve and to help others. Is that wrong? No. But it’s fruitless and unsatisfying if it’s meant to give your life meaning because nothing you can do will ever give your life meaning. Only God Himself gives you and your life meaning.

Let’s cut to the last scene. The young man has a speech prepared. It sounds very nicely religious, he would get an A in Sunday school for it, but it’s really designed as an instrument of self-justification: “Dad, you have to take me back because I’m sorry and I’m willing to earn my way.” Chances are the boy has refined this speech in anticipation of a disagreement with his dad. One word out of his dad’s mouth and this boy would surely ramp up the speech to twice the intensity with twice the finely tuned arguments.

So what happens? The dad does indeed totally disagree with his son. How? He runs to him, embraces him, kisses him, and doesn’t say a word about his son’s speech. The robe, the ring, the sandals, the calf, they’re all loaded with symbolism about the restored relationship the son now has with the father, in total rejection the son’s proposition. In hard times, when you have been shamed or you have been deeply hurt by another, and that person turns to you, forgive.

You can’t offer an expression of forgiveness until there is readiness to receive. Sure, you have forgiven someone from the moment they turned away! Or, maybe not! But now you have. But if you have to use any words to convince someone that they’re already forgiven, they’ll argue you into the ground that they don’t need your forgiveness or want your forgiveness or deserve your forgiveness. Not once did Jesus expressly say to anyone that they are forgiven except to do so by healing them at the same time. His healing was an expression of His forgiveness that was already true. God’s forgiveness, His excessive prodigal grace, is already yours. He awaits your turning to Him to receive His love and mercy. He doesn’t need your words, He doesn’t want your words; He wants only you.

Dave Thom

Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding Hope in Hard Times

Finding Hope in Hard Times

Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi

Hope is in the acceptance of the fact that things change. Hope is in the acceptance of the monsoon after the scorching heat of summer; the accepting of autumn before the winter’s serene snow covers the ground in white velvet; hope is in the dormant stages of the green grass ready to come up in the spring; and the flower encased in a bud ready to blossom at the right time, not hastened by the expectations of the observer. Hope is like the sun that shines in the sky, at times covered with layers of clouds, but one knows that it is there at all times. Hope is in letting go of things that have withered away and in embracing the new. It is not a matter of “finding” hope but a simple gentle act of reminding oneself that it is always there—just beneath your feet, within your heart, and on the horizon.

Buddhists do not dismiss or overlook the hard times but simply accept them as part of the unfolding cosmic drama, a drama that we all take part in. However, we do have a tendency to harden our heart during hard times by giving in to our “primal” sense of fear, insecurity, jealousy, anger, and low self-esteem. In some ways this hardened attitude just magnifies our experience of difficult times and reinforces our negative destructive emotions, thereby weakening our emotional and physical immune system as we face into challenges that lie ahead. Imagine walking on a dark rainy night and trembling with fear as you see what appears to be a coiled snake in your path. Lightning strikes and you see that it was just a coiled piece of rope and with a deep out-breath your fear vanishes. This flash of lightning is hope.

Hope is not just a matter of faith for the blind but requires us to cultivate courage and strength. There are several unknown factors in one’s life. The very fact that we go to sleep every night hoping to wake up the next day is an act of faith. Hope is just a natural way of being human—it is the foundation for “eternal” optimism of the religious or the realistic sanguinity of the secular. There is no other way to look at another moment or another day but with this sense of emerging hope. It is possible with every fresh breath to gain a new sense of hope and of confidence within oneself to do just the right thing with the time and energy one has-- right here, right now.

Be in gratitude; develop a sense of humor; smile often; be kind to others, and compassionate to oneself—all of these cultivate hope and give this life of ours a wonderful sense of meaning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Second Chances

Tuesday in the Chapel
September 29, 2009

(1 Samuel 13:13-14 NIV) [13] "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. [14] But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD'S command."

Lately I have been thinking a lot about second chances. Last evening I sat through a discipline hearing for a student and felt the old hope that the young person would be given a chance to try again. Living in a dormitory we often deal with students who need a second chance, but the voice in my head also lets me know there is little sympathy for bleeding hearts. “You always want to give them another chance.” it says.

This sentiment has come to the fore because of the conduct on at the national level by John Edwards, but the problem of bad behavior seems to be an occupational malady of public officials who seem never to note that their sense of invincibility is seriously compromised and they never seem to note the impact of their behavior on others. In Edwards case his attractive and dying wife stands out as do the images of his young children. And of course there is the other woman and the child resulting from their liason. I think I would prefer to shoot those who behave as he has, but I cannot. I hope he has a chance to live a long and redemptive life.

We also have stories that remind us such a life is possible for public figures. Such is the tale of Ted Kennedy. His story should be a gospel text for those who believe in redemption. For many of us his pubic career should have ended at Chappaquiddick. It didn’t. It could have ended after the incident in Florida with his nephew imitating his bad behavior. It didn’t. When he died the stories told made us realize his contributions to the story of our Repubic and we were forced to rethink his life. He was more than many of us thought as his peers and critics were quick to to tell us. He lived long enough to achieve public redemption that some only find in memory when the edges are worn down and the wounds healed.

In the Bible there are lots of second chances. King David stands out for his ability to lead a long and convoluted life that could be described as redemptive. Condemned by his own prophets, guilty of adultery and the abuse of power he came to be known as one who was beloved by God. His story is instructive.

The point is that his hard times gave way to hope and constructive actions. He was able to redeem his time. The Bible is a book of second chances and it is appropriate on this day after Yom Kippur that we give attention to clearing the deck and starting over. When I think of strategies for coping with hard times, difficult outcomes, hard decisions, the notion that tomorrow can be better than today is important. Equally important is the notion that we do not need to go into tomorrow bearing the sins and failings of yesterday.

Let us pray: God may we be wise enough to believe in second chances; strong enough to offer them to all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Finding Hope

Tuesdays in the Chapel at MIT is a new weekly morning period of reflection and meditation led by members of the chaplaincy and the MIT community. These are the words of the Chaplain to the Institute, Robert M. Randolph.

Thoughts for the day:

Romans: 8:38 and 39: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any thing else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As a Christian this text is a concise statement of what often gets me through the day. I believe that in the presence of death and when overwhelmed by the challenges of life, God remains with me/us. We cannot be separated from the love and care of God. The loss of family members, the deaths of good friends- I have done a memorial service a month this year and often more than one- the loss of jobs, declining savings, hopelessness is not surprising. Graduation in June, usually the most hopeful of moments, was marked by the anxiety of those who had not found jobs.

Yet I have been shocked by the hopelessness that has translated into anger and incivility in our country as people have attacked one another at town meetings and vilified our elected leaders in ways that would have been unthinkable in recent memory. The radical left seems to have been not as creative as they thought. Alfred E. Neuman as President does not hold a candle to our President being likened to Hitler.

As we go into fall many for good reason feel despair. Religious people are not unfamiliar with that emotion. Think for a moment of the Israelites on the edge of the wilderness, the Christian community pre-Easter morning. Christianity grew out of a hopeless situation. The Easter experience is the experience of finding hope in the most dire of circumstance. The Christian response shaped the world. In Paul’s words in 2nd Cor. 4:8 “We are afflicted in everyway but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed…
Christians believe that Jesus conquered death; therefore there is nothing the world can do to us that can destroy hope. So it is a paradox that those claiming to wear the name of Jesus, find their hope in anger that pits friend against friend rather than in dialogue that allows for conversation and compromise. Peter Gomes likes to say that Christian hope is less about Jesus than it is about us. If Jesus has taken the sting of death away, how are we to live? And for Jesus I do not think the answer to that question is that we are to live as mean-spirited, frightened, foolish folk who wear side-arms to demonstrate that we are not afraid.
Christians know that death is not the end of the story; they learned that their struggles ere not the end of the story. So too with us. We live in this moment called to make a better world, to heal its broken places so that our children and their children will not inherit fear, but the hope of problems solved and good will triumphant. Peace is possible; do not listen to those who say we must always give into our fears. Reform in health care is doable; the economy can be reborn. As a child I grew up knowing the fear of the stranger who did not look like me; I was taught to fear those who were of different color from my family , those who talked differently were to be avoided. Time and hard work has changed that world; there is no reason why the problems we face will not respond the hard work of reasonable men and women. This is God’s work and God is at work with us in remaking our world.

Let us pray: God give us courage as we face the challenges of our time; give us hope that will sustain us.

Hear our prayer.

Robert M. Randolph

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday's In the Chapel: Hope in Hard Times

On September 22, 2009 we are going to do something at MIT we have not done before--or at least I do not think we have done it before--we are going to begin a series of weekly gatherings in the chapel. There will be a theme for the year. This beginning series will have as its theme: "Finding hope in hard times". We will gather each Tuesday morning when MIT is in session at 8:30 AM for 20 minutes. There will be music, words of inspiration and an opportunity to find focus for the week.

To some it is counter-intuitive to add another "meeting" to already busy schedules, but some of us believe that we can find inspiration in the shared thoughts of friends, students, and the great religious traditions of our world. I invite you to send me your favorite resources for inspiration so that we might draw on them to shape our time together. In turn, I will let you know what happens with this modest experiment.

The Chaplain to the Institute will speak on the 22nd and the 29th. Other chaplains and members of the community will follow. Come and join us!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The School Year Begins

The summer is nearly over. You can tell it is nearly September. Early in the day, should you be up , the sun has not risen and the Globe awaits on the edge of darkness. Come November the morning will be light and the evening dark but now the sound of travel cases is heard on the sidewalk as frosh arrive. They come from every corner of our world and they bring with them the stuff of their lives: clothes to wear, music to listen to, phones to connect them with family and friends, faiths to live by, with and over against. The Chaplaincy begins to stir and W-ll is alive with activity.

On August 28 Hillel Shabbat Services at 6 PM followed by a community dinner.

On August 29 Hillel Orthodox Shabbat Services will be held at 9:00 in W-11 with lunch at 12:00 pm.

On Sunday, August 30th, Orientation begins and services will be held across campus. Some are surprised by the amount of religious activity on campus; they shouldn't be. MIT is a diverse community with a plethora of faith communities represented. W-11, on the corner of Amherst Street and Massachusetts Avenue is the center of religious activities.

On August 30:

The Tech Catholic Community will gather for at 9 AM for Mass in Kresge.

A Welcome Worship Service will be held at 9:30 AM in the MIT Chapel sponsored by the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry and the Protestant Student Community.

The Baptist Brunch and service will be held in W-11, the Main Dining Room at 9:30.

These services precede the President's Convocation at 11 AM in Killian Court (Rain location, Rockwell Cage).

In the afternoon, the Chaplain to the Institute will officiate at the wedding David Griffith and Emily Huhn. Their wedding will be the eighth wedding I have officiated at since school ended in May.

In the weeks ahead, many activities originating with our religious communities will take place. For example:

The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values

The Attention Revolution
a multimethod inquiry into meditation, cognition, emotion, and motivation

Speakers: Cilfford Saron and B. Alan Wallace

September 11, 2009 at 6PM
Venue: MIT (TBA)

Addir Fellows
"From Womb to Tomb: Cultural and Religious Practices of Life Cycle Events among World Religions"
Main Dining Room in W11 on Tues. 9/22 7:30 PM

The Chaplain's Seminar
October 21, 2009
7:30 PM
"Searching for God in Godforsaken Times and Places"
Dr. Hubert G. Locke
Location: TBA

Watch for other events in this vibrant world wide community of faiths.

Friday, July 10, 2009

May by Garrison Keillor

With July 4th past, it seems time to note this sonnet.

We're here to honor those who went to war
And did not mean to die, but did die, grievously,
In eighteen sixty-one and in two-thousand four
though they were amiable as you or me.
Young and hopeful, knowing little of horror--
Singers and athletes, and gently bred.
Good sergeants turned them into warriors,
and at the end, they were moving straight ahead.
As we look on these gravestones, row on row on row,
See the men as they were, laughing and joking,
On that bright irreverent morning long ago,
And once more, let our hearts be broken.
God have mercy on them for their unhappy gift.
May we live the good lives they might have lived.

Keillor, 77 Love Sonnets, p.115 (2009)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Dalai Lama was here!

This past week on Wednesday and Thursday the Dalai Lama visited MIT. He blessed the Mandala in Simmons Hall, planted a tree to remind us of his visit and then spoke in Kresge Auditorium to an admiring audience. He is 73 years old, self-deprecating, thoughtful and wise. He is a symbol of the aspirations of the Tibetan people for their homeland. He seems to realize that what is desired will more likely be gained through greater freedom within China rather than through the freedom of Tibet itself.

Here at MIT, however, he focused on the establishment of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. As the Center claims its place here at MIT it will complement other programs that give our students opportunities to ask "Why?" questions along with the "How?" questions they are so good at answering. If all goes as plans the Center will partner with others to interject into the MIT experience a clear component of moral reasoning. This has been a concern here since the Institute was founded, but it took on special significance in the aftermath of World War 2 and during the presidency of James Killian. Killian built the MIT Chapel and Kresge Auditorium, The Meetinghouse of MIT, to encourage dialogue about matters of meaning. His dream was deferred by the Cold War, but efforts like the Technology and Culture Forum have keep the flame alive. Now complemented by the Center a rising tide of concern for ethical behavior should raise all our efforts in this realm. It is appropriate that the Center resides in Religious Life for it draws on the great teachers of the religious world while speaking to all of human kind in a voice that is shaped not only by religious tradition, but also by the voices and wisdom of non-believers.

What will be accomplished? If we are true to our intent, we will be part of the effort to prepare MIT students for intentional, moral lives in a world sorely tested by greed and the lack of compassion. His Holiness reminded us of our purpose and we are grateful that he passed this way.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Thursday, April 9, 2009

this week-end

This week the Religious Activities Center lives up to its name. Passover began last night. Christians will observe Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Muslim community will have their regular noon prayers on Friday overflowing into the main dining room. The Christians in our community will be moving back and forth to the chapel as Catholics and Protestants observe Good Friday. On Sunday St. Paul's AME Church will have it's Easter Service in Kresge and that evening Dr. Heidi Baker will hold a worship service at 7:30 in Kresge.

It is a vital and respectful time as all of these traditions observe important rituals and intersect as they meet each other. The space we share at MIT means that there is a foundation of respect that fosters civility and humility before differences. In these difficult times, economically and religiously, observing this interaction may be the best sermon one can hear on Easter.

This is also a time for families to come together. My wife and I will be in Denver with our daughter for Easter. While single, she has a community of friends and family who join her for a celebratory meal. It is a good time of the year as the world tilts a bit toward warmth and we observe rebirth all around us.

For students this is a time of renewed focus as they point toward the end of the school year. Observed religious traditions for many make the final push more palatable and friendships often cross religious boundaries once thought impermeable. It is a good time to remember that things do change.


Robert M. Randolph

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maundy Thursday

I thought some checking this blog would enjoy knowing what is going on in the MIT chapel this week; here are the plans for the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry for today.

Maundy Wednesday FAQs:

Q: Why is LEM celebrating Maundy Thursday on a Wednesday?
A: Habit -- We normally meet on a Wednesday night, so we decided to keep to that
during Holy Week.

Q: Where is the service tomorrow?
A: In the Main Dining Room of W11 at 5:15 pm, because we'll be eating dinner as
part of our worship service.

Q: Sounds weird. Why would we do that?
A: Because Maundy Wednesday commemorates the Last Supper, so like Jesus and the
disciples on that night, we will gather at the table to bless, break, and share
bread (and olives, fruit, cheese, other simple foods).

Q: Why is it called "Maundy" something?
A: The Latin word for "commandment" is "maundatum," from which we get "maundy."
The whole evening centers around Christ's commandment to his disciples that we
love one another as he loves us.

Q: Can we love one another without washing one another's feet?
A: Yes, but Jesus washed his disciples' feet on the last night of his life as a
sign of love for them. Following his example, we'll be invited to participate
in footwashing.

Q: Do I have to?
A: No, you can do so if you'd like, or you can simply pray, meditate, and sing
while other's participate.

Q: Will the water be warm?
A: Yes.

Q: Will there be a collection, like we usually do on Wednesdays?
A: We will take up a collection, but this one will be special. It is an old
traditions (like, centuries old) that the collections during Holy Week go to
support the work of the church in the Holy Land. Our collection from Wednesday
and Friday this week will go to Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and the
Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, both of which do amazing work supporting those
in need.

Q: Will there be a sermon?
A: Nope. But there will be a time for sharing a story or remembrance about a way
that you have experienced "agape," or unconditional love. You might think about
that ahead of time & consider what & whether you might share something.

Q: How will tomorrow's service end?
A: We will end in silence, leaving without chatting with one another, without a
dismissal or blessing. The service will continue on Friday at noon in the

Q: What if I have a class on Friday at noon?
A: Good Friday is a recognized religious holiday; if you let your
instructor/professor/advisor know ahead of time of your plan to attend the
service, Institute policy is that you should be excused.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Veritas Forum at MIT

The Veritas Forum at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
March 11-14, 2009

Mia Chung
World-class concert pianist
Mia Chung is a world-class concert pianist, described by the New York Times as "Uncommonly insightful, individualistic, lively" and "technically dazzling". In 1997, she received the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the highest recognition for young concert artists in the United States and her debut recording on the Channel Classics label was selected as "Best of the Year".
An active recitalist, known for her combinations of performance and engaging talk, Mia has performed in major concert halls around the world. Chosen as an Artistic Ambassador by the United States Information Agency in 1993, Ms. Chung toured Thailand, Singapore, Tonga and the former Soviet Union, becoming the first American pianist to perform in Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Turkmenistan.
Mia grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received a master's degree from Yale University and a doctorate from the Juilliard School. Mia is currently Artist-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Gordon College.
Gerald Gabrielse
Leverett Professor of Physics at Harvard University
Gerald Gabrielse has been a Professor of Physics at Harvard University since 1987 and chaired the physics department from 2000-2003. He has given nearly 345 invited talks at scientific conferences and university colloquia, and is the author of more than 135 scientific publications.
Gabrielse has been honored by Harvard, both for his teaching and for his research. In 2000, his "Reality Physics" course for non-science students earned him the Harvard's Levenson Teaching Award for exceptional undergraduate teaching by senior faculty. In 2004, Gabrielse received Harvard's George Ledlie Prize for his scientific accomplishment of creating and observing antimatter atoms -- a prize awarded every two years to someone affiliated with the University who "has by research, discovery or otherwise made the most valuable contribution to science, or in any way for the benefit of mankind."
Gabrielse’s physics research activities are currently focused upon antihydrogen experiments, upon measuring the electron magnetic moment and the fine structure constant, and upon precise laser spectroscopy of helium.
Kevin Gosa
Award-winning saxophonist and Conference Director for the International Arts Movement
Kevin Gosa is a progressive saxophonist and two-time co-recipient of the DownBeat Magazine Award for Best Collegiate Instrumental Chamber Ensemble. He challenges people’s preconceptions about how the saxophone should sound and what it should play, by performing what is generally considered 'classical' music in places where it's not often heard. Based in New York, Kevin has performed at The Knitting Factory, the Bitter End, the Joyce SOHO, the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, the Bowery Poetry Club, the Stain Bar, as well as Grace Church Van Vorst and the Brennan Courthouse in Jersey City. Kevin has turned his attention recently to composition. One of his original compositions for solo saxaphone – “The Number One” – will be of particular interest to students at MIT!
Kevin received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Saxophone from the University of Kansas. He is an active member of and Membership/Conference Director for the International Arts Movement, attends the Village Church; enjoys writing poetry; and ran the 2007 ING New York City Marathon in just over 4 hours. For a little extra fun, Kevin plays guitar, bass guitar, and mandolin.
Eric Gregory
Assistant Professor of Religion, Princeton University
Eric Gregory joined the faculty of Princeton in 2001. His teaching and research interests include religious and philosophical ethics, theology, political theory, bioethics, and the role of religion in public life. In 2007 he was awarded Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching. A graduate of Harvard College, he did graduate studies in theology at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and received his doctorate in religious studies from Yale University. He is the author of Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship (Chicago, 2008), and various articles on religion and social ethics, including “Before the Original Position: The Neo-Orthodox Theology of the Young John Rawls” (Journal of Religious Ethics, 2007). He has received fellowships from the Erasmus Institute, University of Notre Dame, the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His current project examines secular and religious perspectives on global justice in light of the reception history of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
John Hare
Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School
John Hare is a British classicist, ethicist, and currently Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School. Educated at Oxford and Princeton, he was Professor of Philosophy at Lehigh University from 1975 to 1989. He was Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College from 1989 to 2003. He has been Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University since 2003.
Hare's best-known book, The Moral Gap, develops an account of the need for God's assistance in meeting the moral demand of which God is the source. In God's Call he discusses the divine command theory of morality, analyzing texts in Duns Scotus, Kant and contemporary moral theory. In Why Bother Being Good? he gives a non-technical treatment of the questions, 'Can we be morally good?' and 'Why should we be morally good?'. He has also written a commentary on Plato's Euthyhphro in the Bryn Mawr series, and Ethics and International Affairs, with Carey B. Joynt. His interests extend to ancient philosophy, medieval Franciscan philosophy, Kant, Kierkegaard, contemporary ethical theory, the theory of the atonement, medical ethics and international relations (he has worked in a teaching hospital and for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives) and aesthetics (he is a published composer of church music).
Ian Hutchinson, Moderator
Head of Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT
Robert Randolph, Panel Moderator
Chaplain to the Institute, MIT
Peter Singer
Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University
Peter Singer is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. He first became internationally known after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975, which had a significant impact on the Animal Rights Movement. Singer has been described by The New Yorker as “the most influential living philosopher” and named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His work dealing with ethics and aspects of human life has generated intense debate within the academy as well as in the wider community.
Singer was educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford and has taught at the University of Oxford, La Trobe University and Monash University. He was the founding President of the International Association of Bioethics and, with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. His many books include: Democracy and Disobedience; Practical Ethics; The Expanding Circle; Marx; Hegel; The Reproduction Revolution, Should the Baby Live?, How Are We to Live?, Rethinking Life and Death; One World; Pushing Time Away; The President of Good and Evil; and, with Jim Mason, The Ethics of What We Eat. His latest publication is entitled The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Lutheran Chaplain at MIT

Installation of Timothy Seitz
Lutheran Chaplain at MIT
February 18, 2009
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8
Job. 32:1-10
Gospel Lesson: Luke 6:276-38

As the Season of Epiphany draws to a close, we turn our attention next week to the beginning of Lent and journey to the cross. The rhythm of the seasons reflect what is going on outside as the light lengthens. In our bones we know that spring is nearer than it once was and there are cautious blades of hope emerging from the dark of winter. Just do not talk about it. This next Sunday we will celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus and share with Peter his valiant effort to make sense of the world in which he found himself living.

Like Peter we are sometimes a bit confused. We are at the end of one season and the beginning of another. In all of this transition here is Timothy Seitz, well named, well thought of, inviting us to formally recognize his new role here at MIT. It is not as if he has not been working with Amy and the troops of LEM for months, but even at MIT we sometimes stop and look at what we are doing and intentionally say: “God help us”. And that is what we are about today: we are asking God to bless in a special way the ministry here that is Tim’s.

Given the season, the timing, we might frame the question this way: "Tim, are you a light to the Gentiles or a cause for penance?" I have, you see, listened to the texts for the evening and they give me pause. The words of Isaiah are well known reminders to the faithful of the need to go and serve where God calls us. We have seen these last months Tim’s willingness to do just that. Chalk up one for “light”

Job’s friend, Elihu, is quick to remind us that youth is not a hindrance to service. It was Garrison Keillor who noted that “Many say wisdom comes with age, truth be told sometimes age comes alone.” Tim may be the youngest of our current chaplains, but we do not hold his age against him. Tim is after all not Elihu. But I will just note the facts and chalk one up for the possibility of penance.

Our Gospel text has offered familiar comfort to both young and old with the charge to love, to serve, to practice mercy and to refrain from judgment. This is important stuff if one wants to be a chaplain at MIT; it is important stuff if one wants to be a whole human being. I spent some time recently with a student who had become a Christian only a few years ago and as she came to the end of her academic career, she found herself drawn closer to the Christ she had found in the Bible, the Christ who could suggest to his followers “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” But, why, she asked, are Christians so judgmental of other Christians? It is a good question that we all must answer.

But Tim, let me move from the reflective to the directive. It is appropriate to be clear that you come to this community as light, but it is also not inappropriate to shift the focus: you have answered God’s call by coming here. There are many gods at MIT, but you come as the servant of the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. That is an important distinction. Sometimes you will wonder who you are serving.

MIT is a place where problems are solved, puzzles completed, progress defined. The covenant is often very personal: “There is a mountain and I can climb it. There is a problem and I can solve it.” The “Why” questions: why climb the mountain? Why solve the problem? are not often asked. Having discovered new life forms and being asked on NPR how they felt when they thought about what they had done, some MIT students recently drew back in silence finally offering in response that they really had not given it much thought, they were after all only problem solvers. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “You can do anything you want to do, but not everything you do is helpful.” Your task, Tim, is to help this community ask the big questions: why are we here? Who do we serve? What is helpful?

Tim, as a chaplain who has answered God’s call to MIT, you have the chance to help us all reorder our lives around those things that are true, honorable, just and pure (Philippians 4:4). You must in Sharon Park’s words speak of “God as the gift of faith…an orienting consciousness that is both transcendent and immanent, both ultimate and intimate. (Parks, p.23) Such a God calls us away from the covenant of one into community and our commitment to one another will help us make a better world.

Now about your relative youth, Tim! It is a cause for penance only when it creates envy in those my age. You bring to us experiences in ministry elsewhere; you have zeal that is commensurate with your age, but that I am sure you do not always feel given that you are a new parent. I would like to tell you that you will get over it, but the truth is, you will never get over it. You will simply adjust. As the new chaplain you do not know what you cannot do and that means for the rest of us you can ask questions that we cannot ask since we are supposed to know the answers. Put another way, we can all benefit from your fresh insights. It is a great blessing to offer to a community a new set of eyes through which to see the world.

Even as you ask hard questions, listen carefully; there are some things that only experience can teach. If you do not listen you cannot measure the effectiveness of your work. I tell people that you will need time to get things in perspective and before you can measure how effective you are so do not be too hard on yourself. Your predecessors have served lengthy terms and done good work. You will do well to follow their example.

Finally, the Gospel text reminds us that we live in a diverse world that makes unique demands. As God’s person you do not have all the answers to the questions you will face here; you are not called to have all the answers. You are called to show up, to listen and to draw on your training, your experience and to lean on your peers. In your cooperative ministry Amy is a gift beyond measure; I suspect you already know that.

This is not a one size fits all circumstances kind of place. You will have to improvise, to think on your feet, to draw deeply from your prayer life, your devotional resources. You will not always know what to say or do; there are people at MIT who do not think you belong here. That is true in the church as well, but here they are not bashful about telling you their feelings. Be willing to be quiet and to listen.

You come to us well trained and I believe it is a blessing for you and for us that you will also serve a parish. That environment will help keep you grounded in the concerns of people some of us seldom see. They will tell you how “awesome” it is to be a chaplain at MIT and you will remind them it is “awesome” to be a pastor at Faith Lutheran.

Finally, Tim, let me remind you that your immediate predecessors here at MIT have been women of great faith and great ability. You stand on strong shoulders and I know their prayers join ours in support of your ministry.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Shoulders We Stand On

William Weed Kaufmann died in December. He had retired from MIT's department of Political Science twenty four years ago. He then spent time at Harvard. He was 90 when he died. Sitting in the quiet of the chapel and listening to the words spoken about him, I thought that it would have been nice if every MIT student could have heard about Dr. Kaufmann and his willingness to speak truth to power. John Deutch called it "speaking facts to power". Kaufmann served every defense secretary from 1961-1981; the list ran from Robert McNamara to Harold Brown. He was not afraid to criticize even policies he had helped formulate as he did with the notion of mutual destruction. He argued for a more nuanced policy that offered chances to step back from the edge of war. William Kaufmann was a man of courage who taught a generation of analysts who shaped American nuclear policy.

He had outlived friends as well as enemies, but his legacy gave me pause as I remembered how it had been to work with him on the Committee on Academic Performance in his last years at the Institute. He brought to the work of an involved faculty member the same kind of low key courage; he was interested in doing the right thing and it did not matter who got the credit. He wanted the facts to speak for themselves and they did.

MIT is a heady place and it has an impact on the wider world. That impact is more humane because of Bill Kaufmann and those of like mind. I see in our current community people he could relate to because they value the things he valued: virtue over visibility, right over might and a sense of realism that allowed bromides to mean something. As the chaplaincy evolves I think William Kaufmann would have been pleased.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good Religion/Bad Religion

Last night we gathered on the steps of 77 Massachusetts Ave. to show our support for peace in Gaza. It was a small group of students, Christians, Jews and Muslims and probably a few uncommitted fellow travelers. Amnesty International was represented. Having been asked to speak, here is what I said:

January 13, 2009
Vigil for Peace
77 Massachusetts Ave.

My Friends, you are not gathered here to hear me, but rather to show your support those who support the peace process in Gaza. We are gathered here because we value peace. There is a bumper sticker making the rounds these days that contrasts the costs of war with the cost of peace. Peace is priceless. We believe that.

This does not mean that we are naïve. But it does mean that Israel should not have to deal with Hamas rockets targeting its cities and towns. The citizens of Gaza, Christian, Muslims and Jews should not be caught in the crossfire. For peace to be achieved we need leaders who are willing to bear the burden of peacemaking. We look to Washington to support the peace process, but closer to home we take upon ourselves the burden of being those who support peace.

We are here this evening to bear our witness to that noble cause.
We are here to say to Israel that a war that puts civilians at risk—current casualties put the dead and wounded civilians, men women and children at an unacceptable level—cannot achieve the purposes Israel seeks.

We are here to say to Hamas, that the destruction of Israel is not a viable goal and the willingness to use civilians for political purposes is inhumane.

We are here to say: stand down, step back, learn forgiveness.

Let our prayer be:

We shall not rejoice when our enemy falls;
We shall not exult when our enemy stumbles.

Never shall we say: I will do to them as they have done to me; I will repay them according to their deeds.

We shall not hate one another in our hearts; we shall love our neighbors as we love ourselves.


The religious sentiment that sees the value in all of human kind, that cares for our world because it is our home and we bear responsibility for its well being, is a sentiment worth endorsing, commending and practicing. I think of religion as portrayed in two recent movies: Charlie Wilson's War and The Kite Runner. In both films Islamic Fundamentalism is offered as a counterpoint to those who care for the stranger, and are willing to live with the ambiguity of modern life. There are Jews and Christians who could just as easily have played the role. Last evening here at MIT I was privileged to stand with young people whose religious commitment opens them to the world and calls for peace. These young people will change the world.