At the Renaissance Week-end over July 4th, I was asked to offer Last Words as part of the final session, i.e. what would one say if they knew these would be their last words. The meaning is ambiguous, but provocative. My comments follow:
I am the first chaplain to the Institute. That I was appointed speaks to the fact that religious sentiment has not ceased to be a force in our world as many thought might happen when we moved into the 21st century. In fact we live in a time when the search for spiritual sustenance seems to be on the rise. At the same time, new data tells us that young adults are also turning their backs on traditional faith expressions in an alarming rate. So we are living in a time of great paradox.
My biases tell me that the Religious Right is to blame for the rejection of religious sentiment. My head tells me that my generation has not made a very good case for staying engaged in the search for meaning. We suffer as a result.
So my last words are to call for reengagement with the values and virtues of the religious faiths we have inherited. My office at MIT stands/sits between the Muslim Prayer-room and the space created for religious observance by the folks from Hillel. The young people from these two communities of the Abrahamic traditions have found sustenance and strength in their faith. They are challenged to heal the world and engage in acts of charity as a major commitment expressing their beliefs. They are not a majority of their peers, but represent a bit of leaven in a very large loaf.
Christian students are scattered in their seeking having suffered from the curse of being the establishment. They expect the benefits of status without the work needed to understand how they got where they are. Self-understanding is needed before meaningful service can occur.
I paint with a broad brush and I am not suggesting that at the end of the day Christianity, Judaism and Islam are essentially the same thing. I know the strengths of other religious communities as well. What I am suggesting is that it is worth our time to become reacquainted with the values and virtues of our faith traditions. To know what is demanded if we love God and neighbor and to know the value of a self-correcting community will give us the substance needed to ask the next great question: How then shall we live?
So I challenge you to draw from the deep wells we have inherited. It is not enough to be smart, we must be wise. Reengagement allows us to ask the hard questions about differences. It also means we are setting an example for those who look to us for guidance and wisdom. Trust me, they are watching.
Robert M. Randolph