Friday, January 14, 2011


Mark Miller recently wrote in The Washington Post: "Sensible responses to senseless violence come more from preachers than pundits. I suppose that's because clergy are called on routinely to comfort their flocks in the face of life's inexplicable horrors and loss. Wisdom, they seem to know from experience, lies in accepting that there are few answers, only questions and fears."

Miller offers a worthy challenge for those of us in the God game. Response does not come easily. It is a mark of our world when violence touches us. It is always been that way. We have just passed through the season when Christians point to the coming of one who promised peace on earth and yet we do not experience such. In fact the followers of the Prince of Peace often justify violence as a means of advancing their agenda. You have only to remember a Sunday morning in Kansas to know what I mean.

I for one am inclined to the notion that the Divine Presence we seek to discover and understand is a bit beyond our reach. We see God's hand in the journey of Abraham, the ministry of Jesus, the message of Mohammed and maybe even the work of Joseph Smith. There are others reaching out with mind and hand and we are left always still looking. Note the doctor who recently reminded us that we needed to have room for miracles in our understanding of the world.

I affirm the notion that the presence of God in our lives is in fact best seen in our willingness to give miracles a place in our world view. We are not all powerful. What we will and wish we often cannot make real but we continue to try--and to know--and I believe that in so doing we walk anew with Abraham who left father and kin to pursue a dream. We learned in Tucson that like the ministry of Jesus, suffering is part of our lives.

There is much to know and part of learning is living. And living sometimes hurts terribly. It is not enough to say there is no meaning nor is it enough to say we are not God and therefore will never understand. We must role back the edges of mystery, and by living well, creating a world worthy of our children. That is, as our President reminded us, good work. It may even be God's work.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Year's End

When the year ended it struck me that I had just come through some moments worth thinking about. The first was a funeral for a woman who died at 88; we had buried her husband earlier in the year but as the year wound down this good wife, mother, grandmother died. She had come to Boston 44 years ago and made a good life with her husband of 56 years. They were from Barbadoes. She loved to travel, to dance and to shop; and she enjoyed a good walk around Jamaica Pond.

I left the funeral service to attend a Comic Relief benefit here at MIT; there were over 600 people in the audience and the money collected for tickets went to support flood relief in Pakistan. The comics were funny, sharp and self-deprecating. Change a few phrases and you could have been in the Catskills or in Nashville at the Opry.

Both experiences gave me insight into what it means to become an American. You have to work hard and you have to keep a sense of humor. And in both cases it pays to remember your religious roots. Our faith traditions help us make sense of what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land. Sometimes we laugh; sometimes we cry and in the end we move forward into the new year. Now may be time to examine anew our spiritual resources and to think about how we use them for good or ill.

In my experience one of the strongest components of the Christian tradition is the call to self-examination. We often confront it around the new year when we think about resolutions we might wish to make and keep. We resolve to change behaviors or attitudes that leave us lessened in their presence. On Tuesday mornings when we at MIT gather in the chapel for a few moments we often talk about matters that help make us whole human beings. Resolutions and introspective reflections keep us honest and moving forward.

There are moments in our lives when our religious traditions do not serve us as well. These moments include those times when our religious views cause us to expect less than their best from friends who might be different from our norm. "You know how those people are." Maybe here is a time for some serious introspection; do we really know how "they" are? I doubt it and the new year is a time to share our common humanity and expect the best of one another.

That could be a loud resolution or simply a quiet commitment.