Richard R. Crocker
September 19, 2010
I welcome you all to Dartmouth and especially Rollins Chapel. I hope that this place will become a refuge for you, and an inspiration.
You have come to college, I believe and hope, to seek answers for big questions. Big questions. Questions such as: what is the purpose of my life? Why is there war? Can it ever be ended? Why is there suffering? Can it be redeemed? What is really real? Is it only material? Or is there another kind of reality? Is temporality essential to all reality, or is there something real called eternity? These are big questions – questions you may already have thought about, but questions that are even more appropriate to your age and to a college such as Dartmouth.
But do not be deceived. You will not always find encouragement for asking such questions. Some people – fellow students and even some faculty members, will declare that such questions are foolish. Many more will simply seek distractions from the big questions by asking many little questions. Little questions, such as: what are the easiest courses? Where are the best parties? How do I meet cute girls or cute boys? Which major will help me earn the most money? How can I be cool? These little questions will gnaw away your soul, but they are, alas, the sum and substance of many people’s lives.
Kurt and I are going to talk about big questions, from the perspective of Christian faith, during the Wednesday morning chapel services this term. Both of us will speak quite briefly today, but usually only one of us will speak. As you know, I am Richard Crocker. I am the Dean of the Tucker Foundation and the College Chaplain. Kurt Nelson is the assistant chaplain. Though you might find it hard to believe, I am a lot older than Kurt. For that reason, and others, we sometimes see things differently. I think it’s valuable for you to hear from our different experiences and perspectives.
When I entered college in the late 1960’s - I came to Brown from rural Alabama. It was during the middle of the civil rights struggle and the Vietnam war. Yes, it was the era of free love and drugs for many, but it was also, for me, and for many of my friends, a time of deep struggle. I was forced to confront the fact that much of what I had been taught was wrong – although much of it was also right. I learned that our government was sometimes dreadfully wrong. I confronted big questions of morality – the morality of war, the morality of racism, the morality of complacency. For me, and many others, big questions confronted us every day as we thought about being drafted to fight a war that we thought was wrong. Those
big questions have haunted me until now. They are the reason that I changed from my intention to study biology to studying literature, and then religion, and then becoming a minister.
Kurt had different big questions to answer. He will tell you about that. And you will have yours.
This time isn’t so different than mine. You, too, have a war to think about – though it may be easier for you not to think about it because there is no draft. You too have questions of justice and equality to think about in a society that is deeply troubled about difference. The circumstances are different, but I suppose the big questions are similar. They all concern how we live with integrity, how we maintain hope in the midst of suffering and injustice, and what is worthy of our whole life’s work. It is a question of what truly gives life meaning.
Although I have many quarrels with many who espouse Christian faith, although I think many very wrong things are done by those who call themselves Christian, I have found, and continue to find, Christian faith, centered in the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus Christ, to be the center of my life and hope. Such a conviction was what led to the founding of this college, and the erection of this chapel. It is a gospel of which we need not be ashamed, even though shameful things have been done in its name. Questioning our faith – whether it be faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in the privileges that we take for granted – whatever our faith may be, questioning it is the biggest question of all. But not questioning it, not pursuing the center of meaning in life, is the biggest mistake, because an unexamined faith will not hold.
Kurt and I – and many others – are here for you – not to insist that we have the answers for your questions, but to tell you how important the big questions are, and to be supports and companions for you as you ask them. May your faith grow truer, stronger, and make you more compassionate as you live and study in this very wonderful place.