Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas and Consumption

Kurt Nelson
Rollins Chapel, 12.4.11
John 1: 1-5, 14, 16

Advent is a season,
as today's scripture reminds us,
 of light and life and grace upon grace.
And there's much to love:
family gatherings.
lights shining in the darkness.
the end of academic terms.
But each year I watch advent unfold,
in our broader culture,
with a mix of horror, fascination, and despair.
In theory, this is a season of waiting.
A time of contemplation, and anticipation.
A time of delayed gratification,
A time to ponder the good news of the idea of God living among us,
and what that means for the future of the world.
But, of course, in practice
it’s not really a time for any of those things.
More than anything,
it’s a season for rampant consumption.
A season for Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays.
For frenzied arguments over whether stores should open at midnight,
the day after thanksgiving.
or  do the civil thing, and wait until 6 AM.
A time for constant advertisements
featuring bows on the top of luxury automobiles,
and joy
provided by electronics and jewelry.
fat men with large, white beards,
I try to avoid the commercials.
Try to sidestep the headlines from black Friday mobs,
and shopping freak outs.
But I can’t.
And so I watched this year,
as a pack of seemingly normal people,
screamed and pushed and clawed,
Fighting as if they had staked their very souls,
on the procurement of a cheap means by which to make waffles.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sexual Ethics at College - Richard R. Crocker

Sexual Ethics in College
Richard R. Crocker
Rollins Chapel
November 20, 2011
I Corinthians 9:9-20

During the past weeks, the press has given a good deal of attention to sex on campus – the national press covering the scandals at Penn State, the local Dartmouth press printing its annual “Sex Issue”. Since the topic of sexual behavior is so central to many conversations at Dartmouth and elsewhere, or perhaps because the topic of sexual ethics is so absent at Dartmouth and elsewhere, I think it is important for us to consider it in this series on the Bible and the newspaper.

I have chosen to read from scripture tonight a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians which is, perhaps, the most used and ab-used scripture passage on sexual ethics. In it Paul gives us a list of “wrongdoers” who will, in his words, “not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Although there is dispute about how some of the Greek words should be properly translated, the list is nonetheless a list that, however we wriggle, delights the hearts of some Christians and appalls many others. “Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.’ So declares Paul, without qualification. The presence of several sexually related words on this list – fornicators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites (Greek words which almost every English version translate differently) – has fueled so many blatant condemnations of so many by so many for so long that the presence of greed and drunkeness and revilers in the list has been almost forgotten.

Many of us wish that Paul had been a bit less specific in his list of sins, or that he had been a bit more charitable. Most of us, finding this passage quite problematic, simply ignore it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Merit, Entitlement, and Grace - Kurt Nelson

Mark 10: 17-27
Rollins Chapel, 11.13.11

This term has been for me,
if nothing else,
an exercise in forcing myself to read the news theologically.
And sometimes an idea takes hold,
which simply will not let go.
Even if I want it to.
I was taken by a very strange op-ed piece by NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat,
His article calls out our near-worship of merit,
and the ways it has pushed us to the brink.
And ultimately I was convinced,
That I too am a worshipper of merit.
Even thought I'd prefer not to talk about it.

Its been a big week, after all, for important news.

Friday was Veterans Day.
A day forged by those wishing never to fight again,
since become, in some corners,
a celebration of valor and American exceptionalism.
But thankfully voices ring out
reminding us that this is a holiday
of grief for the horrors war,
and prayer that war should cease.
Even as we remember those who serve so honorably.

The weeks biggest story, probably,
is the unfolding scandal at Penn St.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why the Church is Divided - Richard R. Crocker

Why the Church is Divided
Richard R. Crocker
Rollins Chapel
November 6, 2011
John 17:20-23

Despite the prayer of Jesus that all his followers might be one, the church is deeply divided. And it is not divided chiefly by denominations (though those divisions are real), but by fundamental attitudes. As is shown by the careful research of Robert Putnam and his associates, in their book called American Grace, conservative American Catholics seem to have more in common with conservative evangelical Christians than they do with Liberal Catholics, and liberal Protestant Christians in some ways have more in common with liberal Catholics than they do with conservative Protestants.[1] Although the words conservative and liberal do approximate the differences in fundamental attitude, they do not adequately describe it. I would say that the divide is more accurately described as those who see the church as the bastion of order and personal morality on the one hand, and those who see it as the advocate of justice on the other.

This conflict is nowhere more clearly and poignantly revealed than by the story, which you might have missed, in this week’s New York Times about the protest occurring at the entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Faith and Science (and Zombies) - Kurt Nelson

Rollins Chapel 10/30/11

1 Corinthians 13: 1-2
Psalm 8: 3-6

Two events of cosmic significance occurred,
since last we spoke:
Richard Muller, one of the last good, scientific skeptics of global warming,
concluded a massive, 2 year study,
funded in large part by the Koch brothers
and other oil concerns.
And Muller said to the world
that we no longer have reason to be skeptical.
The world is, in fact, warming.
Some of us, of course,
already believed that.
But it’s nice to be affirmed.

And AMC’s Show “The Walking Dead”
set just after the zombiepocalypse,
began its second season,
opening to the largest audience in the history of basic cable.
As I said, two events of cosmic significance.
worth mentioning together.
And worth mentioning in the context of our term’s discussion
of the Bible and the Newspaper.
Pulling, if we can,
our attention away from
violence on the streets of Oakland and Denver,
and immanent troubles in Thailand, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere,
to ponder briefly the relationship between faith and science
(and zombies.)

Public discourse about faith and science has,
in recent memory,
been dominated by two camps.
Who push mirror images of the same essential idea:
That there is not only a singular truth,
but a singular way of knowing.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Being and Dartmouthness - Richard R. Crocker

Being and Dartmouthness
Richard R. Crocker
Rollins Chapel
October 20, 2011
John 15:12-17

As most of you know, the theme at chapel this term is “The Bible and the Newspaper”, which builds upon the words of Karl Barth, one of the 20th century’s most distinguished theologians, who reportedly said that one must preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.

This week, I have chosen to preach from the Bible and The Dartmouth (Dartmouth College newspaper). - more particularly from the passage in John, in which Jesus calls his disciples his friends, and a column in last Friday’s Dartmouth by Kip Dooley, a senior, called Being and Dartmouthness – a title which I have borrowed from him with his permission, and which he obviously borrowed from Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. The scripture passage, as I said, deals with the notion of friendship, especially the friendship offered by Jesus to those who would follow him, a friendship not of casual acquaintance but of deep commitment. The newspaper column is really about what I consider the deep dark secret of Dartmouth life: Social anxiety – a secret which becomes most prominent at this time of year, when sophomores are undergoing the ritual of rush and experiencing either the elation of acceptance, to be followed quickly by the hazing of pledge term, or the despair of rejection, which can be a life-long wound.

So this is really a sermon – a meditation – about friendship and loneliness, about acceptance and rejection, about elation and despair, framed by the Bible on the one hand, and Kip Dooley’s column on the other.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Faith in our Public Life - Kurt Nelson

Romans 13. 1-7 (and 12. 9, 14-20)
Dartmouth College Chapel, 10-17-11

I hope you’ll take a moment to notice
how clever my sermon title is this week.
Highlighting in just 5 words both the immense question
of the role of religion in political discourse,
and the immense issue of our belief
in political life itself.
Truly a marvel, I know.

I submit that we have in this country a serious problem
regarding our discourse in general.
But particularly about the intersection of
religion & politics.
Faith and public life.
It’s not a new problem.
But it is a relevant problem, in this moment.
Brought into sharp focus for me,
by three events this week:
The least significant and perhaps least hopeful
was during Tuesday's debate
when Michele Bachmann alluded to the
“the devil in the details”
in reference to Herman Cain’s 9 9 9 tax plan,
upside down.
Which might be funny,
in some alternate universe,
in which earnest, similar comments weren't heard so often.
but probably not even then.
We might call it the “weird” approach to faith in public life.

Second, Texas pastor Robert Jeffress,
from the very public pulpit of the Value Voter Summit,
Asked the following question:
“"Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person
or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?"
At first, this might seem like a thoughtful question.
One which we should ponder and wrestle with.
But really it was rhetorical.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street? - Richard R. Crocker

Occupy Wall Street
Richard R. Crocker
Rollins Chapel, Dartmouth College
October 9, 2011
Amos 8:9-13

You will remember that the theme for the term is “The Bible and the Newspaper”. Large in the news this week has been the growing protest movement called “Occupy Wall Street.” Now this phrase must be carefully explained at Dartmouth, because many of you might well think it summarizes your ambitions, or the ambitions of your friends. But this is not a movement of young people aiming to be hired by Goldman Sachs; it is instead a growing, somewhat amorphous protest movement that CNN news describes as “a leaderless protest movement made largely of twenty somethings upset with the state of the economy, the state of the war in Afghanistan, the state of the environment, and the state of America and the world in general.”[1] Far from being composed of people who want to work on Wall Street, this movement contains people who have “a dream : to see the titans of Wall Street trade their palatial office suites for a row of dank prison cells.”[2]

This is a growing movement, spreading into cities across the country, but conspicuously absent in Hanover, where the ambition to be among the Wall Street titans seems very much alive and well.

Now I do not intend to say whether or not this protest movement is in all ways justified or correct in its assertions. I will say, however, that in its basic intentions, it is certainly Biblical.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dear Adam - David Coolidge

A re-post from our former Muslim Advisor Dave Coolidge.

The original post is available here.

Thanks to Dave for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece.

Dear Adam

In the Name of Allah, The All-Merciful, The Giver of Mercy

This is a public appeal to Adam Gadahn, an American citizen who has allied himself with al-Qa'ida.

Assalaamu alaykum Adam. I don't know you personally, so please forgive me for talking out of turn. I don't know what you have gone through in life, and how it informs who you are. I have no idea where you are in the world, or if you will ever see this, but I want you to know that I am wishing you well. Only Allah knows each of our ultimate fates, and I wish for you, me, and all human beings that we meet al-Khaliq with a heavy balance of good deeds.

I hope you know, somewhere deep in your heart, that you have strayed in your attempt to follow the way of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace). Instead, you have followed the path of the Khawarij, and in doing so you have exposed yourself to the wrath of al-Muntaqim. In the hadith collection of Ibn Majah, Abu Umama reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and his family and grant them peace) say, "[The Khawarij] are the worst people killed under the sky, and the best people killed are those whom they kill. They are the dogs of Hell." This was the case even though the Khawarij looked like pious Muslims and did the actions of pious Muslims. Their fatal sin was being so convinced that they were right and that everyone else was wrong, so much so that others deserved to die because they disagreed with them.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The End is Near? - Kurt Nelson

The End is Near?
1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 5:2
Dartmouth College Chapel, 10/2/11

1 Thessalonians is, perhaps, the oldest piece of Christian writing we have.
Written by Paul to a fledgling community of Christ followers,
who were trying to come to terms with the fact
that members of their community –
beloved aunts and fathers and friends –
are dying.
And Christ – much to their dismay and surprise –
has not yet returned.
It was, to say the least, a problem.
It’s an early letter.
An important letter.
And a transitional letter.
And what we read today,
about meeting the Lord in the clouds,
is the sole basis of the whole idea of “the rapture.”
So these few verses
have spawned dozens of rapture films
and the multi-million dollar “Left Behind” industry,
and more than a few rapture predictions.
So it’s a culturally significant letter.
And, if we’re being perfectly honest, a strange letter.
But it’s by no means unique,
in offering confusion about the world’s end.
The Gospel of Mark, after all, places on Jesus lips:
“Truly I tell you this generation will not have passed away,
until the Son of Man returns.”
The book of Revelation, and Daniel, and 2 and 3 Peter
are full of dramatic visions of the world’s end.
And indeed,
Jesus was, as much as he was anything else,
a preacher of the coming Kingdom of God.
We're certainly, I suspect, more comfortable with Jesus as a wise man.
As a revolutionary. As a teacher and healer.
Jesus as personal savior and historical figure.
But at some point,
we need to wrestle with the idea of the Coming Kingdom.
And I'd suggest there's no better moment,
than during this swell of interest in the end times.

The world is -
in case you had forgotten -
scheduled to end on October 21st,

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Sword - Richard R. Crocker

The Sword
Richard Crocker
Dartmouth College Chapel
September 25, 2011
Matthew 10:34 and Matthew 26:47-56

In keeping with the chapel theme for this term, “The Bible and the newspaper”, I have chosen to talk about state-sanctioned killing. This subject has been much in the newspaper this week because of the controversy surrounding two executions: one in Georgia of Troy Davis, and the other in Texas of Lawrence Russell Brewer. The state traditionally has claimed the right to kill in two situations: when there has been an egregious crime, and in war. We are also, of course, engaged in three wars at the moment. The rationale for killing in both cases – capital punishment and war - is that sometime the state has to end life in order to save lives.

Our scripture passages tonight give something of a background for approaching this question from a Christian perspective. Both passages are from Matthew. One reports that Jesus said, “I have come not to bring peace but a sword.” The other tells the story of Jesus’ betrayal, when Judas brought the Roman soldiers to his secret location. To defend Jesus, one of his disciples (John’s gospel says it was Peter) took a sword and attacked the soldiers, cutting off one of their ears. Jesus rebuked the disciple and said “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”, or “all who take the sword shall die by the sword.” Now these two stories, from the same gospel, demonstrate the ambivalence that Christians have long displayed about state-sanctioned killing.

I say state-sanctioned because I don’t think there’s any question among Christians, or indeed among people in general, that killing other persons is wrong. We are not permitted to do that, under any circumstances except, some would say, in self-defense. But when the state orders us to kill – well, most Christians seem to think that’s OK.

It has not always been that way. The Christian faith arose out of an execution. Jesus was executed, after a trial by the Roman government. His execution was not unique: two others were executed on that day, and, indeed, if you have seen the movie Spartacus, you know that executions by crucifixion were not at all unusual. Any act of perceived rebellion merited crucifixion. Now, since Christian faith has at its heart, and on its altars, the cross, the image of execution, one would think Christians would think about the subject carefully, and that we would be predisposed to oppose it.

But alas, throughout our history, and indeed up to the present day, a majority of Christians, especially in our country, seem to think that execution is OK.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Convocation Prayer - Richard R. Crocker

Opening Convocation
Dartmouth College
September 21, 2011
Richard R. Crocker, College Chaplain

God of all hope and truth:

In a world where there is much suffering, we need compassion.

In a world where there is much fear, we need courage.

In a world full of false promises and easy answers, we need the challenge of clear thinking.

Grant, O God, that we, gathered in this place dedicated to the pursuit of truth, may find and cultivate these gifts --- compassion, courage, and the challenge of clear thinking – in our common life.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Bible & the Newspaper - Kurt Nelson

Dartmouth College Chapel
Matthew 25: 34 - 45

There are, you may have noticed,
bible stories out there that are hard to relate to.
Strange stories that make you work for their affection,
Wading through arcane language and context and theology.
If we can muster the energy to deal with them at all.

And then there are passages like today's.
Passages that smack us in the face with truth,
Both timeless and contemporary.
I can't count the number of times
I've heard today’s passage read or quoted.
I've even preached on it a number of times.
And still it can surprise and convict me.

"Just as you do to the least of these…you do to me."
"Just as you do not do to the least of these…you do not do to me."

It doesn't get much more direct.
And those words, I suspect, haven't lost an ounce of their power
in the thousands of years since they were spoken,
and then written.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A week later - Kurt Nelson

For all those asking for a shorter piece, summing up my experience of civil disobedience...

A week ago today, after considerable prayer and preparation, I was arrested along with 51 others. Indeed, in this moment, last Wednesday, I was in handcuffs, waiting in line for my seat in the Police Truck. We were cited for “failure to obey a lawful order” in front of the White House fence, handcuffed, processed, fined, and released. All in an afternoon’s work.

2,000 in all are expected to be arrested over these weeks, and the movement is growing.

We were (and are) there because we oppose the construction of a vast oil pipeline between the Tar Sands of Alberta, Canada, to the processing plants near Houston, Texas. We were there to send a message to our President - who ultimately must alone decide whether to allow this Keystone XL pipeline - that we are paying attention, and that we expect better. We were there because the construction of such a pipeline would be a dramatic step back for the people of Alberta and Houston, a danger to our lands and rivers and aquifers in every state between, and yet another blow to our fragile climate.

I was there, in particular, because I believe our call to “love our neighbors as ourselves” and to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” means not radically altering the chemical composition of our atmosphere.

As I reflect on our collective life, I believe this means a sane national policy on greenhouse gases. And as I reflect on our political process, I believe this means that in addition to votes, and letters, and phone calls, we must occasionally commit peaceful, civil, loving acts of disobedience.

Sitting on the White House sidewalk, I’m not sure I felt intimately connected to Dr. King, and Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, and all the forebears of non-violent direct action. They were, after all, directly breaking unjust laws.

But I did feel I was taking an important stand amidst a political process which better represents the interests of corporations than the good of the people and planet. I did feel I was standing up for justice. And I do feel like we must all examine the collective challenge before us, to put our ethics and faith in action.

I’m glad I went. It continues to inspire in me deep reflection. I'm humbled and I’m ready to talk.

(Long form reflections and descriptions can be found here, here, here.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

What I'm thinking - Kurt Nelson

August 25, 2011
The 3rd in my series of end of vacation reflections on civil disobedience (#1 and #2).

I will continue to be frank here in my political opinions, not assuming that all will agree. If it’s helpful, I work from a couple of basic assumptions: First, that our politics ought to reflect our ethical sensibilities. And second, that government does, in fact, have a role to play in helping provide the best possible quality of life for the most possible people for the longest possible time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am happy with the demonstration, proud to have taken part, thankful for all those still to come, and hopeful about the future of this movement.

In the course of my daily life, I will continue to pressure elected officials through more traditional channels. And I would encourage others to do the same. Write letters, write articles, pray, educate. This continues to feel like an important moment. And a real opportunity to take a step toward a more just and sustainable future.

In this moment, though, I find myself reflecting on the nature of non-violent direct action. Was the action of getting arrested worthwhile?

The classic moments of non-violent direct action - Gandhi's march to the sea, sit ins though out the American Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat – are forever burned into my consciousness. In such cases object of protest was an unjust law. The act of being arrested is, thus, more than symbolic. It is directly related to injustice at hand. (The takeover of the Madison capitol recently would fall into a similar vein).

In the case of our protest, however, the action was not so direct.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Happened There - Kurt Nelson

What Happened...(#2 of my end of vacation series, describing my participation in non-violent civil disobedience, #1 if you missed it.)

August 25, 2011

Yesterday I was, for the first time, arrested. Today, I'm riding a train back home. All in all, life isn't so different. Here's an account of the past couple of days. More reflections are forthcoming.

On Tuesday evening, the 23rd, a group of 60 or so gathered to be trained in an Episcopal Church in Northern Washington DC. We talked about why we were there. And we heard from Gulf Coast Residents suffering from the ill effects of oil spills. We heard from a recently-released Bill McKibben. We heard from members and organizers of First Nations communities in Alberta, who are being stricken with cancer in high numbers, and who are losing the ability to live as they have for generations.

But mostly, we talked about the details of what was to come. Every question was answered, every possibility seemingly discussed. We were well trained and well prepared to engage the next day.

At 11 AM Wednesday morning, the 24th, a group of 75 or so demonstrators sat along the White House fence, holding signs and silence. We sought to bear witness to the damage being done by the Tar Sands oil extraction, and by the proposed further damage of the Keystone XL pipeline.

About half an hour later, we were told we were violating a Park Service law intended to keep people moving as they take pictures in front of the White House. We were issued 3 warnings, and 52 of us elected to be arrested.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why I'm Going - Kurt Nelson

My summer vacation is coming to an end soon.  During my last free week, I'll be heading down to DC to participate in some civil disobedience.  I'll post a few reflections here when I can.  Feel free to find me on the Facebook if you want more consistent updates. 
 (You can read more about the movement here ) 
I've not done anything like this before.  And you may ask, "Why am I taking the train to DC to be arrested?"
I’m going because I hope I can help convince our President that building a transnational oil tube between Houston TX and the Alberta Tar Sands is a bad idea.  I’m going because I think we shouldn’t be mining one of the world’s largest carbon sinks by uprooting one of the world’s largest forests.  And I’m going because I don’t think we should make access to this particularly dirty oil sand cheaper, easier and faster.  And I’m going because lots of people still don’t know that this discussion is happening.
I’m going because I believe I’m called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.  And I’m going because I think that means not radically altering the chemistry of our atmosphere. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer - Richard R. Crocker

The Challenge of Unanswered Prayer
Richard R. Crocker
Church of Christ at Dartmouth College
July 24, 2011
Hosea 1:2-10 and Luke 11:1-13

Here I am, talking about prayer, again. I would not be surprised if you were tired of it. After all, I talked about it last summer when I preached here. And you were kind enough to ask me to come and give another talk about it this winte during a Sunday afternoon session. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to talk about it again, had not the gospel lesson in today’s lectionary compelled me to do so. For those of you who think you have heard everything I might have to say on this subject, I apologize and beg your indulgence. I shall try not to be unnecessarily repetitive. I do not aim to be like the man in today’s parable, who by his persistence finally rouses his sleeping neighbor, but I am aware of the parallel. There is something just a bit different in what I will say today. First, I will offer a few brief thoughts on the general nature of prayer. And then I will focus more specifically on the experience of unanswered prayer. Much of what I will say is heavily indebted to Harry Emerson Fosdick’s little book, The Meaning of Prayer, which I commend to you.

First, the general thoughts. Prayer is the essence of the religious life in general, and it is certainly the essence of the Christian life. That bears repeating, doesn’t it? Prayer is the essence of the religious life in general, and it is certainly the essence of the Christian life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where do you go to church? - Richard R. Crocker

Where do you go to church?
Richard R. Crocker
Church of Christ at Dartmouth College
July 17, 2011
Psalm 82 and Hebrews 10:19-25

It will not surprise you to learn that I have spent a good part of my life going to church. This is due not only, and not originally, to my interest in Christian faith, or to my profession as a minister. It is due to my having been born and brought up in a small Southern town, where church attendance was universally expected. Though many things have changed in the south, it is still often the case that Yankees and other visitors are confounded, even offended, when they are inevitably asked, upon making a new acquaintance, “Where do you go to church?” A question that is deemed public in the South is deemed private in some other parts of the country, and indeed, it is deemed secret in New Hampshire.

Now, my interest in religion, and specifically in Christian religion, having been planted when I was a child in Alabama and watered by the Baptists, sprinkled by the Methodists, and carefully pruned by the Presbyterians, finally blossomed into lifetime of church experience. Indeed, I would wager, if I were allowed to wager, which of course, I am not – that I have attended more churches of different traditions than anyone in this congregation. My experience is wide. For fun, and for this sermon, I counted them up during some down time on my recent vacation. Here’s the abbreviated list:

Baptist churches – all varieties, Southern, American, National, primitive, hardshell, missionary, foot-washing, etc.
Presbyterian – a variety, including the Church of Scotland
Episcopal and Anglican (Church of England)
Congregational and United Church of Christ
The Church of Christ (not to be confused, on any account, with the UCC)
Christian Church - Disciples of Christ
Roman Catholic
Church of the Brethren
Assembly of God
Church of God
Foursquare Gospel
United Pentecostal

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"From First to Last" - Kurt Nelson

Delivered at the Strafford United Church.  6/19/11
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, Matthew 28: 16-20

We’ve heard it all this morning.
The beginning of the universe,
to the end of the age,
in 2 short readings.
Just 39 and a half verses.
From the beginning to the end.
From first to last.
All our questions answered.
All our deepest ponderings pondered.
All our doubts put to rest.
Have the heavens opened?
Are you ready to go forth,
and make disciples of all nations?

Maybe there are those of you out there this morning,
who have always been good about this.
Always willing to share with others,
about God's work in the world,
and in your life.
But maybe not.
Certainly for me,
 this has always been a complicated idea.
The Great Commission.
“Go forth and make disciples of all nations…”
It brings to my mind so many images of televangelists,
and aggressive street-corner evangelists.
It brings to mind,
So many stories of close-minded followers of Christ,
using fear to motivate faith.
Who turn so many away,
in hopes of finding a few more converts.
And of course, it brings to mind,
So many histories of violence,
and colonialism.
And oppression.
In the name of God.

I have wished,
and hoped,
and prayed that those verses simply go away.
But they haven't and they won't.
And I've often,
like I suspect many churches like this one,
left it neglected.
Ceding further the ground,
to those who would use such a call,
to do such seemingly unchristian things.

And so it's time,
this morning,
to welcome this idea back into our fold,
I think.
Because it's right there in black and white.
Seemingly clear.
Not going anywhere.
So we're better to let it speak to us.
And figure out where we might go.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Commencement Prayer 2011 (Pentecost)

June 12, 2011
Richard R. Crocker, College Chaplain

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

On this Pentecost day, we remember the promise:
Your sons and daughters shall prophecy. Old men and women shall dream dreams; young men and women shall see visions.

Today old ones – parents, grandparents, great grandparents, in body and in spirit - see their dreams realized.

Today young ones – our students, our sons and daughters, our grandsons and granddaughters - see visions.

We are all full of hope and gratitude.
May God’s spirit rest upon us all, enabling us to listen to the groaning of a fragile, endangered, and violent world, and enabling us to speak with voices of compassion that all can understand.

May the dreams of the old and the visions of the young lead us to a world of justice, mercy, and peace.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Koi Pond

The Chaplain's blog is now proud to offer an electronic Koi Pond for your enjoyment.

Please enjoy a few minutes of reflection with our 5 fish.

(p.s. If you click on it, you can "feed" them.)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What Gives Me Hope? - Kurt Nelson

Kurt Nelson
Rollins Chapel, 6.2.11
What Gives Me Hope? 

Hebrews 11:1-3.  Romans 8: 24-25

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
(From Emily Dickinson.  Not me.)

Wouldn’t that be nice?
If we could hear hope’s perpetual song?
I can’t always hear it.
Though I would consider myself a fairly hope-filled person.
That doesn’t,
I suppose, mean that it’s not singing.

I can however,
answer quite simply the question,
What Gives Me Hope?
For what gives me hope,
really and truly,
is Grace – plain and simple.

I have more written,
but we can stop there if you’re satisfied.
And I’d consider my work,
as resident Lutheran,
to be well-done.
But I’m guessing
that saying grace gives me hope,
is just trading one theological platitude for another.
So I will try my best,
to tell you what I think I mean.

Grace means,
at its simplest,
that the good things in life,
and indeed life itself.
That the love of God,
and all that comes with it,
are gifts.
And more to the point,
gifts to which we’re not entitled,
and which we’ve done nothing to deserve.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What Give Me Hope? - Judy Williams

Judy Williams
Quaker Campus Minister
Rollins Chapel, 5.26.11

Ps. 51:8-12
 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me from your presence, or take your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints - the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.

I fell down on the job, I fell down on my knees,
I found I was a sinner: God have mercy on me.
I thought I was so perfect, I thought I was so free.
I learned I’m only human: God have mercy on me.

As most of you know, this term’s chapel sermons have addressed the question, “What gives you hope?” Last week, Alison Boden gave us a wonderful sermon on hope in the face of suffering. Now, she was talking about the kind of suffering that comes from without: the suffering the early Christians faced because of persecution, the suffering that we all face in living in a world troubled by disease, war, and disaster. And she talked about how, in the face of that suffering, her faith gives her hope.

I’m going to talk about hope in the face of a different kind of suffering, the kind that comes from within.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Gives Me Hope. - Alison Boden

Alison Boden
Dean of the Chapel
Princeton University
May 19, 2011

Romans 5:1-5 

What gives me hope?  Many more things than I can describe to you in the next 10 minutes.  I need a framework with which to think about it, so let me make it the words we’ve just heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Paul was writing to the budding Christian community in Rome, with whom he looked forward one day to visiting.  He did get there several years later, but it is thought that he spent significant time in a Roman prison, and did not emerge alive.  Paul was well aware of the suffering that followers of Christ’s “way” were enduring in many places.  They believed the Good News; they strove to follow it; they were sometimes persecuted by others for having this faith in Jesus; and they lived with the quandary, challenge, and sometimes anguish of living with the all-encompassing hope of Christ’s imminent return…..  And that wasn’t happening…. Yet.  They were suffering, many of them, suffering because of their faith and certainly suffering from all the difficulties and frailties that mean no human being lives unscathed by disappointment, pain, loss.

I was recently reminded by the ethicist Emilie Townes of words from Audre Lord; Lord had written of “suffering as unmetabolized pain.”  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Gives Me Hope? - Charlie Clark '11

May 12, 2011.  Rollins Chapel.
Scripture:  Jonah, Chapter 2.

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

This is Eliot’s call to repentance in “Little Gidding,” a poem that has been on my mind as I have prepared this reflection. I think it peculiarly appropriate for this gathering, in our little-used chapel, where we have come in the past few weeks to give our accounts of the hope that is in us. The question, “What gives you hope?” is not one that I encounter often. While my generation seems to me at any rate to be deeply ironic in our contemplation of the world, as a group, we have a remarkably resilient belief in progress, and not only in progress but in the basic goodness of ourselves and the world around us, in “the family of things” as others have framed it. I confess I am not persuaded by this vision. I take no comfort in, I find no hope in the assurance:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Can it really be that all is already well? What a difficult position that would put us in with respect to hope.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Cowboy Brand of Justice - Charlie Clark '11

A very thoughtful column from friend of the Chaplaincy, Charlie Clark, class of 2011.

Clark: A Cowboy Brand of Justice

By Charles Clark, Staff Columnist
Published on Monday, May 9, 2011

  Already, two of my fellow columnists, Louis Wheatley ’14 and Brendan Woods ’13, have confronted the “objectors” (“A Shotgun for Bin Laden,” May 3) and “armchair philosophers” (“Laden with Questions,” May 5) who would call into question the killing of Osama bin Laden. The rush to shield his assassination from any sort of scrutiny comes as no surprise. In the increasingly cynical style of U.S. foreign policy, all sorts of evils have become necessary. From detentions without habeas corpus at Guantanamo Bay, to the kill order on American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki, now to the assassination of an unarmed man in front of his 12-year-old daughter, the American ideal of justice has been stretched to the breaking point. The debate may just be getting started, but it’s also long overdue.

  Before I begin, let me state that I agree that the celebrations that erupted following President Obama’s announcement Sunday night were focused not primarily on Bin Laden’s death but on what his death meant for the United States and for the world. I acknowledge that his death symbolizes an appropriate end to the events set in motion on Sept. 11, as well as a significant blow to Al Qaeda. But what does the American people’s reaction to his death say about us?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Gives Me Hope. - Madelyn Betz.

Psalm 62:1-8 ∙ Rollins Chapel ∙ Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire ∙ April 28, 2011
Guest Speaker - Madelyn Betz.  Curate, St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

            This first week after Easter is the perfect time to be talking about hope. As Christians, resurrection hope is the foundation of our faith. And yet, on any given day, most of us find ourselves somewhere on a continuum of belief about the resurrection, and where we find our belief affects the strength of our hope for what is to come.
The author Frederick Beuchner talks about hope in terms of believing in the possibility of a miracle. This hope is as beautiful and full of possibility as it is fragile. Our most extravagant hope exposes our vulnerability when nothing like what we expect to happen happens. When we set our heart on anything yet to come, we put ourselves at an intersection of limit and opportunity. When our heart is set on a miracle that doesn’t happen, something other than what we expect does happen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sustainability Matters - Kurt Nelson

Delivered 4/21/11
Dartmouth's "Sustainability and Social Justice" Dinner, 
part of Earth Week 2011.  
Collis Common Ground.

Many thanks to our organizer, Rosi Kerr, my fellow speakers, Stephanie Crocker '12, Michael Dorsey, Marcus Welker, and Jerome Whitington, and all those who attended.

Sustainability Matters.  4/21/11
I'm the religious one this evening.
So if you need to get more food or check your blitz (note: blitz = email).
this might be the best time.

My name is Kurt.
I'm a chaplain and an educator.
I use reusable mugs,
and carry around cloth napkins.
I compost.
I'm a vegetarian (most of the time).
I take the bus to work.
I turn my heat way down.
I'm an ecological activist.
An inter-faith activist.
And I'm a Christian.
And for me, those things go all together.

It's holy week.
And it's Passover.
And I'm sure there's someplace I'm supposed to be this evening.
But instead I'm here,
with you all.
Because I think sustainability matters.
And I presume you do too,
or else you wouldn't be here.
And I've been asked,
like the others tonight,
to speak to why sustainability matters.
But that seems fairly evident to me.
If something is good,
it should be sustained.

And so instead, I think the essential question becomes,
sustainability of what,
and sustainability for whom?

And that's where I think things get interesting, and tricky, and wonderful.
Because it becomes not essentially a question of technology,
or economy,
but a question of our basic values.
A question of what we hold to be really and truly good.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Gives Me Hope? - Karen Orrick

Karen Orrick '11 
Rollins Chapel, 4/14/11

The Prophet -- Khalil Gibran
"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.  And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.  How else can it be?  The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."
Matthew 6: 19-23 (NRSV)
19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Matthew 6: 34  (NRSV)
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Hope- what a special thing to reflect upon.  Narrowing down what gives me hope is difficult, since there are many things I draw inspiration from: secret smiles, twinkling eyes, ocean waves crashing and receding, guitar sing-a-longs, home cooked food, home grown food, long hugs, forts, pillows after a long day, thirst-quenching water, appreciating the presence of one other, resting in the comfort of each other’s living room eyes, reflecting on different stages of life, my incredible sisters, my dog, and so much more.  There are exquisite small moments in each day where connections are made, hands are held, and something beautiful is internalized.
There are also many moments of terrible sorrow, isolation, anxiety, anger, and disconnection where we don’t treat each other nearly as well as we want to, don’t feel nearly as cherished as we would like, and ignore or doubt the humanity of those we feel strongly hurt by and defensive against.  Grievous injustices happen globally, nationally, locally, and interpersonally on this campus every day between humans and amongst local and global ecosystems.   Life can be full of disappointment, discouragement, isolation, and anxiety, especially for employees of the college who continually get their benefits slashed or for seniors, like me, who still don’t have a job for next year ;-).  The culture in the US today is full of fear and distrust.  Fear over not being able to support one’s self, fear of not having enough money, distrust of the government, distrust of those who are different from us, distrust of the TSA, distrust of airplane passengers, the list goes on.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Gives Me Hope? - Richard R. Crocker

What Gives You (Me) Hope?
Psalm 146
Rollins Chapel
March 31, 2011
Richard R. Crocker, College Chaplain

We are inviting a number of people to speak very personally this term on the topic, “What gives me hope?” It is a searching question to consider, especially in the season of Lent, as we examine ourselves, and in Easter, when we celebrate the hope represented by the resurrection of Christ.

Now we are in Lent – a somber season leading up to the crucifixion of Christ – a season when it is permissible – even necessary – to admit and confront the forces of hopelessness – a season when it is OK to admit that we are not always hopeful.

As I have thought about this question, “What give me hope?”, I first of all have been aware that I do not share the hope that so many people around me seem to have, or say that they have. Here at Dartmouth, it seems to me, and in most of the world that we inhabit, the major engine of hope is wealth, power, success, and skill. People come to places like Dartmouth because they have already experienced the gifts of wealth, success, power, and skill, and because they hope they will, at Dartmouth and places like it, acquire even more. Now I do not want to be misunderstood. Enough wealth is better than poverty. Having some power over one’s life is better than being powerless. Success in attaining worthwhile goals is better than perpetual failure. Skills and knowledge are better than incompetence and ignorance. But seldom do we pause to ask the important questions: how is our wealth (or skill or power or success) acquired, and what is it used for? That’s why the Bible, and in particular the teachings of Christ, challenge such hopes. The love of money is the root of all evil. The greatest among you is the servant of all. Love your enemies. The one who is forgiven is the one who forgives. That is why the Tucker Foundation’s advocacy of experiences that call into question our wealth and power and success and skill are so important in a college that trumpets with pride the fact that our graduates are, on average, the highest paid in the nation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Upon Returning.

Kurt Nelson
Assistant Chaplain.

I sit now at my desk in Hanover NH.  I think I slept for 22 of the 36 hours I've been in New Hampshire since our return.  It's colder here.  And drier.  And I'm thankful for my large, comfortable bed, my family, and dog, and well-stocked kitchen.  But, as always, the return is bittersweet.

One final anecdote from me:  During the middle of our last night in San Francisco I needed to make a pharmacy run on behalf of our group.  It was, of course, pouring down rain.  I've never before needed to hail a cab at 4 AM  in the midst of a rainy urban environment.  It proved more challenging than I had expected.  Several 'helpful' intoxicated Tenderloin residents sought to offer their service to me, with varying degrees of efficacy.  Eventually, I was picked up a few blocks from our hostel and whisked to a near-by 24 hr pharmacy, adjacent to one of San Fran's major shopping/clubbing districts.  The cab driver assured me I'd have no trouble finding a ride home.

On the way back, I noticed a line of taxis just down the street, outside a Westin Hotel and figured to have no trouble.  But alas, they would not open their doors for me.  I was clearly not wealthy enough (wet and disheveled and not coming from within the luxury hotel), or wanting to go far enough, to warrant losing a spot in line.  I was frustrated. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bird Blocks

Grace Afsari-Mamagani '13

Several days ago, I was making the walk back from Union Square when a man approached me to ask if I'd buy him lunch.
I hesitated momentarily, but made the short walk with him to Burger King while he described himself as a struggling artist originally from Tennessee. He seemed out of place among the ritzy shops and bustling crowds, as though longing for something much simpler that incessantly evaded him.
"Things are rough," he told me.

We set out relatively early Friday morning on our last day of service, spent in Oakland with the East Bay branch of Habitat for Humanity. Given my aversion to heights and power saws, I elected to stick to painting bird blocks under the supervision of Carrie, an AmeriCorps member whose dreams of attending veterinary school had been crushed by a severe allergy to nearly every land mammal in existence. After five hours spent applying coats of dark grey paint to these wood-and-screen pieces (and, inadvertently, to my hands and clothing), I discovered I still didn't quite understand what bird blocks are. While Carrie offered some explanation involving eaves and ventilation, it struck me that this menial task served as just one of many that go into building one of Habitat's homes. Those dozens of bird blocks came to encapsulate the ASB experience for me: the task seemed trivial, detached, and somewhat incomprehensible, but a group of families would be unable to enjoy their new homes without them.
It ends as it began. Wet, happy, and sleep deprived.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Larkin Street

Tev’n Powers ‘14
Wednesday morning we spent a few hours at Larkin Street Youth Services, an organization that provides services to run away, homeless, and at-risk youth between ages 12-24 in the San Francisco area. Larkin Street offers a number of different programs at their various sites throughout San Francisco. According to Audrey Muntz, Larkin’s Volunteer Program Manager and a Dartmouth ’04, the center serves more than 3,000 kids each year.
Audrey was a pre-med student at Dartmouth so it was interesting to see someone who turned down both a rewarding and lucrative career path in favor of working at a non-profit. After giving us a brief rundown of Larkin’s history and services, we were split into groups to tackle the various tasks of the day. Five of us were assigned to prepare the day’s lunch for the center, another group put together office furniture for the offices at this site, while the rest of the group worked in the basement organizing clothing, toys and various other items that were donated.
Oftentimes people see community service as a hands-on experience where you see the immediate impact of your work. However, our work was still significant because it allowed the employees at Larkin to invest their time and energy in work that otherwise would have been put off. It’s also a nice gesture that shows the people who do this type of work day in and day out that they are appreciated. As for the cooking, it was more of a direct, albeit small, contribution to the youth that came to Larkin that day.
The most important lesson that I took away from our day at Larkin came after we had finished cooking and cleaning. Audrey was concluding our visit and began answering some questions from the group. In one of her responses she mentioned that nearly 40% of college graduates move back home with their parents at some point after they graduate.

California Dreamin'

Alice Liou, '13

After many indescribably wonderful days of service across the city of San Francisco, I’ve been compelled to think deeply about the state of the American dream. Throughout my academic experience, the concept of the “American dream” has been a vision surrounded by profits and incentives-- individual economic improvement, if you will-- and the ability to pursue a comfortable life of independence and liberty (white picket fence optional). Domestic government and the American public mind love nothing more than “choice” and wealth, and because my conception of the state of the union has been distinctly classified in this way, I’ve run into a couple challenges in the past week surrounding the issue of homelessness: what does it mean to be homeless, to lack social and economic security to the point where I wouldn’t even be offered the option to view the American menu of choice? What happens when there are no public officials representing my preferences, or if I didn’t have the capability to partake in the political process? On a simpler, human level, what if I just weren’t considered by the vast majority as a contributing (and consequently “legitimate”) member of civil society, and fear crippled others’ willingness to understand me?

Perhaps the American dream is, or at least I hope it will someday be conceived as, a communal and moral affair. The American dream can be about all of us, rather than just about “me” and “my” pursuit of personal success. While I’m aware that these are not mutually exclusive, after working with Zaytuna, the urban garden, Glide, Larkin, and Hamilton, I've realized that promise for the future is clear amidst the compassion and selflessness that these organizations embody.

Pictures from the Faith in Action trip

Tev'n at the urban farm amidst the fava beans
Half the group at the urban farm

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A rainy, thankful morning

More from Kurt:

We'll work this afternoon with Hamilton Family Center, cleaning and organizing, and then offering a Spring Break send-off for their young residents.  I had visions of using the morning to explore or perhaps even go for a jog.  But instead I awoke to driving wind and rain, and decided to stay in, catch up on email, rest and read.  (And yes, I confess I watched a little Netflix).

And I was extremely thankful in each of these moments for a roof and a bed and plumbing, and food.  And I wondered how the lines outside Glide were faring.  And I hoped the drop in center at Larkin St. was full of young people taking refuge.  And I prayed for those who I've seen and met who are not so fortunate as I.  Poverty exists everywhere I've lived and worked, but it's still easy to take for granted such daily necessities.  Proximity and involvement here certainly breed a kind of gratitude, alongside the angst and sadness and anger.

We've served 5 days, with two to go.

On Glide and such

Maha Malik '13

Something Kurt said at reflection yesterday really struck me. He said that we're not just here to learn about things but also to learn how to talk about the things that we experience. We are nearing the end of our trip, and I believe that these are lessons of which we should be constantly aware. As was mentioned yesterday, what we believe, our faiths and ideologies make us who we are. They define us in many ways and so talk to about what we believe and be questioned about what we believe can never easy. What is important is to learn how to ask questions and answer them, to express our opinions in the safe space that we construct for each other. We are all the builders of this space. And the conversations that can result will always be something we can be proud of.
Our group has made me proud on many occasions.
Each one of us approaches challenges in different ways. Some of us look at experiences mainly through the lens of our faith, others through our field of study and so on. So every night when we gather around the table to let our thoughts out we bring those diverse perspectives and talk.
But what this trip has taught me is the importance of listening. I have learned to listen and I am very thankful to the members of this ASB for that.
Glide was an extremely challenging experience for all of us. What I took away from the service at Glide and the many people there that I had the chance to talk to was not just my own experience. I also took away the experience of each and every trip member who shared their thoughts with me, with honesty and intellectual generosity. For that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Glide Memorial Church

By Stefan Deutsch ‘14
Monday and Tuesday took the Faith in Action group to Glide Memorial Church for volunteer work serving meals to San Francisco’s homeless population.
Glide was established in 1929 by philanthropist Lizzie Glide as part of the United Methodist Church, and served a fairly conservative congregation until the 1960s. In 1963, Reverend Cecil Williams became pastor and enacted many changes in the church’s practices, establishing it as a counter-culture rallying point. Glide became, and remains, a prominently liberal church dedicated to serving the city’s marginalized population. Their mission statement is to “create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization” and they list their core values as being “radically inclusive, truth telling, loving and hopeful, for the people, and celebration.” Glide is widely known for providing services to businessman Chris Gardner and his son, as immortalized in the film “The Pursuit of Happyness.”
Some trip participants attended one Glide’s renowned Sunday Celebration worship services and found it an interesting and enlightening experience.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More Free Farm.

A quick update from Kurt:

The trip is going swimmingly thus far.  The weather has taken a turn for the better and we enjoyed a day of tourism Sunday.  I'm continually impressed by the ethic and thoughtfulness of our group.

Today was our first of two days serving meals at Glide Memorial Church.  An always overwhelming experience to stand amidst the waves of hungry people.  3000 meals served a day, 7 days a week.  We were there for two, and have two more to go.

More reflections are to come from me, and our student participants.

And our friends at the Free Farm have their own blog which I'd happy recommend:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Free Urban Farm

Muhammad Zain '12

Yesterday, the Faith in Action ASB headed down to volunteer at the Free Farm near Gough St. and Eddy St in downtown San Francisco. The idea behind the farm is simple, develop a vacant lot into farmland, produce different kinds of vegetables that are then distributed free of charge (twice a week) to neighbouring families or the Free Farm Stand.

The story of Free Farm, starts in nearly 1993 when the St. Paulus Lutheran Church burned down. The authorities of the church had various idea about the lot but none came to fruition and so, two years ago they decided to loan the land to a few enterprising individuals (five in total, and three of whom are connected to Dartmouth!) to develop the Free Farm. Over the past year, the hard work by volunteers has resulted in a thriving farm, that produced nearly 3000 pounds of produce in the past year!

The farm opened around 10 am with the arrival of Finn, one of the volunteers whowas followed by tree, another volunteer who has been associated with the farm since its inception and has worked in the region since the 1960’s. Although the weather was not cooperating (dark and cloudy with intermittent bursts of rain (editor's note - LOTS of rain. - kdn)) we immediately set to work to harvest the crop of fava beans, kale and collards. Following that, we met Mr. Paige, a Dartmouth alum and faculty member and one of the founders of the Free Farm, who gave a short and hilarious history of the farm. His take home advice was simple, “If you want do do something, just do it, there is no reason to ask for permission, so if you want to plow the Green, do not wait around for people to get back to you”.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Service with Zaytuna College and Berkeley Muslim Students' Association

Maryam Zafer '12

Our first day took us to the UC Berkeley campus where students of Zaytuna College greeted our 13 enthusiastic trip members soaked from the characteristic early-Spring Northern California downpour. The plan for the day was to attend Friday Muslim prayer services with our hosts, after which we would participate in their Project Downtown food distribution program and then to end our trip in classic Faith-In-Action reflection.

Zaytuna College is the first and only undergraduate Muslim academic institution in America. Their 14 students study all core subjects offered at the regular university but through an Islamic lens. Additionally, the students chose to major in either Arabic or Islamic Studies. Their reasons for enrolling in the college varied. However, the prevailing consensus for their investment in the program was an appreciation for its mission statement: "Zaytuna College aims to educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders, who are grounded in the Islamic scholarly tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society."

Five of these students joined us for a Halal lunch at Julie's cafe three blocks from Berkeley's main campus. We then trekked over (in the rain) to Hearst gym where we sat down to a khutba, sermon, about many themes drawn from Islam and its intersection with current events, including the message of hope and faith in God that we can take from the revolutions in Libya and Egypt.

Following the prayer, we headed to the MLK students' center and set up a station to prepare lunches that we would distribute to homeless individuals standing on the sidewalks of Berkeley or gathered in People's Park. Doing Henry Ford proud, our assembly line cranked out 50 brown paper bag lunches in under 30 minutes.

From the President...

President Obama just issued his challenge to campuses for interfaith cooperation and community service.  A salient message to receive on day 2 of our trip.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Our group of 13 has arrived safe, happy, and tired.

We walked the long walk to the grocery store and returned with ample provisions for the next few days.  Our hostel resides on the edge of the Tenderloin.  We are surrounded by services for people without homes, and by countless corner markets stocked with sugary, starchy foods.  But for fresh, healthy foods, one must venture blocks away.  A food desert in the midst of densely packed California.

Tomorrow, we begin our alternative break trip in earnest by venturing North to eat and serve with students from Zaytuna College, and UC Berkeley Muslim Students Association.

A photo from our time in the Boston Airport:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Countdown to San Francisco. - Kurt Nelson

Finals are wrapping up.  The snow is melting.  Slowly, and messily.  But spring is bound to come to New England sometime in the next few weeks and months.  And I will soon (leaving campus in the middle of the night Wednesday) be traveling with a terrific group of 12 Dartmouth students (including two superb student leaders, Chris and Maryam) to work, serve, volunteer, and reflect on homelessness and poverty in the San Francisco Bay area.

We've met each week through the winter term.  We know each other reasonably well.  And I, for one, am excited.  This year we'll be serving meals, building housingurban farming, organizing clothing and painting walls, supporting kids together as a group of thirteen. 

Members of the group will post most evenings.  And we'll try to get a few videos and photos up as well. 

Best wishes to all for end of term, end of finals, and the beginning of what promises to be a rewarding break.


P.S.  68 and Sunny today in SF.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Good Book? - Kurt Nelson

Thus ends our term of reflection on the Problems and Promise of Scripture...

Kurt Nelson, Rollins Chapel, 3.6.11
Amos 5:21-24

One of the more honest prayers, I think,
in all of Christendom goes,
“Lord, save me from your followers.”
I have prayed it, fairly often.
It seems an unfortunate,
but pretty basic truth about humanity,
that the more important something is,
the more we can to mess it up.
It’s true of governance.
True of economies.
True of relationships.
And true of faith and religion.
How many times have we wondered,
“How did we get from Jesus, to the current state of affairs?”
My frustration with religious leaders and religious hypocrisy,
has occasionally dragged down my view of the whole faith,
and of the Bible.
I suspect I’m not the only one who,
in the face of hypocrisy, violence and vitriol,
quoting scripture for defense,
has wondered, “Is this really a good book?”
Filled, as it is, with complexity and difficulty.
With strange and seemingly backward laws.
With wars and unfit leaders?
Of course there’s lots of good stuff too.
But it is no doubt complicit,
in some measure of our violence, our oppression, our domination, our misogyny.
And given these challenges,
I’ve occasionally wondered,
if we might not just leave it behind.

It seems like a radical proposal, I know.
But people of course do it all the time.
Leaving behind scripture and community,
in favor of personal communion with God.
And self-directed spirituality.
And I for one,
can empathize.

The Good Book? - Richard R. Crocker

The Good Book
Rollins Chapel
Richard R. Crocker
March 6, 2011
Luke 28:44-48

Many people who have actually read the Bible through – I mean completely through, not in bits and snatches, wonder why it is often called “The Good Book.” Most of us read the Bible quite selectively. We learn “Bible stories” in Sunday school. If we hear scripture read during worship, it usually comes from a lectionary which emphasizes certain parts of scripture and leaves out others altogether. Fundamentalists (of all kinds) often tell us that we cannot “pick and choose” when we read the Bible – but we must take all of it as equally inspired, equally valuable, and equally authoritative. I find that many of those who argue from such a position either (1) have not in fact read the whole Bible, and (2) have their own favorite passages upon which they erected their whole theology, while ignoring contrasting points of view.

To read the whole Bible is to encounter a confusing, complex, and sometimes dreadful text. The passages that bring us comfort, that declare the sovereignty of a loving and merciful God, are interspersed with passages that should cause any contemporary reader, whether Jew, Christian, or simply human, to blanche, or to recoil in horror Thus, for example, many of the stories of the kings of Israel depict God as commanding the complete extermination of his enemies. Even the story of Noah and the ark, taught to us all in Sunday school, is presented as a story of comfort: God will not totally destroy the people of the earth, we are told, and a rainbow is the sign of that promise. But this comes only after God has already destroyed all human beings, except Noah and his family, and all creatures, except two of each kind. I could go on – but my point is not how many such stories are part of our sacred scripture, but that some are. How could we then overlook such passages to call the Bible the good book?