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?