Love Thy Neighbor, Harvard

Statue of John Harvard

I have a neighbor whom I love and I deplore. This neighbor is rich, delivers great classes, inculcates our youth into the echelons of power, and sometimes leans in on justice. I love him, I love him not. I often have to contend with this guy. Who is this bemouth taking up lots of real estate in my mixed neighborhood? It’s Harvard Yard, Harvard housing, and its ubiquitous campuses. Like wild turkeys protected in Cambridge, Harvard is an institution with a long tail.

Harvard College was the first higher education in the US, starting in 1636. John Harvard, never taught there but on his death in 1638 he left his library and half his estate. So the name, Harvard, was derived from the gift bestowed, setting a tone for future accumulation of fortune. In 2015 Harvard’s endowment was $37.6 billion, far above all other US university finances. That’s $37 billion, with a "b". Michael Bloomberg, ranked by Forbes as one of the richest men in the world, is a Harvard alumnus.


Harvard struggles with racism, and has since its inception. A missionary group (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) raised money long ago for Native people’s education at Harvard. The Harvard Charter of 1650 dedicates the school to “the education of the English and Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness.” Here’s how its president, Josiah Quincy III, described the College’s first years. “In the night, slumbers were broken by the howl of the wild beast, or by the yell and the war whoop of the savage.” Contemporary fears were plainly extolled in the paper, “New England’s First Fruits,” whose first page says of Native Americans, “our very bowels yearning within us to see them go downe to Hell by swarms without remedy.”  Harvard also had a role in the violent King Philip’s War, a terrible massacre in Massachusetts.

Metacomet leader and chief

John Sassamon, a Massachusett man, became the first known Native American to study at Harvard. At first an Indian Bible translator, Sassamon later became a scribe and interpreter to Wampanoag Chief Metacom (a.k.a. Metacomet, King Philip). In 1675 Sassamon was murdered as an English informant, touching off King Philip’s War, New England’s most devastating conflict between Natives and Settlers. Thousands of Native Peoples lost their lives and 10 percent of white men of military age were killed.

Here are 3 of Harvard’s Rules of Conduct in 1642:
* Know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, to lay Christ as the only foundation of all sound  knowledge and learning.
* Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day.
* No one shall, without his tutor's leave, go abroad to other towns.

  • To my surprise, I found this code from Harvard’s’ business college written in 2009,
    * I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers, and the society.
    * I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
    * I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.

I find myself at Harvard in 2017 thinking of the rise of white supremacy ( eg. Charlottesville), with the climate catastrophe in Bangladesh and Southeast US on my mind. I listened to Cornel West give an opening talk to the Harvard Divinity School this month. An oratory genius, the talk by the Harvard professor was called, Spiritual Blackout, Imperil Meltdown, and Prophetic Fightback. The truth of white brutality towards Blacks, and how we rip apart immigrant families is alive in the US Empire. Our chief in the White House encourages callousness and indifference. West calls indifference to evil as more pathetic than evil itself. But the prophet, even one from Harvard, allows suffering to speak to the bottom of our souls. None of us are innocent of the current catastrophe’s. Can we look unflinchingly at these errors and open our hearts? Is Black Lives Matter offering us prophetic fightback?

Cornel West- contemporary Harvard prophet

Maybe I can ask my neighbor, Harvard, to give $1 billion out of its $37 billion to the refugees in the Gulf of Mexico, another billion to Bangladesh, another to BLM, another to the restitution on Metacomet’s children. Harvard, you and I are both racist. We both have checkered pasts. I can think of 35 ways for you to give one billion dollars and still have enough for you to have millions stashed away. We, Euro-Americans and wealthy neighbors need to face the injustice of our history, and give with our hearts.

Calm Waters during Hurricanes

Rembrandt Storm on Sea of Galilee

A story of Jesus and the disciples tells how the fishermen were in a boat probably looking for supper when a storm comes up. Jesus is asleep (long work day maybe) and the boat is pitching back and forth in a sudden storm. Mark 4:35-41: “Don’t you care if we drown?” (NIV).
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Is the US Election Over?

~~~ Our lives on the line~~
~~~ Our lives on the line ~~~

Dear Ones — know that you are love and are living on Earth to love. This is not a social media announcement. I’m probably breaking the rules~not the first time.

We can do acts of kindness. We can give more from our larder, walk in the shoes of a mother from Honduras, tutor in a poor school with immigrants, open our homes to Syrians. This is Christian charity, and it is good. We can give from our hearts. And often in charity we only give from our excess. Is this all we are called to do? Is kindness in safe measures what Jesus did? Or what the Holy Spirit today is asking us?Read more

A Long View

Tree where Jesus Healed
Tree where Jesus Healed

Coming home after a sabbatical is a love-hate journey. I love connecting with friends. I hate shopping and all the ‘stuff.’ I love curbside recycling; I hate all the plastic packaging in the US. Many friends are interested in the trip: What did you learn? What was the highlight? How did the 10 month sojourn change you? I hate-and love- all those questions.

Does a long trip change me more than if I had stayed home in Cambridge? Yes, my body changed for me; my mind paced itself differently; my synapses fired in different circuits; my prayers seemed more intimate and yet broader too.

I can say for certain as I traveled to Israel and then East Africa, my eyes changed. A few times in Jericho and Jerusalem, I saw Jesus walking on the marble steps. Jesus’ eyes were piercing; his sandals were made of rope. When he looked my way, my prayers glowed. Jerusalem was beautiful and so disturbing. My eyes couldn’t get enough, and daily acquaintances mentioned the killings, stolen dignity, imposing walls.Read more

Rains Come to a Parched Land

Marati Ghat from Ganges
Marati Ghat from Ganges

I am ending my sabbatical with 4 days in Varanasi, the holy Hindu city, thousands of years old. Varanasi, maybe the oldest city in the world, is also known as Kashi, the City of Light. Temples, all 800 of them, light torches and ring bells twice a day. Shiva, the creator and destroyer was born here. Two daughters, the Varuna and Assi Rivers, join their mother Ganga at this place. The Ganges begins in the mountain streams of Himalayans. It is beyond beauty--and terribly damaged.

The river is the longest in South Asia and serves the highest population density. Flowing through 29 cities, it provides water to 40% of India's population. Too bad Mother Ganga is treated like a septic tank--sewers, piles of trash, cows and humans take daily 'dumps' into the river. Diseases and fecal coliform rates are sky-high. Yet people daily swim, fish, and do their laundry. It is truly amazing how Hindis trust the health of their Mother, and I try to fathom such respect. During the two Hindu holy weeks, 70 million bathe in mother Ganga to 'cleanse' themselves.Read more

India 33 Years after the Disaster

Jain Temple on Bhopal Lake
Jain Temple on Bhopal Lake

What makes the city of Bhopal in India famous? It is crowned with a huge lake, and is dubbed the City of Lakes. Have you heard of its amazing inter-religious harmony- Christians, Jains, Hindus-- all respect each other-- and almost a third of its population Muslim? Have you heard of Bhopal's prosperity with small commercial enterprises of jute, textiles and pottery along with a predominance of farming?

For those of us over 40 years, we know Bhopal as having the largest ever industrial disaster in 1984 with 4,000-16,000 deaths. The villain, Union Carbide, leaked 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas (MIC or cyanide), being produced for pesticides. As with Cherynobol and BP's Deepwater explosion in the Gulf, the safety mechanisms were inadequate and the danger was minimized so that profit could be maximized.Read more

Moving Mountains in Nepal

On the road to Pokara

The first of June saw the last day of our Nepal marathon—6 days straight doing AVP workshops.The last three days were at PsychDesk, a counseling/training center. Eighteen graduate psych students and social workers came, about ten were turned away for lack of space.

During AVP we often ask around the room, "Where would you most want to visit in the world?" 60% of the participants wanted to visit special temples, or natural phenomenon like Mustang, Muktinath or Manag -- all within Nepal. Any other workshop people want to visit new countries. But there's no place like Nepal. Please enjoy some photos posted below.Read more