Brown Spirit: Thursday Night Supper

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Welcome to the conversation about religion and spirituality at Brown! Religion is a key facet of the identity of many students on campus. Supporting a vast array of religious groups and promoting various inter-faith activities, Brown offers plenty of opportunities to both nurture your own faith and to understand the faith of others.  Come join Mitch Akutsu in his column Brown Spirit to be immersed in the soul of Brown.

Hey all! I hope all of you in New England or New York, or the Midwest (I’m from Ohio!!), or anywhere where winter is super chilly, are enjoying the beginning of good weather. Providence is finally getting there. We had the most perfect weather for our Spring Weekend festivities last week. On a more important note, I hope your college decision or search process is going well!

This week I’m going to talk about a 45+ year old tradition at Brown- Thursday Night Supper. 45 years of Thursdays where Brown students, faculty, and staff enjoy a conversation about religion, faith, spirituality, or ethics over dinner. I find it a little mind-blowing how long this tradition has been going on. Every week a speaker is invited to this open space to speak about how they live a life of spirit. And guess where Thursday Night Supper happens- in the cozy home of the Chaplain of Religious Life, Janet Cooper Nelson. If anything, any college student should come just to remember how it feels to enjoy dinner in an actual house setting. But, honestly, I usually go just for the great conversation.

This week was especially interesting. We talked about stories. Narrative is essential to many religious traditions. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all draw from the Old Testament and Quran stories of Adam, Noah, and Abraham. We discussed how we may have perceived these kinds of stories as children and how they may affect us today. In light of the movie that just came out, we spent a lot of time talking about Noah. The animals, the ark, the flood. We noted how strange it is that it’s so common to teach this story to children because of its grave implications. I mean, the whole world gets flooded, everyone but a few people die. But it’s just so fun to draw the pairs of animals, the ark, and the rainbow that comes after the flood. The history behind these stories is rich and incredible. We discussed whether or not it’s fair that people are beginning to be more empirically analytical of these stories. Were these stories ever meant to teach science? Were these stories meant to reveal truth as is, or is the truth hidden in the meaning of the story, or the roles played by the characters? When you land on that itsy-bitsy island after the flood is over, do you burn the wood of the ship you lived on to start a fire and stay warm? Everyone has been in that situation where they have to let go of things that were once essential to their survival. Perhaps we have to play the role of Noah one day, and perhaps we’re in the role of the wandering Hebrews in Exodus the next day. It was a really interesting discussion. With the Noah movie, we concluded that while it may have been Biblically inaccurate in some ways, the fact that it sparked any conversation at all made it worth the watch.

Also, another bit of special news- Christina Paxson, President of Brown, joined in on this week’s dinner and discussion. It was really great to be in a relatively intimate conversation with the president! Just the fact that we were in the Chaplain’s home, gathered not only as students, but also with faculty, staff, and the president herself, reminded me just how down-to-earth a place like Brown is. While faculty may be given the lecture podium, they by no means want to stay behind it. They always take the first chance they can get to be with the students, for academic interactions or even friend-to-friend bonding. In this spirit, I know my education here has been top-notch, whether it be in the religious sphere through events like Thursday Night Supper, or in my academic classes, which have ranged from community ecology to city politics to Ghanain drumming.

I’m glad you could listen in! See you next week! Maybe in person for those coming to ADOCH!!!!! I’m pumped!

Thanks for reading!  Have any questions at all about religion, spiritual life, or Brown in general? Feel free to shoot me an email at Takamichi_Akutsu@brown.edu with any of your questions or comments!

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