October 28, 2008

First black Senate chaplain challenges students to ask for God’s guidance

Barry C. Black, the 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate, delivered a lecture entitled “The Last Lecture” at the University last Friday. Black, elected in 2003 as the Senate Chaplain after serving 27 years as the United States Navy Chaplain, is the first black man to hold this office.

In his talk, Black reflected on his childhood in a single-parent family in an impoverished Baltimore neighborhood. The title of his lecture referenced both Jesus’s last sermon to his disciples before his death and Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch’s lecture after his diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer.

“Have peace even in the midst of a storm,” Black said, discussing the anchoring role religious faith played in his childhood, “but also keep in mind that life is difficult, and the moment you accept that, life gets easier.”

Although religion was the central focus of Black’s lecture, his speech included ample self-reflection and advice. He shared his personal habit of listing, in the back of his Bible, goals he knew he said he could not accomplish without supernatural help.

“I had 33 goals written in the back of my Bible,” Black said. “I’ve accomplished 29.”

The lecture ended with audience questions, ranging from how Black reconciles his faith with reality to the role of the religious right in American politics. One audience member asked Black how he discerned what to ask for and how to know when to take risks.

“Your desires are planted in your heart by God, so ask yourself what makes you excited,” Black said. “What do you dream of? What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”