October 26, 2016

My Open Letter to Greater Liberty

October 25, 2016

from Ed Chasteen

This place I call Greater Liberty is not a place I ever planned to be. But it long ago became the place I cannot leave. I was required to come to this little place on the planet by the fellowship I accepted from the University of Missouri in Columbia in 1964. Together with my wife and three small children, we moved to a house at 10920 Ewing St. in Hickman Mills. I would drive early each morning to the Railway Exchange Building on the corner of 7th and Walnut in Kansas City where Community Studies had offices, this being the locally funded non-profit doing research on social problems in the city.

Over the year to come I interviewed hundreds of people on all sides of a public vote taken just before I came to decide if the city would continue its policy and practice of denying its black citizens the use of public accommodations. By a small margin the city voted to change. I wrote my doctoral dissertation describing how each side explained and organized itself and analyzing the vote in each voting ward by race and income. When my fellowship year was up and I had my PhD, I was free to leave. But knowing so many people and their problems in living together, I felt an urge to stick around too powerful to deny. I could go anywhere and teach the same books, but I would not know the people and their problems as I did here. At least for a while I would stay. Until the problems were worked out. Maybe I could help. I took a job at William Jewell College in Liberty, planning to stay a year, maybe two, then go back to Texas, where I had grown up.

These 51 years later my wife and I still live in Liberty in the only house we’ve ever owned. I am Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at William Jewell. Our now grown children live nearby. I came long ago to see myself as a doctor, not of the physical health of individuals but of the social well being of my community: this community I call Greater Liberty. My self-chosen task? Diagnose community problems. Then prescribe what I see as the remedy. By calling the community I serve Greater Liberty I seek to honor the name of my town, but even more I mean to call attention to the fact that each and every person among us has Greater Liberty than we ever know to rise above and beyond all the limitations that others expect of us and we too uncritically assume we must accept.

We all are known to others by color, religion, education, income, gender, age, political party, county of origin, sexual orientation and more. Rather than set us apart, making us fearful and angry, our differences can make us stronger, as alloys turn iron into steel. “Simply profound and profoundly simple, a formula for building human beings”: so said a reviewer about How To Like People Who Are not Like You, the book I wrote to do just that.

Our religious life has been enriched by the presence among us of the Islamic Center of the Northland, meeting for the past 13 years at Hillside Christian Church. Now in 2016 our Muslim neighbors are nearing completion of their own building near Metro North. On behalf of my church, Second Baptist in Liberty, I extend greetings and welcome their presence, as together we enrich the spiritual life of Greater Liberty.

Together with the Interfaith Council of Greater Kansas City, William Jewell College, Second Baptist Church and HateBusters, the non-profit I lead, and in recognition of 2016 as an Olympics year, when World Class Athletes gather for competition, we declare 2016 as the year of World Class Persons, and define such persons as those who can go anyplace at any time and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

To give practice to those who aspire to become World Class Persons, I will pair persons from different faiths. Each will be given the email address of the other and seven sets of questions to guide the seven conversations they will have together. Then every seventh Tuesday from May 3, 2016 until May 30, 2017, I will give everyone opportunity to gather Beneath the Steeple at William Jewell College from 7:30-9 o’clock in the evening to listen to the stories of the folks we are becoming for a while.

I never met a person I didn’t like. I don’t think it’s possible to like a person we haven’t met. To meet every person I can and expect to like every person I meet: This is my life’s ambition. Please join me. Send me an email. You need only say: I WANT IN. I will send you more.

October 26, 2016

Here I Stand

by Ed Chasteen

When this election season that seems interminable is finally over, anyone who in the slightest way did or said anything in support or defense of Donald Trump will have forfeited all claim to the high moral ground. All political and spiritual leaders associated with Mr. Trump will have diminished themselves, will owe the American people an apology and will have failed the test of leadership.

October 20, 2016

Greater Liberty Breakfast Club

Sunday, October 9, 2016

by Ed Chasteen

Greater Liberty for each of us is increasingly possible. People from all over the world are moving all over the world to work and to live. Neighborhoods everywhere are home to folks from places all over the planet. Facebook and face-time create virtual community. Technology and trade reduce psychological and physical distance. No longer are we pockets of people on the far side of mountains and oceans. Now by interstate and internet, by plane, train and automobile, on foot and bicycle we are neighbors.

The boundaries of race and religion that fence us in grow ever more porous as we meet and greet. When we draw up a chair at the breakfast table and listen as we eat, then has Greater Liberty come into our lives. Aspiring World Class Persons we become, able with practice to go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

This Sunday, October 9th morning at Ginger Sue’s in our town called Liberty eight of us have come: Laeeq Azmat, Khalid Hussain, Ann Henning, David Sallee, Jeff Buscher, Ed Chasteen, Carol Hogue, Lynn Hogue. From William Jewell College, Second Baptist Church and Islamic Center of the Northland the eight of us have come to talk about the recent attempted arson at the mosque now being built. Others from our church and college are with us in spirit.

For 13 years Hillside Christian Church at 900 NE Vivion Road has hosted Friday Prayers and holy day celebrations for Islamic Center of the Northland. A few years back, ICN purchased property near Metro North to build their mosque. The recent fire caused little damage. It did cause fear: that others might do them harm; that no one might care. Our breakfast is our beginning effort to allay their fears and send a message that such mistreatment of our neighbors is not welcome and will not be tolerated.

Ann Henning will call Laeeq’s wife to find out how she and others from our church might help. Jeff will contact Khalid to plan how students from our college can help with tree plantings planned for the property where the mosque is being built.

As our breakfast comes to a close I make an assignment to everyone. “Please invite one other person to have breakfast with you. As you eat, tell the other person about our breakfast this morning. Tell them why we met and what we plan to do. Ask them then to invite one other person to breakfast and tell them what you have said. Please send me an email message when you have had your breakfast. Ask your person to email you when they have had a friend to breakfast.”

October 20, 2016

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

By Ed Chasteen

“Of all the books you’ve ever read, which one would you most like to have written?” This was my question to the other three guys I have lunch with on the first Monday of every month. I volunteered to go first. This email message to them is my answer.

Dred Scott was a slave in the United States of America. In 1846 he sued his owner for his freedom. For 11 years his case wound its way through the courts. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, prohibiting assistance to fugitive slaves and strengthening sanctions even in free states. In 1857 the United States Supreme Court found that no black man had legal standing and, therefore, Dred Scott could not bring suit.

During this time, Harriet Beecher Stowe moved with her family to Brunswick, Maine, where her husband was now teaching at Bowdoin College. Stowe claimed to have a vision of a dying slave during a communion service at the college chapel, which inspired her to write his story. However, what more likely allowed her to empathize with slaves was the loss of her eighteen-month-old son, Samuel Charles Stowe. She even stated the following, “Having experienced losing someone so close to me, I can sympathize with all the poor, powerless slaves at the unjust auctions. You will always be in my heart Samuel Charles Stowe.” On March 9, 1850, Stowe wrote to Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the weekly anti-slavery journal National Era, that she planned to write a story about the problem of slavery: “I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak. I hope every woman who can write will not be silent.”

Shortly after in June, 1851, when she was 40, the first installment of her Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in serial form in the newspaper National Era. She originally used the subtitle “The Man That Was A Thing”, but it was soon changed to “Life Among the Lowly.”Installments were published weekly from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. For the newspaper serialization of her novel, Stowe was paid $400. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in book form on March 20, 1852, by John P. Jewett with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. Each of its two volumes included three illustrations and a title-page designed by Hammatt Billings. In less than a year, the book sold an unprecedented 300,000 copies. By December, as sales began to wane, Jewett issued an inexpensive edition at 37 1/2 cents each to stimulate sales. The internet today is filled with laudatory stories about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Print and audio versions are widely and cheaply available.

When I taught race relations at William Jewell College, I for the first time read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was so mesmerized by it that I would sometimes appear in class and speak in first person as Uncle Tom telling my story and the stories of slave trader Haley, master Shelby and his wife, Chole, Eliza and George, the Quakers, Eva, Marie and Augustine St. Clare, Ophelia, Topsy, Simon Legree, Cassy and Emmeline.

My present and much-marked-up copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published by Dover Thrift Editions, ordered online from Amazon for $5.00, is # 10 font and 379 pages in length. Every page of the book stirs my soul and my mind. That such things as described in this book took place in my country shortly before the birth of my grandparents, that residues infect us still; both burden my soul and cause me great pain as I contemplate our cavalier dismissal of what transpired in our national life before we came of age. What now do we do with this dark legacy?

For a beginning, a partial answer , let us turn to the final paragraph on page 379 of my copy of UTC: “But what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do,–they can see to it that they feel right. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or woman who feels strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter.”

And on page 75 of this good book, Mrs. Bird, a Quaker mother whose little Henry had died, gives his keepsake possessions to Eliza and George and their little child, all fugitive slaves bound for freedom in Canada. This book describes this Quaker woman with these words: “There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed. Among such was the delicate woman who sits there by the lamp, dropping slow tears, while she prepares the memorials of her own lost one for the outcast wanderer.”

Augustine St. Clare in explaining to his sister, Ophelia, on page 181, his having slaves while living with a troubled conscience: “Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and its the same story,–the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit, for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere; and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation, because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they do it.”

As Uncle Tom’s Cabin begins, Tom himself is safely ensconced with a good master, living with Chloe and his children in a little cabin on master Shelby’s plantation when his master’s sudden reversal of fortune puts him at the mercy of slave trader Haley. While being taken down the Mississippi River to the slave market at New Orleans, Tom saves little Eva St. Clare from drowning, is bought by her father, Augustine St. Clare, given authority over his household and promised his freedom at some near time. When that time is almost come, St. Clare intervenes in a bar room fight and is fatally stabbed. Marie St. Clare, Augustine’s wife, does not share her husband’s ambivalence toward slavery and puts Tom and all her slaves on the market.

Tom is bought by Simon Legree and taken to his desolate plantation. Because he is strong and dependable, Legree plans to install Tom over all his slaves. Despite being almost freed twice before and longing for his wife and children, Tom’s spirit is not broken. A small Bible he has somehow been able to keep secret from all his tormentors. On the Shelby plantation young master George Shelby had instructed Tom in the rudiments of reading and Tom has committed passages to memory that convey his soul to places Legree and no other mortal can reach. By his benevolent attitude toward all the other of Legree’s slaves and his suffering at the hands of Legree on their behalf, Tom rises to a prominence among the slaves. While benefiting Legree financially by producing more cotton, Legree resents his inability to break Tom and make him into the brute he hoped to have. In a rage, Legree sets on Tom Sambo and Quimbo, two of his slaves on whom he had worked his dark will.

Since coming of age and now with money, young George Shelby has been searching for Tom, planning to buy him and restore him to his family. George arrives at Legree’s plantation as Tom breathes his last, having endured a brutal beating from Legree’s brutes. Tom asks young George to tell Chloe, his wife, that he found him going to his eternal home where he was free at last.

To have caught in such picturesque and powerful words the legal and spiritual contradiction made inevitable by the admission of slavery into our national beginnings and for these words more than a century later still to be widely read would confer on any life ample reason for having breathed for a while in this place. Only by wishing that occasion for such writing never had occurred could a loftier purpose in living be possible.

October 17, 2016

Bestowed by Birth

2016 by Ed Chasteen

In what part of the world and to whom we are born no one of us has any choice. Our birth to a particular set of parents in a certain place on the planet sets in motion who and whose we will become. The language we speak and the faith we follow are but two of the many inheritances bestowed by birth.

How we think and what we believe come to us. We may by choice choose later to change. Always, though, will our view of the world and our place in it be filtered through that first language and faith. Wish as we might, we can never speak a second language first or understand another faith except through our first.

Now that languages and faiths move with ease around the world and take up residence in every country and city, people everywhere have been set at liberty from the limitations of oneness. Monopoly has long been seen as a weakness in the economy, leading as it always eventually does to inferior products at higher prices. With languages and faiths now mingled, Greater Liberty now is possible.

Entirely fitting is it now that in and around this town called Liberty, here in the geographic center (the Heart of) America have come folks of the Muslim faith to live, work and worship among us. Their mosques join our churches, synagogues, gudwaras, Buddhist, Hindu and Baha’i centers and other places of worship, enlarging our spiritual insights, making possible both competition and cooperation, elevating our mutual well being.

So in this October of 2016 we welcome the Islamic Center of the Northland, meeting currently at Hillside Christian Church at 900 NE Vivion Road while building their Islamic Community Center at 8801 N. Central Road. As Ambassador from Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology from William Jewell College and President of HateBusters, I pledge to our new faith partners our abiding support as together we seek all that is good here in Greater Liberty.

I invite others to join me in welcoming our Muslim neighbors. Send letters of support and welcome to HateBusters, Box 442, Liberty, MO 64069. I will personally deliver your letters.