August 23, 2016

Thoughts That Come as I Read

Tribe: On Homegoing and Belonging

by Ed Chasteen

Reading Sebastain Junger’s 2016 book, Tribe: On Homegoing and Belonging, I remembered something from when I was a graduate student at the University of Texas in 1960 and assigned to interview survivors of a tornado. We discovered that in the aftermath of destruction, people came to the aid of others and felt a sense of community greater than before the disaster they shared.

This long ago memory surfaced when I read in Tribe that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, two of the first Americans, struggled to understand why some colonists abandoned their settlements to join Indian tribes and why some captives when rescued refused to leave their captors and why some rejoined their colony only to voluntarily return to the tribe.

While reading Tribe, my mind also went to that Amish farmer I met when on a bicycle ride in 2010 along a country road in rural Missouri. On a sawhorse-plywood table beneath a homemade awning in front of his house, he was, with his two young daughters, selling homemade jellies, jams and pastries. Do you ever go to the nearby town to sell your goods?” I asked. “We avoid your society as much as possible. He said. “Are we really two societies?” I asked. “We are.” He said..

So, too, Junger shows, do returning veterans from America’s recent wars return to a second society markedly different from the military, with its clear purpose, strict discipline and small group cohesion. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may thus be seen as an indictment of this second society, almost totally removed from the values and lifestyles of the first. With this second society invested hardly at all in an all voluntary military, those returning are coming back to an alien society.

In concluding Tribe, Junger says, “If contemporary Ameica doesn’t develop ways to publicly confront the emotional consequences of war, those consequences will continue to burn a hole through the vets themselves.” (p. 122)

August 19, 2016

The Medicaid 23

by Ed Chasteen

Our Missouri Legislature voted in 2014 not to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage in Missouri, thereby denying hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens access to health care. Religious leaders from Missouri gathered in the Senate balcony in Jefferson City in May of 2014 to call attention to this dereliction of duty and moral failure by those we voted to lead us. Our elected leaders had our moral leaders arrested. Now two years later in August 2016, a Cole County court has found these good people guilty and a judge is deciding what punishment to apply. Because there were 23 of these moral leaders and Medicaid was their concern, they have been dubbed the Medicaid 23.

I personally know six of the 23. And knowing them, I know them all. The six I know are six I support without question or reservation.

When Kansas City department stores in 1964 were not allowing black people to use rest rooms or lunch counters or try on clothes, Reverend Wallace Hartsfield was a young pastor in town planning a march to a leading store in protest of that policy. That policy was changed. Dr. Hartsfield is now pastor emeritus of that church. His son of the same name is now pastor.

Vernon Howard was a student of mine at William Jewell College in the 1980s. As they entered class all students in my Race Relations class drew an envelope. Inside was the name of the person they would become in that class. I called them by that name. They answered all questions as that person. Vernon drew Malxom X. Reverend Dr. Vernon Howard is now pastor of St. Mark Union Church in Kansas City. The same church from which Rev. Sam Mann, another of the Medicaid 23, is the recently retired pastor.

Susan McCann is Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Missouri, an advocate and defender of the marginalized among us, her presence among the Medicaid 23 in Jeff City an expected and necessary expression of her life’s work.

Rev. Tony Johnson is pastor of First Baptist Church in Liberty. He and his church lead our town to recognize and confront those conditions Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount and prompted Tony’s presence among the Medicaid 23.

Rev. Sam Mann came to the Kansas City area as a young preacher whose message of justice brought no comfort to his comfortable church. When this church withdrew their welcome, St. Mark Union Church arose, with Sam Mann as pastor, a lifetime of eager and eloquent advocacy siding with the down and out underway.

As a teacher at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Tex Sample has for years led his students and legions of us who read his writings to a deep understanding of the demands placed upon us by our faith, causing us to take seriously what our Sunday School teachers and preachers urge upon us.

Knowing and valuing these six as I do, I extend to the other 17 my full support. “You are known by the friends you keep.” My mother when I was young said this to me most every day. Or so it seemed. And so today do I think of those who are friends of my friends.

The injustice done to my friends will be appealed to a higher court, giving hope still yet that justice may prevail. Even if so, however, injustice will have won for a season. The 23 will have been publicly attacked by those given power. Rather than a stain on the 23, though, time will expose the shortsightedness and wrongheadedness of those who wear the emperor’s clothes.

August 11, 2016

Round Table Beneath the Steeple

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

by Ed Chasteen

William Jewell College sits atop a high hill on the eastern edge of Liberty. “Looks like a Hollywood set,” I said to myself on first sight in 1965. Now in 2016 I’m Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. My wife is a retired grade school teacher in our town. Our three children are alums and our daughter is on the Jewell faculty.

Tonight beneath the steeple announcing Gano Chapel at the north end of our campus clustered along the four sides of a grassy quadrangle, six of us sit at the round a table as participants in our World Class Person Human Family Reunion Olympics Project.

Ann Henning is a 1958 Jewell graduate and a member of Second Baptist Church, just two blocks up Franklin Street from campus. Linda Prugh is a Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council member representing Vedanta. Ann and Linda are paired for purposes of our project, and tonight as we sit around the table each tells us what they have learned about the other by email. They sit side-by-side tonight as for the first time they meet in person.

Curtis Smith has come tonight. He and Alan Edelman plan lunch this week at a Panera’s Bread convenient to them both. Curtis teaches biology at Kansas City, Kansas Community College and heads their Annual Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival on the third Saturday in April. Alan is a member of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council representing the Jewish community.

Les Weirich is here tonight. Les is a member of Second Baptist Church paired with Michael Stephens from the GKCIC. Michael is also a WJC alum. Tonight Michael is in Atlanta, Georgia, representing Southwood United Church of Christ in Raytown where he is pastor. Les and Michael have lunched since being paired at a Cheddars convenient to both.

Bill Prugh has come tonight with Linda. A retired lawyer, Bill tells us he attends a Methodist church. Ann describes what Linda previously by email has told her about Linda’s journey through several faiths before finding a home in Vedanta.

Just days ago I had lunch with Eyyup Esen, a Muslim from Turkey with a PhD from KU now paired with Jeff Buscher, a WJC alum, member of 2BC, now on staff at WJC and holder of a doctorate from Central Baptist Seminary.

Because it’s somewhere close to his office, Eyyup and I had lunch at Panera Bread, 7070 Martway in Mission, Kansas. My friend Dorothy McClain from church would say about this unplanned prominence of Panera Bread that something beyond coincidence is at work. If she were still among the living, I would ask her to tell me what that is. But she has left me to wonder. And to wander.

Except for Andy Pratt none of us would be here beneath the steeple tonight. Andy is a Jewell alum, member of 2BC, holder of a seminary doctorate, a WJC vice-president, founder and leader of the Center for Justice and Sustainability at WJC. A medical condition limits Andy for a few weeks and prevents his presence tonight. We are here with his blessing. Soon he will be back leading the way.

To date we have 12 pairs signed up for our WCPHFROP. We will have opportunity again to gather at the round table beneath the steeple seven Tuesdays from now on Setember 27 at 7:30-9:00 in the evening. More pairs will emerge in the interim. To become one of a pair, send me your email request at

Meanwhile we keep emailing one another with the questions I supply and will email to anyone on request.

July 15, 2016

Rocky Mountain National Park

July 25, 2016 by Ed Chasteen

One hundred-one years old as a national park, this Cathedral of the Infinite has been millions of years in the making. The parts of five days I’m here do not register on either time scale. My own life of now 24,401 days is hardly a blip.

Before the river that runs through it was named Fall; the settlement, Estes Park; the road, Elkhorn; the log cabin on that road, MacDonald Bookstore, these mountains were ancient beyond human comprehension.

All life forms here have flourished and faded over countless millenia as wind and water have with patience and persistence humans cannnot practice molded the physical environment to a geologic design.

Cataclysmic events at random times over eons abruptly and dramatically intrude. A new normal prevails. And shapes belief and behavior.

That we are along for the ride is a notion that comes with us when we visit the Magic Kingdom or sit in the dark for another Star Wars sequel. So beyond our human life span is all that our national parks conjure that unspeakable AWE overtakes all our faculties. We are drawn here by urgings we cannot articulate and can never satisfy.

Up the nine mile one-way multiple swithback dirt road to the Alpine Visitor’s Center where snow lives year round and air is thin, those of us who come glimpse for a moment a dimension to our lives in no other way accessible to us. To those who came earlier to this place and in their wisdom left it intact for us we owe a gratitude that only our stewardship of their legacy is an adequate response.

Let it be so.

June 13, 2016

My name is Ed Chasteen. I am 80 years old. I map my life by the presidents who have served in my lifetime: FDR for my first 10 years brought CCC and WPA for my dad and Social Security for my grandmother. HST when THE WAR ended. DDE when the interstate highways came. JFK when we went to the moon. RMN when China opened. GRF guided the nation through the resignation of his predecessor. JEC brought a national energy policy. RWR ended the cold war. GHWB wanted to make America a kinder, gentler nation. WJC brought the Health Security Act, AmeriCorps and a balanced budget. GWB provided Medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors and funding for the AIDS relief program. BHO brought the Affordable Care Act, providing health insurance to millions.

Now we are about to choose our next president. If Donald Trump did not aspire to speak for our nation, I would still find his language and demeanor insulting, but would grant him the same right I claim for myself to say what I think. But since he does aspire to the presidency, I promise to use what little influence I have to oppose him. His views, his language, his proposed actions, his entire approach to problems and to people enflame our present enemies and grow their numbers, making our success ever more doubtful and difficult.

If Trump is triumpfant, the Ugly American will have won a hollow victory, destined by history to be known as a time of loud, thoughtless, ignorant, ethnocentric behavior. As sound and fury. Signifying nothing. Making everything difficult.

Admiral David Farragut at the battle of Mobile Bay in America’s Civil War saw his ship surrounded by mines. Survival seemed unlikely; victory impossible. But his defiant order inspired his crew to heroic effort that made history: “Damn the torpedos. Full speed ahead.”

Stopping Trump is from now until election day in November my goal.


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