January 22, 2019

Catch-22

 

To fly a bomber on a mission he might not come back from, the pilot could not be insane. But if he asked not to fly out of fear he might not come back, the request itself was proof of his being sane; therefore, he must fly. Taking its name from the title of the novel in which it appeared, this absurdity came to be known as Catch-22 and took its rightful place in the English language as a description of the ultimate bureaucratic blunder into a maze of interminable doublespeak nonsense, adding unintended dark humor to a real-life intractable human dilemma.

I was turned down by numerous publishers year ago because I had no reputation. I had no reputation because I had not published. As I understood my situation, to get a reputation I had to publish and to publish I had to have a reputation.

This low grade Catch-22 was overcome when I wrote a letter to five prominent people with national and international reputations. I asked for their endorsement. I told them my problem. I told them I would send their endorsement letters with my story, substituting their endorsement for my lack of reputation. I thought I might get one or two tepid letters from my chosen five. Instead! I got five glowing endorsements. I sent them all. Soon my story was in a national magazine, was seen by a book publisher, and became my first book.

A graduate school rejected my application for admission, saying that my scores on standardized tests were not “predictive of a high level of performance.” A year later that same department gave me their biggest fellowship and a year after that, my PhD, which my irreverent and insightful brother-in-law says stand for Piled High and Deep.

Loving ideas and ideals as I do, I think of my PhD as my union card, giving me entry and sufficient income to live my life in a sheltered environment. An environment called by a long-time, far-sighted, deep-thinking leader when speaking privately and off the record, “A little piss ant college in a little Podunk town.” To larger and more public audiences, this same leader was appropriately eloquent in our claim to be the best and care the most.

My first book got me invited to the State Department in DC, along with guys from prestigious places across the country. I soon discovered that they knew and cared no more than I and might well profit from an irreverent and insightful view of their place in the pecking order.

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January 18, 2019

William Jewell College, Second Baptist Church & Greater Liberty

1-15-19

By Ed Chasteen

 

William Jewell was a medical doctor near Columbia, Missouri prior to the American Civil War and an active Baptist layman. He donated money to buy the land for a college, and in 1849, William Jewell College opened its doors in Liberty, Missouri, though the first students met in the basement of nearby Second Baptist Church.

I came to William Jewell 116 years later in 1965. Graduating high school and college in the east Texas piney woods, I understood that Missouri was in the United States somewhere. I’d never heard of Liberty or William Jewell.

I came as a graduate student to the University of Missouri in Columbia after the chairman of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas retired and the new chairman came from California with a different agenda and some of his favored students. After a year on campus, MU gave me a fellowship to finish my PhD and required me to move to Kansas City. When my year in KC was up and I had my degree I had met so many local people and knew so much about local social issues that I did not want to leave. A faculty position in the sociology department at William Jewell came open at this very time.

I had been at Jewell less than a week when I met Dr. H.I. Hester. At our first meeting, Dr. Hester invited me to his house just off campus. I would be one of a faculty foursome to play Rook. During that evening, Dr. Hester took me aside to offer advice. “You need to put down your roots. You don’t have to move around to make your mark.”

Like Dr. William Jewell, I grew up Baptist. The sins of card playing, dancing, mixed bathing, cussing, drinking, gambling were condemned in week-long revivals that came around three or four times a year. When I went home to my wife that night after Dr. Hester’s invitation to play Rook, I said to her, “I met God. And he plays cards.”

What I haven’t told you is that I had heard of Dr. Hester long before I came to Jewell. The college I went to in my east Texas hometown did not offer any religion classes, but the Baptist Student Union did, and the college gave credit. I took both of the classes the BSU offered: The New Testament and The Old Testament. Both books we used as texts written by H.I. Hester.

I had come to Jewell because it was so close to Kansas City. I could continue to be part of the community I had come to know. I would stay for a while. Until I saw how the problems I cared about were worked out. Then go home to Texas, where my family and my wife’s family all lived, where we had grown up and had longtime friends.

I had been at Jewell five years when I was offered a job at the very college in the very Texas town where Bobbie and I had agreed years earlier that would be our ideal place to live and work. We went for the interview. The place had not lost its charm. Bobbie and I asked for time to decide. We drove around town as we talked. We agreed. We went back to the college. I told them thanks for the offer. But we couldn’t leave Liberty or William Jewell.

Just a block off campus and of the same Baptist identity, Second Baptist Church became spiritual home to many of the staff, faculty and students from William Jewell College. In the mid-eighties that church appointed me Ambassador from Second Baptist Church to Other Communities of Faith. The Second Baptist pastor at that time referred often to our church as “this little piece of God’s good earth.”

Following my bicycle ride the summer of ’87 from Orlando, Florida to Seattle, Washington to Anaheim, California, I expanded this little piece of God’s good earth out from our town 125-miles in all directions and dubbed this place Greater Liberty(www.greaterliberty.org) . I had biked 125 miles on my longest days across the country; hence, Greater Liberty’s outer boundaries became Creston, Iowa up north and Carthage, Missouri down south; Manhattan, Kansas out west and Columbia, Missouri over east.

A year after I was home and teaching Race Relations as I had done every fall for 23 years, a member of the KKK was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature. I had told every class that it is never enough just to know about a social problem. We must also be prepared to act. After much discussion we formed HateBusters (www.hatebusters.com) . We designed a T-shirt, wrote a theme song. We decided that we had to go to Louisiana. But only if we were invited.

I called a friend in KC, a man I’d met doing my fellowship. We had worked together on numerous projects since. He knew someone in the governor’s office in Baton Rouge. A few days later a letter came from the governor inviting us to come. A black minister in KC had gone to seminary with a pastor in Baton Rouge. He invited us. An airline flew us there for free.

We held a 100 mile bike ride from the State Capital out through small towns, inviting everyone to the Human Family Reunion that night at the host church. We were written up in the metropolitan paper. The governor sent his representative to welcome us. To counter the negative publicity election of the Klansman had generated, we wanted more publicity for the good guys than the bad guy got.

Word got out. We began to get invitations from governors, mayors, universities, religious and civic leaders across the country. So in demand in so many places! My other faculty duties suffered. I needed focus.

So I became Professor Emeritus, with no classes to teach. Guided by a lawyer friend and Jewell alum, we incorporated HateBusters as a 501 C-3 non-profit, dedicated to opposing hate and teaching people how to like people.

And we narrowed our focus. We still think globally, but now act locally. Greater Liberty became our place and also our principle. We respond to any act of hate targeting folks in Greater Liberty. Immediately! With any help they tell us they need. Free of charge.

To any place in Greater Liberty we offer to teach our book, How To Like People Who Are not Like You. We live in that world above and beyond all the labels people apply and all of us assume: race, religion, gender, age, nation, etc. Every person on the planet is precious. All are invited to the Human Family Reunion we hold at William Jewell every fall and spring.

When I came to Liberty in 1965, both William Jewell College and Second Baptist Church were affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Both left the SBC in the late eighties when the Convention sought more control, Jewell to continue as a campus where all colors are welcome and all creeds examined; 2BC to join with Cooperative Baptists in expanding our ministry and embracing the overlooked and underserved.

HateBusters headquarters moved in 1995 off campus to my basement office and my computer and printer. Here we do our work. To meet people, HateBusters chose a local café, where the first table inside the door became our public office. And on campus, the office of Inclusion and Diversity become the home of HateBusters, Second Baptist Church appointed me Ambassador to Other Communities of Faith. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Native Americans, Baha’is and others came to us and we went to them, always understanding that we did not intend to join or to convert. Our soul and sole agenda: to make friends of neighbors, and maybe head off some future friction when religious rivalry reares up.

HateBusters promises to help anyone in Greater Liberty whose race, religion, gender, age, nationality or sexual orientation is targeted by hate. We will contact the victim and ask the need. We will provide that need. Free of charge.

Eyesight of 20-20 is thought of as ideal. So by the year 2020, HateBusters hopes to make our programs and priorities known to all 105 county seat towns in Greater Liberty, in local cafes, schools, faith communities, civic clubs, town councils, local newspapers, radio stations.

Before we are six or seven or eight, we have to be taught to hate the people our relatives hate. Since nobody is born hating, we are all natural born hate busters. If you have been taught to hate and choose not to change, send us your name and we will take you off the list. Otherwise, you’re one of us. We give away membership cards wherever we go. We keep in touch by email.

I was 15 years old and in my hometown Texas church. Our pastor preached about loving all people. I felt heaven come down to earth. That feeling lasted no longer than it took me to walk to the door. As I walked between two deacons, I heard one say to the other, “If them niggers try to come in this church, I’ll beat ‘em back with a baseball bat.”  Said the other, “Me too.”

Three years later I graduated high school and walked across town to our local college. I stopped by the bookstore. A book caught my eye: The Negro in America. Here was somebody trying to figure out intellectually the spiritual problem I saw in church. I took that book to the cashier. “What major is this book for?” I asked. “Sociology,” she said. “That’s my major!” Said I.

Eleven years later, age 29, with a wife, three children and a newly-minted PhD in Sociology, I joined the Jewell faculty, having spent the previous year studying who took what side and how they got out their vote in a public referendum Kansas City held that year to decide if black people would continue to be denied access to public accommodations.

I had interviewed hundreds of people on all sides by the time I got my degree. I could leave and go most anywhere. But I wanted to see how things worked out; maybe have some influence. When I discovered that WJC taught Race Relations as one of their Sociology Department offerings and that the college was just minutes away, I could not believe my good fortune.

I did not realize at the time, though, that by staying I would meet new people and get involved in other issues, and a good time to leave would never come. So though I planned to stay only a year or two when I came, here I still am in 2019, fifty-four years later.

I had been in Liberty and at William Jewell maybe five years before I realized what was happening. I could go anyplace and teach from the same books, but I wouldn’t know the people and the problems the way I already knew them here. I began to see myself as a community doctor for social problems. I was invested. I could never leave. Or stop. I had become a lifelong part of this place and these people.

January 4, 2019

Citizen’s Letter to the 116th Congress

1-4-19

From Ed Chasteen

 

You were sworn in yesterday. Democrats have the majority in the House; Republicans in the Senate. The President was elected as a Republican. I am a lifelong Democrat. My advice for all of you is that you focus on passing legislation: more and better jobs, affordable housing, adequate education, public safety, climate change.

I did not vote for the current occupant of the White House. I think both our country and current occupant would have been better off if things had turned out differently. They did not. We are a nation of laws. So long as we remember and act accordingly, we are safe. Eventually the ship of state comes to calmer waters.

IF

By Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all folks doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all people count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a winner, my daughter and son!

 

December 31, 2018

Ambassador from 2BC

12-31-18 by Ed Chasteen

 

I was elected in a 1986 Wednesday evening business meeting to be Ambassador from Second Baptist Church to Other Communities of Faith. The next summer I rode my bicycle from Orlando, Florida to Seattle, Washington  and down to Anaheim, California; 5,126 miles in 105 days. Every Sunday, across 13 states, I visited a church, wearing a T-shirt that identified me as Ambassador from 2BC. From that church I would call our church and tell them where I was, and in the church where I was, I would tell about 2BC.

Since that summer, I have taken members of 2BC in groups of about a dozen to visit other faith communities. I have invited other faiths to visit 2BC. We make it clear to everyone that our sole (soul) agenda is not to join or to change; just to make a friend. We are neighbors. Our community and our person profit from our friendship.

Now on this last day of this year, I come to ask you to join with me. I need just 10 members and/or friends of groups named below*to let me pair you with a member of 2BC for just 14 weeks, during which time you will discuss on line with your pair seven sets of questions I give to you. Using these answers, you write the story of your pair. Then on Tuesday, April 17, from 7:30-9:00 in the evening, you and your pair are invited to come to our Human Family Reunion at William Jewell College. Each of you will take five minutes to tell the story of your pair. I will pair men with men and women with women. Your pair may be of another race and/or religion.

I will email a detailed description of this class that meets only once in person to all of you who express an interest in joining this Spring 2019 Pairs Project.

 

*Red and Yellow, Black, Brown and White

Christian, Buddhist and Jew

Hindu ,Baha’i and Muslim, too

All** are precious in our sight

Until we get to know each other, who’s right is the wrong question.

**All includes faiths not identified by name

December 31, 2018

Letter to Cassidy

2018 from Ed Chasteen

 

            The four of us are seated in a booth, Vern and I on one side, Anton and Michael on the other. We have come together for lunch in this brand new restaurant. Michael’s brother runs the place. Michael owns it. And picks up the tab. Michael’s brother and most of the staff come by to introduce themselves and comment on the extensive and eclectic menu. Cassidy works here as a server and drops by our table several times to express her interest in learning about faith communities and faith itself. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales gave rise to this restaurant’s name and inspired the food and drink listing. Tabard’s Ale House is named after the Tabard Inn in Chaucer’s classic. Tabard’s seeks to emulate such a spirit where people from all walks of life are invited in to share good food, stories, drink and laughter.

We four have before met for lunch at Vern’s house, ostensibly to discuss a book we individually have recommended that we all read. One time it was our favorite book. Then, the book we most would like to have written. When Anton took that faculty position at Divine Word College and moved during the academic year to Epworth, Iowa, our monthly lunches became sporadic, then ceased altogether, brought to life only now and then at Christmas time and occasionally in the summer when Anton was home.

Michael had been a student in our Sociology Department at William Jewell College when Anton and I taught there, and for several years has served as pastor of Southwood United Church of Christ in Raytown. Vern at that time was founder and director of the Center for Religious Experience and Study, CRES, as it was known in Kansas City and across the country. I serve as Ambassador from Liberty’s Second Baptist Church to Other Communities of Faith.

My main interest in religion is in how various faith communities relate to each other and how internally faith communities differ and dispute. I have no theological education. I am Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology at William Jewell College. I grew up as an active member of several Baptist churches. I made a choice as an adult to remain a Christian and a Baptist. I do so out of an overpowering sense of loyalty to those men and women in several Baptist churches who spent time in study and with me. I do not live in the world they inhabited. They did their very best to equip me for this life and the one to come. I feel a profound gratitude. I choose to cast my lot with them.

I do this knowing that they saw through the glass darkly. Just as I do. Just as we all do. I could have been taken to any church or become part of any faith long before I was able to choose. I’ve been able now for some years to choose. Some of my friends in the faith have gone elsewhere. I respect their choice. Their need for wings must have been stronger than their need for roots.

I guess I mostly need roots. Maybe I’m just intellectually and spiritually lazy. Whatever the reason and in spite of the sins I saw in the church of my youth, I choose their fate as my own. We sink or swim together.

I find peace, power, purpose and joy in all religious settings. I long to meet every person I can. One to one. Face to face. I expect to like every person I meet. Any change that occurs in either of us comes unsolicited, arising spontaneously and conversationally, as two become one in ways that neither intend or soon recognize, but both, over time, appreciate.