Archive for April, 2009

Human Family Reunion Report

April 9, 2009

April 17, 2004

By Ed Chasteen

 

                From across Greater Kansas City we have come. From Clinton, Leavenworth, Liberty, Raytown, Lee’s Summit, Johnson County, KCMO, KCK and places between. Some of us are a little late in arriving. But it’s only a little past 6:30 when most of us have gathered in the east cafeteria in Yates College Union on the campus of William Jewell College. This first hot day of the year has taken us all by surprise. The air conditioners are not on yet. We have the door and all the windows open. Napkins here and there take flight as spring breezes waft through the room. The food table is laden with eye-appealing dishes and the combined aromas of everybody’s mother’s kitchen floats on the breeze.

                David Sallee came four years ago as president of William Jewell and comes now to welcome us. The historic relationship of William Jewell College to Missouri Baptists had been troubled for years by the efforts of fundamentalists to control who teaches and what is taught. David managed the now-completed separation of the college from Missouri Baptists with an amazing grace that saved us from the emotional and fiscal disruptions that threatened us. Together with his wife, Mary, David welcomes ideas, ideals and compassion and has made our campus a beacon to all who come with open minds and loving hearts. Such a gathering fills this room this night as David comes to endorse our presence.

                Chris Henson then comes. Chris has taken care of all the logistics for tonight’s Reunion: reserving the room, arranging the setup, getting the veggie and fruit trays, ice cream and drinks, driving the cart back and forth from the parking lot to transport our guests. Each of the past three years Chris has done this, ever since Gary Phelps died. Sitting in this very room just ten days before our scheduled 2001 Human Family Reunion, Gary was making plans to bring our Reunion back to campus after several years of holding it in other places. At breakfast with his staff that April morning in 2001, Gary suddenly lost consciousness. He died before they could get him to the hospital. If Chris had not offered to take over, we would have cancelled. And probably would not have had another.

                Folk singer, Kasey Rausch, is here with her guitar to serenade us as we eat. Kasey’s grandfather, Dean Rausch, used to come with his flute and drum. When Dean died, Kasey took his place. Those of us who have come to other Human Family Reunions work the room as first-timers dine and visit with those at table with them. Our soul purpose tonight is to get to know everyone. And chief among those we want to know are the magnificent six who are the recipients of HateBuster’s DQ Award.

                HateBusters started as a class project at William Jewell in 1988 when a Klansman won election to the Louisiana Legislature and the governor invited us to come help the state redeem itself. By 1995 HateBusters was getting so many invitations that it moved off campus and became a 501 C-3 non-profit. HateBusters help people who have been hurt because someone hates them. HateBusters charges no fees and never says no when asked to help. The Human Family Reunion is a HateBusters program designed to get people of all colors, creeds and cultures together so we can learn not just to endure one another but to endorse each other.

When Don Quixote is told by his friends that wickedness wears thick armor, he replies. “And for that you would have me surrender? Nay, the enchanter may confuse the outcome ten thousand times, still must a man arise and again do battle, for the effort is sublime.” For their sublime efforts, HateBusters, at this Human Family Reunion, confers its DQ Award on six inspiring folks, and one inspiring organization.

 

Don Post

                Don’s body has rebelled against him. He can’t ride the motorcycles he once loved. A motorized wheelchair and a specially equipped van now zip him all over Greater Kansas City on his missions of mercy. Don volunteers for so many good causes that I dare not attempt to list them all lest, I give an incomplete picture of his wide-ranging commitments. “Is that all you can do to me?” Don seems to say as his physical condition worsens. Don’s spirit and soul soar as his physical struggle intensifies. Don Post inspires us all with his uncomplaining defiance and his refusal ever to surrender. With Don before us as our guide, all things negative and defeatist are driven from our minds and all our naïve notions of goodness and mercy seem perfectly reasonable, even inevitable.

                Don Post is Don Quixote come to live in the flesh among us. Fortunate we are beyond all right to be blessed with the life and work of Don Post.

 

 

Bill Tammeus

                A Gift of Meaning. Bill’s book. That’s what Bill Tammeus gives to us. Several times each week in The Kansas City Star, Bill helps his readers to find meaning in the routine and ordinary daily things that happen to us all and in those unusual and occasional things that baffle and bewilder us. Increasingly over the years Bill has been drawn in his newspaper column to explore the diverse religious life found in Greater Kansas City and attempt to infuse it all with meaning. Though trained as a journalist rather than a theologian, Bill finds foundation for his life in his own Presbyterian Christian faith and has come to know that matters of faith must be given attention if we are to live peacefully and productively together. Bill Tammeus does not heed the common wisdom that matters of religion and politics are always to be avoided. Bill leads us all in a loving and clear-headed engagement with matters that lie at the core of our individual lives and our life as community. A Gift of Meaning Bill gives us makes it almost possible for us to say yes to Emily’s question in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “Does anyone realize life as they live it, every single minute?”

                In his October 24, 1999 column, Bill wrote: “The trees may blaze into fall color without us, the rivers may tumble toward level ground without us, but no one will be honored, comforted, nurtured, cared for, or loved without us—all of us, individually and collectively.” Bill finds meaning.

 

Lonnie Powell

                Less than two arm lengths in front of me each time I sit at my word processor to write, a hand drawn portrait of Dr. King hangs on my wall. The name of the artist who drew him is written small and placed inconspicuously. For years I did not notice. Then one day I did. He and I met not long after. And became immediate friends. At that first meeting, Lonnie Powell told me at loving-length about The Light in the Other Room, a recent organization of local African-American artists. With their vision of art as soul of community and their commitment as artists to inspire and provoke the soul in us all, these artists of Greater Kansas City strive to help make us just that. When Don Quixote’s friends advise him that wickedness wears thick armor, he responds, “And for that you would have me surrender? Nay, the enchanter may confuse the outcome ten thousand times. Still must a man arise and again do battle, for the effort is sublime.” For making that effort on our behalf, we honor Lonnie Powell and all the artists of The Light in the Other Room.

 

Sam Houston

                A giant statue of Sam Houston stands alongside I-45 in Huntsville, Texas. The college in the town is called Sam Houston University. Here in the 1950s I studied Race Relations. In the 1960s I came to Liberty to teach Race Relations at William Jewell. Here in this town alongside I-35, I met another giant named Sam Houston. The Texas Sam Houston was the first United States Senator from Texas. Liberty’s Sam Houston was the first African-American City Councilman, serving 18 years, winning respect and issues. Liberty’s Sam Houston is a native son of this good place. His leadership in The Fellowship of the Concerned, the annual Martin Luther King, Jr, Celebration, First Baptist Church and a host of other causes too numerous to mention helps to make this little piece of God’s good earth we call Liberty a city set on a hill, drawing people to it by the warm glow of its good people, chief among whom is counted the Honorable Sam Houston. Long may he live and work among us. We could ask nothing better designed to draw us together as one community.

 

Kathleen Welton

Caught in the Act Doing the Right Thing is a novel idea that could radically alter the way we see the world and the way that world behaves. Imagine that we spend all our time looking for what our young people do right. That is the sole (soul) purpose of Liberty Alliance for Youth. Kathleen Welton and other far-sighted members search our town to find its youngest members who have done deeds noble and bold, deeds that inspire and encourage all who hear. If the day should ever come that we look first and most diligently for what our youth do right, we may find our town and our world have become the places of our fondest dreams. By breathing life into this dream and giving it flesh, Kathleen Welton has given our town this hope.

 

Clay County Public Health Center

                If the more than 3000 counties in these United States all have a public health center the equal of Missouri’s Clay County, then our nation is in good hands and our future bodes well. Our physical, emotional, mental and community health is safeguarded by those civic servants housed across 152 Highway from Liberty High School. Since 1953, Clay County Public Health Center has provided services to those of our residents who live below the poverty level, those who face unique health risks and barriers to care. The soul of a place is exposed in the treatment it gives the vulnerable. The Clay County Public Health Center gives all 188,000 of us who live in Clay County reason to rejoice in this little piece of God’s good earth we call home.

 

Carrie Wheatley

                HateBusters announced its World Class Person contest several months ago, open to students at William Jewell, Central Seminary and the metropolitan Community Colleges. As defined by HateBusters, a World Class Person is one who can go anyplace at any time and talk to anyone abut anything and feel safe. Students were asked to write an essay telling why they wanted to be a World Class Person and detailing their plans to achieve this status. Carrie Wheatley, a junior at William Jewell and from St. Louis, won the contest and received a check for $500.00. Carrie’s essay appears at the end of this report.

 

                Brother John Anderson comes now to lead us in our HateBusters theme song. Ghost Busters was a popular movie and song when HateBusters was founded. Jos Linn and Lance Veneable, two Jewell students, morphed that song into HateBusters. John is a professional story-teller and leads a high voltage rendition with a boom box background that leaves us energized and in high spirits for our grand finale.

                Mom “Queen Mother” McFarlane lights up any room she walks into. She comes now as she always does to conclude our Reunions with her own inimitable “Pass It On.” “It only takes a spark to get a fire going,” she croons. She is that spark. We are on our feet. Swaying. Clapping, Laughing. Joining hands. Too soon she is finished. Our Camelot-Brigadoon evening is over before we are ready. But the memory of this brief time will buoy us over troubled places until we come again.

            As we leave, we all make our way to the Union lounge where Rob Quinn, Director of the Stocksdale Art Galley here at the college has set up a display. Earlier in the week, artist members of The Light in the Other Room brought their work to campus. Earlier today Rob mounted the pieces and put them on display. Artists from Light in the Other Room are with us tonight for us to thank.

 

Carrie Wheatley’s Winning Essay

 

I find it difficult to define a World Class Person as “someone who can go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe” because a feeling of safety is not always something that one can control. I might be the epitome of a World Class Person, but my white skin in certain places at certain times alone might make me feel unsafe. Because of the fact that not everyone is a World Class Person, and the nature of safety relies on outside forces, I would like to stick to a definition that allows an individual to have more control over the accomplishment of being a World Class Person.

                To me, being a world class person involves being highly interested in people that are different than you. It requires patience, and the idea that cultures that are not native to you are not right or wrong, better or worse, but different than your own.  When I was living in Hong Kong, I was constantly comparing the lifestyle, culture, landscape, and people to the United States. Invariably this comparison made me prefer one over the other (almost always occurred that I preferred Hong Kong over the U.S.). This created a lot of distress for me when I returned to the U.S. because I was insistent that the Hong Kong way of life was so much better that I had difficulties relating to my American friends, adjusting to the different school system, and basically I was miserable for several months. I must admit that during this time I was not the most tactful person when describing my new found indifference to American culture. I finally found peace when I realized that there were many things about America that I did enjoy, and that this enjoyment did not take away from any of my exuberance for Chinese culture. I found that I was happiest when I was not favoring one country over the other, but recognizing that both had positive and negative aspects to their culture, landscape, and social interactions. Therefore, I believe that being a World Class Person involves realizing that each way of life has its positives and negatives, that one is not better than another, and that all are equally legitimate.

                In coming to this conclusion, I had to experience a culture very different from my own. I had to recognize that there was not only one way to do things. Imagine my astonishment when I went to Hong Kong and the even the light switches and paper clips were different, and you can imagine my horror when attempting to use the squatty-potty. It was amazing how much these rather insignificant differences challenged me to not take for granted that everything happens one correct way.

                This brings me to my second point concerning attributes that describe a World Class person. This type of person has to respect and be inspired by diversity. I find it incredible that humans all over the world can have the same dreams and goals for their lives, but carry out dreams of happiness, connection, and success in so many diverse ways. Sometimes I feel as if I am the boring one, the mundane white, middle class, Christian girl from America. I remember a hiking trip over Chinese New Year in Lantau Island, Hong Kong when I was taking a rest, attempting to get a tan.  I had my pants rolled up so that I could get some sun on my pasty white legs when my Chinese friend goes, “Oh Carrie, you are so white!!!!!!” All of my American friends started laughing at me, and my friend continued by saying, “No, it is beautiful.” Often times I forget my own diversity as a part of the whole world, not a place where my skin color, nationality, and religion are the standard. In a worldly sense, I truly am in the minority in many aspects.  Recognizing this is very eye-opening because I feel that often times by being an American citizen, we learn that our way of life is a privileged way, and therefore it becomes the correct or only way things should be.  By recognizing that this is not the case, it allows people the freedom to look at life more creatively and it truly opens up a whole new world.

Overall, I do feel that the main attribute that a person who was to “go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe” is an open mind. Sometimes it may be difficult to understand why a poor family in India might borrow money in order to appropriately care for the dead, thus putting their family in greater economic strain, but one has to respect the religious significance that these rites and rituals has in Indian culture. Identifying the necessity to have an open mind is easier than creating the existence of one.  In fact, I think that one can never truly have an open mind, because there are some basic principles or preferences for some things over others.  For instance, it may be difficult for someone who believes strongly in Christianity to truly be able to see all religions as equally valid, and therefore be able to talk about religion with a Chinese Buddhist and feel safe. However, I feel that the recognition of preferences allows a realistic view of human nature, and allows the individual to ask difficult questions about religion, inclusion, and legitimation, all of which challenge the concept that the world view that one is born into is the normal and correct way to view the world.  Therefore, one is constantly striving to become more knowledgeable about and tolerant towards different ways of life instead of thinking that he/she already knows everything.  It is this ideal of perceived worldliness that creates a superior disposition that has no place in the attitude of a World Class Person.

Being a World Class person challenges these assumptions of normality, correctness, and exclusivity that are so prevalent in our world today.  In order for these assumptions to be challenged, one must encounter ways of thinking that are different than their own, and more importantly one must get to know the people who represent these differences.

While respecting diversity is extremely important, especially in talking about anything and feeling safe (it might be interesting to note that I was in Hong Kong when the war on Iraq occurred), what binds us as a human race, and as World Class People is our sameness. I attended a diversity workshop while in Hong Kong and it was put on my Filipino migrant workers in order to break down social and economic barriers that were very detrimental between Chinese and Filipino relations. One of the exercises we were engaged in was one that included all of us writing down on a piece of paper fundamental characteristics about ourselves. Then we went around the room and signed the papers of the people that had a least one common characteristic as yourself.  It was amazing because I signed everyone’s paper that was present.  There were males and females from Hong Kong, mainland China, Philippines, Shi Lanka, Indonesia, New Zealand, heterosexuals, homosexuals, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, people that were married and had children, and essentially many diverse people.  Once you start to meet people who seem so different from you, the world shrinks because you realize that they really are not that different.

I do not feel that I believe in the existence of World Class People because I have “not yet surrendered to reality,” but because I have seen the potential, if not the actual World Class Person in reality.  I want to become this person because I believe that I would live a richer life.  When I was in the Everglades this Christmas on an Outward Bound trip my instructor wanted us to think about the question: what is going to win- ignorance and hate, or love and compassion, while on our solo and report back to him when we returned. After thinking about the question for quite some time, I came to the conclusion that it did not matter which side won in the end.  My instructor was a little confused when I gave him my answer, but I had to explain to him that what I meant was that it not make a difference which side would win, I would still have the same responsibility to live compassionately and with lots of love.  I firmly believe that to be true and so I feel that becoming a World Class Person I myself would be overcoming and transcending the ignorance and hate side.  I also feel that I want to be a World Class Person because I know how I felt when I was the minority in Hong Kong and while traveling in Thailand.  I wrote in my journal one day that “I have never been so conscience of my skin color before.  I hope that when others are around me, they never feel a heightened sense of their skin or hair color.”  One day at the very beginning of my stay in Hong Kong I wrote this:

I try to understand

To be understood

It takes more than language

I can hear your words

But they mean nothing to me

And I probably mean nothing to you

Going in circles like a little child

Trying to find

You walk straight, knowing the way

Why am I here?

I cannot possibly understand

Or be understood

You don’t know me

I don’t know you

What’s the point?

Maybe soon I will not walk in circles

Maybe you will not only hear, but know what I am saying

And somewhere in the darkness we can meet

I think some of my first steps to becoming a World Class Person were taken when I boarded that plane for Hong Kong over a year ago.  Another huge step will be when I board the plane for India in August.  I am going to Calcutta for five months and plan to attend the University of Calcutta and participate in a service-learning program that incorporates classes about Indian history, culture, government, and social issues with volunteer work in Mother Theresa’s Home of the Destitute and Dying.  I will also learn Bengali and live with an Indian family so that I can be properly immersed in the culture.  In this way I feel that I will be able to gain valuable knowledge about another culture that is very different from my own and expand my mind so that I can be more open and accepting.  It will also give me a chance to help others which will give me a greater sense of community and personal contact with the people of Calcutta.

I also feel that I want to travel more in order to meet more people with different views and lifestyles than me.  I want to join the Peace Corps. in order to be able to fully experience a different culture (it is a 2 year stay in a country instead of just five months, like my stay in India and Hong Kong) and help serve them in whatever way is needed.

I believe others will follow because already I am known at my school as the girl who went to Hong Kong and the crazy one who wants to go to India.  I am constantly talking about how things are in Hong Kong and I think that it forces people to imagine a life outside of their own.  I think that I push people to see things differently and be open to other cultures and different lifestyles.  When I get back from India, I know that what I will have to say will push people outside of their comfort zones and will make them think about issues that seem too distant from them.  I think that through my experiences abroad I can influence people and provide them with first-hand knowledge that they might otherwise have never received.  What they do with this knowledge is mostly up to them, but I hope that I can be a role model for persuading those around me to become World Class Persons themselves.

I also think that people will follow because they will see how much fun I have.  I attempt to write my notes in my science class all in Chinese because the class is very boring, and I have been spotted several times eating ice cream with chop sticks.  My door to my room is covered with pictures and I have captions such as: my brother in Hong Kong about to eat a fish eye, or: learning how to count in Chinese while ascending the steps to the World’s Largest Outdoor Seated Bronze Buddha, that gross some people out, make others laugh, and make everyone notice.  When I tell stories about riding on the killer double decker buses, or listening to presentations in one of my classes that were all in Chinese, or walking down the street holding my friend’s hand (friends are more affectionate in Chinese culture), my friends always want to hear more and are very interested as to how I was able to live in such a different place.

The most reveling and challenging experiences occurred not when I was having the most fun, however, and these experiences are the ones that made the biggest impact on me and those close to me.  Through these stories I was able to convey to my friends and family what it feels like to be discriminated against, and I think this motivated me and those close to me to make sure that we did not foster this type of hate towards other people.  Let me explain one of these experiences.

Many of the halls in Hong Kong were decorated in the dorm that I and many of the international students lived in.  On one particular floor there were large squares of paper in which at the beginning of the year the students living on that hall were asked to draw something on the paper that represented them.  One day my friend Abby, who lived on that floor, and I were looking at all of them while waiting for the elevator.  There were pictures of soccer balls and flowers, and then there was one sheet of paper that had two large buildings on it with a plane hitting one of the buildings.  Abby and I looked at the picture in silence and finally Abby asked, “Is that what I think it is?”  Beside the plane was the words “Boom!!!!”  There was no mistaking what the picture was representing, it was the World Trade Center and someone was glorifying the September 11th attack.  Later that night I was confessing my find to one of the Australian exchange students and he could not believe it.  I took him up to the floor and showed it to him and together we ripped it down.

When I told my family and friends about it they were horrified, but it really made me think about the way many minorities in the United States must feel.  When my friends at school were outraged, and started to infer negative stereotypes on the Chinese people, I asked them how Middle Eastern Muslims must feel in the United States right now, or how the Japanese must have felt during World War II, or how African American’s and Hispanics feel on a daily basis in our country.  Through this experience, not only my eyes were opened to the hate in the world, but the people who heard of my experience were challenged to not hate or discriminate in this way.  I think we all realized that hate and discrimination are prevalent in every country, in every culture, and that we are not blameless.

Because of many of my experiences abroad and my fascination with other cultures and different lifestyles and my desire to end hate and discrimination, I want to become a World Class Person, and challenge others to become World Class People too.