Archive for December, 2009

#93 Joy

December 31, 2009

Joy! Joy is the only source of energy sufficient to fuel our ultimately doomed but momentarily magnificent struggle. Joy at each sunrise, each baby’s cry, each breath of life. Life is a problem to solve. A struggle to wage. Purpose is its goal. Death is not the dark at the end of day. It is the dawn. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. To those who do not fear, death is not defeat. To those who do fear, life is not victory.

                Jim has brought my bike into the living room to keep it safe and dry. As a biker himself, Jim is sensitive to such things. As I’m sorting the damp from the dry in my panniers, I overhear an argument between Jim and Betty in the next room. It starts over washing clothes. Jim wants to put socks in; Betty doesn’t.

                “You take all the joy out of it for me,” he says. The aren’t talking about washing. And it’s obvious they have argued before. Apparently they remember me. Suddenly I hear the TV. A cartoon. Then I catch only a word here and there.

                Jim and Betty have six children; the youngest in college. And suddenly I remember the arguments Bobbie and I have had. We love each other, but we have a hard time living together. She has quit her job, “to be a better wife.” “Probably won’t last long,” she just said on the phone. But the effort: The effort! That’s the important thing. Now I hear Jim and Betty. Calm after the storm, like the rain storm that just passed through.

                Jim lives on the western edge of Spokane and Loretta on the eastern. I get a close-up view of downtown Spokane as I bike from one to the other. And as I ride, I’m grateful for this vehicle that takes me quietly wherever I want to go. At my own speed. And does not shut me off from the smells and the sounds.

                With an on-time record an airline would envy, I get to Loretta’s exactly at 4:00. Back door is open. About 5:30 they get home from the picnic and have brought food for me. I meet Chuck, Loretta’s husband, and thank him for letting me come.

My Meetings with Peace Pilgrim

December 24, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

                After asking directions from a man on the street and pedaling through downtown, I pass a vegetarian restaurant to my left. The aroma grabs me. No time. Got to find a room. You can eat later, I tell myself. Half a block past, I have to stop for a red light. Over my shoulder I glance at the restaurant.

                And I can’t resist. I wheel my bike inside the restaurant and walk back to gawk at the beautiful food. I get my food and sit at the table next to the only other people in the place: a girl, a young woman, a man and a woman; sitting at the same table and all talking about health food.

                And I feel the same urge to talk to them that I felt to come in this place. I almost turn around and blurt out my mission. But I can’t quite get myself to do it. I sit there long past the time it takes to eat, trying to talk myself into talking to them. Why is it so hard? How is it different from how it has been all across the country? I don’t know. But it is.

                It’s past closing time. I can’t figure out how to interject myself into the conversation of these four, so I walk up front to my bike. There’s no way out except past me. I’ll stay here until they come past. Hopefully something will develop. But the door is locked; a waitress comes to say I’ll need to come out the back door. So I roll my bike down the aisle between the tables, past where we have all been sitting. They are standing to leave. The woman says, “My, that’s a good looking bike.”

                This is my opening I’d been looking for. Quickly I tell her all about the bike and my ride. And needing a place to stay.

                “You can stay with me” she says. “The loft in my garage hasn’t been cleaned but you’re welcome.”

                “I accept.”

                Norma Corr draws me a map. The people with her are visiting from Chicago. They are out to see the town and not planning to be home for a while. But I’ll need to get there soon or it will be dark. I find my way along the streets and the bike paths Norma has listed, but not without asking supplemental directions from two older women walking their dog in the park. When I get to Norma’s, I take a seat on the bench in the small flower garden in front of her house.

                When Norma and the others get home, we spend an hour in her living room talking about health foods, spirituality, her moving from Illinois to Oregon eight years ago, recycling trash. From out of the blue, Norma asks if I have heard of Peace Pilgrim. And suddenly I know why I could not pass that restaurant by and why I had to speak to Norma.

                Twice before in my life I had met Peace Pilgrim. Those two meetings shaped my life and the planning for this ride. Now this third meeting promised to make sense for me of this cross-country odyssey. This was not a rational and conscious notion that came to my mind as Norma spoke, more a spiritual understanding that settled over me, an assurance that I was now farther along and about to know what Lloyd said I would.

                The first time I met Peace Pilgrim I was a 21-year old English teacher at Round Rock High. My wife and I were also house parents at Texas Baptist Children’s Home. I was on my way to that home after school one day. Up ahead and to my right, I saw someone walking. As I drew close, I could read the words, “25,000 Miles For Peace” across her back. As I drove past her, I turned my head. Across the front of her blue tunic, it said “Peace Pilgrim”.

                I had to know this person. I pulled off the road and stopped the car. I stepped out and ran back to her. “Who are you?” I blurted.

                “My name is Peace Pilgrim, and I walk to tell people about peace. World Peace. And inner peace.”

                I had heard people talk about peace before in my young life. But I had never been in the presence of absolute peace until that moment.

                “Would you come home with me and talk to the girls in our cottage?” I heard myself asking her. She did. And the next morning, I took her to school to speak to our students in a hastily called assembly. She enchanted those students as she had me. While she was with us, we lived in the world we read about in scripture, a world where people love each other and live at peace. Then she was on the road again.

                The second time I met her was twenty years later. I was teaching at William Jewell College when I read in the paper that she was nearby. I went to find her and brought her to campus to speak to my students. Her hair had been gray and pulled into a ponytail when I first met her. She looked no different or any older now. Her affect upon us all was the same.

                Another decade passed, and I found myself planning this cross-country bicycle ride. Alone and without money, from Orlando up to Seattle and down to Los Angeles, I would ride. I would tell people about the Human Family Reunion, where who’s right is the wrong question and we all eat first and ask later. And when I sat to write about my ride, I found myself dedicating it to Peace Pilgrim.

                Now three months into the ride, I had come to Eugene, Oregon. Passing that vegetarian restaurant in downtown Eugene, I had been overwhelmed with this irresistible urge to stop and go inside. Something would happen inside that restaurant that had to happen if my ride was to be complete.

                I laughed out loud at the craziness of that notion. And I rode past the restaurant. But the traffic light on the corner turned red, and I had to stop. While I waited for the light to turn green, I looked back at that restaurant. And when the light changed, I made an unthinking U-turn. My third meeting with Peace Pilgrim awaited.

                “Do you know she was killed in a car wreck?” Norma asked. I didn’t. “Have you read her book?” she asked. “I didn’t know she had one” “I’ve got a copy I’ll give you,” she replied. I was up most of the night. Reading. And thinking that I had ridden across America to meet Peace Pilgrim again.

                And at last I knew what it was that Peace Pilgrim could do that so attracted me to her. She could go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe. She was a World Class Person, the first and one of the few I would ever personally meet. And because I had met her, I had long been on my way to becoming World Class. Since that first meeting, I had been on my way, though not until now could I put that longing inside me into words. Now I can say it, and now I must live it: My mission in life is to move daily in this direction and to take everyone who wants to go with me.

I came into this world as a white male. I became a Christian. I have grown old. But color, gender, faith, and age are only the obvious descriptors of who I am. There are no boundaries on my soul, as there are none on yours. We are more than people see or hear or think of us. We are tailor-made in an off the rack world. None of us is meant to be compared to any other; we are unique in the world. Those boundaries people draw cannot contain us.

                Boundaries are needed when we are new to life. We must learn one language, one faith. Essential, though, that is, such learning equips us only for the first part of life’s journey. This is not the full armor we must have for life’s long pilgrimage. Because we cannot learn a second language first or appreciate any faith until we are committed to one, we must be schooled early in our life in one language and one faith. Having learned well one language and one faith, we then are ready. Ready to move about in a world of 3,000 languages and dozens of faiths. Ready to become a World Class Person, able to go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

                We will forever approach this world and its people through the filter of that first language and faith, but we can in differing degrees become multi-lingual and appreciative of other faiths. My approach to the world will forever be shaped by the fact that I am a white, male, American, Christian. But I now know that I am more than these names given to me by those who seek thereby to limit where I can go and who I can talk to.

                I want to be a World Class Person. I want to be at home wherever I go. All people are my people, all places on the planet are my home. This is the Declaration of Independence required of all who long to be World Class.

                Any person on the planet has the potential to become World Class, and in the world as I would have it, many millions of people would choose to do so. That might be too much of a good thing, though. Millions of people the world over are needed to maintain those first languages and faiths that nurture young life. Unless some, however, become World Class, these first languages and faiths become too exclusive and arrogant, too likely to war on one another.

                World Class Persons become ambassadors between languages and faiths, by their presence and behavior moderating the extremists in all camps, giving hope to all that even if they cannot personally endorse human differences, they can endure them. World Class Persons likely will never be widely popular, for their allegiance is to timeless and universal values. Since all of us live but a short time and in a peculiar place on the planet, we must devote most of our time and attention to local affairs and concerns.

                A few World Class Persons from each language and faith community are all we need. Knowing they are there and hearing now and then of what they do and think, millions of people will give grudging respect and will be less likely to heed the home-grown agitators who sprout like dandelions in every place.

                The message of World Class Persons lingers long in the collective human memory. In sacred books and political documents and oral traditions passed unbroken but transformed from that time when humans first talked, the words and deeds of World Class Persons buoy our hearts, minds, and souls amid the troubled waters which might otherwise overwhelm us. Our mission as World Class Persons is expressed in our motto:

Red and Yellow, Black, Brown and White

Christian, Buddhist and Jew

Hindu, Baha’i, and Muslim, too

All are precious in our sight

                Now to sit in Norma’s living room and have her show me the book Peace wrote–a book I didn’t know existed–is to me confirmation of my life and the direction it has taken.  Lloyd was right. Farther along I am understanding why.

                After sleeping in the loft above Norma’s garage, she fixes me an early breakfast of millet and raisins, and delights in showing me the natural foods she uses. Norma was an elementary teacher in Illinois and owned a health food store for four years. She retired from teaching, sold her business, and moved to Eugene to “find what I was supposed to do.” She chose Eugene because, “You can live here for nothing. Everything grows. And people are conscious of the environment.”

                Norma shows me books and literature from a variety of spiritual sources and viewpoints. She is searching. For direction. And for relationships. For two years a Downs Syndrome woman lived in her house. “The house is always full of interesting people.” Norma says.

                The people in the house this morning are her daughter and granddaughter, and Howard, the daughter’s boyfriend, who has come out from Chicago to meet Norma. Norma’s husband died. Her daughter is divorced.

                Eugene is bicycle heaven. People are so accustomed to bikes and have made such accommodations to them that I hate to leave, the way a kid feels about leaving a candy store. But I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

The Pedalin’ Prof From William Jewell College 2

December 13, 2009

Visits Greater Liberty

Box 442            Liberty, MO 64069            816-803-8371            hatebuster@aol.com

www.greaterliberty.org            www.hatebusters.com

https://hatebusters.wordpress.com

            If I don’t ride, I can’t walk. If I do, I can run. So I ride. A lot! More than 150,000 miles. And counting. But I need a reason to ride bigger than my personal health. For years at my college I taught my students how to like people who are not like them, folks of other races and religions, other cultures and creeds. My daughter now teaches at my college. I’m there now and then, making guest appearances here and there. But I’m free of responsibility. Free to ride.

            My college is in a town called Liberty. I love our town. I’ve ventured far from home in years past but wish now to be nearer home. I can ride my bike about 125 miles on my best days, so I drew a circle around Liberty going out 125 miles in all directions. I call this place Greater Liberty: up north to Creston, Iowa; down south to Carthage, Missouri; out west to Manhattan, Kansas, over east to Columbia, Missouri and including a small part of Nebraska.

            My dream now is to visit each of the 104 county-seat towns in Greater Liberty. I want to drive there in my bright red PT Cruiser. I call it the HateBuster Mobile, license # H8BSTR. I will bring my bicycle, park on the town square, and go for a ride a few miles from town in all directions, greeting everyone I see.

One summer I rode my bicycle, alone and without money, from Orlando to Seattle to Los Angeles—from Disney World to Disneyland. I found goodness and genius in every person I met and every place I went. I was inspired and encouraged.  I have since ridden my bike in more distant places: Australia, Africa, Canada, China, England, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand.  

            Now in Greater Liberty I want to ride. To the 104 county-seat towns named on the jersey I wear. I want to meet folks. I long to be invited to speak to civic clubs, schools, faith communities, businesses. Amazing things have happened to me on my bike. I have stories to tell.

            Invite me and I will come. The only payment I ask is your wish to hear me.

Great Things I Know

 Money is never the problem

The power of instant response

The power of the unexpected

To practice Audacious Asking

I can’t say no

The liberation of total dependence

Nothing is ever just coincidence

To go with first impressions

People and places are not to be compared

The need for roots

The need for wings

How blessed I am

I am my own doctor

I must be brave

I look for Dulcinea

Stories To Tell

 A Cross Is Burned in Our Town

A Klansman is elected

Alone and without money across America

High Noon Showdown with Midnight Hate

How To Like People Who Are not Like You

My Chinese Name

The Human Family Reunion

The Porcelain-Nitro People

The Power of Forgiveness

The White House Hate Crimes Conference

These Guys Are Nuts

When Your Community Calls You A Hero

The Pedalin’ Prof from William Jewell College

December 13, 2009

By Ed Chasteen

            Before I say much to you, I should tell you that Don Quixote is my hero. He never really lived. Miguel Cervantes lived about the same time as William Shakespeare. Cervantes created the character of Don Quixote and wrote two thick novels about him. Then not many years ago, Dale Wasserman wrote a play based on those two books and called it Man of LaMancha. I saw the play. And see it again anytime it comes near. As the play opens, Don Quixote is an old man. His brains have dried up from reading too much about man’s inhumanity to man. But instead of surrender, he mounts a crusade. His friends think he’s crazy.

            You may begin to see why I identify with Don Quixote. I’m an old man. I’ve read too much about man’s inhumanity. My brains may have dried up. That’s what you may decide when you hear what I have to say.

Greater Liberty

A Little Piece of God’s Good Earth

            The church I attend occupies a city block near the town square in a town called Liberty, where I have lived since grad school days. With my PhD in hand, I joined the faculty of the college in our town, a college related to the church I attend. Strolling west from the college down Franklin Street, you would come after one block to my church. Then two blocks more brings you to our town square. Our church occupies the one full block between Lightburne on the east, Missouri on the west, Kansas on the south and Franklin on the north. A former pastor I dearly loved described our one square block as “this little piece of God’s good earth.”

            Now retired, I could live anywhere. But my pastor’s description seized my mind and binds me to this place. Over the years since he first said it, his description has spilled beyond the block where our church stands to all the places I might visit in one day aboard my bicycle. To explain how my bicycle came to set the outer limits of what has become my little piece of God’s good earth, I must tell you what my doctor said.

            I was in my 16th year of my 30 years at my college when my doctor came into my hospital room. Standing in the door and shouting at me across the room, he said, “You have MS. It’s a damnable disease and you can’t be active.” Six years later I got on a bicycle at Disney World in Orlando, alone and without money, intending to ride northwest to Seattle, then south to Anaheim and Disneyland. I wanted to see if my doctor knew what he was talking about when he said I couldn’t be active. He didn’t! I made it.

            That was 22 years ago now. I’ve been riding ever since. More than 150,000 miles. And counting. Bike riding is my only medicine. I take no pills and no shots. I am my own doctor. Bike riding is the prescription I write myself.

            From my church I learned that every person in the world is created in God’s image. To my mind that means that every one of us has a spark of goodness and genius flickering inside us. On my ride across America I asked more than 500 people for a sandwich, a drink of water, a bed for the night. I found goodness! Everywhere. I carried no map. I would ask in each town how to get to the next. I found genius! Everywhere.

            Disney dubbed me the Pedalin’ Prof. Mickey gave me a trophy with this inscription.

HONORING

ED CHASTEEN

THE

“PEDALIN’ PROF” FROM WILLIAM JEWELL COLLEGE

FOR

HIS COURAGEOUS BIKE RIDE ACROSS AMERICA

DISNEYLAND COMMENDS ED FOR HIS FIGHT AGAINST

MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS AND FOR HIS FAITH IN PEOPLE

OF ALL RACES AND CREEDS

1987

Now another bike ride is upon me. Not from coast to coast this time. All in Greater Liberty. I can ride about 125 miles on my very best days. So I drew a circle around Liberty going out 125 miles in all directions. Greater Liberty I call this little piece of God’s good earth

Greater Liberty stretches north to Creston, Iowa; south to Carthage, Missouri; west to Manhattan, Kansas; east to Columbia, Missouri, includes 105 counties in parts of four states and is home to three and a half million people.

            I will drive my HateBuster mobile, license plate H8BSTR, to each county seat town. Local riders will meet me there. We will ride a loop through nearby towns. We will return to a public place in the county seat town for a potluck dinner we will call the Human Family Reunion. While we eat, we will talk about our mutual goodness and genius and how we might call it forth. I will tell stories of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been.

            Watch for my red PT Cruiser HateBuster mobile as I drive to these country seat towns. I carry my bicycle behind the front seat. I will email the newspaper in each town to tell them I’m coming, so they might, if they think my coming newsworthy, alert their readers and perhaps prompt a few folks to come ride with me and maybe plan a Human Family Reunion.

But if my coming goes unannounced, I will park my car on the town square and ask the first person I meet for directions to the town’s favorite café. I’ll go there for a half order of biscuits and gravy and sweet ice tea. And as I wait and while I eat, I will tell folks why I’ve come to town. Then I’ll ask directions to a nearby town. Ride there. Visit another local café. Then back to my car. Before I leave, I’ll ride around town on my bike, greeting everyone I see.

I know how crazy and pointless this all sounds. I wish I could give it up. I keep thinking of Don Quixote’s friends. They urge him to quit. “Wickedness wears thick armor,” they tell him. 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.”

            I must make the effort.

Saturday Ride to Kearney 11-29-2009

December 13, 2009

The VFW Hall is our usual destination for our Saturday breakfast rides to Kearney. But on this Saturday after Thanksgiving, it is not open. And Sarah’s Table, my favorite place in town, is too small to seat us all together. But a new place just two weeks ago started serving breakfast. By shortly after 9 o’clock the 15 of us who gathered at Biscari Brothers at 8, arrive at Rock Inn Home Style Café. I feel a little guilty coming here. Sarah’s Table is right across the street.

No way, though, that this will be our only visit to this place. They welcome us like family and seat us together in a private room. Like the VFW, Rock Inn serves a breakfast buffet, and at about the same price. Some of us order off the menu.