By Ed Chasten
When we met, I was a teacher at a Baptist College; he was a Muslim Imam. I had taken some of my students to tutor some of his students in the school he conducted at his masjid. While they held class, we adjourned to his office. We fell into the easy conversation of long-time friends. That was 30 years ago. We have since traveled the country together, going to public schools, federal prisons, private homes, faith communities, founding HateBusters, holding Human Family Reunions and teaching our book, How To Like People Who Are not Like You. Our families know each other.
This morning Yahya has come to my church. His wife Zakia, daughters Lailaa and Zarinah, with him. Bassam also comes, with wife Diana and sons Ibrahim and Hisham. Samuel and his wife, Gloria, come. Then Al. All are Muslim friends of mine, introduced to me by Yahya. Al, years ago; the others, a few months back.
We are here at Second Baptist Church this morning as invited guests in Roger’s Sunday School class. We have agreed that until we get to know each other, who’s right is the wrong question. We are here to have a conversation about the ordinary things of our everyday lives: our hometown, our parents, our brothers and sisters, our extended family, our favorite foods, our hobbies, our hopes and dreams.
I begin:“One of my favorite plays is Our Town, a simple little story about the Gibbs family and their life in Grover’s Corner. Emily has died. From beyond the grave she is ushered back by an attendant from the afterlife for one last look at a typical day in her town. She sees her husband and his parents at the breakfast table. She smells the bacon frying and sees the milk being delivered. She hears the conversation around the table. Then she asks her guide a question that has haunted my mind since I first heard it, ‘Does anyone ever realize life as they live it, every single minute?’
“Now, this morning, is our minute. This moment in time is all we have. Everything else is past or future. The people sitting with us in this circle are the only persons in our lives at this moment. To milk this moment to the max, let’s tell each other about our ordinary everyday lives.”
For an hour we do. When we adjourn and prepare to go upstairs for the preaching service small clusters of folks gather for excited talk. A few minutes later we all sit in the sanctuary near the front to hear Jason, our pastor, preach about tithing. We don’t do it to support the church, he says, we do it to develop in us a sense of gratitude toward God and a love of God. We do it to keep our possessions from possessing us. When we had agreed on this day for Yahya and friends to visit our church, Jason told me he had already planned to preach on money and thought there might be a better subject for a visit. But this date worked best for our guests.
Second Baptist appointed me in 1985 as Ambassador To Other Communities of Faith. In 1988 my students at William Jewell and I started HateBusters. Today as Ambassador I have arranged for our Muslim guests. Following the preaching service HateBusters hosts a lunch for our guests. Fifty of us gather in Fellowship Hall for sandwiches, pasta, cookies, tea and coffee. Debra’s Kitchen has prepared assorted breads, turkey and roast beef, beautiful tomatoes and lettuce. We build our own sandwiches and join others at round tables of eight.
When we have eaten, each person at every table takes a minute or two to speak to the others of us. One of our guests compliments Jason on his sermon. “I felt right at home. We have the same concept in Islam.”
As we are wrapping up, Yahya invites everyone to come to our biggest Human Family Reunion ever this next April in Lawrence, Kansas. “We haven’t picked the date yet. But we’ll keep you informed. Please plan to come.”
“One final story,” I say. “Don Quixote is my fictional hero. As the story 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, as most folks do, Don Quixote mounts a crusade. He gets an old broken lance, a shaving bowl for a helmet, a worn out horse and his old friend, Sancho, and sets forth on a glorious quest to right all wrongs.
“Early in the story, as told in Man of LaMancha, the play, Don Quixote comes upon what he thinks is a castle. It’s actually an old house beside a dusty road. Mule drivers stay here and eat here on their journeys. Don Quixote comes inside. He sees the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. He falls to his knees. ‘What is your name, my lady?’ ‘Off your knees, you fool, my name’s Aldonza. And I’m no lady.’ ‘No, my lady, your name is not Aldonza. Your name is Dulcinea.’ She curses him, flings a dirty dishrag at him and walks away. He takes the dirty rag as a token of her affection and leaves.
“Several times in the story Don Quixote comes again to this castle, calls her Dulcinea and treats her as a lady, the only one who does. She is no lady. She waits on the mule drivers. By day. And by night. Then one day this woman hears that Don Quixote is dying, a great distance from her and delirious. She goes to find him. She forces her way to his bedside and takes his hand. ‘My lord,’ she says ‘Who is it?’ He asks. ‘You know who I am,’ she says, ‘you called me by name and changed my life.’ ‘No my lady, who is it?’ ‘My name is. . . . . Dulcinea,’ she says.
“She now sees herself the way he has seen here all along. That’s the way HateBusters see the world. We know Aldonza is out there. But we will treat the world as Dulcinea until one of two things happen: either the world becomes what we already know it to be. Or it does us in. We will not accept any other outcome.