Archive for July, 2010

Yahya and Me

July 26, 2010

By Ed Chasten

Imam Yahya Furqan and Dr. Ed Chasteen

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.

Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO

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.

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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.

Picasso Don Quixote Sancho

“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.

“Now is our time to leave and go back to our world. Let’s treat it as Dulcinea.”

Back Channels of My Mind

July 22, 2010

Back Channels of My Mind

By Ed Chasteen

I have spent most of my life so far trying in my own person to overcome the racist messages I absorbed from those dear folk I grew up among. I long ago came to understand that I loved them but did not like them. They were good to me when I was small. But as I grew and moved about, I came to see how small they were in mind and heart. More than half a century has passed since I was a boy among my extended family, and those racist tapes still come uncalled to my mind. I can usually over ride them. But I cannot erase them. Several times in my adult life I have been embarrassed when some spontaneous remark I make exposes a racist tape that runs on a back channel of my mind, outside my conscious ability to govern it. To have fewer such tapes haunting my children and my students, I have devoted my life to overcoming hate and teaching people how to like each other.

            My mother took me to the Baptist church when I was still a baby. Every Sunday. Moses, Sampson, and David became my heroes. I learned that God loves me. I learned to love my neighbor as myself. I also learned to distrust and dislike Jews and Catholics. I learned that other Christian denominations had misread the scripture and were teaching false doctrine. These tapes, too, still play in my mind.

            The church I have attended (Second Baptist in Liberty, Missouri) for the past 30 years appointed me 25 years ago as Ambassador to Other Communities of Faith. Over these years I have taken folks from my church to visit other communities of faith and have brought members of other faith communities to visit my church. Our understanding has been that we do not come to change or join, but to build bridges so that when tensions arise between faiths, we will know someone personally to whom we may go for guidance and understanding.

            I was teaching Race Relations at William Jewell College in 1988 when a Klansman in Louisiana won election to their state legislate. My students and I started HateBusters. The Governor of Louisiana invited us to come to Louisiana. We went. Then we began to be invited by other governors, mayors, universities, colleges, communities and individuals. I left full time teaching in 1995 and HateBusters became a 501 C-3 non-profit. We help those who have been hurt because someone hates them.

            Our focus now is on religious hatred. My longtime friend, Imam Yahya Furqan, and I have started a group we simply call Friends. We are composed of folks of different races and religions. We want to visit in small groups with churches, masjids, synagogues and other faith communities. We want to have conversations about our families, our parents, our brothers and sisters; where we grew up, what we like to eat, our hobbies, our hopes and dreams.

            Who is right is the wrong question until we get to know one another. Will Rogers is famous for saying, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I’ve always wondered if he might have said, “I never liked a man I didn’t meet.” I have made it a purpose of my life to meet every person I can and expect to like every person I meet.

            To help others who have unwelcome tapes playing on back channels of their mind, I started HateBusters, became an Ambassador to Other Communities of Faith and wrote a book called, How To Like People Who Are not Like You.

            The book is available on line to anyone who makes a donation to HateBusters. We never ask those who need our help for money. We never say no when asked for help. Good-hearted folks who like what we do give us the money to do it. In return for a donation, every donor gets an on-line copy of How To Like People Who Are not Like You. To donate go to www.hatebusters.com and click on Donate. I will get an Email from PayPal that a donation was made, and I will email the book to you.

HateBusters Motto

 

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

Our Town and Les Miz

July 19, 2010

Our Town and Les Miz

By Ed Chasteen

            Two of my favorite plays. One about Grover’s Corner, a fictitious American town; the other, about the French Revolution. One is performed on an almost bare stage, only a stepladder in sight, just a handful of actors to tell the story of the Gibbs family. The other, the stage filled with mind-boggling, soul stirring, frequently-changing sets and more actors than anyone can count, portraying a national struggle. One low-key, slow moving, no action other than conversation between family members and friends. The other, filled with rousing music, angry people with guns and constant struggle to stay alive while fighting to overthrow a despotic government.

            Emily in Our Town asks a simple question that has never left me since first I heard it. “Does anyone ever realize life as they live it, every single minute?” And a song from Lez Miserables called “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” about friends killed in the struggle has haunted me from first hearing. And in this question and this song, to me, at least, these two plays, outwardly with nothing in common, reveal themselves to be coming at the insatiable urge we all feel to find meaning and purpose in life.

            And to my simple mind another thought occurs. If we had more conversations with one another as the Gibbs family does maybe—just maybe—we might not, everywhere and in all time, find fighting so inevitable. The world is filled in our time with religious mistrust, hatred and violence. We all are in danger of being swept up into it. Before that happens, to slow and maybe in some places prevent its happening, let us try the way of Our Town: quiet conversation about ordinary, everyday things.

            It might not help. But it could. We have nothing to lose by trying. It seems so little a thing to do against so overwhelming a problem. I would like to try it in our town and our church. Sitting together over a meal with friends of other faiths let us wonder about Emily’s question. Let us talk to one another about where we grew up, our parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles; our childhood memories, our favorite foods, music we like, our hobbies, what we like to do for fun, our children, our hopes and dreams.

            If only a few of us will do this, we might become the yeast to leaven the loaf and make it rise. Our example might inspire and encourage those who witness what we do to make their own effort. If nothing else, our own lives will be enriched as we make new friends and learn to like people who are not like us. Or so it seemed before we began to talk.

            Will Rogers is remembered for having said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I’ve always wondered if he would have said, “I never liked a man I didn’t meet.” It seems to me that one purpose of life could be to meet every person we can and expect to like every person we meet. I long ago adopted such a purpose for my own life. I’m a rich man now. Not a lot of money. But friends everywhere. And more all the time.