Archive for November, 2015

November 30, 2015

Testimony as Transparency

by Ed Chasteen

“What is your testimony?” That was an often asked question early in my life. At Henderson Street Baptist Church in Cleburne, Texas until I was 12. Then in Firsr Baptist, Huntsville during junior high, high school and college. I was never comfortable with that question. I got the uneasy impression that I was being asked to brag.

I haven’t heard that question much in recent years. I’m still in church. A wordless attraction keeps pulling me there, and when asked to explain, an unwelcome dread settles over me and I wish not to be in the presence of those who ask. I am grateful when I do not have to explain myself.

Lately, though, a new word has become popular. Not so much in church as in the larger culture, and not so much as a question as a requirement meant to give legitimacy and lend authority. The word is transparency. I take the call for transparency to be the longing we all have for a simply worded explanation for why we behave as we do. And thinking about transparency has brought me to a new understanding of testimony, not so much as bragging, more as confession.

“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the children of the world.” I was no more than three when my Sunday school teachers taught me this song. We sang it hundreds of times over the next few years. Then when I was in grad school working toward my PhD, I chose race relations as my focus. My degree in hand, I joined the faculty of a Baptist college. My students and I held Human Family Reunions. I wrote a book called How To Like People Who Are not Like You. My students and I formed HateBusters. To my teachers in Sunday school and my mother who took me there goes the credit for all that followed their teaching me that song.

I suspect that most all adult lives are a living out of what was learned as children. When we become adults, we are responsible and held accountable. Though not entirely fair, I know of no better way for us to live together. But seeing things this way causes me discomfort in assigning either praise or blame

I have never been able to find total comfort in discussing what is most private in my life. There is a fragility about it that causes a catch in my throat when I try to make it public. Face to face and one to one, usually over breakfast in a home town mom and pop, I can find the ease I need to open unread pages, though even in this setting, I find more meaning in listening than in talking.


November 25, 2015

Open Letter to American Muslims and Syrian Refugees

November 23, 2015

by Ed Chasteen

My mother took me to Henderson Street Baptist Church in Cleburne, Texas when I was just an infant and made sure I was there several times every week. I learned all the Bible stories and heard sermons I still remember. We moved to Huntsville, Texas the summer before I went into 7th grade. We joined First Baptist Church.

Brother Clinard, my pastor, preached another of his marvelous sermons about loving all people one Sunday morning when I was 16. I walked up the church aisle when he had finished and took his hand. “I’m surrendering to preach,” I said to him.

Across several states in colleges and in Baptist churches over the next 13 years, I learned how it is that we should live. I came when I was 29 to teach sociology in a Baptist college. I was appointed as “Ambassador from Second Baptist Church to Other Communities of Faith.” My college students and I started HateBusters. We held Human Family Reunions. My goal for my church and my college always was and forever shall be that we all become World Class Persons, able to go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

Once again my church, my college and my community find ourselves part of a hurting world looking for light in the darkness. We who have long professed to be that light must demonstrate by our words and our actions that we live above that dark night of the soul that would blind us and turn us upon ourselves.

When events in our world do not intrude on our ordinary lives we live easily with our belief in scripture and law. When tested by terror we have opportunity to find out who we really are. Is our commitment to the teachings of the moral and political giants deep and profound. Or will we float like jetsam on the harsh words and hateful actions of the small minded who would have us deny all that is good in us.

American Muslims and Syrian refugees need our support. We who are neither can and should be their champions. American Muslims are verbally abused by some among us who aspire to leadership, and if we choose to follow them, they, and we, will look weak and foolish and scorned by generations to come. But if we can rise to the occasion and become magnanimous in wisdom and compassion, this may be one of our finest hours. And in the pantheon of noble souls held up as mirrors in years ahead we take our place.

Syrian refugees flee their country today. Their government threatens to kill them. Their hope is that other countries will offer refuge as they build new lives. The strength of will it must take to start again in a strange place is more than I think I have. I yearn to learn from them the lessons they might teach. In welcoming them to my country, it is not charity I offer, but a mutual strengthening of the bonds that bind us together as we struggle to make sense of and give meaning to our finite and fragile lifetimes we share aboard planet Earth.

Finding our way past those who terrorize us will not be easy. But if we keep our heads and do not harden our hearts, we will find that way. Those who can only kill can never win. Any one of us or any number of us they may kill. But killing after a while loses its attraction and its adherents. And killing dies a natural death.

November 19, 2015

The Worldwide Jr. High Bully

by Ed Chasteen

By whatever name they want to be called, these unhappy and misguided young men who distort their faith to sanction random murder on an industrial scale should be called out for what they are: junior high bullies on steroids. The fact that they might kill any one of us, even a good number of us, suddenly and without warning, rather than our fear, if fully understood, reveals their desperation and an abiding lack of self worth at their inability to understand and find a meaningful place in a world that won’t hold still.

If their aim, as some think, is to invite massive retaliation, allowing them then to claim that their religion, and not they themselves, is under attack, their paranoid view of the world will, by their very actions, have been made to come true. To defeat such a strategy, the response is to do the unexpected.

As a case study that may seem too unimportant and superficial to offer any real guidance, I turn back the clock to when I was 14 and working that summer between my 7th and 8th grade school years at a service station. Our school bully had made my 7th grade life miserable, threatening in colorful and detailed ways to do terrible things to me. He was bigger and stronger. I was reasonably certain he could do exactly as he promised.

That summer day I had just gassed up a car. When I turned, there stood the bully. He repeated his threats. What to do? I couldn’t run. I didn’t have the nerve to threaten him. I would seem ridiculous. Then I heard a voice. It called the bully’s name. Then it said, “If that’s the way you feel, come ahead. I’ll try to help you.” Who said that? He wouldn’t need help. What did it mean? I glanced around. Didn’t see anybody. That voice, I decided, sounded like me.

I looked at the bully. He looked puzzled. He just stood there. Then! Without a word he turned and walked away. He never bothered me again. And whatever it was that passed between us that day neither he nor I ever found reason to mention. Whether because we didn’t really know or because we had developed a wary respect for one another I’ve been trying since to figure out. We were both saved that day. I suppose that’s all that matters.

A decade later came another demonstration of the power of the unexpected. I had been rejected when I applied to graduate school. I was devastated. With a wife and three small children, I needed a PhD to make a living as a college professor. That admission’s committee said my scores on standardized tests “were not reflective of a high level of performance”. I almost wrote a nasty letter to that committee. But that would just reinforce their low opinion of me. So after a few days, I wrote this letter.

“Gentlemen, insofar as my scores do not reflect my ability, I am sorry. My only regret is that I won’t get to know what you could have taught me and what together we might have done.”

Ten days later I got a letter from the committee saying they were reevaluating my application. Another ten days and I got a second letter admitting me on probation. Then came a third letter asking me to teach a class when I came. After one semester, the same folks who had rejected me offered me a fellowship that would support my family while I wrote my dissertation and got my PhD.

Never respond as expected. That’s the lesson I learned from personal experience. On a level that might have prevented World War III, I learned of it in an exchange of letters between President Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During the standoff over Soviet missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy received two letters from Khrushchev. They were days apart. The first was more conciliatory, seeming to offer a way out of the face off short of hostilities. The second was more bellicose, seeming to draw a hardline that could lead to nuclear confrontation. Kennedy chose to respond to the first letter, acting as if the second had never been received.

To respond now to terrorism as those who practice it expect, is to offer them the only hope of success they have.

November 13, 2015

Kansas Street

Gateway to Greater Liberty

2015 by Ed Chasteen

Part 2 of 3

For the 50 years I have lived in Liberty and taught at Jewell, Kansas Street, from the hilltop middle school high on the western edge of town to its destination at the hilltop college on the eastern edge, has been one-way, bringing folks into Liberty, past our town square and onto campus, where the street ends. Leaving campus toward Kansas City, Franklin Street is one-way, coming past Second Baptist and the Courthouse and coming to the middle school where it ends, requiring a left turn and an immediate right, putting us back on Kansas Street (152) and leading back to I-35, where a left turn brings us soon over the Missouri River into Kansas City.

Two things came together years ago and caused me to think expansively about this place where I live. The first was what a former pastor of Second Baptist used to say about our church. “This little piece of God’s good earth,” he called our square block.

The second came when I donned a T-shirt announcing me as Ambassador from Second Baptist to Other Communities of Faith and rode my bicycle one summer, alone and without money, from Orlando to Seattle to Anaheim, taking 105 days, riding 125 miles on my longest days.

My little piece of God’s good earth, first that square block on which Second Baptist stands, grew larger, going out 125 miles in all directions from Liberty, our town: to Creston, Iowa up north and Carthage, Missouri down south; Manhattan, Kansas out west to Columbia, Missouri in the east, an area including parts of four states, with 104 county seat towns.

When in 1988 citizens of Louisiana elected a member of the KKK to their state legislature, my race relations students and I started HateBusters and the governor of Louisiana invited us to come help the state redeem itself. We since have become a 501 c-3 non-profit, promising to come to the aid of anyone in Greater Liberty who is targeted by those who hate their race, religion or sexual orientation. We are all volunteers. We work for free. We never say no. We also teach people how to like people.

My first drive up Kansas Street came on a spring day in 1965. The University of Missouri had given me a fellowship a year earlier, requiring that I move to Kansas City, offering me opportunity to study and write about the Civil Rights Movement as it was being played out locally. I had met and become fond of hundreds of people on all sides of the issue. I was supposed to return to the Oklahoma college where I had taught for two years, from which I was on sabbatical. But how could I leave? We had all invested a year of our lives in one another. I could not desert them. I would forever wonder how things turned out.

Bruce Thomson had just become academic dean at William Jewell. His position on the Sociology faculty was open. I had come to interview. Bruce himself was hiring his replacement. We liked each other on sight. With a contract in my coat pocket, I drove a short time later up Franklin Street to Kansas Street and then to highway 69 and back to Kansas City.

November 11, 2015

An Open Letter to the University of Missouri

November 11, 2015

from Ed Chasteen

I grew up in another state. Two things drew me to the University of Missouri: (1) They did not charge graduate students out of state tuition; (2) Noel Gist was a member of the Sociology faculty. I had taught from his textbook on race relations. My two years of teaching at an Oklahoma college had convinced me that I loved college teaching. Also that I needed a PhD to make a living for my family.

2-E University Terrace at MU became home that summer of ’63 to the five of us. Professor Terrance Pihlblad became my academic adviser. Professor Gist had me over for dinner. Professor Robert Habenstein became my champion. I had lived in Columbia and been a student at MU from May of ’63 until February of “64 when Professor Habenstein, “Hobby” to all of us who loved him, came to my grad student office. “We have this fellowship. It will pay all your living expenses while you write your dissertation. It requires that you live in Kansas City and study something vital to the city. We want you to take this fellowship and go to Kansas City.”

In April 1964 Kansas City held a city wide vote. Would the city continue its practice of racial segregation or vote to integrate public accommodations. Growing up in east Texas I had never understood our local racial practices. So I moved from Columbia to Kansas City and spent a year interviewing folks on all sides. When I finished my dissertation and got my PhD, a position came open on the sociology faculty at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, just a few miles from Kansas City.

I had been teaching race relations at Jewell for years when a member of the KKK won election to the Louisiana State Legislature. My students and I started HateBusters. The Governor of Louisiana invited us to come help the state redeem itself. We went. Word got out. We began to be invited all over the country.

HateBusters, Inc. is now a 501 c-3 non-profit. We offer help to people hurt by hate. We work for free. We never say no when asked to help. And we have chosen a more manageable area for our work. We call this area Greater Liberty. With Liberty as its center, we drew a circle going out 125 miles in all directions: north to Creston, Iowa and south to Carthage, Missouri; west to Manhattan, Kansas and east to Columbia, Missouri. To any act of hate in this area we offer help.

But Greater Liberty is not primarily a place. It’s a principle: We all have Greater Liberty than we ever know to rise above and beyond all the limitations other people expect us to observe. Limitations we uncritically accept: race, religion, class, gender, nation. We can all aspire to become World Class Persons, able to go anywhere at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

To help us along our way to World Class Personhood, we have written a book, How To Like People Who Are not Like You. A reviewer called our book, “profoundly simple and simply profound, a formula for building human beings.” We also have reduced the book to three color coded cards. We do not charge for any of our services or products. We do accept donations. We even sometimes solicit them.

My heart breaks now to hear of racial problems on the very campus that launched my own life-long quest for racial understanding and harmony. If in any way I may help, I offer my services.


Teaching People How To Like People

Box 442 Liberty, MO 64069 816-803-8371