Archive for October, 2017

October 13, 2017

Best Book I Never Read

2017 by Ed Chasteen

Considered by many says Wikipedia to be the best book of the twentieth century. I actually bought a paperback copy years ago when it first came out. I thumbed through the pages. But aside from its title, I forgot the book without even reading it. That title, though, imbedded itself on a back channel of my mind. Then last evening at dinner the comment of a friend brought that title to center stage.

The Lonely Crowd, David Reisman called his book. Sounds impossible. Contradictory. An oxymoron. But a perfect description of my friend’s response last evening to my question. We are both of sufficient age that we no longer have to make a living. We have made it and are free to choose how we spend our days..

“So how do you spend your days?” This was my question to my friend after we had talked for a while. “I read the paper word for word and watch TV.” He said.

And thus prompted, the title of Reisman’s book popped unsolicited to my mind, remaining there this morning, blinking on and off like neon in the night.

Maybe when I have put down on paper the jumbled up images now loose in my head, I can get to the work I was planning for today.

How must the Neilson Ratings for the popularity of TV shows be distorted by folks who watch it as my friend does? What does it matter whose voices interrupt the silence inside a house? With novel drugs and labor saving devices extending our days, what gives meaning to the added time?

My brother-in-law last night on the phone told me he is back to his flooded home after Hurricane Harvey took all but the studs. Faced with starting over near my own age, I marvel at his calm determination and laser focus on a better future. He has no TV to watch and no time to watch if he had.

And I wonder which of these two men I’d rather be.


October 11, 2017

Eyyup Made It Happen

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

at 6:30 PM

by Ed Chasteen

From miles away in all directions we come at dusk for a homemade meal in the home of Osman and Ozlem Guneri. Strangers to one another when we arrive, never to meet again as a group, together at table for a Turkish dinner. The nine of us are here because in some fashion we are connected to Eyyup Esen. As director of the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, Eyyup is the magnet drawing us here. The irresistible appeal of a small group gathered at table for a home cooked meal in a private home at the end of a busy day has caught us all in its spell. Four year old Numan Guneri, dressed as a superhero and playing with his white rabbit scoots around the room, talking to everyone, drawing us out, causing us to remember our own early years.

Francisco “Paco” Martinez knows Eyup. Paco is the Spanish language teacher-interpreter for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Grecia Ortiz and Gabriela Barrbra are MD’s from a hospital in Mexico City, here for a month to learn things useful to their pediatric practice back home. Paco has brought the two Mexican doctors. Rob Carr knows Eyyup and has been pastor for 18 years of a church on North Oak, not far from here. Eyyup and I met a couple of years back and have since worked together on several projects of mutual interest.

Our dinner this evening brings together folks from different countries, cultures, languages, foods and faiths in the Mid-America home of a Muslim family living on a cul d sac where a street called Robinhood comes to a pleasant end. Too soon over and too ephemeral to describe, this brief time brings to my mind these closing words from one of my favorite plays: “Let it never be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, known as Camelot.”

Maybe that’s enough. Enough to keep our world from going off the tracks. And if not? A reminder of what might have been.

October 10, 2017

Greater Liberty Experience

by Ed Chasteen

I go at 6:30 every weekday morning to Ginger Sue’s for breakfast here in Liberty. Up the hill on Natchez to Southview, left to route 291, left to Leonard to Mill, left to Gallatin, right to Kansas, right half a block to Ginger Sue’s. Parallel park in one of the eight marked spaces. Sling my book-bag over my shoulder. Open the hatchback of my PT Cruiser. Take out my walker from beneath my bicycle. Close the hatchback. Open my walker. Walk the few steps to the door. Take my seat at the high table just inside. Greet by name the server who without asking brings my ice tea with lemon. “How many today?” She sometimes asks. “Just me.” I often answer. And when I do, I take a book from my bag.

For her Tuesday book club, my wife is reading a book she says I would love. For the past few days that book has been in my bag. I must finish it today. Bobbie has to return t when her club meets this afternoon.

On page 284 of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, I come across a paragraph near the bottom of the page. The words jump out at me. I reread them several times. Then, before I can read further, I write them in the notebook I always carry.

“He was free. He expected nothing more from life. Not because he was disappointed or embittered. He expected nothing because there was nothing of importance he had not already experienced. He possessed all the happiness a person could find. He loved and was loved.”

I could find no better words than these to describe my own life. I have lived and am living the words of Rabbi Ben Ezra: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”

Reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats also causes me to think of the 22 people of different faiths who have allowed me to form them into 11 pairs, each pair of a different faith, all agreeing to hold seven online conversations and then to write the life story of their paired one. Our life as paired ones will continue until all 22 are given opportunity to meet as a whole for the first and only time at 7:30 Tuesday evening December 19, 2017 at William Jewell College for what we are calling The Human Family Reunion.

October 7, 2017

Guns Hold America Hostage

by Ed Chasteen

You would know from the title of this opinion piece that I’m not running for political office and, therefore, have no reason to curry the favor of the NRA or to practice mental gymnastics with the Second Amendment. We have come to this place where those of us without guns are afraid of those who have them. We never know now who, when or where anyone might have a gun.

Guns make martyrs and silence souls. Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Columbine; Trayvon Martin, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr: mass shootings and homicide individualized. The dead die once. We who live die with every headline and the shooting to come. We may no longer be able to imagine a way out. The safety we think we seek may be the death wish we want to avoid.

October 4, 2017

Who You Gonna Call?


by Ed Chasteen

The largest mass shooting in U.S. History:” This unwelcome news comes to me on NPR as I back out of my garage on my way to Ginger Sue’s for breakfast. The copy of Sports Illustrated that just came and I plan to read as I eat proclaims on the cover in all caps: A NATION DIVIDED. And just below, also in caps: SPORTS UNITED.

How did we get here? That song from South Pacific offers a clue. “You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid. Of people whose eyes are oddly made, And people whose skin is a different shade, You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, Before you are six or seven or eight, To hate all the people your relatives hate.”

But this explanation accounts for fear and hate only in the latest generation.
How did the teachers learn to fear and hate? Where did those two deacons learn to fear and hate? Why did their teaching not have the outcome they sought on me?

I was 16 that Sunday morning in church. My pastor had just preached another elegant and eloquent sermon calling us to love all people. I knew from watching him about our town that he practiced what he preached. I just knew that come Monday morning everybody in our town would love everybody. I was floating on air as I walked up the aisle toward the door.

To either side of the door stood a deacon. I would pass between them as I left the church. Sixty-five years have passed since that morning. The picture of those two deacons is still fresh in my mind. I know their names and their occupations. I can describe them. The single sentence I heard from each as I passed between them plays on a tape in my head and intrudes uninvited in my life with an irritating frequency.

Having just heard the same sermon I heard about loving all people, the deacon to my left said, “If them niggers try to come in this church, I’ll beat ’em back with a baseball bat.? The deacon to my right said, “Me, too.”

Maybe they meant for me to hear them. Or maybe I chanced to hear what was meant to be private. I never asked. These two men and I had never spoken. And never would. But those 19 words I overhead gave a direction to my life I’m sure they did not intend.

Two years later I graduated from high school. I walked across town and enrolled in our local college. I went to the bookstore. I saw a book. The Negro in America it was called. I picked it up. Here I thought was somebody trying to understand intellectually the problem I had seen in church/. I took the book to the cashier. “What major is this book for?” I asked. “Sociology.” She said. “That’s my major.” I said.

I stayed in college as long as I could. Reading about race relations. Talking about race relations. Researching race relations. Writing about race relations. When I had enough degrees, I joined a college faculty. Teaching race relations.

The college faculty I joined was affiliated with the same church I had attended as a boy. Making race relations better was as important on this campus as understanding why they were not good. My students and I started the Ethnic Activities Center of Mid-America, the Human Family Reunion , HateBusters. I wrote a book, How To Like People Who Are not Like You, called by a reviewer:”Profoundly simple and simply profound, a formula for building human beings.”

We give HateBusters membership cards everywhere we go to anyone who asks. Free of charge. We have no dues and no meetings. We keep in touch online. We keep no membership rolls. No one is born hating. Only those who have learned to hate and choose not to change are ineligible for membership. Everybody else is a natural born HateBuster. If you don’t want to be one of us, send us your name, and we will take you off the roll. Otherwise, you’re one of us.

Anytime anyone is targeted by hate because someone does not like their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or any other demographic characteristic, we will offer whatever help they need. Free of charge.

We respond to any act of hate we hear about anywhere near us. We focus on this place we call Greater Liberty. HateBusters Headquarters is in a town called Liberty.
We drew a circle around our town going out 125 miles in all directions. This Greater Liberty includes 104 counties in parts of four states and has some three and a half million people. But Greater Liberty is more
principle than place. This is that principle: we all have Greater Liberty than we know to rise above and beyond all the labels others apply to us and we uncritically assume. We are, and as a right ought to be, World Class Persons, able to go anyplace at anytime and talk to anyone about anything and feel safe.

Those two deacons in my boyhood church did not see coming the long term consequences of their off hand teaching. It could not have ended as they thought, Had I not heard them, what now would my life be? Would I have spent the years from that day until now as I have? Would I plan so long as I live to champion the Greater Liberty they set in motion that morning? Were these seeming devils my angels in disguise? Was it merely happenstance that the most consequential message of my life came in church? Was this jarring juxtaposition of love and hate designed only for my benefit? Was it meant to set me on the path my life was meant to take?