Thursday, November 15, 2018

Happy Birthday, Ed!

Ed Chasteen is a friend I first met over 40 years ago, and tomorrow (Nov. 16) he is celebrating his 83rd birthday. This article was written to wish Ed a happy birthday. But even more, I have written it to introduce a remarkable man to those who do not know him.
Becoming a Prof
Edgar R. Chasteen was born in Texas and lived in Huntsville from 1948 to 1958. He was baptized in a Baptist church there when he was 13. In 1954 he enrolled in Sam Houston State Teacher’s College and majored in sociology. When he was 21 he married his wife, Bobbie, and they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year.
After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, Ed was employed by William Jewell College (in Liberty, Mo.) where he taught sociology, and especially a course in race relations, from 1965 to 1995.
Two matters of great importance occurred during those years when Ed was a prof at William Jewell: he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and a few years later he founded HateBusters.
The “Peddlin’ Prof”
In 1981 Ed received the terrible news that he had MS. The doctors said he could no longer be active. But after two or three years, and against his doctor’s orders, Ed began to fight his illness by riding a bicycle.
And ride he did! In 1987 he rode over 5,100 miles in 105 days, peddling from Disney World to Disneyland. He rode alone and without any money on him—and with great success. Disney dubbed him “the pedalin’ prof from William Jewell College.”
And he has continued to ride his bicycle since then: in 2003 he rode 10,000 miles to raise funds for MS and HateBusters.
In 2004 the National Multiple Sclerosis Society named Ed an MS Achievement Award winner.
It has now been 37 years since he was first diagnosed with MS—and Ed is still active and still rides his bicycle—but earlier this year he had to give up riding outside. He now rides about 50 miles a week inside on his stationary bike.
The HateBusting Prof
About 30 years ago—soon after David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, won a seat in the Louisiana legislature—Ed and his sociology students at William Jewell College started a group, or perhaps it is better considered a movement, called HateBusters.
The name, and the logo found on their tee shirts, was taken from the popular 1984 film "Ghostbusters." The picture is several years old (taken when he was about 75), but here is a picture of Ed in a HateBuster tee shirt and his personalized bicycle: 
HateBusters has primarily worked in opposition to hate directed toward people because of their race/ethnicity or because of their religion and in support of those who have been victims of hate.
According to their website (see here), HateBusters’ first objective is “To oppose hate wherever we find it and in whatever form it takes.” And when an act of hate occurs, they seek to go “help redeem the situation.”
On Monday of this week, I had breakfast and a delightful conversation with Ed. I was impressed, again, with his mental vitality in spite of his debilitating physical illness and with his deep-seated desire to combat hate and prejudice and to create a world filled with people who live in harmony and practice mutual respect.
Happy Birthday, Ed! The world badly needs more people like you.
For further information:
** Here is the link to a May 2017 VOA article and video about Ed and HateBusters.
** Most of Ed’s books are available for downloading at the website linked to above. Some books are directly related to MS and some to HateBusters, including a 1996 book with 42 issues of “HateBusters Bulletin.”


Saturday, November 10, 2018

TTT #30 God’s First and Last Word is Always Grace

This blog article is the 30th and last one based on my forthcoming book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). I will be informing you later when the book becomes available, but please give consideration now to the following matters taken from the final chapter of the book.
Introducing Grace
Before writing that final chapter, I read Philip Yancey’s outstanding book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997) for the third time. I consider Yancey’s book one of the most significant books I have read over the last twenty years. 
In the first chapter of his book, Yancey calls grace “our last best word,” and laments the “shortage of grace within the church” (p. 14).
I fully agree with Yancey’s assessment, so I decided to write about grace for the last chapter of TTT. We need to be reminded constantly that for the Christian, or for anyone for that matter, God’s first and last word is always grace.
I have been reading and thinking about God’s grace for most of my adult life. One of the first good books about grace that I read maybe almost sixty years ago was penned by R. Lofton Hudson, a Baptist pastor and counselor. His book was titled Grace Is Not a Blue-Eyed Blond (1968).
Sometime before writing his book, the author was talking with a man who attended church only occasionally. Hudson asked him “What do you think of when I say the word grace?” The man’s quick reply, “Why, Grace is a blue-eyed blond!”
Well, probably not many people identify grace in such a manner, but many may need to have a deeper, more nearly adequate understanding of grace and the importance it has, or should have, in our lives.  
Concluding with Grace
After dealing with the issue of “grace vs. works,” sola gratia, and what some have called “grace abuse,” I concluded the last chapter in TTT when the assertion, “still, grace is God’s first and last word.”
Although probably not original with him, several years ago I read the following words boldly proclaimed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
That, truly, is the meaning of grace. And while it is necessary for us to recognize, and to beware of, grace abuse, we should always remember that the God’s first and last word is always grace.
The pivotal significance of grace is seen in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
In the first chapter of John we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth(v. 14).
And then, Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ(vv. 16-17).
Toward the end of the first chapter of his book Grace Is Not a Blue-Eyed Blond, Hudson declares, “Primarily, grace is a face, the face of Christ and of Christian acceptance.” (p. 22).
Yes, because the Christian faith begins and ends with Jesus Christ, for the Christian—and for all the people of the world— the first and last word is grace.
Let’s never forget that, for it is certainly one extremely important true thing that everyone needs to know now.

[Here is the link to the entire 30th chapter of TTT.]

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Election of 1868 (and 2018)

Since my hometown is Grant City (Mo.), I have long had an interest in, but not much knowledge of, Ulysses S. Grant. My recent reading about him, though, has convinced me that he is a man who should not be taken for granted and that his election in 1868 was one of great importance.
The Election of 1868
Even though my Oct. 30, 2016, blog article was about the presidential election of 1868 (see here), I didn’t write much about Grant, who was the winner of that election and thus became the 18th POTUS.
For whatever reason, during most of my lifetime Grant seems not to have received the attention and the accolades he has deserved. But he and his accomplishments as President should not be taken lightly.
In one of the most important elections in U.S. history, 150 years ago on November 3, 1868, Grant won a decisive victory that was of great significance to the nation.
His election was especially significant for the American Indians and for the “freedmen,” the former enslaved persons who had a new birth of freedom because of the Civil War.
The Background of the 1868 Election
Hiram Ulysses Grant was born in Ohio in 1822, the son of a tanner—and a fervent abolitionist. When he was 16, Ulysses, the name by which he was called, was nominated to West Point by the district’s U.S. Representative—but his name was mistakenly given as Ulysses S., and the name stuck.
After graduation, Grant distinguished himself as a daring and competent soldier during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. He left the army in 1854 but joined again in 1861, the beginning year of the Civil War.
Grant distinguished himself as a war hero, and after being elevated to the rank of lieutenant general in 1864, he forced and then received Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865.
Results of the 1868 Election
Because of his great popularity across the nation—and it has been said that he was more popular in the 19th century then Lincoln—Grant was nominated unanimously as the Republican candidate for the presidency in 1868.
In spite of his political opponents calling Grant a drunk and accusing him of trying to “Africanize” the South, he won the 1868 election decisively: 214 to 80 electoral votes.
Among the premier accomplishments of Grant’s presidency are these:
** Organized (in April 1869) the Board of Indian Commissioners; this was Grant’s attempt to formulate a new humane policy towards Native American tribes. While not without problems, this “Peace Policy” was a great advancement in the way American Indians had been treated in the U.S. up to this time.
** Ratification (in February 1870) of the 15th Amendment giving the freed slaves the right to vote.
** Passage of the “Ku Klux Klan” Act (in April 1871) that curtailed the activities of the KKK and other white supremacy organizations; this bill is also called the Civil Rights Act of 1871.  
(Actual 1868 campaign poster with an explanation added)
And What about the Election of 2018?
While not a presidential election, U.S. voters will go to the polls tomorrow (Nov. 6) to determine whether the racist, xenophobic, pro-white supremacy policies and rhetoric of the current administration are going to remain unchecked by a supportive Congress or whether there will be a better balance of power in the U.S. government.
The election of 1868 proved greatly beneficial for people of color then, and I fervently hope and pray that tomorrow’s election will similarly turn out well for people of color, immigrants, Jews, and the poor in contemporary society.
For further reading:
Two recommended books for further study of Grant (and the election of 1868):
** Grant (2002) by Jean Edward Smith, which presents Grant much more positively than most biographies up to that time.
** Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow, the latest, highly-acclaimed, 1000-page tome about Grant.



Friday, November 2, 2018

Moral Majority and Vote Common Good are not Moral Equivalents

[The following is a "letter to the editor," published (here) by Baptist News Global on Oc. 30 and is posted here as an "extra" blog article because of the significance of the Nov. 6 election.] 
In his opinion article published Oct. 26 on baptistnews.com, Jonathan Frank contends that “today’s Vote Common Good is much like yesterday’s Moral Majority.” Having attended a Vote Common Good “rally” and written a blog article about Vote Common Good, I must say, Sorry, Jonathan, but they’re not the same at all.
Further, having written a book on Christian fundamentalism, I have also spent considerable time seeking to understand the thinking and actions of the late Jerry Falwell, the primary power behind the formation of the Moral Majority. In reviewing Falwell’s activities and pronouncements in 1979 and the years following, again I must declare, Sorry, Jonathan, but the Moral Majority and the Vote Common Good movements are definitely not moral equivalents.
Vote Common Good is focused on one limited goal: flipping the control of Congress in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. This goal is rooted primarily in their strong opposition to the character and policies of President Trump and the almost unanimous support he has received from the Republican-controlled Senate and House.
At the rally I attended, Frank Schaffer declared that he is not trying to make Democrats out of Republicans and he is not saying how people ought to vote in future elections. He is merely emphasizing the critical nature of the current political situation in Washington and the need for there to be some check on the erratic and unchristian statements and policies of the President. That check depends on Congress being “flipped,” and that is what Vote Common Good is seeking to do. It is an ad hoc response to a current crisis in government.
Jonathan asserts that the “clear mission” of Vote Common Good is to “urge Christians to vote for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.” No, Jonathan, that is not what their declared mission is: it is only to flip Congress – and by that they mean primarily the House of Representatives. The only political candidate mentioned in the Kansas rally I attended was the challenger to Rep. Kevin Yoder in the 3rd District of Kansas.
Jonathan says that Vote Common Good is urging voters to oppose the GOP. Well, yes and no. They are certainly urging voters to oppose the GOP candidates for the House because of the need to have some check on the President. But that is the only GOP opposition that I have heard or read from them.
Jonathan complains the Vote Common Good group is rejecting praiseworthy Representatives such as Kathy McMorris-Rogers of Washington and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Yes, no doubt Rep. McMorris-Rogers and Rep. Wagner have done many good things and are decent people. But they are also quite loyal to President Trump. Consider, for example, their questionable support of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Near the end of his article Jonathan avers that Vote Common Good attempts “to shoehorn faith into the mold of a political party, instead of letting our faith be the mold through which we reach our political decisions.” To the contrary, Vote Common Good speakers such as Schaffer (whom I heard), Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and Brian McLaren are urging people to Vote Common Good because of their Christian faith and their firm commitment to the teachings of Jesus – not because they are Democrats.
These are just some of the reasons for this rebuttal to Jonathan Frank’s article. Today’s Vote Common Good is considerably unlike yesterday’s Moral Majority and it has a message Christians of all stripes need to consider seriously in these days before the midterm elections.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TTT #29 We Should Always Go Easy on Judging Others—Or Ourselves

The bulk of this article is taken from the next to last chapter of my as yet unpublished book Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT). The final section of that chapter is included here, but I encourage you to click this link and also read the first three sections of the chapter.
The Case for Kindness
Christians have not always been kind to one another. The Catholic inquisitions of the Middle Ages, in which people designated as heretics were hunted down and executed, are infamous. Enmity and strife between Protestants and Catholics existed from the beginning of the Reformation, and Protestants began killing other Protestants as early as 1527.
Although there have not been religious wars in this country, still among Christian denominations and even within national and local churches often there has been harshness, incivility, and unkindness.
All of this is woefully contradictory to a challenging Biblical admonition: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
Instead of being tough-minded and tender-hearted, too many Christians have too often been tender-minded and hard-hearted.
One of my favorite contemporary Christian authors has written a book titled Generous Orthodoxy. That is a good emphasis when it comes to theology; Christian thinkers need to be accepting and magnanimous rather than being mean-spirited and unkind.
The same is true for Christian believers of all kinds—and for adherents of others religions as well—as we seek to live out our faith. We need to be generous and open-minded in our evaluation of others rather than being critical and judgmental.
In a recent translation, 1 Peter 3:8 admonishes, “Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions.” These are good words to consider, and hard words to put into practice consistently.
But when we are tempted to say, or even think, critical words about other people, we need to recall this injunction to be sympathetic, loving, and compassionate.
When I was a freshman in college, I bought a little book titled Everyday Religion. I profited from reading that book then as a young man and I found it delightfully helpful when I read through it again a few years ago.
The first chapter is “When We Really Live,” and I have remembered through the years how the author says that we really live when, among other things, we know how to be “a little kinder than necessary every day.”
So when we start to be harsh and judgmental in evaluation of others, or ourselves, let’s remember these words and try, indeed, to be a little kinder than necessary. If we can do that, we will find that everyone will be better off.  
Denouncing Anti-Semitism
Although not a part of the 29th chapter of TTT, last Saturday’s mass murder of Jews in Pittsburgh prompts me to reflect on how Christians, among others, have often not been kind, to say the least, toward Jewish people.
Although religious differences are real—and important—nothing can justify mistreatment of other people because of their religion or ethnicity.
This article is being posted on the morning before Reformation Day, which commemorates the beginning of the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther. Sadly, though, Luther’s judgmental and condemnatory words about the Jewish people have had a lasting negative impact on many Protestant Christians.
Please join me in sending condolences to those who are grieving in Pittsburgh, in denouncing all forms of anti-Semitism, and in pledging to be as kind as possible to all people, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof) or ethnicity.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

TTT #28 We Should Never Let the Good Become an Enemy of the Best

Not long after June and I married in 1957, I remember having the following words posted above my desk in our two-room apartment: “Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best.” I still think those are good and important words.
Seeking the Best
John Wesley, the outstanding 18th century British Christian, sought to live by the compelling slogan: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
Those words certainly call people to positive action toward being and doing the best they possibly can rather than being complacent. Just because we are doing something good, that doesn’t mean we are doing all we should be doing.
The good becomes an enemy of the best whenever engaging in some good activity becomes an excuse for not doing more when that is possible. Similarly, the good becomes an enemy of the best when making contributions to some good cause becomes an excuse for not giving more when we are able to do that. 
On the Other Hand
I first heard the words “Don’t let the good become an enemy of the best” in the 1950s, but I don’t remember hearing this balancing statement until around 2010: “Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
Perhaps I was so early and so long influenced by the wisdom of the former warning that I sometimes (or many times) made the mistake the latter statement warns against.
Sometimes I have been called a perfectionist—although I insist that I am not a perfectionist, I just want things to be done right! But my desire to do things right, or as nearly perfect as possible, has sometimes kept me from doing much of anything at all.
As always, the goal is seeking balance or a position in the middle, between the extremes. Satisfaction with the good can, indeed, be an enemy of the best. But preoccupation with being or doing the best can also, certainly, keep one from doing good.
Always striving for the best can lead to procrastination and to engaging in over-analysis that leads to paralysis. Both of those unhealthy characteristics, procrastination and over-analysis, are largely based on fear of falling short of the best.
So while maintaining that the good should never be an enemy of the best, we should, on the other hand, also never allow the best to be an enemy of the good. It certainly is counter-productive if our desire to do the best ends up keeping us from doing much good at all. 
Seeking the Best without Being a Perfectionist
Being or doing the best we possibly can without falling into the trap of perfectionism is the goal we should strive for.
Perfectionism is a debilitating psychological weakness, and my insistence that we should never allow the good to become an enemy of the best should not be interpreted in such a way as to foster perfectionism.
We need to take seriously the suggestions in books by clinical psychologists, such as Steven Hendlin’s When Good Enough is Never Enough: Escaping the Perfection Trap (1992) and Monica Ramirez Basco’s Never Good Enough: Freeing Yourself from the Chains of Perfectionism (1999).
So this is the goal we should yearn for: never letting the good become an enemy of the best—but always seeking to be and to do the best without falling into debilitating perfectionism.

[Here is the link to the entire 28th chapter in Thirty True Things . . .]


Saturday, October 20, 2018

Vote Common Good

Last Sunday afternoon I drove over to a church in Overland Park, Kansas, and attended a meeting of a group touring the country under the name Vote Common Good (VCG). It was a very small, but quite interesting, meeting.
Introduction of VCG
“Evangelical Christians against Trump are trying to 'flip Congress' with bus tour ahead of midterm elections.” That is the title of an October 9 article in Newsweek (see here) that describes the activities of the Vote Common Good (VCG) group. (Their website is here.)
Led primarily by Doug Pagitt, the founding pastor of Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis and a prominent emergent church leader, speakers at some of the VCG rallies also include such well known Christian authors as Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren, and Frank Schaeffer.
The latter was at the meeting I attended on October 14, and I enjoyed hearing him and chatting a bit with him again. (My blog articles of 9/25/11 and 8/20/14, see here and here, were mostly about Schaeffer.)  
Between October 2 and today (Oct. 20) VCG has held 17 rallies in ten different states. At least 12 more rallies, mostly in Texas and California, are scheduled between now and the midterm elections.
Appeal of VCG
In what seems to be a self-contradiction, VCG claims to be non-partisan while at the same time strenuously seeking to “flip” the control of Congress by electing Democratic candidates to the U.S. Congress.
As Schaeffer emphasized, they are not trying to make Democrats out of Republicans. Rather, they are just trying to get a Democratic Congress (or at least a Democratic House) to counter what they consider a President who is grossly acting in opposition to central Christian values.
They, most likely, agree with the October 12 Washington Post op-ed article by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.): “How a Democratic House would check this erratic president.” Here is Schiff’s opening sentence:
Our democracy is broken, and President Trump is only one reason. Congress is the other. It has failed to serve as an equal branch of government, failed to play its essential role as a check and balance and, most glaringly, completely abdicated its oversight responsibilities.

Suggestion to VCG
There are some who agree with the activities of VCG but think they are being too overtly political. I share some of those feelings. That is why at the meeting I recommended to them, and to the pastor of the church where we met, that attention be given to the “Reclaiming Jesus” document, which was drafted on Ash Wednesday this year.
That document, which was produced by people such as Walter Brueggemann, Tony Campolo, Richard Rohr, and Jim Wallis, is well worth reading and taken seriously. (Here is the link to it—and, yes, there were also women and people of color who were part of the group that drafted it.)
There are pastors, and others, who wish to stay out of the political fray and who perhaps don’t want to be identified with VCG even though they may personally agree with what they are trying to do.
Use of the Reclaiming Jesus document is one good way to emphasize the values being promoted by VCG without overt political statements or identification. I am pleased with the way my pastor has done that over the past few weeks.
Since I am not an active pastor—or on anyone’s payroll—now, I am happy to identify with the work and the goals of Vote Common Good. Many knowledgeable people are saying that next month’s election is the most important midterm election of our lifetime—and they may well be right.
That is the reason to vote and to Vote Common Good!