He Was An Awesome Human Being: Remembering Dr. Charles Teel

I learned earlier this evening of the death of my dear friend Charles Teel, Jr. I was shocked and dismayed. We are, all of us, more vulnerable than we realize. By far.

He was a truly exceptional person who touched so many lives during his time at La Sierra (where he held a faculty appointment from 1967 to 2017). There was, for instance, a reason he was one of the first three La Sierra faculty members to receive Zapara teaching awards: he was a truly outstanding teacher who inspired and challenged and engaged and delighted generations of students.

As a student, I relished the intellectual stimulation he offered. As a colleague, I enjoyed sitting in his classes and listening to him perform with so much energy and vibrancy and humor. And it was a pleasure to team-teach with him, not only because I appreciated his work in front of the class and his questions, but also because I believe I was a better teacher when he was in the room.

In the classroom, he was passionate, creative, alert, enthusiastic. He relished opportunities to develop teaching aids that caught students' attention, from sets of blocks groups of students could work together to assemble--to tours that brought home the meaning of the stories he told about the relationship between religion and social change. And of course he mastered communicative techniques designed to keep students engaged--jumping on desks, raising his voice in carefully calculated patterns, telling stories of Loma Linda past, throwing chalk (until the mishap that led him to decide against repeating this maneuver), and using artfully selected turns of phrase to reinforce the points he was making.

I joined him one of the last tours I believe he did to Mexico city in the years before he began to focus on Peru. It was great fun to share his zest for life and his friendship as he opened tour participants' eyes to a new world and brought us into conversation with people he hoped would expand our horizons. It was an honor to number him among the dear friends to whom I dedicated my PhD dissertation. He was nothing if not a demanding boss; I quipped to him repeatedly that I loved working with him, while working for him . . . But doing so provided great opportunities to learn about liberation theology, health-care, the future of Adventist ethics, and how to edit (and respond to edits) effectively.

He was a teacher, of course, but also a pastor. I remember coming with him with a heavy burden as an undergraduate--a burden he sought to lift by praying with me warmly and personally in his office. He touched me personally as a pastor. At the same time, he was also thinking pastorally when he passed on the skills he had developed as a writer of liturgies.

While his influence was evident indirectly in the liturgies I learned from him how to prepare for my mother's memorial service and for Elenor's, he was, of course directly involved as the homilist at the service for my mom. I appreciated his willingness to draw not only on what I and others shared with him about her but also his own knowledge of her to offer an evocative interpretation of her life.

He was a model of commitment to faculty governance and to the improvement of the lives of faculty members. His active involvement in the struggle for enhanced salaries for faculty members and for the development of representative governance structures at La Sierra laid the groundwork for developments from which the university continues to benefit today. And as a department chair and spokesperson for ethics at La Sierra and Loma Linda he helped to encourage good thinking about ethics and, in particular, to foster increased awareness of what Christian ethics might mean for those participating in institutional and political life.

He worked to ensure that the university remained connected with the wider world. I recall, for instance, his willingness to organize a discussion of the role of Adventists in challenging apartheid in South Africa at a time when many Adventists shied away from thinking about doing anything that might rock the boat. And of course this one, fairly minor, exercise was one of many attempts on his part, beginning early in his ministry, to make Adventists genuine transformers of culture.

At a time when La Sierra provided almost no encouragement for faculty members to engage in scholarship, he modeled reflective, serious intellectual activity. Qualifying for a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, crafting thoughtful prose marking the development of Adventist identity, and exploring the role of missioners in transforming lives in Central and South America, he built on his early work on Martin Luther King's protesting pastors to make clear to other academics and church members and church administrators that religious communities could be actively and positively engaged with their cultural surroundings without losing their identities--indeed, while building on and acknowledging and celebrating those identities.

His love affair with Ana and Fernando Stahl, in particular, served as the occasion for his amazing rediscovery of the links between Adventist mission and Peruvian radicalism. He built bridges between Adventist and Catholic scholars that served as models of ecumenism--and of the ecumenical commitment to justice.

That commitment was evident in the classroom and in his scholarship and in his activism. But it was also amazing to see it expressed in his organization of the consciousness-raising exercises he spearheaded: Global Village, Global Quilting, and the Path of the Just. He understood the power of symbol and spectacle to energize people's imaginations.

And it’s worth remembering his delightful passion for keeping the ’60s alive. How cool it was that he organized concert trips designed to nourish the spirit of hope, experimentation, and emancipation—and appreciation for tie-dyes!

While his contributions to my life and that of the university are legion, it is his laughter, his smile, that I most want to remember. He loved life. He embraced it with gusto, grabbing it with both hands. He enjoyed dreaming and creating and stimulating and reflecting. I always enjoyed opportunities to talk with him. As he grew older and seemingly more fragile, I found myself more inclined to offer a hug, perhaps even a kiss on the top of the head. I wanted my affection for this man I loved and respected and admired, from whom I had learned so much, to be more than evident. I can't make that point again by embracing him. So the best I can do now is to underscore it in these words to you.

He was an awesome human being. It was an honor to be his friend.

Photo Credit: Pablo Ariza

Gary Chartier is Distinguished Professor of Law and Business Ethics and Associate Dean of the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business at La Sierra University. This article was originally posted on Facebook, and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

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Charles was one of my professors when I obtained my Master of Arts in systematic theology at Loma Linda University. We enjoyed a pleasant and cordial friendship. I mourn his passing, and pray for the comfort and peace of his loved ones in this hour of sadness and loss.

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Charles Teel’s life as a pastor, teacher, mentor, and friend was a liberating voice for social conscience that many and influenced the course for social justice in the world. His ministry was on the forefront of social change and reform while serving as a change agent to our cities and communities. His life was an example to all of us wj were students, friends and colleagues. He was terrible at ingathering because invariably we would run into people who needed the money we were collecting for the poor. Charles shamed me into emptying my meager funds I had in my wallet to give to a homeless person after handing out the contents of my Ingathering can. When we all returned with empty cans we reported a net “personal loss” of $16 that we had donated. He was funto be with and a real inspiration. Charles was committed to preaching the gospel in churches, communities and to all the world, because the spirit of The Lord is upon us and anointed us to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and enlighten those who are blind to justice and equality while setting the oppressed free. Charles you were truly “one of a kind” RIP.

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What an inspiring and grace-full tribute to a remarkable force for justice. “Justice is what love looks like in public” wrote Cornel West. Charles Teel was an innovator for love in public. He leaves behind a profound legacy of excellence and practical societal change. May tens of thousands of young Adventists pick up his illuminating torch!

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I sobbed when I received the cruel news of the passing of my precious friend Charles Teel.

On a recent lunch at the Caprice Cafe in Redlands, Charles was his usual jovial, ebullient self, with a wry and wicked sense of humor. He always radiated warmth. He was irrepressible in his boosterism of the Stahl Center and Museum In Riverside, which he had founded .

His promotion of his University, La Sierra, knew no bounds.

My wife and I, naive, young,
and newly appointed very junior faculty members at the Harvard Medical School, arrived in Boston in the sixties and found refuge in the BOSTON TEMPLE, a failing, decrepit, inner city SDA church, on the fringe of downtown.

Fortunately this congregation received an infusion of young vigorous SDA graduate students seeking Ph Ds in Boston’s heady academic environment.

Charles was pursuing his PH D at Boston University,and later became the pastor of a hugely revived Boston Temple congregation before leaving for his long term appointment to the La Sierra faculty.

Boston, is where my wife and I learned to love Charles and his splendid Spanish senorita wife Marta.
( They had met at Newbold College, England).
They have remained precious friends over the ensuing decades.

Charles has been the inspiration to countless student disciples who will remember him with affection.

My one regret is not having participated in the many informative tours that Charles led to South America.

Charles was the ultimate theologian, giving new profound answers to challenging questions.

I wish he were here NOW to answer this unfathomable question concerning his death by WEST NILE VIRUS:

Why did a God create the 350,000 species of Mosquitoes?

"ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL,
THE LORD GOD MADE THEM ALL! "

They have no known function except to survive and propagate more mosquitoes.

The rich nutrient source of human blood furthers their propagation.

Although minuscule, they are the most lethal killing machines, causing more human deaths than all of God’s other creatures combined. They are the vicious vectors for
malaria,
dengue,
yellow fever,
ZIKA, and multiple more mortal maladies.

Sharks only kill ten people year,
crocodiles, one thousand,
but mosquitoes have killed multiple millions
over the millennia since God created them,
including my dear friend Charles, who died of West Nile Fever,
contracted by one mosquito bite!

My other theological lesson is our profound vulnerability.

While the planet panics over North Korea’s nuclear nightmare, one of God’s tiny mosquitoes, can lay you low!

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Heartbreaking. What a big and wonderful life he created. Sincere condolences to Marta and to their beautiful daughters.

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I first became acquainted with Charles in the fourth grade in Washington DC (in the 40s). My father and Charles senior attended Union College in the 30’s and we stopped off in Washington for a month to attend General Conference meetings for youth leaders. I stayed with the Teels’ outside Washington where they lived on a farm and had two ponies. Charles Jr, and I rode these ponies where on one occasion I was rubbed off with a low hanging tree limb and dumped in the creek. It was my first learning that animals displayed intelligence as the pony did not want me on his back. Charles warned me of this behavior and probably taught they pony the maneuver by Charles himself.
Later Charles Jr became student body president of Pacific Union College and I was president of WWC student body and flew to PUC to plan the West Coast Intercollegiate workshop that year. PUC was the host campus that year. And of course I met his wife to be at WWC before Charles met Marta. Over the years we’ve enjoyed each other. So I was sad to hear that Charles left our midst, and surprised too! If I had spare time when visiting La Sierra campus I often tried to drop by his office to renew our friendship. He was a wonderful human being- to say the least- and interesting too.
Cheers
tjoe willey

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I first got acquainted with Charles at midnight one night toward the end of my Freshman year at Atlantic Union College. He had called the History Department looking for someone who could assist him in a research project, and I was recommended. He called at midnight because he forgot which way the time difference went. “William Cork? This is Charles William Teel, Junior.”

The project he recruited me for was transcribing a scrapbook compiled in the early 1850s by abolitionist Theodore Parker, in the Rare Book collection of the Boston Public Library. He had come across the scrapbook when he was doing his doctoral dissertation some years before on the pastors who protested with Martin Luther King, Jr.

I assisted Charles for the rest of my college career, and had the pleasure of visiting various libraries with him, including the Boston Athenaeum, as we tracked down the source of some of the clippings contained in the scrapbook. We hovered over the brown and faded clippings, giddy as a couple of kids, rejoicing in each new discovery.

During one of his trips to Massachusetts, he led at the AUC College Church a worship service he had created at Loma Linda, “The Apocalypse as Liturgy,” using just texts from the book of Revelation (with an eye on various modern “beasts”).

It was on that visit that I told him I was leaving the Adventist Church. He got tears in his eyes, and sent me a note that other Christians “hear God’s voice,” and “Don’t burn all bridges.”

I didn’t.

I ended up going to Loma Linda for my first year of graduate study in church history. (LaSierra was not a university then, but the LaSierra campus of Loma Linda). Our first week in Riverside we house sat for him, and at 2:00 a.m. one night I was awakened by a phone call from a neighbor complaining that Charles’s horse had escaped. I chased it down with help from another neighbor and got it back in the corral (It had evidently been spooked by coyotes).

One quarter I had him as a professor for a course in Christian Social Ethics. He introduced me to Liberation Theology and to the “Sanctuary Movement” giving refuge to Central American refugees. He connected me to June O’Connor at UCR, from whom I had another class in the subject.

When I transferred to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, his influence stayed with me, as I did my M.A. thesis on that abolitionist he introduced me to–“Race, Transcendentalism, and the American Dream: The Abolitionist Ideology of Theodore Parker.”

His influence was a long lasting one, and I’m grateful for the role he played.

I last saw him about a year or so ago. Sam Leonor was showing me around the campus (which had changed drastically since my time). We walked into the Stahl Center and Charles’ eyes lit up. “Bill Cork! What’s it been, 20 years?” “No,” I said, “Thirty!” But it was as if no time had passed as we talked.

And his advice had proven valuable. I didn’t burn the bridges – so they were still in place when I came back ten years ago. Thanks, Charles.

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He was loved and enjoyed by everyone!