Excerpt #4 – “Tell It Slant”: Author Emma Lapsansky-Werner Speaks

This excerpt is adapted from the new book, Tell It Slant, which charts Chuck Fager’s prophetic life of adventure & writing on religion, war, and justice, love and laughter.

Tell It Slant is available now, in paperback & Kindle versions. Details here.

By Emma Lapsansky-Werner

A short bio:  Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner is emeritus Professor of History and emeritus Curator of the Quaker collection of Haverford College.

Chuck, Emma, and Douglas Gwyn – November 2019, at the launch of “Passing the Torch,” to which each contributed.

Emma lives near Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to teach, to do research and to publish, to consult with scholars, to work as a professional editor, and to host periodic writers’ workshops at Minerva’s by the Sea, her bed and breakfast near a lighthouse in coastal New Jersey. [Check out her website for another Writers Workshop upcoming November 2024:  MinervasBandB.com]

Emma meditating in the Himalayas

In 1966, after taking a one-year break in her undergraduate education to work in the Mississippi civil rights movement with the Delta Ministry of the National Council of Churches, she received her BA in History from the University of Pennsylvania, and her doctorate in American Civilization from the same institution. Her research interests include Quaker history, African-American history and especially the intersection between the two, as well as Pennsylvania history, the American West, and various aspects of American social, urban, and material-culture history.

Tell It Slant
is only the most recent of Emma’s numerous collaborative writing projects. Earlier titles include Quaker Aesthetics (Univ of PA Press, 2003, with Anne Verplanck); Back to Africa: Benjamin Coates and the American Colonization Movement (Penn State University Press, 2005, with Margaret Hope Bacon). With Gary Nash and Clayborne Carson, Lapsansky, she authored Struggle for Freedom, a college-level African American history text, the third edition of which appeared in 2018. She also co-authored the Pearson Education high-school American History text.

For that matter, Tell It Slant is her third publication venture with Chuck: in 2017 she was a panelist in the Quaker History Roundtable he organized at the Earlham School of Religion, and her paper was part of its collection, An Early Assessment (Kimo Press, 2017). Two years later she was one of eleven “elders” of her Quaker generation who penned memoir sketches for Chuck’s volume, Passing the Torch (Kimo Press, 2019.)

Beginning her teaching career in 1968, she has specialized in the American West; American colonial history; Philadelphia history; the American family; and Quaker history

Emma frequently consults to museums, public schools, and to pre-collegiate curriculum developers on enriching their treatment of gender and race.

Emma on Chuck: In 2014, Charles “Chuck” Fager published a sketch of the first seventy years of his long, dedicated, sinuous life.  By that time I had already decided that Chuck was among the most interesting Quakers alive in the twenty-first century. Journalist, essayist, novelist, resolute pursuer-of-history, independent publisher, provocateur, activist, “whistle-blower”; teacher, father, F/friend, community-organizer, theological “seeker” (and self-defined finder)—in the seventeenth-century meaning of those words — Chuck has put his contemplative and investigative-journalist mind to forming (and is not shy about expressing!) an opinion on nearly every Quaker and/or peace-related issue (especially the controversies!) of the past and present day. 

During the three decades that I have known Chuck, I have watched, casually but admiringly, from the sidelines, as he has — to borrow from Mary Catherine Bateson’s imagery — “composed a life” founded on this persistent pursuit of non-violence and social justice. I have sprinkled Chuck’s writings liberally through my classroom teaching at Haverford College, and have enjoyed watching his perspectives on real and imaginary Quakers stretch students’ minds. . . .

Chuck and I are, in some ways, soulmates: children of a similar era, born under the mushroom clouds of World War II; raised in families shaped by a deep connection to America’s military tradition. My father’s return from World War I —Distinguished Service Cross and French Croix-de-Guerre  proudly displayed on his breast, just two months before the birth of Chuck’s father, who earned — in World War II — several distinguished-flying medals. An almost-shot-down bomber pilot, and then career officer in the new U. S. Air Force, Callistus (“Click”) Fager fathered eleven offspring, some of whom followed their father’s path into military service.

Our fathers — mine (1958), and Chuck’s (1997) — are interred in Arlington Cemetery, that resting place for military men-of-honor. Each of these fathers had encouraged these children to learn how to handle a .22 rifle, and each father left large and disciplined boot-prints in which to walk.

Coming of age in the civil-rights/Vietnam War/flower-child era, Chuck and I grew up in families steeped in traditional Christian religions. And both Chuck and I — religious mavericks — found our way, as young adults, to the contra-traditional Christianity of the Religious Society of Friends — with its powerful undercurrent of opposition to both war and formalized authority — and each has kept our Christianity alive amid liberal Quakers ever since. 

Indeed, late in his life, Chuck opined that, for him, “two sites — St. Francis Hieronymo Church [in St. Paul Kansas] and Arlington National Cemetery [near Washington, DC] — may well mark the main parameters of my life: the church and war.”

Though we did not meet until the 1990s, Chuck and I share other things as well. Both have had close-up experiences with rural America, but also, we’ve had complicated experiences with several of America’s high-profile urban areas — especially Washington DC, where we (at different times) experienced the self-important pomposity of that umbrella of the federal government. Each of us also has spent some formative years in the bosom of the Boston-area’s intellectual self-importance. 

Emma Jones (Lapsansky) worked with the Mississippi – based Delta Ministry in 1966.

Each of us took a hiatus from our respective college-student lives to pursue social-justice in the 1960s southern Civil Rights Movement — and each  counts that experience as a critical changing-station in our life-course. 

Each of us — self-identifying as “introverts,” — learned, very early in life, to love, and to draw comfort from, words: our own words and the words of others. Each feels most safe if there’s a library nearby. We share a near-lascivious appetite for European classical music. And likewise each found that theologian Harvey Cox’s best-selling book The Secular City (1965) shuffled our view of the world.

One of Emma’s other books: Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption

I have often jestingly described Chuck as a man who writes — and self-publishes — an average of five thousand words a day! (He says that’s exaggerated, but I think my flippant estimate is not far off the mark!) And I have written more than a few words in my time. But, ever-the-pragmatist, Chuck went beyond mere writing, establishing his own publishing enterprise — and a network of websites — to better deliver his ideas to the eyes of thousands of loyal readers. 

As of Christmas, 2023, with the end-in-sight of this journey of capturing, in words, the life of this man who loves (and is so at ease with!) words, I hope I have created a narrative-of-a-spiritual-journey that does justice to the man who embraces, and is embraced by, words — and by the use of words to pursue a mission. 

Musing about the path of his life, Chuck has likened his career journey to that of a traditional craftsman growing into the skills of a trade — a trade that Chuck has described as “investigative journalism” (mixed with punditry, fiction and archive-diving history) but which I believe also may be defined as “theology-into-action.”

In crafting this narrative, I have echoed Chuck’s scaffolding, weaving my spin together with many of Chuck’s own words, to provide the narrative’s aroma and tint, and I’ve seasoned the story with words from his family, friends, and colleagues who were willing to muse analytically about this multi-faceted man. 

Thus, this “biography,” which unfolds in seven undulating and uneven segments, is interwoven with autobiography: the words and lenses of “outsiders” (we who have observed aspects of Chuck), mixed with the self-reflective words of the “insider,” i.e., Chuck himself (though one theme that runs through Chuck’s multi-themed life is his assessment of himself as often an “outsider”— among his family, his workplace colleagues, even his religious communities.) 

In 2023, now over eighty, twice formally married — with a few near-misses in between — followed by what might be seen as a two-decade “common-law marriage,” Chuck is a sibling-to-ten, a four-time father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather — with complexity woven into each of those intimate relationships. And over his peripatetic employment and volunteer career (which he describes as “mainly in support of the paltry and halting pay from writing”), Chuck has worked closely — if not always harmoniously — with dozens (maybe hundreds?) of colleagues.

Chuck is remembered by many as warm, kind, humorous, generous, flexible, loyal, persistent (stubborn?), and a man-of-his-word. And remembered by some others as a gadfly — a troublesome thorn-in-the-side. Chuck also can be endearingly self-aware about his own strengths and flaws — though it sometimes has taken him decades to discern and articulate that self-awareness. 

Hence this journey on which readers of Tell It Slant  are about to embark with Chuck — like a sailboat being maneuvered through currents and winds — tacks back-and-forth and “comes about” through time and tide, through waters calm and rough. The end-product is an intermingling of Emma’s interpretations, Chuck’s reminiscences (sometimes elicited by Emma’s targeted interrogation), and the observations of others who have been positioned to observe Chuck’s navigation through the world. We invite you — the reader — to ride the currents and to explore one Quaker’s dogged composition of a life.

Tell It Slant is available in paperback & Kindle versions. Details here.

Earlier excerpts from the book:
> General announcement

> Excerpt #1: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times:

> Excerpt #2: “Fighting for A Future”

> Excerpt #3: A Whippersnapper & His Elders

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