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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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