D. Maurice Charles

(Illustration by Charles Chaisson)

D. Maurice Charles, MDiv’90, PhD’13

Questions for the alumnus and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel dean.

What surprising job have you had in the past?

As a first year at Case Western Reserve University, I was a telemarketer for Time Life Books. I didn’t last very long because I couldn’t sell enough copies of The Gunfighters.

What would you want to be doing if not your current profession?

Holed up in a little townhouse along the Silver Comet Trail near Atlanta where I could ride my bike daily and finish all the books I buy.

What do you hate that everyone else loves?

Rock music. It made the difference between living in a dorm and finding my own apartment.

What do you love that everyone else hates?

Snakes. Four serpentine companion animals got me through long hours of dissertation writing.

What was the last book you finished?

Just reread Camus’s The Plague, naturally.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?

Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

What was the last book you put down before you finished it?

The Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz, professor emeritus in the Div School. A single footnote of his rocked my little homiletical world.

What UChicago course book left the biggest impression on you?

The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann.

What book changed your life?

Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snow Day was the earliest of the life changers. Reading it still gives me the freedom to immerse myself in wonder.

What person, alive or dead, would you want to write your life story?

Not sure who I’d want to write it, but I always wished James Earl Jones would play the lead in the B movie. Once the plague arrived, I figured Samuel L. Jackson would be more appropriate.

What’s your least useful talent?

Playing the air organ in my office while [University organist] Tom Weisflog, SM’69, is rehearsing. My fancy footwork makes it look like I really know what I am doing. (I don’t.)

Tell us the best piece of advice you’ve received—or the worst.

Worst piece of advice? “Don’t go to school there; they never let Black people graduate.”

What advice would you give to a brand-new Maroon?

Head over to Montgomery Place and get to know the seniors. They’re a wealth of knowledge about the University, the city, and a little town called Hyde Park.

What did you learn at UChicago that still benefits you today?

Intellectual humility is the beginning of wisdom. If you don’t possess it when you arrive, you will by the time you leave!

What’s your most vivid UChicago memory in two sentences or less?

Riding along 53rd Street in the back of Sally McCleskey Allocca’s (MDiv’90) red Toyota pickup truck. I offered to provide ballast since the Alabama native didn’t know how to drive it in snow.