Asking Good Questions

Back when I was pastoring congregations, I would tell our church folks learning how to do youth ministry, “Your job is not to give young people answers. Your job is to help them ask good questions.”

Asking-Seeking-Knocking always has been how people of faith do faith well. Asking good questions is part of what it means to be human.

In my new book, Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace, I tell my own story about discovering the life-giving goodness of questions. As a girl, I was taught that the right answers were more important than the questions, but as a young woman I learned I am the kind of person who needs questions more than I need answers. Now that I’m older, I realize that it has been in and by and because of the questions that I have grown to love the Bible even more.

One of the things I say in my book is that the Bible asks the big questions: Who is God? and Who are we? I think the Bible asks these questions because these are core questions most humans have been asking in some form or another throughout human history. We may call God different names, we may understand God in various ways, but the questions remind us that we humans will never fully grasp the mysteries of the universe. We may tend to focus on our human differences, but the questions push us to ponder how much we have in common.

Good questions nudge us to keep asking-seeking-knocking.

Honest questions keep us humble.

One of my favorite sister seekers was Rachel Held Evans. She, like I, found joy in a spiritual journey that offers the freedom to question, challenge, doubt, and even argue with faith traditions and biblical interpretations that seemed to be set in stone. In a blog she wrote on Doubt in April 2013, she pointed out: “most young adults I know aren’t looking for a religion that answers all of their questions, but rather a community of faith in which they feel safe to ask them.” That’s my experience as well. Loving, accepting community gives us all safe places to explore the questions, large and small. Whether that community happens in a church, a school, a family, or a friends’ group, we humans are at our best when we find—and when we create—safe spaces to grow and change and become our fully authentic selves.

I grieve the fractures in our human communities these days, divisions that are stifling human flourishing in too many ways. We need more safe places to ask our questions. We need more safe people to love us even when we find different answers. As I say in my book, one of the big questions woven throughout the Bible is: Who are we?

Not just who am I individually but who are we together—human creatures created by a good Creator? Who are we together—vastly diverse and yet each and every one of us made in the image of the Creator? Who are we together—deeply connected within our shared humanity?

As we continue to ask good questions like these, may we begin to heal some of the fractures that tear us a part. May we come together to thrive and flourish as fellow humans, as sisters and brothers.

May we become safe people for one another.

Building More Bridges

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania is the home of 446 bridges, more than any other city in the world. The City of Bridges is also home to a small group of Muslims, only about 0.5% of the population. Maybe this minority status contributed to the 2018 attack on a high school Muslim woman wearing a hijab. This violence is one reason Ebtehal Badawi began her “Pittsburg Builds Bridges” art project.

Even though she herself is a Muslim, Ms. Badawi’s bridge paintings depict symbols of nine various religions and cultures demonstrating a wide range of different worldviews. She believes, as I do, that differences need not divide us. Our diversity can make us stronger, kinder, and wiser if we will ground ourselves in the basic truth of our common humanity.

“The reason these things happen, incidents of racism and bullying, is because people are afraid of people who are different,” said Ms. Badawi. “We need to accept those who are different, people who don’t look the same or share the same belief. We need to be open, to see the people in front of us.”

We need to see the people in front of us.

This is where bridges come in handy.

Continue reading Building More Bridges

Do Unto Others. Yes, even in Politics

There’s a little verse in the New Testament that pretty much sums up how we Christians are to live our lives: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7). The wisdom is not for Christians only, however, since versions of the Golden Rule are part of most every wisdom tradition. “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” is the way of Buddhism. “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others that which you wish for yourself” is the way of Islam. “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary” is the way of Judaism. Tragically, a cynical twist on the Golden Rule has enticed some people into a darker way: “Those who have the gold make the rules.”

I’ve been watching with amazement as the U.S. Congress debated whether to approve an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6, 2020, and I’ve seen this darker way play out before my eyes. Thirty-five Senators and 175 House members voted to block this investigation and therefore hide the hard truths of what happened on that fateful day. After years of clamoring for investigations into email servers and Benghazi, they seem to be living their lives and deciding their political opinions according to a scornful perversion of God’s own truth: “Do unto others before they can do it unto you.”

Continue reading Do Unto Others. Yes, even in Politics

Hard Won Not Done

Last year, in 2020, my Texas county celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. “Hard Won Not Done” was our motto, and little did we know how true that summary would be here again in 2021.

In spite of the reality that Republicans won up and down the ballot in Texas last year, and that mostly Republican officials followed the rules, oversaw the process, confirmed its integrity, and certified the election results, polls reveal that a majority of Republicans believe our electoral process is insecure. Consequently, politicians in Austin currently are debating Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6, legislation that is intended to tighten the rules and make it harder for eligible Texans to vote.

Republicans won. I scratch my head. What are they afraid of?

Michael Waldman, president of the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, spoke to this paradox. “It’s like a perpetual motion machine — you create the fear of fraud out of vapors and then cut down on people’s votes because of the fog you’ve created. Politicians, for partisan purposes, lied to supporters about widespread fraud. The supporters believe the lies, and then that belief creates this rationale for the politicians to say, ‘Well, I know it’s not really true, but look how worried everybody is.’”

Continue reading Hard Won Not Done

Stones and Glass Houses

There’s a fascinating little story tucked away in the Gospel of John about some accusers who brought a woman to Jesus; a woman “caught in the very act of committing adultery,” they claimed. (No one explained where the offending man was.) Their Law commanded a punishment of stoning, and so they demanded that Jesus weigh in and give his opinion. But he didn’t. Instead, the Bible says, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.”

His silence must have been maddening. They wanted Jesus’ snap judgment, not his thoughtful reflection. When he was ready to respond, Jesus looked them in the eye and said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8).

I have a good friend who said something stupid on his personal Facebook page. He himself is not racist but he used a condescending racist slur to describe someone with whom he disagrees politically. It was a careless and thoughtless blunder, a “sin” that brought accusers out of the woodwork, all ready to stone him. Thank goodness he has a strong friends’ group who know him well and believe in him; friends who love him enough to hold him accountable. Thank goodness he is wise enough and humble enough to admit his mistake and work to make amends.

I wish more of my fellow humans loved one another and our society enough to hold each other accountable—not just for careless racist language but for actual racism. I wish more people would step up to confront the myriad ways our nation inflicts very real damage upon our Black and Brown sisters and brothers because of the dark threads of racism woven tightly into our social fabric. It’s so much easier to accuse others than to see our own faults, to condemn others for the speck in their eye rather than doing the hard work of removing the logs that obstruct our own vision (Matthew 7:1–5).

Continue reading Stones and Glass Houses

“Callous?!” Look in the Mirror, Gov. Abbott

Gov. Abbott, did you misplace your dictionary? I don’t think you know what the word “callous” means, so let me help you. According to Merriam Webster it means “feeling or showing no sympathy for others: hard-hearted, a callous indifference to suffering.”

When you used this word to describe President Biden and his administration’s policies, you were completely out of line. “Callous indifference” more aptly describes you and your Texas Republican party.

Continue reading “Callous?!” Look in the Mirror, Gov. Abbott

Find your Courage, Gov. Abbott

Dear Governor Abbott,

My mind boggles at your foolish decision to remove coronavirus protections for Texans. We are on the cusp of getting this pandemic under control; now is not the time to fail in leadership.

I applauded your decision to listen to the scientists and order a mask mandate fairly early. When you used your proper authority properly in this way, you demonstrated political courage and non-partisan wisdom. Please find that courage again and rescind your order to remove these vital protections.

Continue reading Find your Courage, Gov. Abbott

Speak the Truth, Mr. Cruz

Dear Sen. Cruz, Thank you for responding to my earlier communication. Please note below my corrections to several of your statements.

“The 2020 election…featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.”

Allegations of fraud are a lie and you know it.

“Reuters/Ipsos polling tragically showed that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’ That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).”

The reason people believe this lie is because you and Trump kept telling them to believe it. Since the time of Gingrich, Republicans have become increasingly vicious about repeating lies over and over again until the American people are understandably duped and confused.

“Millions of Americans who have peacefully expressed their deep concerns regarding election integrity deserve to have their voices heard.”

They DID have their voices heard – by state election officials (many Republican officials who – thank God – did their jobs with integrity). They were heard in numerous courts and their arguments were shown to be non-factual. They were heard in the public conversation and those of us who also listened to credible sources rejected their hysteria. Your ploy to call for an electoral commission is grandstanding and you know it.

“In Congress we have an obligation to the voters and we have an obligation to the Constitution to protect the integrity of our electoral system.”

This is precisely my complaint about you: you are not fulfilling this core responsibility – neither to the voters nor to the Constitution. If you want to actually “protect the integrity of our electoral system” then you will support the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

I would be immensely sad if I thought you actually believe in what you are doing; that’s pathetic enough. But instead I have come to believe that you are using your high position to gain political power and to damage democracy; this is inexcusable.

“Input from fellow Texans significantly informs my decision-making and empowers me to better represent the state.”

Really? When has any input other than that of big donors and radical media influencers informed your decision-making process? Name some examples please.

Trump lost, Sen. Cruz. Speak the truth and say it to the world. Bearing false witness not only damages our nation but also sins against the Ten Commandments and the Gospel.

Repent, Mr. Cruz, and change your ways.

Reverend Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

For the People Act 2021: To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.

The John Lews Voting Rights Advancement Act: To amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, and for other purposes.

Will the GOP become the POT?

I am watching with great sadness as the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Enterprises.

The current rupture within an erstwhile reputable party alarms many of us as we watch radical Trump devotees challenge the integrity of their own political institution. I imagine this chaos among the Republican leadership is as sad for many of my Republican friends as it is for me.

But this is more than just an ugly family feud; this is a deep danger to our entire nation.

When our founders challenged the age-old authoritarian rights of kings in order to form a new nation, they struggled to clarify what kind of nation this should be: to define who gets a say, who has a vote, and who should be in charge. Although they created a remarkable, history changing government, they still enshrined typical cultural assumptions as they answered those questions: white, male, property owners had the say, got the vote, and stayed in charge.

When Abraham Lincoln saw how that approach had devolved into unsupportable inequities and violent oppression, he confronted toxic structures and helped create a new political party grounded in the ideals of America’s original Declaration: “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator . . .”

Continue reading Will the GOP become the POT?

More Law and Order, Please

How sad that “law and order” somehow has devolved into a catch phrase instead of an actual principle for American life and an ideal for American values.

We heard numerous cries for law and order during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. We heard this president proclaim himself the “law and order president” out of one side of his mouth while undermining the rights of states to manage their own affairs and respond to those protests as their elected leaders saw fit. Now we are hearing too many of our fellow citizens cry out to overturn a certified election, and we are watching too many elected officials work to subvert the legal and orderly process of our bipartisan elections process.

What has happened to our national commitment to Constitutional law and the societal order that the rule of law helps create among us?

If there were legitimate legal challenges to November’s election, they would have come out in the numerous court cases that have been filed (more than sixty!). But No: lawyers—who may well lie to the media—know better than to lie in court, and judges who honor the rule of law and have sworn to uphold the Constitution rightly refuse to pervert justice from the bench. Our justice system confirms that the election was legitimate; law and order still prevails in our nation.

If there were legitimate claims of voter fraud in this past election, they would have been uncovered in our uniquely open elections processes that have been established in the various states. Bipartisan officials in counties and states across this nation conducted a fair and free election in the midst of a raging epidemic. They put themselves at risk and bent over backward to accommodate every one of us who wanted to cast our vote safely. Election officials counted our votes carefully and transparently, with bipartisan observers documenting our community leaders’ impartial commitment to make sure every voice is heard; every legitimate vote counted.

But now, instead of thanks, too many of these public servants have been vilified, accused (by people in their own political party!) of illegalities. These unsubstantiated accusations against our elections process and our fellow citizens who manage the process are ludicrous, perverse, and wicked. These foolish cries of voter fraud are the bellyaching whines of losers: pathetic and yet dangerous. We all need to reject this toxic disinformation that is damaging our fundamental democratic processes.

I keep listening for more voices of integrity to speak out from the right. I strain my ears, aching to hear more authentic conservatives who actually believe in our system of laws; traditional Republicans who want to reclaim some of their party’s historic values. I am grateful to hear some appeals to reason, reality, and responsibility, (thank you Sen. Mitt Romney!) but this nation needs a mass chorus of these voices right now: a multitude of cries against anarchy and for a peaceful transition of power. We need a whole host of people demanding a return to bipartisan cooperation all across our land.

Law and order means every citizen gets to vote—without threat or hindrance. It means all votes matter—even the votes I don’t agree with. It means the winner wins fairly and the loser concedes honestly—no matter which side wins and loses. And it means all of us, as responsible citizens, accept the outcome of our constitutional process and move on to engage the work that lies ahead of us.

If the rule of law means anything to us as a nation, then it must stand for fairness, equity and justice for all of us. More of this, please!

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Jason Getz, photographer

See Sen. Romney’s (R-Utah) here in his press release dated January 3, 2021.

Thanks also to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) for his integrity. Find his detailed statement about the electoral process here at his Facebook page posted December 30, 2020.