When Difference Doesn’t Divide

Many families probably have some version of the old rule: never talk about religion or politics.

I’m from the South and this axiom has helped me through many a family reunion. Sometimes, there are some topics that just are not worth getting into.

But then – sometimes – open, honest conversation about the things we hold dear is very much worth it.

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to Texas last spring to visit with Joe and Daniel Aguilar: both life long Republicans and passionate Evangelicals. Joe, the dad, supports President Trump; Daniel, the son, does not.

Ms. Bruenig invited them to traverse this religious-political minefield together and they accepted the challenge.

Research has revealed a surprising continuity between older and younger evangelicals [with] young white evangelicals voting for Trump at roughly the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

But a fraction — less than 20 percent — didn’t, and Daniel was among them.

Most of us have been shaped by people we love and so it makes sense that consistent views about countless topics, including religion and politics, will continue across generations; we are inevitably influenced by the people who raised us. Young adults often embrace the values of their parents and grandparents uncritically because of the strength of familial ties. Because “this is who we are.”

As we mature throughout adulthood however, we question, challenge or even reject this generational family uniformity.

Discovering “this is who I am” while still respecting the power of “this is who we are” is the tricky journey of countless generations of young people.

Joe and Daniel Aguilar show us how to navigate these waters.

Continue reading When Difference Doesn’t Divide

An Eye for an Eye

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to my own state of Texas last spring in order to talk to some of the Trump supporters who live here in “God’s Country.” Her summary of those conversations was published in the Washington Post in August 2019 and I’m still pondering her insightful analysis.

The marriage between conservative Christianity and conservative politics has changed both – dramatically.

The amalgam of white evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party is a relatively new development in the United States. But this re-creation of both church and politics has been around long enough so that most people of my children’s generation assume they have always been in bed together.

This unholy marriage shifted the power base within conservative politics while at the same time it has eroded the teachings of Jesus about the true nature of power, service and self-sacrifice.

What happened to “turn the other cheek”
Continue reading An Eye for an Eye

Is It The Truth?

Asperger’s Syndrome has my attention; I’ve been reading and researching and trying to understand some of its strange gifts as this way of being shapes the lives of some of the people I love.

I’m especially curious about how to help calm and reorient an Aspie child when they spiral out of control. Turns out, there is such a thing as a weighted belt that can allow someone to feel grounded and secure, even when the environment all around bombards them with confusing, disorienting stimuli.

Then it hit me: aren’t we all bombarded with confusing, disorienting stimuli these days?

Every single news cycle seems to spiral to some new level of crazy. How can any of us find a sense of calm? How can any of us feel secure when our world seems to be spiraling out of control?

Turns out, there is a belt for us too.

Tucked within the little book of Ephesians in the New Testament, there is a little picture painted: people of faith suited up in our protective gear against “the cosmic powers of darkness.” Righteousness, faithfulness, peace and wholeness are pictured as thwarting the dizzying spirals of this world’s injustice, violence and malice. And right there, at the center of our “armor,” is the belt of Truth.

Truth has taken a beating lately.

No matter where we are on the religious or political spectrum, we all are experiencing a crisis of truth. Which facts are most accurate? Whose analysis is right? Which preachers or politicians should we trust? We all know facts can be manipulated and messages too often become a product of spin. We all are tempted to open our hearts uncritically to people we trust and automatically disregard those we have pre-judged to be untrustworthy. It’s a chaotic spiral of confusing, disorienting stimuli.

Thank goodness there is a “belt” that can surround and ground us. Thank goodness there is Truth that is so much bigger than our little opinions and perspectives. Right now, during this crisis of truth throughout our society, all of us carry an extra responsibility to discern truth and to speak what is deeply, authentically and cosmically true.

And how do we do that?

Whether we are operating out of religious faith or responsible citizenship, let’s all seek to surround ourselves and ground ourselves in truth.

  • Let’s test everything we read and hear.
  • Let’s ask probing questions and research information.
  • Let’s Google the articles that show up in our Facebook feed and trash the ones that are suspect.
  • Let’s all be more curious and try to understand someone else’s point of view, and then be willing to change our minds and grow.

The Rotarians ask: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” An excellent test!

People of faith must ask, not just what is true? but also Who is Truth?

If we call ourselves God-followers, then we too (like Christ) must seek to embody truth in every thought, word and deed.

Only then can we find any real security within this chaotic world. Only then can we hope to influence our society to live according to cosmic truths of justice, mercy and love.

Also published in The Paris News, September 6, 2019 under the title: The Only Security is in Real Truth.

When Political Tension is a Good Thing

Political tension is built into the fabric of our nation. The Founders intentionally created a checks and balances tension that forces cooperation and enforces collaboration across political differences.

However …

  • …when “we” are in power, we wish those checks and balances were not in our way.
  • …but when “they” are in power, we are grateful for the tension that limits the tyranny of the majority.

Good tension maintains the strength of a suspension bridge; creates beautiful music from a guitar string; produces lovely woven and knitted fabrics.

But, of course, there are other meanings of the word “tension:” definitions that include words like headache, anxiety, stress, anger.

This is where too many of us find ourselves in today’s political climate. This is why Parker Palmer wrote his wonderful little book: Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.

Continue reading When Political Tension is a Good Thing

Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

My husband put up our flag for the Fourth of July and came back into the house singing the Star Spangled Banner. We both love our country. We’re both grateful for this nation we call home. But, on that particular day, I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I felt about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.

Maybe my problem is with our checkered past.

On July 3, I usually stand on the portico of our County Courthouse and take my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. Every year I cringe when we read the paragraph complaining about the ways King George “excited domestic insurrections amoungst us, and endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontier the merciless Indian Savages…”

The Founders abhorred those evil “merciless Indian Savages.”

Never mind the fact that it was Europeans who mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as they took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even in the war for our own independence.

Mark Charles is a wise, bold Native American blogger who reminds us of this complicated American history. In his essay, Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July, Charles calls us to remember all our national history with all its troubling complexity.

Even as we proclaim that “all men are created equal,” we must also acknowledge how many years it has taken this nation to grow toward the civilized understanding that “all” means ALL. And we must acknowledge that we still have more growing to do.

Maybe my problem is with our checkered present.
Continue reading Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

Across All Our Aisles

To The Paris News

Guest Column by Charlotte Coyle

Once again, I want to compliment our party chairs for the Party Views column offered regularly by The Paris News. This last one (Sunday, June 9, 2019) was especially good. Both Gary O’Connor and Chris Dux stuck to their point without (much) snark or (many) red flag words. This is what we want: your well reasoned rationale for your position. We readers are pretty discerning: we can see right through Straw Man arguments that attempt to sensationalize and demonize the other side.

Both Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Dux commented on the bipartisan efforts of our Texas Legislators displayed in this past legislative session. As O’Connor pointed out, one reason this across the aisle cooperation happened is because there are more Democrats seated in the House and the Senate since the 2018 midterm shift.

This is a good thing.

This greater balance is good for Texas and I hope all of us applaud the many ways more people can now participate in our public and political conversations. When most of our Representatives are White Christian Republican Males then we all suffer because this demographic does not at all represent the wide diversity of Texans. Even though the love of my life is a White Christian Male and I am ever so blessed to have him in my house, in the Texas House and Senate I expect a healthy balance of men and women, Republican and Democrat and Independent, a variety of Christian as well as non-Christian, gay and straight, rich and poor, white and black and brown. Only then will Texans be appropriated represented. Only then will our public laws and policies reflect the needs of all of us and protect the rights of everyone.

This political process is what our Founders intended. Even though I doubt they could have envisioned the diversity we enjoy today, still they understood that checks and balances force cooperation and ensure a process that limits the tyranny of the majority.

This is a good thing.

My hope is that we Texans will not feel this cooperation with one another is a burden but will instead recognize the gift and will take more opportunities to connect with our neighbors who think differently than we.

Consider checking out the On Being Civil Conversations Project on-line. Or look into the good work of Living Room Conversations and Better Angels. May more and more of us take the initiative to reach across all our various aisles.

Find the Civil Conversations Project here: https://onbeing.org/civil-conversations-project/

Join a Living Room Conversation here: https://www.livingroomconversations.org/

See what the Better Angels effort is doing here: https://www.better-angels.org/

Charlotte Coyle is a retired minister who lives in Paris. She blogs about intersections of faith, politics and culture at her website: CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com

The Healing Power of a Broken Heart: Healing the Heart of Democracy

I stopped writing for quite awhile after the 2016 election. When I finally began again, I admitted I had been Speechless in my anger, frustration and discouragement. I held my tongue, resisting the temptation to heap up mountains of indignant words while my heart was so raw.

It took awhile for me to find my voice again, to find enough balance to trust myself to speak in the public sphere. There are more than enough authors of outrage these days; I want my voice to be one of hope.

To this day, I mostly avoid listening to the voices of rage; instead I seek out other writers who hold onto hope so that I can learn from their wisdom and patience. These authors of hope are still often heartbroken, angry and frustrated but instead of giving into discouragement, they are finding ways to transform negatives into positives. They are living courage during this challenging time.

Parker Palmer is one of my favorite mentors of hope. His gentle honesty written in his On Being blogs encourages me; he models bold, outspoken integrity without any vicious hyperbole.

Recently I went back to his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy; it is helping me sort through my own (still) confused thinking and feeling about the state of our nation.

“Heart” for Palmer is that part of us humans that “integrates the intellect with the rest of our faculties, such as emotion, imagination, and intuition.” When he considers the “heart of democracy,” he ponders how we together as a society might find again our common purpose with reason and imagination.

Palmer sees a tragic heart-brokenness within all types of people these days. The ugliness and indignities, the divides and distortions, the breaks and barriers to personal, communal and political relationships all reveal a pervasive brokenness. Palmer says:

When the heart is brittle and shatters, it can scatter the seeds of violence and multiply our suffering among others…

Continue reading The Healing Power of a Broken Heart: Healing the Heart of Democracy

Don’t Mess with Our Texas Children

The Paris News reported on Monday, April 22 that  “the Texas rate of uninsured children was the highest in the country in 2017 at 10.7% … more than twice the national child uninsured rate of 5%.” An estimated 835,000 Texas children went without health insurance in 2017, an increase of more than 10 percent from 2016.

The proposed 2020-2021 Texas state budget seeks to cut $900 million from the Health and Human Services Commission, the department that manages Medicaid coverage. So our legislators want to decrease access to health care for our poorest children even while Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation.

This does NOT make us Texas Proud!

Quite a few people I care about depend on medical coverage provided by Medicaid or the CHIP program; probably this is true for you as well.

Millions of our Texas neighbors count on a variety of social safety nets just to make ends meet. Some of these supports are charitable, offered by communities like ours: the Downtown Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, Spirit of Giving, Kings Daughters, Boys and Girls Club, CitySquare Paris… I am ever so grateful for the leaders, volunteers and donors who faithfully provide compassionate assistance to our Lamar County neighbors.

Charitable organizations are a vital part of the network that supports every community, but they alone cannot provide the full range of services that are needed to keep families functioning in a pinch. Medicaid and CHIP offer crucial services to our neighbors right here in Lamar County, services that churches and nonprofits are not able to provide – especially for our children.

I realize those of us across the political spectrum have different opinions about Medicaid expansion in Texas. I am all for it (those are my tax dollars, after all, sent to D.C. Why then does our Legislature refuse to allow those dollars back into the Texas economy? It makes no sense to me. )

I do realize this issue can be approached from several different angles. But I also believe that most Texans – no matter our politics – want to provide healthy foundations for our children – ALL our children. Healthcare, education, safety: these are issues that ought to bring us together in good faith as we seek to have productive conversations and develop collaborative cooperation.

We need broad based ‘both-and’ approaches to our social safety nets: both charitable and governmental. We need to be both donating to private charitable efforts and pooling our tax dollars to help care for our Texas neighbors – especially our children.

I urge you to consider carefully the issue of Medicaid expansion in Texas (or to re-consider if you think you have made up your mind.) I urge you to contact your Texas representatives and ask them not to decrease Medicaid resources in the 2020-2021 State Budget. And I encourage you to join me in supporting East Texas Giving day on April 30.

Let’s pull together and not let partisan politics mess with our Texas children.

One of the winners for the 2016 Don’t mess with Texas youth education program.
I’m sorry I can’t find the artist’s name.

Charlotte wrote this guest column for The Paris News after it published an article from the Texas Tribune on April 22, 2019: “Texas removes 1,000s of children from Medicaid each month”

Charlotte’s ongoing discussion with local Republicans

Guest Column to The Paris News

A few months ago, Chris Dux took me to task for an op-ed I wrote in The Paris News. He sent the same list of complaints to my website so I chose to answer his challenges there instead of belaboring our conversation in public. Now it’s my turn to challenge something in his latest essay: “Wealth creation is happening faster than ever before” (March 24).

Dear Chris, I have appreciated the back and forth debates between you and your Democrat counterpart, Gary O’Connor. You both express your viewpoints clearly and courteously; this is what we expect from our political leaders.

In this last piece, you presented your argument that wealth inequality is not a major problem because you believe economic growth at the top benefits our entire society.

I know that this is a major conservative position and I’m not surprised to see you make the argument. However, the way I see it, too many regular Americans are struggling and don’t ever benefit from wealth trickling down from the wealthiest. So I guess we will have to agree to disagree on your rosy picture of wealth in America.

But here is where I must speak up: your last sentence, the apparent pinnacle of your argument quoted Jesus. “Jesus must have been okay with wealth inequality because he always spoke the truth, ‘the poor you will always have with you.’”

Oh my goodness, Chris! What were you thinking? It is this very attitude that I took issue with before: this way of baptizing the positions of the Republican Party with divine sanction. As I said in my earlier response to you: “God’s will on earth does not align with the Republican platform.”

Instead of bending Jesus’ words to prop up political positions, isn’t it more faithful for us to bend our practice and beliefs to align with Jesus the Word of God?

Instead of using Jesus to support Republican policies that keep the poor trapped in wealth inequity, how about finishing Jesus’ sentence in Mark 14:7 and see where that leads: “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish.” Please tell me how your party might enact “kindness” to the poor within its platform and policies.

A person who argues that the first part of Jesus’ sentence informs their politics cannot argue that the second part of his statement does not. Showing kindness to the poor is not just an individual charitable concern. Rather caring for the poor is also a societal responsibility – especially for anyone who would claim that this is a “Christian” nation.

Wouldn’t it be more authentic for all of us who claim to be Christian to actually live the prayer Christ taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

If more Christians lived out this prayer within our politics, then we would surely be working together on this earth to try to accomplish some of the justice we imagine must be “God’s will in heaven.” I can’t imagine that God’s kingdom could ever be characterized by the kind of vast wealth inequalities typical in all the imperfect kingdoms we humans create for ourselves.

I hope you and Gary will continue your left/right dialogue, but I encourage you to stick to politics; your particular version of conservative Christian theology really does not improve your arguments.

By the way, I’m still open for that cup of coffee you offered.

Read Lamar County Republican Chair Chris Dux essay here. (This online version is limited to 300 words and so the final sentence is not included.)

Read Lamar County Democrat Chair Gary O’Connor essay here

Bill Collins’ Letter to the Editor is here. It is behind a paywall but this is my favorite part: “Once again the ever lovely and effervescent Charlotte Coyle has come forth with an opinion column …”

Charlotte’s Open Letter to her Republican Neighbors

To the Association of Lamar County Republicans

On February 12, 2019, your president, Robert Black, published an op-ed in The Paris News. This isn’t the first time he has said some outrageous things in your name; so many twisted statements in fact, I scarcely know where to begin.

Mr. Black’s screed against “the left” is classic fear mongering. Those of us who lean left are not enemies; we are your neighbors. We sing in choirs with you and pray together in church. We deliver Meals on Wheels with you and work together on local boards and committees. We pledge alliance to the flag with you and work together to make Paris beautiful.

You know us; we are friends. Please do not let your president get away with demonizing your fellow citizens in this way.

There is deep irony in Mr. Black’s call to “incite unity” when his approach is so disrespectful and divisive. He is not asking for unity; he expects lockstep uniformity.

Continue reading Charlotte’s Open Letter to her Republican Neighbors