Category Archives: Charlotte’s Intersections Blog

Charlotte and Janie Talk about Rule of Law and Immigration

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They still maintain a good friendship even though Janie grew to the “Right” while Charlotte grew to the “Left” and now have some very different perspectives on politics, culture and theology. Charlotte and Janie have begun talking about their differences in a shared blog. You can find their earlier conversations here.


I mentioned recently that I often hear Conservatives talk about “rule of law” and I asked you to help me understand what that means to you. I appreciate what you said in our last conversation about “rule of law” and “rule of men.” I can see we have a lot to talk about here (especially your reference to “making law from the bench…” I’m chomping at the bit to get to that one!)

But here is your statement as it concerns our topic of rule and law and immigration: “Sidestepping or ignoring the law altogether, as when immigration laws are not enforced, leads to confusion, suspicion, and cynicism…” I get this. But what about discretion when it comes to applying the law? That is and always has been common practice. How does one negotiate the grey areas? Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk about Rule of Law and Immigration

This Remarkable American Family

A friend of mine cast her ballot in a metropolitan suburb in Texas and she remarked how “remarkable” was the mix of voters who stood in line with her.

I looked around me in awe at the diverse group of citizens there to cast their political opinions. Those with different colors and shades of skin and features, with varying faiths, from any number of occupations and education and economic situations, first time voters and life time voters, mothers with their children, adults honoring elderly parents; all smiling and chatting, all of us knowing that different votes would be cast by those around us. I was so proud to be under the same roof with these remarkable neighbors to exercise this incredible freedom!

Continue reading This Remarkable American Family

Mental Gymnastics

Growing up in a fundamentalist denomination, I know something about mental gymnastics. The particular issues of my religious upbringing were not so much “issues” as they were life and death. A particular way of believing determined who was faithful and who was not; who was in and who was out. There was a certain comfort in thinking we had most all the big questions settled and we cornered the market on truth.

In order to maintain this illusion, we needed to contort our arguments to explain away any facts or evidence or experience that did not align with our fixed notion of reality. But it wasn’t just a contortion of thinking; it was an unconscious contortion of reality itself. The whole enterprise of keeping our balance on this tightrope required our own unique exercise of mental gymnastics.

This is not justification; it is simply confession. And maybe a bit of explanation.

gettyimages-484797712_custom-695b9781e4a550ac0cdd3eba481660feefd333a8-s900-c85Much has been made of the puzzling Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump. This poster boy for materialism, narcissism and perversion of power contradicts every heretofore voiced value of any authentic expression of Evangelical Christianity. He even mocks the cornerstone Religious Right  issues of abortion and homosexuality by mouthing transparent platitudes that everyone knows deny and spin his actual positions.

Many pundits have pondered the puzzling irony of Mr. Trump’s Evangelical support. My contribution is hardly definitive but I keep going back to this one insight: we humans have an uncanny ability to convince ourselves that just about anything is true/right/good and we can justify even questionable/shady/convoluted means in order to accomplish our self-righteous, pre-determined end.

I  see too many of my Evangelical friends caught in this trap. I think it explains some of the mental gymnastics we see coming from that camp. Mostly though I’m pondering my own culpability in new  forms of mental gymnastics that twist my interpretation of reality into fresh convolutions. I’m wondering what my journey into painful honesty may have taught me in this odd political/social/cultural season in which I  live.

I see two approaches that may help safeguard against unhealthy, unhelpful, unconscious mental gymnastics.

On the one hand  – the more convoluted the reasoning is, the more likely the logic is actually hopelessly illogical.

But then on the other hand – the more simplistic the reasoning is, the more likely it is that multivalent, multidimensional truth is being contorted into untruth.

As to the first challenge, I recognize my own temptation to create elaborate defenses for whatever  I want to believe. These defense mechanisms can trick us into creating a reality of our own invention. (And I’ve noticed that my Liberal friends can be just as defensive as my Conservative friends.)

The second challenge of simplistic thinking comes because it’s so very tempting to  try to divide our lovely  human rainbow variety into boxes of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong when the truth is – we are  all a messy mix all the time.

This conversation is of particular importance these days because of the bizarre presidency of Donald Trump and the toxic and dangerous passion of his supporters. Too many of them sadly support and cheer him on because of their own xenophobia or misogyny or deep seated anger over some real or perceived wrong.

contortionist_ravi_standingBut too many of them support him because of their convoluted mental gymnastics. Trump does not care about protecting the unborn as they pretend to believe he will. He does not care if same gendered people are married. He only cares about himself: his money and his power. And yet too many kind-hearted, sincere believers have allowed themselves to believe he cares about them and their issues.

As a woman, a mother, a grandmother, I denounce the blatant insults Mr. Trump heaps upon other human beings – particularly those who are not male, white, beautiful or wealthy.

As a Christian, I disavow all the insidious mental gymnastics that convolute the truth of the Christ and the Christian faith.

As an American, I challenge any who pretend his leadership will be beneficial for our nation or for the world.

Let’s remember who we are as Americans and reclaim the ideals of welcoming community that is the true foundation of our greatness.  There is a point at which gymnastics becomes a deadly exercise. America has certainly reached that point.



Ravi the Scorpion Mystic stands on one leg performing his act in Times Square, NYC, 2004

Black Lives AND Cops’ Lives

Last year my local newspaper published an op-ed criticizing Black Lives Matter. Normally I’m fine with critique as long as it is fair and helpful. This was not.

Writing a response to the columnist, to the publisher and the editor seemed like a proper way to express my opinion and present an alternative viewpoint. I worked hard to be respectful even though I felt her words were reckless and inflammatory. Continue reading Black Lives AND Cops’ Lives

‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ Is Not the Problem

It’s challenging to represent Christianity in the public square these days. Numerous public Christians are using the same words I use but the definitions in our vocabulary are quite different.

liberal-conservativeWords like “conservative” and “liberal.”

While some Christians think of themselves as “conservative” and other Christians call themselves “liberal,” truth is we are all mixed.

There is goodness and wisdom in much of our shared religious, social and political traditions that ought to be conserved. There is harm and foolishness in many of our traditions that ought to be changed.

Conservative vs. Liberal is not the problem in either our faith or our politics. Fundamentalism is the problem.

Fundamentalism is arrogant, intransigent and rude. It refuses to compromise, insists on its own truth and seeks to decimate its opponents. Fundamentalism can see nothing wrong with itself and sees only the wrong in others. It is destructive, damaging and divisive. Fundamentalism is destroying our churches, our communities and our nation. Continue reading ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ Is Not the Problem

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Some Thoughts on Abortion

I have borrowed this title from Alexander Pope and his Essay on Criticism; he and I both know dangerous ground when we see it.

…fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks,
It still looks home, and short excursions makes;
But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks.

Sense and Nonsense are as prevalent now as when Pope penned these words 300 years ago. And still we fools who comment on the world around us either use words  “with modest caution” or our words throw caution to the wind. Perhaps-im-rushing-in-where-angels-fear-to-treadIn this essay, I’m aiming to offer a tiny effort of “distrustful sense.” I want to be careful with my words rather than reckless in a public dialogue that too often rattles with rushing non-sense: our conversation about abortion. Where angels fear to tread.

Let me say clearly: I am pro life.

But let me also say: that may not mean what you think it means.

I love life: the goodness, the beauty, the resilience of it. I love the infinite variety, the unsearchable mystery, the faith-love-hope of it. And I hate whatever steals life, subverts or perverts life. I hate whatever sucks life out of us to make us fragile and fearful and small. “Pro Life” for me is much larger than a bumper sticker; it is a joyful passion that seeps into my religion and my politics and all my different relationships with all kinds of people.

Years ago, as a young mother shaped by a conservative Christian ethic, I volunteered in a crisis pregnancy center, encouraging women to continue their pregnancies instead of choosing abortion. As I came to understand the challenges they faced, I worked with a childbirth educator friend to create a prenatal clinic for uninsured women in our county. All of us – doctors, nurses, friends – volunteered to support these women as best we could as they carried this precious spark of life within them.

Years later, as the mother of a teen daughter, I saw the challenges women face from a wider angle. If my child became pregnant and if that pregnancy, for whatever reason, was a circumstance that stole her life away from her, then I realized I would choose the wholeness of her life over any other potential life. When my daughter was approaching adulthood, safe and legal abortions were widely available in our nation, and I was very grateful to know we could make that decision if we needed to without her being considered a criminal or without having distant politicians impose themselves into our personal situation. I would grieve, yes. We would struggle, yes. And we would choose life: her life.

A friend who made the choice for abortion years ago commented how grateful she was for the safety, the privacy and the freedom to make that decision. As a single mom with two small children on a tight budget, she knew well she was choosing the lives of these precious ones over the possibilities of another one. Was it a challenging choice? Yes. Does she regret it? No. She chose life: her family’s life.

Before I became a minister, I was a nurse. I listened to fetal heartbeats in our volunteer prenatal clinic. I watched babies emerge from the womb. I held them as they took some of their earliest breaths. I love life. I love the unsearchable mystery of it.

Since I’ve been a minister and a chaplain, I’ve stood by the bed of a new mother as she took her last breaths and said goodbye to her newborn. I’ve agonized with parents who struggled with their decision to end the spark of life in one fetus in order to choose life for the other. I’ve cried with women who lost the dream of a child they had desperately wanted and I’ve cried with women who found themselves responsible for a child they never wanted and were ill prepared to care for. I’ve seen what happens to these children when Child Protective Services removes them from parents who never should have had children in the first place.

Sometimes choosing life is deeply complicated. There is nothing black and white about the decisions women make, parents make; the choices go far beyond bumper sticker solutions made into laws. This is life: complex and good and resilient.

And I love what Sister Joan Chittister says:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

Amen Sister.

I believe abortions are sometimes pro-life.

I believe laws that appropriately regulate abortion providers and provide for contraception and education are pro-life.

I believe laws that appropriately regulate gun ownership and lessen gun violence are pro-life.

I believe laws that provide access to health care, good food, quality education and a safe environment are pro-life.

I believe dismantling the racism that is institutionalized in our laws and entrenched in our hearts is pro-life.

I believe loving, caring families (all sorts of families with all sorts of orientations) are pro-life.ACE_PEACE5

I believe peace accords are pro-life.

I believe it is possible for us to find our way in this messy abortion debate if we will seek a middle path beyond the “rattling nonsense” of extremes on all sides; if we will stop cramming profound discussions into small, black and white boxes; if we will embrace the wide wholeness of what it truly means to be “pro life.”

After all, life is what we all are after.

Life with its infinite variety.

Life with its ever present faith-love-hope.

Life with its unsearchable mystery…

Mystery “where angels fear to tread…

but where we find ourselves nonetheless.

So I say, let’s rush in like fools to live our lives with joy and passion and purpose. Sarai-Choose-LifeLet’s seek ways to help all our neighbors live with joy and purpose as well. Let’s stop our foolish rushing to define how other people should live their lives and pay attention instead to our own choices; to our own business of living well – living with grace and gratitude. Living with humility and hope.

I’m well prepared for the critiques that are bound to follow this essay and so if you think good sense is lacking, I beg patience based on good intentions. As our friend Alexander Pope reminds:

Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.


Find an interesting article in The Guardian analyzing Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism.

See here a blog by Ann Voskamp, another essay that raises some of the same issues, struggles with a middle way and comes to a different conclusion than I do. Healthy helpful conversation requires that we give each other a respectful, open minded hearing.

“An Honest Conversation About Abortion that Asks Us Not to Turn Away — from anyone”



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 both are grateful for this nation we call home. But, on that particular day, I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I feel about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.

Maybe it’s our checkered past.

I will stand on the portico of our County Courthouse this weekend and take my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. It has fallen to me to 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…” Never mind the fact that Europeans mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as we took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even our war for our own independence.

It is timely that I had read Mark Charles’ blog just recently: Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. A wise, bold Native American blogger, Charles calls us to remember our shared history with all its 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 understanding that “all” means all.

Maybe it’s our blind practice of national religion.

Although I go to church most Sundays, I usually avoid attending on a patriotic Sunday. As a minister, I am deeply troubled by the way authentic Christianity has been co-opted by an American civil religion. On the 4th of July weekend, in sanctuaries across the nation, I have to wonder who – or what – is actually being worshiped. flags-1024x508


I am happy to recite the pledge and sing our anthem at the fireworks show this Fourth of July; that’s an excellent and appropriate venue. But I believe absolutely that it is crucial for religious people to remember to keep church and state separate.

Maybe it’s our checkered present.

Yes, America (finally) turned from our original sin of slavery, but I grieve the ways we continue to allow the underlying sin of racism to skew our society. White supremacy is still very much a thing all across America. Some people live out that value with brazen, dangerous animosity. Other people live out their belief in white privilege more politely. “Benevolent racism” I call it – feeling (and often expressing) discomfort and disdain whenever some people speak different languages, practice different religions, wear different clothing or celebrate different holidays.

So I understand why I am ambivalent about my patriotism. America is a mixed bag and many Americans are blind to that truth.

Even so, my good husband reminded me that the ideal is indeed beautiful. Our national anthem sings of the spirit of resilience among our people. Our national flag signals the unity inherent within the diversity of our people.

America is a dream, a hope, an aspiration.

Maybe not a dream come true – not yet. Maybe not ever. But it’s still worth believing in. And it’s absolutely worth working for.

I guess my challenge to myself is to get over my funky ambivalence and get to work. I will march with my NAACP friends in our local parade and then keep partnering together for our community. I will wFullSizeRender (1)rite letters to my local newspaper and to my elected officials. I will vote. I will do what I can to help my little piece of America live up to its ideals and grow into its dream. I will do what I can to nudge this nation to embody its stated values of equality and justice… I will do what I can; that’s all any of us can do.


Flag Meme credits

Meme: David R. Henson
Text: Frederick Buechner
Original Photo: Frankileon

“How Corporate America Invented Christian America:” A Reflection

I’ve been reading Kevin Kruse’s book, One Nation Under God, and I’m intrigued by his analysis of how “corporate America invented Christian America.” Oftentimes our national debate circulates around the Founders and how they understood the relationship of church and state. Even with a fairly adequate historical record available to us, Conservatives and Liberals argue ad nauseam about what the authors of our Constitution and Bill of Rights intended. Kruse also downplays the theory that the Christian revival of the 1950’s was primarily a reaction against Communism. Kruse only nods to these discussions and instead posits an economic domestic agenda: that “a Christian America” was intentionally created in the 1930’s by anti-FDR corporate magnates in league with Evangelical preachers. Continue reading “How Corporate America Invented Christian America:” A Reflection

How to Talk to “Those People”

Civil conversation is hard.

Whenever people in a multifaceted, multicultural civilization try to have a civil discussion, things can get complicated very quickly. Our past experiences, our societal conditioning, our moral assumptions can place us in very different worlds when it comes to communicating. We talk to each other—sometimes using identical vocabulary—but we discover that words don’t necessarily mean the same things for people whose very lives function with an entirely different complex of meaning than our own. This happens in every day normal dialogue, so consider how challenging it is to carry on a meaningful conversation when deeply held values are at stake.

Civility is hard. These days, some people think it hardly matters. But it does.

As a pastor, I have done my share of marriage counseling, family counseling, congregational conflict counseling. Two things are particularly important when I help people find a peaceful way through painful differences: one is honesty and the other is respect.

Honesty demands that we speak clearly about the issues that spark our own passion.

Respect demands that we listen deeply in order to understand the issues that spark the passion of another.

Honestly does not mean saying whatever we think and feel and believe in a disrespectful manner. Respect does not mean hiding the truth of what we think or feel or believe just because we may offend. In a civil conversation, we say what we think with words that invite ongoing discussion and we respect the humanity of the other person enough to hear them out no matter how much we may disagree with what they say. ( I repeat: we respect the humanity of the person even when we disagree with their words and ideas.)

I found some helpful suggestions for civil conversation recently. David Gushee, an ethicist at Mercer University writing for the Baptist News Global, reflected on a recent lecture by Professor Alan Brownstein, a constitutional law and church-state expert—and a practicing Jew. That may sound like a joke (an ethicist, a Baptist and a Jew walk into a bar…) but Gushee loves to write (as I do) about intersections between faith, culture and politics and he thought Brownstein’s speech on Civility and Tolerance When Absolutes Clash was “riveting” and “brilliant.”

(David Gushee went on to reflect on the recent clashes concerning “religious freedom” laws using Brownstein’s guidelines of civility and tolerance. I think his essay is quite helpful. Read more here.)

How does one engage in civil conversation with honesty and respect when our core values seem to be dishonored by someone else’s deeply held beliefs? It’s hard. But Brownstein offers these guidelines:

Neither side may trivialize or dismiss the concerns of the other.

Neither side should define the “other” according to one single characteristic or identity marker.

Both sides should aim to help each other understand their own experience and perspective using a type of speech that can be heard by the other.

Both sides should accept the fundamental ground rule of life in a free society: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

That statement made me stop and read it again: the essence of liberty is the right to be different and to act wrongly in the eyes of others.

Professor Brownstein went on to highlight the fundamental role of fear in situations of public conflict that we end up facing in our culture, politics, and law:

The fear of being excluded from full participation in public discourse or public life;

The fear that the other side is trying to coerce change of my side’s core identity;

The fear that the other side will use the power of law to force my side’s conformity with beliefs and practices that we find abhorrent.

The fear of losing or betraying deeply valued relationships of love, either with the Divine or with people, or both.

I find Brownstein’s guidelines helpful on several levels. His first suggestions are practical and workable. I’ve said for years that “communication is a skill to be learned.” Talk-To-Me-Image-300x233From the time we were babies, learning to speak, learning how to discern language, learning that some behaviors communicated an invitation to relationship while other behaviors alienated—from our earliest years, we have been learning how to communicate with others.

And we’re not done yet; we will never be done with learning and improving. Brownstein reminds us that there are many down-to-earth kinds of things we can do (and refrain from doing) that can help us speak and help us listen.

The other thing I like is Professor Brownstein’s insight about the covert power of fear. This rings true for me. When I think I am in danger in some way—my reputation, my ideas, my “truth,” my deeply held beliefs—then I am tempted to respond to another with defensiveness and attack. But whenever I step back and consider that the other person is struggling with their own fears—even if from a very different perspective than mine—then I am more inclined to work from the “honesty-respect” paradigm. Whenever I consider the very real possibility that I could be wrong (or at least partly wrong and only partly right) then I am more able to give others the liberty to be different and to act wrongly in my eyes. (I’ve written about this before in my blog: Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely.)

My volunteer work with the Coffee Party USA has reminded me how uncivil our communication patterns have become in America in this 21st century. Maybe it’s the political climate. Maybe it’s the anonymity of cyberspace. Maybe it’s a devaluing of common courtesy across the broad spectrum of our society. Maybe it’s our culture’s dualism that tends to categorize people and ideas into boxes marked: black or white, right or wrong. Maybe we all are living with too much fear. Whatever is going on, incivility is damaging us in deep ways and it’s time to turn this around.

Some people won’t care; they are in this to “win” by using speech as a weapon that destroys its opponents (as Dr. Brownstein points out.) 6a00d8341c500653ef012877186c7e970c-800wi

But lots of us do care; we want to find ways to employ honest, respectful civil dialogue as a tool for breaking down walls and building bridges. We who share this commitment are the ones who carry the greater responsibility to model civility and to persevere in actually acting like civilized people.

We’re not so far-gone that we can’t improve our skills of speaking and listening.

We’re not so hardened that we have lost our ability to respect our shared humanity—even for an adversary.

We’re not so inept that we can’t express our honest differences of opinion with courtesy and civility.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She frequentlyIntersections logo shares her thoughts with Coffee Party USA as a regular volunteer.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

Holding on to Hope in Such a World

A friend of mine visited Auschwitz a few years ago; they showed us their pictures and shared some of the stories from that evil time. The realities of the Holocaust are chilling, horrific, gut wrenching.

How did people hold on to hope in such a world?

Some of history’s calamities have been conceived and spawned by humanity’s twisted malevolence: massacres and pogroms and persecutions. Sometimes it is the devastations of nature that roar and rage or slowly strangle the life out of entire regions of the earth. Whether natural or man-made, the people who endure such tragedy are changed forever.

How do people hold on to hope in such a world?

Lately I have felt so disheartened by the current events of our own world; I feel powerless and hopeless. I can hardly bear to read the news: horrible stories of war, torture and inhumanity across the globe; depressing stories about the immoral and unethical antics of our elected public “servants;” heart breaking stories about police brutality and America’s entrenched racism; alarming stories about the misuse and neglect of our land and air and water; painful stories about too many of my friends who, every single day of their life, walk an economic tightrope between security and disaster.

How do any of us hold on to hope when everything around us seems completely hopeless?

A few years ago, one of my pastoral counseling professors from seminary wrote an important book about hope. Every now and again, I open this book from Dr. Andrew Lester and re-read it so that I can find my center again. Dr. Lester teaches that lived hope is grounded in reality, is oriented toward possibility and is made possible within community.

Hope is deeply connected to




When hope is grounded in reality, our eyes are wide open. Reality allows us to name our situation honestly and to recognize the challenges unambiguously. Hope doesn’t see the world through rose-colored-glasses; it is not wishful thinking; it knows how hard this is. But hope also sees a larger reality, a bigger picture than that which is available to our human eyes. Hope counts on this other invisible reality that exists simply because God exists. Even when everything we see and experience appears to be hopeless, hope taps into the other reality of God’s presence in the world, the Creator’s movement in and with creation.

When we learn to see both the visible and the invisible realities, we can look at the facts of our situation and say: “yes – but.” We can look at all the evidence and say: “nevertheless” – something else is true besides our obvious circumstances. We are enabled to see the bigger picture of what God has done and what God is doing in the possibilities of the future.

6180698-young-sprout-on-an-old-tree-new-tree-stumpPeople who live life from faith have always been oriented toward the future. The very definition of “faith” is movement toward something that cannot be seen; stepping out on a path even when we don’t know where it will lead; heading in a direction that may be completely irrational and unreasonable. People of faith can live with this kind of confidence because they are deeply and irrevocably people of hope. The goal, the future, the hope, the impossible possibility: God is forever bringing all things together in wholeness and shalom in spite of what we humans keep doing to ourselves and each other.

There is one final leg in this three-legged stool of hope that Andy Lester talks about:

lived hope is grounded in reality,

is oriented toward future possibility

and is made possible within community.

As a matter of fact, hope cannot be lived in isolation; it is community that creates and nurtures hope.

Madeline L’Engle tells of a time when she held onto life by a thread and could not pray; her community of faith held on to hope for her, she says. Jean Estes experienced the death of her newborn grandson and gives thanks for a community that “held her hope for her” in the days when she could not hold onto hope for herself.

That’s a powerful image: holding on to hope for one another. We are woven together, knit together, connected together in a fabric of humanity, each of us individually a significant part of the whole. All of us together bound up in the mystery of mutuality and community. IMG_1312

Andy Lester says because of this deep connection there can be a kind of “contagious hope” that wells up within a community; seeds of hope can take root and grow into a lush, fruitful garden of hopeful expectation.

But there is a flip side: there also is an “infectious hopelessness” that can take hold within a community. Sometimes a people will despair over their current circumstances, cannot imagine an alternative, become so fixated by their past that they become closed off to the future. In these dark days, even a few persistent people who keep themselves grounded in the reality of God’s past and present work of faithfulness and who keep themselves oriented to a future with hope can spark a contagious optimism within an entire community.

There is much to be discouraged about in today’s world; I don’t know what will come of our current social, ecological and political situations. Sometimes I feel hopeless and powerless; sometimes the anger wells up and the tears flow; I’m afraid it will get worse before it gets better.

But then again, as I write this during this season of Christmas, I remember that today’s world is really not so different from the world into which the Christ Child was born. We tend to romanticize the baby in the manger and downplay the poverty, oppression, prejudice and danger that permeated the lives of so many people in the 1st century C.E. of the Roman Empire. But the point of the Christmas story is that God-in-Christ chose to enter into the hopelessness of humanity by becoming the incarnation of hope. Ultimately, the love-peace-joy-hope we celebrate during Christmas is the startling and undeserved action of the Divine moving constantly in a dark and broken world.

I love Mary, the mother of Jesus; I love what she symbolizes for me, for us.

madonna-child-apacheWhen Mary recognized the movement of the Holy, she risked everything to become a part of the world-changing events that were gestating all around her. She allowed hope to grow within her until she was able to birth infant possibilities, impossible possibilities. In the midst of her own disadvantages – a poor minority woman living in a police state – Mary did what she was able to do, did what she was given to do and opened herself up to a future with hope.

So now, in our own evil time, let the work of Christmas be ours to do every day of the year:

live gracefully in love,

grow boldly into peace,

discover repeatedly this joy,

hold on stubbornly to this hope …

each of us individually and all of us together embodying and midwifing God’s impossible possibilities.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

December 2014



Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).

I am grateful for the grassroots efforts of Coffee Party USA – opening eyes and helping to do the hard work of bringing people together. I’m proud to be a part.

Madeleine L’Engle writes about her brush with death and long recovery because of a 1991 automobile accident in her book The Rock That is Higher (2002).

Find Jean Estes’ powerful interview in The Work of the People.

Apache Virgin with Child courtesy of