Category Archives: Charlotte’s Intersections Blog

Responding to the Cues

My adult son and I see the world quite differently. I’m fascinated to think about how often this is true of parents and children. We bond early, grow together, learn from many of the same sources, but even in their young days, children develop an interpretation of the world around them that can differ dramatically from their parents. Never mind when they launch and begin to engage society without us; a myriad of other influences play their own roles in the shaping of each unique human being.

Our differences are fascinating and they are also very normal.

Differences are not a problem. But sometimes the way we respond to our differences can create all sorts of relationship problems.

I can’t change my son; those days are long gone. He can’t change me; my opinions and belief system are my own responsibility and I’m not going to change my beliefs just to create an artificial peace in our family.

But we keep learning how to talk to each other. And how to listen to each other. And how to respond appropriately to the cues that come to us as we communicate with each other.

I read a blog recently from the Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford, and her wisdom rang deeply true for me. She – like I – continue to grow weary of the toxic conversation that swirls all around us these days. As a progressive Christian, some of the opinions I hear coming from the religious Right and the non-religious Left bother me. As a American, some of the modes and methods of too many of our politicians anger me. As a citizen of the world, some of the isolationist rhetoric alarms me

I can’t change what is going on in Washington, Moscow or Beijing. I know I can mail letters and make phone calls, sign petitions and vote, but I’m not in charge of the world.

However I am in charge of myself.

I can control how I respond to my family and friends and neighbors. I can even manage my mental and emotional reactions to the politicians and preachers who say and do things that make me crazy. I can react to the cues that others send – not in kind – but with my own commitment to goodness and grace.

Rachel calls it The Cue to Love.

It looks like this:

Another person’s closemindedness is my cue to be curious instead of defensive.

Another person’s shaming language is my cue to speak words of acceptance.

Another person’s hostility is my cue to be a peacemaker.

Another person’s arrogance is my cue to gain understanding.

Another person’s quick-to-judge attitude is my cue to remember we’re more alike than different.

Another person’s vitriol towards a group of people is my cue to love all in abundance.

It’s easy to see how accepting cues to love when we feel most unloving is helpful to the world as a whole, but taking these cues greatly benefit us at a personal level. One of my favorite enlightenment authors, Marianne Williamson writes, “Growth comes from focusing on our highest lessons, not someone else’s.”

I can choose to perpetuate the turmoil as it churns all around me; or I can choose to live as a calm presence in the midst of confusion.

I can allow my most precious relationships to rupture; or I can respond with grace and healing.

I can react in kind to cues of anger, fear, blame and shame; or I can take those signals as my cue to love.

I have made my choice. Now all I need to do is keep practicing, rehearsing and refining my efforts. This work will probably keep me busy for the rest of my life, so I figure I’d better get started.

 

Read Rachel Macy Stafford’s blog here:

Use this Emotional Cue to Turn Other People’s Infuriating Opinions into Your Highest Lessons

Bilingual: Speaking both Liberal and Conservative

I was raised by conservative parents, shaped by fundamentalist churches and immersed in the worldview of the Right for the first 40 years of my life. My journey away from all that took a long time. Finding my way out of the bubble and exposing myself to people who saw the world very differently than I was a challenging and sometimes scary process. But I’m grateful. Both to be where I am today: living with much larger, more nuanced understandings AND to have gone through the process of questioning, growing, learning and changing.

I think of myself as bilingual. I can speak both Liberal and Conservative.

I’m one of countless humans who have made such journeys but it saddens me that many of my fellow Liberals seem to have forgotten their mother tongue. We are people who understand where Conservatives are coming from, not only because we have been there but also because many of our friends and family still live there. Our bilingual skills are desperately needed in these days of rancor and blame. We need to use our ability to understand their world and speak their language so that we can help build more bridges of communication.

Some years ago, I attended an ecumenical and interfaith retreat for seminary students from across Texas. Twice during each day of the retreat, we joined together in smaller groups for more personal conversation. We were assigned to one group that was designed to be intentionally diverse. The other group allowed us to self-select in order to be with people who came from similar backgrounds and shared our familiar ways of thinking and speaking.

Since I was still in my process, I existed in two worlds: Conservative Evangelical Christian and Liberal Mainline Christian. I self-selected for the Evangelical group and found myself serving as an interpreter and a buffer. These people were not arrogant or mean; rather they were thoughtful and good-hearted, and they were intentionally stretching themselves and pushing out of their bubble just by attending this ecumenical event. When they didn’t understand something our mainline friends or Catholic friends were saying, it wasn’t because they were stupid. It was because the concepts and the vocabulary were simply out of the realm of their experience.

I did the best I could to translate and interpret for my Conservative friends but maybe my most important work was to testify to the integrity and intent of my Liberal friends.

When I returned to my new world with my Liberal colleagues, I was surprised that I had to play the role of translator again. These folks were equally confounded by a worldview that was alien to them. These folks were also good-hearted and thoughtful. So I was especially disappointed that my open-minded, generous and tolerant liberal friends could be so intolerant and insulting. Once again, I was called to be witness: this time testifying to the integrity and intent of my Conservative friends.

Most of the people I know who have made a journey have moved from Conservative toward Liberal. But there are also plenty of people who have moved across the spectrum from Liberal toward Conservative. This orientation doesn’t have anything to do with our character or integrity; it has to do with the lens through which we see the world – and even how our brains are wired.

Our society is in desperate need of translators and interpreters. We need more bilingual people to be active in the public conversation, finding fresh ways to speak so others can hear. We need more optimistic people who believe in the basic goodness of humanity helping us break down barriers and build bridges.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who won’t want to join this bilingual effort. There are too many people who don’t want to listen or understand.

Those are not my conversation partners.

Instead, I’m on the search for conversation partners who want to keep questioning, growing, learning and changing. I’m convinced there are many.

I’m also on the search for other bilingual partners who are willing to use their skills of understanding the world of another and are willing to speak their language. This is how we can change the world: one conversation at a time, one friendship at a time, one bridge at a time.

Who’s in?

 

 

“Welcome” poster available for purchase at zazzle.com

 

 

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.

Charlotte:

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”

 

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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