Out of My Place, Into My Place

I grew up a conservative Southern girl who knew her place.

My family and my church were not bad; I knew I was accepted and affirmed. Within limits. I knew I had opportunities and possibilities. Up to a point. No one intentionally held me back or put me down or kept me out. No one limited me in order to be hateful or mean; everyone was very nice about it. I call it benevolent sexism, a patronizing attitude shared by the people in my life that kept me in my place. But it was the Systemic Sexism of my world that blinded all of us to the deep damage we were doing by limiting the full humanity of half the people on the planet.

It was the questions that saved me. Continue reading Out of My Place, Into My Place

There are Two Kinds of People in the World …

There are two kinds of people in the world … People who need Answers and People who need Questions.

Don’t hear that as a criticism; it’s my theory. But also for me, it’s anecdotal truth. Over the years, I’ve observed it in others but mostly I recognize it in myself.

My life was shaped by a strong conservatism – social, political and theological – and I still see the value of conserving healthy values and productive practices. I freely confess that in some ways I am quite conservative: I tend to take the same route to the same grocery store where I know where things are. I like the brands that I like and resist changing what I’m used to unless there is some really good reason for it.

But then on the other hand, I’ve long had a bold liberal streak in me. If something can be done a more efficient way then I say: “Go for it.” When introduced to new ideas, I’m curious. I want to know more and if I see value in new thoughts, I’m happy to adjust my beliefs or change my mind. So don’t hear my thesis as a criticism because I realize I am a person who yearns for answers and a person who thirsts for questions all at the same time.

In my life journey, it has been the questions that have saved my soul.

When I talk about salvation here, I’m using an ancient understanding that speaks of healing and wholeness. For me, the “salvation” of doubting and questioning and challenging represent a kind of rescue from smallness and arrogance and mediocrity.

Questions open up the world. Questions open up our internal space. images

Questions may not accomplish wholeness by themselves but I believe they lead us on a path toward a more complete, holistic way of being in the world. But even as I firmly believe all of us are multi-faceted, “both-and” humans, I also hold to my theory: some people do questions better than others.

When I was a minister serving in local congregations, I used to train my youth workers: “Your job is not to give our young people answers; especially your answers. Your job is to help them ask good questions; to find their best questions.”

A few years ago, when I saw another church in the neighborhood post a sign in its front yard: “Come here for the answers to your questions,” I wanted to rush back to my church and post a sign that said: “Come here to question your neat answers.”

Whenever I blog for the Coffee Party USA, I recognize (yet again) that there are many thoughtful, generous people in the world whose lives are sparked by curiosity. There are many who share my thirst for questions.

But I’m also seeing (yet again) how very easy it is to ask questions with answers already presupposed. And I’m seeing how very easy it is to judge other people for both their answers and their questions.

Our national dialogue is too often judgmental of people who have different beliefs and opinions. Our public conversation is too often contentious, suspicious and cruel. Instead of judging and categorizing, how about we figure out how to give people space to be on whatever journey they are on? No one will ever change anyone else’s mind with ridicule or criticism.

Whether we prefer questions or answers, whether we are male or female, whether we are gay or straight or black or brown or white or blue or red or old or young, how about we figure out how to let each other be? And how about we figure out how to be patient and kind even toward those who haven’t figured this out yet?
self-portrait-multiple-exposureWe all are on our own journey, proceeding at our own pace, and no two people are ever in the same place at the same time.

I know for me, it would have done no good for anyone to force the questions before I was ready. The right questions tend to come in their own right time. I know for me, it would have done no good for anyone to force their answers onto my questions. Good answers grow and unfold in their own good time.

But what has done me a huge amount of good is to have people in my circle who live life large and who will love me and accept me just as I am. It has been a huge relief to find in other people a wide place where questions are welcomed and answers are bold.

As we all continue to figure out how to be in relationship with each other in this fractured and fragmented society of ours, I think the main thing we need to figure out is how to love better.

Love life, love the questions, love the answers, love the journey, love one another. In the passionate words of Maya Angelou:

We are weaned from our timidity

              In the flush of love’s light

                              we dare be brave…

 

Maya Angelou poem: Touched by an Angel

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.

 

 

Faith, Culture and Politics

A couple years ago, I was honored to join Coffee Party radio for a discussion about Faith, Culture and Politics. We all agreed that mixing faith and politics is very tricky. Unknown+copy

Whereas just a few years ago Evangelical Christians resisted political involvement now, in the conventional wisdom, “Christian” = “Religious Right” = “Republican.”

These days there are so many conservative political figures and outspoken lobbying groups that wear the name Christian that we progressive Christians have been immersed in their same bathwater and nearly thrown out of the public conversation.

But there is an appropriate place in our national discourse for the advocacy of a different kind of Christian voice other than that which has taken center stage.

In our radio conversation, we began by discussing the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I take this very seriously because the protection of religious freedom is a huge gift our founding fathers gave to us.

As a person of faith and a Christian minister, I come at the First Amendment from two different angles.

First, for this country that I love, I want all our citizens to realize the freedom to practice faith the way they best understand it and I’m proud that America’s insistence on this principle has been unusual in the history of the world; freedom of religion is one of our great strengths.

Of course, as a people, we have not lived up to our principles very well. The spirituality of the Native Americans was disrespected from our very beginnings. The enslaved Africans were forced to give up their religions in order to convert to a perverted version of Christianity that justified slavery. Asian immigrants were suspect because of the way they practiced their faith; Catholics were mistreated by the WASP culture of the day; Jews have been vilified and demonized; Muslims are still struggling to find their place in the midst of today’s paranoia.

I realize that what I’m describing here are not legal issues that hearken back to the government’s role as described in the Bill of Rights but rather some of the cultural realities of our society. I’m describing divisions that happen within the human family just because we are human.

But the genius of the First Amendment is that our various governments are charged with protecting all religious freedom; not only should our laws not favor one religion over another but they also must not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. In a multi-cultural society such as ours, that has to refer to people who hold a wide range of spiritual beliefs and participate in a variety of religious practices.

Christians who want to claim that America is a “Christian nation” founded on “Christian principles” and therefore justified in continuing Christian privilege skew American history.

It is true that most of the Founding Fathers were at least loosely affiliated with some kind of Christian denomination or another. That was the acceptable culture of the day.

But we cannot say America was founded on Christianity, because it is clear that the Founders were very intentional about moving away from the model they were used to, the model so common in England. They yearned for a new way and so they debated and comprised and came up with this brilliant plan that the government should not use its power to establish one religion over another, one denomination over another, one ideology over another.

That said – it is also true that Christianity has been the dominant religion in America since our beginnings and it is hard, hard, hard for humans to give up their privileges and advantages.

I know that some Christians feel like they are being persecuted because the culture is shifting and they are losing their long held privilege and influence. I’m sorry people feel that way; just because a group is losing power doesn’t mean they are being persecuted.

I like to use the metaphor of a family dinner table. The people who have had the most access to the table need to be gracious enough to move over and make room for everyone to have a place. The quirky son-in-law. The outspoken cousin. The rowdy grandchildren. The aging parents.

America’s family table IS big enough for all of us.

And in a society like ours that values the freedom of speech as much as it values the freedom of religion, the First Amendment insists that all citizens are invited into the national conversation.

Religious and non-religious, progressive and conservative, rich and poor, Black and White and Brown: citizens can and must speak and vote and write letters, sometimes even protest. These are just a few of the ways all of us can continue to grow and learn how to live well together.

The government cannot prohibit the participation of anyone in this large cultural conversation and we the people should not shut down each other’s voices either.

But then there is second angle on the First Amendment that is important to me: as strongly as I feel about Americans being able to practice religion as they see fit, as a pastor, I am even more concerned that Christians should actually live out the faith of Jesus Christ with more faithfulness, and I am very concerned abouUnknown-1t the ways Christian faith is compromised whenever it is wed inappropriately to civic faith.

For example, when Christians are so enamored of capitalism that we can’t critique the inequitable distribution of wealth within our nation – then the teachings of Christ are ignored and Christian faith is compromised.

When Christians join in the mindless drumbeat for war – then the example of Christ is lost and Christian faith is compromised.

The people who raised me and influenced me when I was growing up were all very conservative – theologically, socially and politically. It wasn’t until I was able to think for myself and ask hard questions that I began to shift my beliefs.

Change is hard – but immensely important work.

I know a lot of good, kind conservative people who don’t necessarily believe that change is good; their definition of faithfulness is to avoid change. Or maybe they just can’t allow themselves to question what they have always believed to be true; I know from experience questions can be very scary.

But it was only when I gave myself permission to question the narrow dogma of my childhood that I was able to grow into a broader, more inclusive understanding of Christianity. And interestingly, that shift directly affected my social values: how I believe we should treat each other as people living together in a society.

Some of my conservative Christian friends wonder if I’m really Christian at all. Some of my liberal friends wonder why I even still bother with Christianity given its very poor reputation these days.

But this is who I am, deep in my core, and I cannot betray it; I can only hope to live my faith in such a way that its circle of goodness and grace might touch the people and the situations of my wider world.

Feed the hungry.

Welcome the stranger.

Free the oppressed.

Speak out for the least of these.

Give without expecting return.

Trust. Persevere. Love.

These actions flow from my faith but also from values that I share with the Coffee Party USA – Civility, Continuous Learning, Authenticity & Transparency, Integrity & Clarity, Inclusiveness…

I hope I will always be alert to ways I may inappropriately wed Christian faith to patriotism or nationalism; that’s always a deadly marriage.

But I also hope I will always be alert to the ways that faith and hope and love can help nudge my culture and my nation to greater wisdom, goodness and wholeness.

 

This essay is excerpted from Press 1 for Democracy, Coffee Party Blogtalk Radio, October 6, 2014: Faith, Culture and Politics.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/coffeepartyusa/2014/10/07/faith-culture-and-politics–p1fd-10614

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. Intersections logoShe is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

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.

Love Your Neighbor. Period.

“I am offended….” the letter to the newspaper in my small East Texas town began. The writer was offended because she believes her rights as a Christian are being taken away. This is a common reaction to America’s increasing pluralism: too many Christians are taking offense and becoming defensive when they are asked to move over and make room. Like fish swimming in the stream of the dominant religious culture, they are oblivious to all the ways Christianity continues to be privileged in this nation.

Many of us have been pondering our white privilege in these troubled days. One of Nicolas Kristoff’s reflections cites grim statistics that should challenge any white person to think twice about the realities of race in America.  All of us who benefit from being part of the dominant religious culture would do well to think more deeply about that privilege and our appropriate responsibilities within this multicultural American community.

I am a Christian minister and I have spent years nudging Christians into all sorts of bigger circles. I am an American and I am fully committed to nudging this land that I love into the larger circle of respect for all people, whether they are religious or not. My Christian faith demands this of me.

This “parable” may help: a devout, good-hearted Christian family gathers around the dinner table. Mom and Dad and the children are a pretty homogenous group where common values are assumed and conversation is grounded in shared experience. Then the children grow up and they start bringing their spouses and partners to the family table. Now conversations are more challenging because the values and experiences are more diverse. Then those children start having children; toddlers and teens dramatically change the dynamic of how a family functions. Then grandpa moves in and everyone adjusts once more. A healthy family will celebrate this widening circle. They will keep adding leaves to the table. They will keep pulling up more chairs. They will make room for each other. But yes it’s hard, on so many levels.

12004005_10153029519040496_2820169950305587981_nFor me, as a Christian, authentic faith circulates around this one center: love God and love my neighbor. For me, part of what it means to love God is to let God be God and part of what it means to love my neighbor is to remember that God is God and I am not. So I don’t get to judge my neighbor or fix them or change them. I am simply called to love them. “Love your neighbor. Period.”

There are many (many!) of us Christians who seek to live out our faith with this kind of love and welcome. There are many Christians who are not the least offended or threatened when the eclectic mix of our American neighbors are included in our larger “family” circle. (Maybe we are the ones who ought to be writing letters to our local newspapers, articulating an alternative vision of an inclusive, grace-full faith.

But right now, our American family is struggling to make room for each other. Too many people are taking offense; too many people are on the defense; there is plenty of raw passion. What we need is more compassion – especially as we become more and more aware that too many people in our family do not have an equal seat at this table and an equal voice in this conversation. Those of us who have been endowed by our culture with any sort of special privilege have special responsibility to do what we can to keep nudging the circle wider. Whatever our advantage/our privilege/our power of influence, let us re-commit to stand and speak with integrity, authenticity and humility for all our neighbors.

 

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.

Privileged? Who Me?

Growing up in the South – a woman who was taught to stay in her place – it was men who enjoyed all the privileges of power. Within the male/female hierarchy, I certainly was not encouraged to believe I had any special privilege. It took stepping out of my “place” and looking at my life from a whole new perspective to be able to see that – yes, even while living within all the various limits of my  Christian White Southern Woman Box – I was still a part of the dominant culture; I still live with unearned, undeserved privilege. Just because I didn’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. tumblr_ms5vlfjE5K1qzgq67o1_500 Like gravity, the invisible status quo of our culture tends to keep all of us in our “place” until we figure out how to see it, name it and stand firm against its insidious hold on us.

Everywhere I turn, I see other people saying the same thing. Many of us are becoming more and more aware of the favors society gives us just because of the color of our skin. It’s embarrassing.

Jim Rigby posted on Facebook how he, like me, was “taught a white version of history, a white version of beauty, and was saved by a white savior. I could not see my racism because it was the lens through which I was looking at everything else.” The very next day Jim blogged (with his tongue firmly in his cheek): “How do you know America is post-racial? Because a bunch of white people will come onto your Facebook and shout down anyone who would suggest otherwise.”

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor-in-Chief of RogerEbert.com and a TV critic for New York Magazine. He tells a story of a very stupid fight he started outside a bar, and then the undeserved wink and nod he got from the Dallas police as the Hispanic guy went off in handcuffs. Matt knows, because he has taken the lens off, that different rules apply to him than to so many others.

After the events in Ferguson, quite a few thoughtful writers burdened with their own privilege wondered what they could do. Rachel Held Evans said we are “not as helpless as we think” even though racial reconciliation is a “hard discouraging road.” Janee Woods wrote a much shared reflection on “12 Things White People Can Do…” When the Public Religion Research Institute published survey results revealing that most white people don’t have very many friends of color in our social networks, the blogosphere came alive with discussion.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr relates his story of finally recognizing his own white privilege and finding ways to dismantle it. His summary of what perpetuates and sustains white privilege: “Self chosen illusion and 2016-01-15-1452828903-6185521-TuneandRohr-thumbdenial, softened and sustained by too easy comfort.”

(Father Richard is deeply wise and his recent interview with Romal Tune is well worth reading.)

So are we favored white folks going to sit by and continue to allow America be what America has been? Or is this the time when we finally step up and really work for a more equitable America?

I can’t stop the culture from gifting me with undeserved privilege, but I can find ways to increase the privilege and opportunities of others who live within my sphere of influence. I can’t change the fact that my skin is light, but I can stand against the insidious notion that white is the ideal and cultural norm.

It is not.  the_joys_of_new_friends_4492_94441656

Working to change entrenched systems is not quick or easy, but when enough of us discard our blinders of privilege and open our eyes to the realities of inequity within our society – a reality in which too many of us are too often complicit – then and only then can we truly be partners and allies in this effort for a just America.

The “System” may try to keep us in “our place,” to keep all of us in all sorts of “boxes” that define us and divide us.  But we don’t have to give in to that status quo. Breaking out of those boxes and standing together can be our salvation.

 

“break free out of your mold” sculpture by Zenos Frudakis

 

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.

Women Are Created Equal Too

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”

When Elizabeth Cady Stanton read these radical words in the mid 1800’s, she was booed and jeered for her sacrilegious editing of the Declaration of Independence. fig7It was “sacrilege” on several levels: when the women’s movement disavowed the hierarchical status quo of the American culture of their day, they challenged the “sacred” foundational understandings of both men and women. Further, when they claimed that women should have an equal place within the home and the church and society, they argued against fundamental presuppositions of inequality within the religious establishment. It was not easy. Questioning the status quo brought significant vilification and persecution to these women. Continue reading Women Are Created Equal Too

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

A horrendous week of violence. I reel at the massacre of the police officers in Dallas. They were targeted and murdered by a young Black man mad with despair. Despair and outrage that White cops killed two more young Black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota.

Violence begets violence. Our center is not holding and the world implodes around us with the sickening weight of hatred, anger and fear.

How can this keep happening? I ask myself. How far can this spiral take us down into the darkness?

Then I look at the story of the human family over the ages and I remember that cycles of violence have taken us into the abyss over and over again. Instead of recognizing that we are one human family, we demonize and terrorize and imagine each other as “other.” It is madness.

Sometimes I wonder if some people actually fear a future where everyone is equally accepted and equally valued. It seems incomprehensible to me that such a vision might be motivating humanity’s violence. But I can’t help but wonder.

In the ancient biblical story, the Pharaoh of Egypt proclaimed that all the male children of the Israelite people should be murdered at the moment they were born; Pharaoh didn’t want anymore of “those kinds” of people in his kingdom. The Gospel of Matthew tells another story about King Herod sending soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children of the Israelite villagers.

Throughout the human story, this violence is repeated again and again. Within the American story, once again it is our young people, our children who bear the consequences of our national sins. They die on foreign battlefields. They die on neighborhood streets. They die in school classrooms. They die while dancing.

When reflecting on some of these horrors, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and the New Testament theologian Matthew both borrowed the image of their ancestor Rachel: “wailing with loud lamentation, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” 6a00d8341c22ce53ef00e54f67d4918834-800wi

How can this keep happening? I ask myself.

Losing our children is much more than even the heart breaking, gut wrenching loss of any one of these unique and precious individuals; it is also the loss of a future. For most of us, our children give us hope for the future. But for others – I wonder – is their vision of the future so clouded with fear that they may see the Michael Browns and the Tamir Rices and the Philando Castiles and the dancers at the Pulse as some sort of threat?

In the collective consciousness of the establishment, do these conjure fear because they represent “too many of those kind of people” in this American “kingdom”?

As a Christian minister, I see both fear and hope everywhere I turn and I recognize this is nothing new. Herod sent the soldiers to Bethlehem because he feared the child Jesus was a threat to his power. And he was right: his power was at risk. The “kingdom” God is bringing into being does threaten the power of all the kings and pharoahs among us.

When the reign of peace, justice and respect gains more ground in the attitudes and actions of more and more people, then the status quo of oppression, intimidation and inequity must lose ground.

The status quo IS changing. And I say “Thank God.”

I firmly believe that God is birthing into our midst a new multivalent rainbow community that will finally end the power of white, male, straight privilege. I believe God’s upside down power of grace and love will finally bring about a future of hope where every life matters, where each one is valued for who they are, where all our children are able to grow up to become the people God created them to be. This kind of vision for the future gives many of us great hope.

But for others this vision fosters great fear. When fear and prejudice is given a gun, it’s not just our children who are in danger; it’s all of us. But when this kind of fear is given both a gun and a badge then – yes – it is high time for prophetic challenge and peaceful protest. Each of us individually and all of us together must raise our voice and stand with our hands in the air – open, vulnerable and powerful in the upside down way of God’s life-changing power.

And so in the meantime, while we watch and wait for the vision to become reality, things continue to be painful, messy and chaotic. Maybe one reason why is because the oil and water of fear and hope continue to keep us fragmented – both within our society and within each of us. Maybe because we are all at the same time good and bad, light and dark, hopeful and fearful.

We are Rachel, weeping for our children. And let us remember that all these children are all our children.

4986607878_aa21af8fe8_zWe are Rachel in labor, yearning in travail for a future with hope. Maybe as we seek Rachel’s comfort even in the midst of this chaos, we can find ways to let go of the fear, lean into the vision, and help our nation hold onto the hope.

 

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.

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“I’ll Vote for Jesus”

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I’ve been doing voter registration in my small East Texas county and it has been fascinating to meet so many different people and to hear just a snatch of their stories. A few people would vote for Texas to secede from the United States; several wouldn’t dare vote for any of the “puppets” running for any kind of office; quite a few women lean forward to listen more closely when I tell them that some strong smart women are running for Texas’ top positions. My favorites are the people who look down at their feet and tell me they can’t vote because they have a felony conviction in their past. I get to ask them: “Are you off paper? Have you finished your parole and probation? Then you ARE eligible to vote!” t1larg.calif.votersYou should see the expressions on their faces. Sometimes it’s the people who have lost their right to vote who most appreciate its privilege and are willing to once again step up to its responsibility.

But I have to admit I was taken back a bit when one woman looked me in the eye and said: “I’ll vote for Jesus.” In her mind, Jesus is the only one who can fix the mess we humans have made. In her thinking, it is only when Jesus comes again that the world will be set right. Continue reading “I’ll Vote for Jesus”