Guest Blog: Why I Think My Church Is Upset About Indiana’s RFRA

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Feminism is Not the F-Word

Some time ago, as part of my volunteer work with Coffee Party USA, I posted a meme to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page. It’s a quote that made me smile; wise words from a passionate current day feminist, Dale Spender.

Feminism has fought no wars.  It has killed no opponents.  It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties.

Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions…for safety on the streets…for child care, for social welfare…for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.

If someone says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist,”

I ask, “Why, what’s your problem?”

Feminism advocating for equity and justice for women and children and men.

Feminism working with everyone for everyone.

Feminism as a force for good in society.

A grand ideal, I thought when I posted it. But some commenters didn’t think it was grand at all.

This little meme got lots of attention. A large number of people made positive comments and shared it to their own Facebook pages. But then there were plenty who took offense and complained: “feminism is divisive;” “feminism isn’t necessary anymore because women have it so good now;” “feminists are nothing but angry, men-haters.” I was prepared for the differences of opinion; I was not prepared for the vitriol.

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am, after all, “a woman in a man’s job” and I’ve experienced some of the contempt that comes to any of us who dare step “out of our place.” And as a woman in my particular field, I find it is often other women who are my harshest critics. Even so I admit I continue to be surprised that such strong negative reactions continue to be so widespread and public here in the second decade of the 21st century. We’ve been doing this male-female thing for a long time now; shouldn’t we be doing it better by now? Continue reading Feminism is Not the F-Word

Sincere Differences Discussed Sincerely

A long-time good friend and I are having an ongoing cyberspace discussion about a controversial social issue; our opinions are polar opposites. We both are Christians but he’s pretty conservative and I am not. We both are smart, articulate and thoughtful. And we both love each other. imagesI’m guessing neither one of us will change our mind, but – as he says – we are discussing our sincere differences sincerely. And we both are better for it.

I know where he’s coming from because I used to believe pretty much the same way. I’ve made similar arguments; I’ve had similar concerns. We’ve both grown and changed since we were so close, but we’ve grown and changed in different directions. Such is the human journey. Such is the way of relationships.

But for us, relationship is the key; being friends is more important to us than being right (but of course, we both think we are right!) I am grateful this friendship means as much to him as it does to me because I have other conservative friends who have broken off their relationships; they unfriended me on Facebook a long time ago. It’s like some people are so committed to a particular (peculiar) kind of integrity that agreeing to disagree somehow compromises their core ethics. They seem to believe their sworn duty is to fix me, to change me and if they can’t do that, then we can’t be friends. This belief system makes me immensely sad because it contributes to alienation and estrangement throughout the human community. Friends, families, governments… minds set in stone, conversation in talking points, assassinating character and impugning integrity, listening just enough to misunderstand…

I admit I don’t have these kinds of probing conversations with very many of my conservative friends; most of us agree to disagree and then agree not to talk about it. But this friend is precious. Authentic community between human beings is always precious, but when we make a real effort to build community, when it calls for an extra dose of patience and understanding and respect and compassion – that kind of relationship is rare and beautiful and precious.

Our current American civilization is not very civil these days. There are deep divides that separate us; strong differences of opinion that keep pushing us farther and farther apart. But I think it’s not the divides and the differences themselves that are the problem. We’ve always had our differences and when we’re smart, we recognize that our diversity is part of our strength. No, I don’t think it’s our differences that are the problem; I think it’s the fear.

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert, a well known Roman Catholic, was asked which is his favorite Bible verse: “Do not worry about your life…” he quickly replied. And “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” In order to stay mindful, Stephen believes, one cannot live in fear. It’s a little like comedy, he explains: You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.

“You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”

There are plenty of things in our lives, in our world that justifiably cause anxiety. Stephen Colbert knows that as well or better than must of us. But we’re not going to solve any of our problems if we can’t talk to each other, if we don’t participate in honest conversation and collaborate in creative dreaming. We can’t hope to find our common connections if we don’t discuss our sincere differences sincerely. bridge-buildingWe can’t build bridges of cooperation if we don’t come together across the deep divides. We can’t live if we don’t laugh and love.

I’m not sure this will ever happen on Facebook – even though I volunteer for Coffee Party USA and I have high hopes that more and more people will commit to civil public conversation around controversial issues. But I do believe we can build these bridges one relationship at a time. “Anthropology trumps ideology,” another friend likes to say. When I really get to know a person – who they are, where they come from, what they value; when I really grow to love a person – then my dogmas become less rigid and my boundaries become more porous. One friend, one family member, one co-worker who sees the world differently can be a great resource for expanding our understanding. One person’s effort to listen and learn from another (especially one who has been “the other”) can erode fear and cultivate love and laughter.

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.

 

Colbert Catechism: Stephen Colbert Professes His Faith to Fr. James Martin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-zxn-YGUI4&app=desktop

Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Marriage Equality

Dear Senator Cruz,

In my first letter, I offered the paradigm “love of neighbor” as an appropriate and helpful framework for creating laws and policies for our American society. Since I am a Christian pastor and since you are my Senator and have acknowledged your Christianity publicly, I am writing these letters to reflect pastorally on the values of Jesus Christ and how those values might inform your work in Congress. data-1

I received the most recent letter that you sent to your constituents and I must respond to say that your efforts to re-establish the Defense of Marriage Act is wrong on so many levels. I say this as a straight, middle-class woman; as a voter in your state; and as a Christian. Continue reading Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Marriage Equality

Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

“If I change my mind, then I’d have to admit I’ve been wrong.”

He was a good man: humble and kind. He had lived for more than 80 years and had a gentle wisdom about him. So when my friend made this statement, my jaw dropped. How on earth can anyone think that way? I marveled.

But then I remembered – that used to be me.

I used to believe that “Right” and “Wrong” were Black and White; that if I was right, and you disagreed with me, then you must be wrong.

Now I believe all of us are probably mostly a little bit right and a whole lot wrong – about a whole lot of things.

I used to believe truth was a small fragile thing that needed to be defended.

Now I believe Truth is a rainbow with infinite colors and facets that takes a lifetime to explore. Truth doesn’t need to be defended; it needs to be discovered. Continue reading Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

This is Outrageous: Loving our Muslim Neighbors

This past January, a community of Muslim Americans gathered to explore how they could foster more positive depictions of the faith they love. It was timely work for these practitioners of Islam given the terrorist actions just a week before – an extremist acting in the name of their religion at Charlie Hebdo.  

Muslim+Conference_41766895_927960 2 But their efforts for peace were interrupted by other extremists acting in the name of their religion: some “Christians” gathered to protest the presence of their neighbors, claiming Muslims had no right to gather at the local community center; claiming Islam is inherently violent. (These claims, by the way, were accompanied by Internet threats of guns and bombs.)

This happened next door to me. I lived in Garland Texas; I served a Christian church there; I sometimes worshiped at the mosque just down the street in the neighboring suburb. This is my community. This is my home. These are my neighbors. This is outrageous. Continue reading This is Outrageous: Loving our Muslim Neighbors

Charlotte’s Letter to Sen. Cruz on Love of Neighbor

Dear Senator Cruz, Since you are my Texas Senator, I often receive letters from you reporting on your work in the U.S. Senate; here is a letter to you in response. This is not so much a point-by-point political argument about specific ways you and I would approach our nation’s problems and solutions (you and I seem to have very different opinions on many of these matters). Rather, since you are a self-proclaimed Christian and I am a Christian minister, this will be more a reflection on the priorities of Jesus Christ and how his values might help you and your fellow senators better care for “the least of these” in America. (You probably recognize Jesus’ words in the parable from Matthew 25). Of course there are countless differences between Jesus’ time and ours, but there are also some timeless attitudes he demonstrated and some abiding charges he delivered that should challenge any of us who dare to wear his name: Christ-ian. data Since you are a man who speaks openly about your Christian faith, may I remind you of the fundamentals of this faith. Since you are a public servant, might I make some suggestions about how you could serve this nation more effectively… 1) Love you Neighbor as yourself Jesus was pretty clear about priorities – his and ours: we are called to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and we are expected to love our neighbors as ourselves. He was also clear about who is a neighbor and how we are to be neighbor. In a nation such as America, our citizens are free to understand and worship God as they see fit. I am grateful for the bold vision of our Constitution and the way our First Amendment protects people from state and federal incursions into our religious practices. I am a minister who believes very strongly in the separation of church and state because I see how marrying religion and politics has deeply compromised both our government and the church of Jesus Christ. That said, Jesus’ call to be the neighbor and to love our neighbors might inform and improve how Americans could live together in our society for the common good. A Christian discipline for the love of neighbor demands an unselfish generosity and a willingness to sacrifice our own preferences and convenience for the good of the other. But I am deeply concerned about our neighbors here in Texas and across America; I am concerned that their own government is working against them instead of for them. Those who finally have access to affordable health care may lose it if you have your way; the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act sounds selfish. Your pledge to work against immigration reform instead of working with President Obama to find solutions sounds foolish. Your effort to undermine our public school systems sounds short sighted. Such actions would undo the progress we have made as a community of neighbors, a community that looks out for one another: for “the widows and the orphans,” for the “little ones,” for the “strangers” among us, for those who are trampled under the feet of the rich and powerful. Your programs and policies that increase the benefits of the privileged and compromise the possibilities of the underprivileged are not the way of the Christ. 2) More is Less and First is Last When you read your Bible, I hope you especially notice Jesus’ words that proclaim “the least among you is the greatest;” that the “last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Throughout the story of Scripture, God has always honored humility. One of my favorite biblical characters is Jesus’ own mother. Mary’s Magnificat celebrates God’s mysterious, upside-down-way in the world that honors the poor and lifts up the oppressed. When followers of the Christ acknowledge that same reality in our own day, then…

we too must do whatever we can to speak for those who have no voice, to stand for those who have no standing, to align ourselves with those who are maligned by the rich and the powerful.

I am deeply concerned about the gridlock in Congress that keeps you from cooperating together to work for the common good of ALL the people of America. These days – even more than most – you elected officials of Congress appear to be representing your own interests instead of the interests of those you are elected to represent. There is too much self-promotion and preening, too much self-righteousness and condemnation. ted-cruz-me-me-me-shutdown-10-17-13-webThere is too much hubris and not enough humility. Your inflammatory language is inexcusable. Your refusal to compromise with your colleagues is harmful. Your unwillingness to consider all sides of any issue is small minded. Your alignment with the rich and powerful is completely upside down from the way of the Christ. Sometimes I wonder who you think your “neighbors” are. If you continue to call yourself a Christian, then it would make sense to use the same definition your Christ used. If this has slipped your mind, then please read again the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10. Respectfully, Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Dear Nice Person Who Asked About My Recent Letter to Senator Cruz

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Nice Person,

Thank you for writing and thank you for your questions about my pastoral reflections for Senator Ted Cruz.

I’m impressed with your questions. More than that, though, I am pleased to see your willingness to engage in honest conversation with someone who holds different opinions. That kind of curiosity and openness is lacking in our current public dialog and I applaud your effort.

You are a student in a conservative Christian school and I am a progressive Christian pastor. You say you were “intrigued” by my letter and I can only assume that is because you have had very few opportunities to hear an articulation of Christian faith from a perspective that is different from your own. I get that; I was raised fundamentalist and it was years before I was able to see how very, very large this Christian tent actually is. I love that about our faith, but I know a lot of people are threatened by such diversity. I hope our conversation will help you see diversity is not harmful but instead is immensely helpful and healthy. Continue reading Dear Nice Person Who Asked About My Recent Letter to Senator Cruz

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

Reality,

Possibility,

Community.

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.

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/finding-god-in-the-grief

Apache Virgin with Child courtesy of freshworship.org

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