I Once Was Blind But Now I See

These words, of course, come from the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace. Most of us have heard its famous melody, either in church or in a funeral chapel. Or maybe your favorite version comes from Willie Nelson or The Three Tenors or Mahalia Jackson or Judy Collins or Aretha Franklin or Elvis.

Remember back in 2015, when we were grieving the horrific murder of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and his little Wednesday night Bible study group at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston? And then remember how we took comfort at President Obama’s moving eulogy, wiping tears as our Pastor in Chief broke into song:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!

You also may have heard the story behind the poem. It’s a story that will “preach” (as we preachers like to say), but it’s also a story that has captured the imagination of cinema and Broadway.

John Newton, as the story goes, was raised in England by a devout mother but in his youth he chose a life of drinking and brawling and then as crew on slaving ships between West Africa and England. Once, while carrying its horrific human cargo, Newton’s ship sank and his near death experience drove him to faith. He eventually became an Anglican priest and wrote the words of this poem for his New Year’s Day sermon in 1773.

The powerful themes of repentance and redemption and grace remain as crucial to us now as they were to John Newton.

America’s original sin of white supremacy and racism still haunts us, hinders us and holds us back from true greatness.

Continue reading I Once Was Blind But Now I See

Counterproductive Progressivism

I recently blogged an apology to Conservatives, admitting we Liberals all too often do not live up to our stated ideals of tolerance, open mindedness and generosity. The push back was immense. Quite a few disagreed and disagreed strongly; however, their conversation was civil and reasonable. Several other Liberal readers made my point for me though; their comments were filled with name calling, profanity, and ridicule.

More than a few Conservative commenters thanked me for the blog since they have been blasted by some of this “progressive” regression simply by stating their opinions in cyberspace discussion threads. Disagreement is not the problem. I’m much smarter whenever I’m forced to rethink and articulate my argument in the face of an opposing viewpoint. But insults are always a problem. We Progressives don’t like it when the name calling comes from the Right; so we absolutely ought to disavow it whenever it comes from the Left.

Such Liberal intolerance is counterproductive.

We are shooting ourselves in the foot. Continue reading Counterproductive Progressivism

An Apology from an Embarrassed Liberal to my Conservative Friends

Some time ago, I wrote my apology from an embarrassed Christian to my non-Christian friends. Liberals loved it. But I’m guessing my Liberal friends are not going to embrace this letter so quickly. We’ll see.

I help admin the Coffee Party USA Facebook page that invites discussion across our differences. The page has a large following and one of my tasks is to monitor the comments. (This responsibility is particularly ironic given my past refusal to ever, ever, ever read and engage cyberspace comments!) The Coffee Party Facebook effort is committed to civil dialogue around important issues of our day. Some posts generate hundreds of comments and most often, the conversation is intellectual and respectful.

But then again, all too often, the conversation devolves into childish name-calling.

I’m embarrassed to say that (all too often) some of the worst offenders are my fellow Liberals. Continue reading An Apology from an Embarrassed Liberal to my Conservative Friends

It’s None of Your Business. Except When It Is

Some years ago, a speaker at my seminary told us bluntly: “What God is doing is none of your business.”

I was appalled. And my reaction reveals that (yes, I admit) I do have some control issues.

Sometimes we religious folks are tempted to think we know who God does and doesn’t love, what God is up to and what God thinks about every situation. It’s an idolatrous temptation that Anne Lamott warns us against:

You can safely assume you have created god in your own image when your god hates all the same people you do.

Of all people, religious people ought to acknowledge divine mystery. We should have learned by now that God never has and never will fit into any of our boxes. What God is doing really is none of our business. Continue reading It’s None of Your Business. Except When It Is

Charlotte and Janie talk about the Affordable Care Act: How Can We Make it Better?

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.


You and I wound our way through a couple of discussions that brought us to a shared conclusion that Americans should have access to affordable medical insurance and health care. Now we are considering our differences of opinion on the role of government; should federal and state funds be used to provide health care and subsidize insurance plans? Is that a proper function of government? I say yes. Continue reading Charlotte and Janie talk about the Affordable Care Act: How Can We Make it Better?

Charlotte’s Letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick

Austin, Texas

Dear Mr. Patrick,

I am a woman who was in a compromising situation recently. I really really needed to go, and the women’s bathroom was locked so I used the men’s restroom instead. Would your proposal for a “bathroom bill” here in Texas require me to be arrested?

I find it strange that you and too many other Texas lawmakers are fixated on this issue. When I went into the men’s restroom, I knocked first, went in to use a stall and closed the door behind me. There was plenty of privacy; I didn’t threaten anyone and I didn’t feel threatened. I just did my business, washed my hands and went on my way. Isn’t this what most Texans do? Why on earth has using the bathroom become a political issue?

Requiring folks to use the gendered bathroom in line with their birth certificate is bizarre in so many ways.

Who is going to be there to check birth certificates? What do you propose they should do about me, pressured and stymied by a locked door? What about all the non-Texans who know very well this is a non-issue but come here to find themselves accosted by bathroom police? Will our businesses suffer? (Besides I thought Republicans liked business! Why aren’t you respecting their voices in this debate?) What about the numerous law enforcement officials who have come out against this bill? (I thought Republicans like law and order!)

Your effort to police our bathrooms failed in the regular session and now you and Gov. Abbott are forcing this issue down our Texas throats once again in a special session. There are definitely some issues our legislators need to deal with in Texas; which bathroom a law-abiding person uses is not even on the list of real issues.

I have to Wonder if your Christian values are truly Christian

I assume you must be proud of your highly touted Operation One Million Voices campaign. I suppose you think this is in line with “Christian” values: preserving purity and all that.

But as a Christian minister, I believe this effort of yours is wrong headed, unkind and unchristian.

I get that you don’t understand the experience of transgendered people, but just because you are Lt. Governor doesn’t mean you get to name their experience for them.

In fact, your legal, moral, ethical and Christian obligation is to protect these misunderstood people from those who would persecute and harm them.

They are the fragile ones in this scenario; not you.

Kimberly Shappley’s Christianity Shows Us Grace

Have you met Kai Shappley or heard her story? She is a kindergartener, a beautiful little girl, one of God’s precious children. Her mom, Kimberly, is a very conservative Republican and a pious Christian. Even so, Kai has taught her mom – and many more of us – that some life experiences do not fit into our cookie cutter expectations. When that happens, our Christianity calls us to offer grace. When that happens, our humanity demands that we live in love.

Remember these core Christian values?

Love others as you love yourself?

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

Surely you learned this in Sunday School. Have you forgotten such deep and obvious truth?

Mr. Patrick, please leave these poor people alone. They have enough to deal with already.

Please return to authentic Conservative values and allow people to live their lives without government interference.

You too have enough to deal with. Please get back to governing and stop using governmental powers to persecute some of our most vulnerable citizens. Texas has plenty of other issues you need to be working on. With all due respect, get to it.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. Charlotte Vaughan Coyle


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She 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.

Applauding Violence

The media stars were gushing. 59 missiles ripped into Syria and the media pronounced the president “presidential.” Praise burbled from both sides of the aisle in spite of the fact that the president scorned Congress’s required consent. The “mother of all bombs” caved in a mountain in Afghanistan; popularity polls jumped and the Western world applauded.

We’ve been down this road before. Fourteen years ago, a media desperate for readers, a Congress desperate for voters and an administration desperate for approval manipulated the American public’s support for invasion and war. But US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq did not bring security and peace; rather we are the ones who created this current enemy, feeding their hatred and fueling the passion of ideological recruits.

The spiral continues.

This insatiable thirst for war and a voracious hunger for conquest have nothing to do with honor; this is the deep shame of humanity. Continue reading Applauding Violence

The Problem with Unity is Uniformity

Our garden is looking really good. In this little corner of Texas, we’ve had just the right amount of rain and sun so our enthusiastic plants have been pretty happy.

I call it our “garden” as if it is one thing; and it is. But our tomatoes, okra and beans; our lilies, marigolds and daisies; our oregano, thyme and basil are obviously very different elements of our one garden. We planted for diversity on purpose.

Diversity is the whole point of a garden.

Our garden is one whole thing – and all the very different plants make up the unified whole. Like our bodies – arms and legs and hearts and kidneys: one body with all its parts. Like our families – moms and dads and babies and teens and grandparents: one family with all its members.

Like our nation.

One nation.

Under God.


Over the years since our founding, America’s diversity has mushroomed. Not surprisingly. Here is a land of opportunity. Here is a nation of welcome. Here is a people who have benefited immensely from the gifts and gratitude of those who have been folded into this American community. No wonder people across the globe find their way to America. No wonder the face of America has changed dramatically from its early days.

But this growing diversity has created tension again and again throughout our history and the sharp outcries we hear today shouldn’t surprise us. Resisting diversity and resenting those who are “different” has long been a shadow side of this nation of welcome.

I’m thinking one reason we humans have trouble with this is because we sometimes work out of a mistaken definition of “unity.” If I define this “one nation” as a united people just because they look and think and speak like I do, then I am not describing unity. Rather what I am actually describing is  “uniformity.”

Uniformity is quite comfortable and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Throughout human history, we tend to find others who are like us and so we create homogeneous groups for ourselves. Clubs, churches, political parties… This shouldn’t surprise us either. Our tribal instincts run deep.

But there is another way.

We can find comfort with like-minded people at the same time we appreciate the stimulation of people who look and think and speak differently. We can enjoy both the security of a uniform group and realize the value of a diverse group.

Homogeneous groups can help affirm who we are.

Diverse groups can help us grow to be better than we are.

What a boring world this would be if uniformity were the natural pattern! Instead, nature itself teaches us that unity-in-diversity is the norm. My beautiful garden. Our remarkable bodies. Oceans and ecosystems and galaxies. Our precious sometimes crazy, mixed up families.

“Unity” is not “uniformity.”

So too, our “one nation under God indivisible” is not a uniform, homogeneous nation. It is not supposed to be, and we never have, never can find our unity in any sort of cookie-cutter uniformity. Instead our unity has always, will always arise out of our shared values and our common dreams: liberty and justice for all.

We the people…” our founding document declares; “in order to form a more perfect union…”

It is a union our Fathers birthed for us; all of us – the people. These fifty wildly different states. Our precious sometimes crazy, mixed up nation.

It was a union the Founders conceived in the midst of the creative diversity of their day and it is a union still being perfected here in the ethnic, religious and intellectual diversity of our own day.

And it is here – only here – in our differences; right here in all our wild and amazing diversity that we will ever find our true unity.

Old and Young. Rich and Poor. Gay and Straight. Religious and Humanist. Black and White and Brown.

E pluribus unum. From many, one.

When we move out of our uniform, homogeneous tribes and recognize the shared humanity inherent within our wide-ranging diversity, that’s when we will discover a glimpse of a true unity that is far better than any sort of uniformity.

Like in my garden, our mothers and fathers planted the seeds and then passed on to us the task of tending, nourishing and relishing the vibrancy of this rich estate. If we are wise, cultivating the founding vision of this great nation, then we will be able to reap an abundant harvest of peace and prosperity, fairness and security, liberty and justice for all.


The above photo isn’t really our garden although it’s similar. This is a James Quinn photo from the University of Missouri Extension.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She 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.

The Center of the Universe

Remember Copernicus? In 1543, he published his theory of a heliocentric solar system, positing that the earth was not, in fact, the center of the universe. Rather against all conventional wisdom, Copernicus insisted the sun was at the center while the earth, just like all the other planets, rotated in its ordered sphere.

Not surprisingly, his work was highly controversial. Not only by other scientists but also by the religious leaders of his day. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers rejected the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe.

Fast forward to 2017 and see the dramatic difference in our conventional wisdom about space, and watch how even what we think we know keeps shifting as new planets continue to be discovered across the galaxy. Quite recently, we earthlings pondered the significance of seven new earth-like planets that have been found orbiting a nearby star.

So now we know, we are not the center of the universe.

So why do we keep acting as though we are?

Continue reading The Center of the Universe

Charlotte and Janie Talk about Government: What is it and what is it for?

Janie and Charlotte were best friends in college. They still maintain a good friendship even though they have some different perspectives on politics, culture and theology: Janie grew to the “Right” while Charlotte grew to the “Left.” They have maintained their friendship and now talk about their differences in a shared blog. Charlotte and Janie published four conversations on religious liberty.

Recently they have been exploring their different expectations for health care and education in America. You can find their earlier conversation here. The current conversation seeks to lay some foundation about how they understand the fundamental nature of government.
Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk about Government: What is it and what is it for?