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 seedlings are all pretty happy right now.

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.

Indivisible.

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?

Charlotte and Janie Talk about Health Care, Education and NASA

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 and now they are exploring their different expectations for health care in America. You can find their earlier conversation here.

Charlotte: I’m pleasantly surprised and grateful to see that you and I agree that there should be a basic right to health care in America. I think this is a growing belief for more and more people and probably the Affordable Care Act contributed to that expectation. Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk about Health Care, Education and NASA

When Nature becomes Un-Natural

In North Texas, when it’s time to get our gardens ready, we know well the temperamental temperament of our Texas climate. We know not to put our tomatoes out too early, but we can risk spinach and lettuce. In February, when I wrote this, it was 80 degrees during the day followed by a frost that hit us overnight. Texas gardeners are used to the swinging cycles of weather and we adjust and adapt.

All of us understand that weather cycles over the years of our lives. Some years are too hot, some are too wet, some are too dry. But many of us are noticing swings that are not typical in nature. Natural rhythms seem un-natural these days.

The questions keep coming and the debates rage: Is the climate changing? Why is the climate changing? What might be the human influences for climate change?

For centuries, within my own religious tradition, Christian contemplatives have envisioned an intimate connection between the health of the earth and the health of humanity. Religious people from within the three Abrahamic faiths carry forward ancient understandings of earth not as “nature” or “the environment” but rather as creation. We humans are charged by the Creator to be stewards and caretakers of that precious gift. Other spiritualities have long regarded earth as our Mother, a lovely metaphor this Christian embraces wholeheartedly.

But over our long Christian history, there have been alternative readings of our sacred texts. Western Christianity in particular has read the biblical creation stories as charge and blessing for the plundering of the earth. This dominionist approach within the dominant religion of the West has been seeping into the attitudes and contaminating the actions of policy makers and power brokers since before America became a nation.

Instead of honoring creation as a gift from our Creator, our precious earth became a warehouse of resources, a depository of commodities, an assembly line of raw material just waiting for humans to transform it all into something “useful.” Human beings are seen to be the end, the goal, the apex of nature and the earth as nothing more than the means to make us human consumers comfortable and our lives more convenient.

A few years ago, Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, assured his shareholders that fossil fuels are here to stay. “What good is it to save the planet,” he asked rhetorically, “if humanity suffers?” My guess is the unspoken, more truthful subtext of Tillerson’s question is: “what good is it to save the planet if our profits suffer.” Because surely he has to know that humanity will indeed suffer from this continued commodification of the earth. (I admit I may be too hard on Mr. Tillerson here. I am grateful to learn that ExxonMobil did urge the president to remain committed to the Paris climate accord.)

As a Christian, I challenge my fellow Christians to re-think our role as caretakers and stewards of God’s creation since it is our own tradition that has perverted our Scriptures and contributed to this contaminated belief that permeates our society. Even my Evangelical sisters and brothers can agree with me here: The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

The earth is not ours to use and misuse.

Rather it is ours to serve and protect.

Of all people, Christians of all stripes ought to be able to come together on this issue of Creation Care. And then, united in our Christian witness, we can join all our other fellow Americans to stand united against the plundering of God’s good earth. We can stand together for this earth that is our home, our womb, our Mother and our legacy for all our children for all the generations to come.

 

For my Evangelical Christian friends…

The Evangelical Environmental Network includes care of the earth within its pro-life commitment

For my religious friends of various faith traditions…

Here is a description of numerous faith based environmental organizations

For my non-religious friends…

PBS lists America’s 20 largest environmental organizations

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” Powerful words of uncertain origin

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.

 

Charlotte and Janie Talk About Health Care

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 and now they are exploring their different expectations for health care in America.

Introduction

One of President Obama’s most significant achievements was the Affordable Care Act, which expands medical coverage to several million previously-uninsured Americans. But it’s also one of his most controversial acts, and soon to be much more so when the Republican congress, with the backing of a Republican president, tries to make good on their long-standing promise (or threat!) to “Repeal and Replace.”

Rather than try to parse out the pros and cons of every detail of the ACA and the proposed replacement (whenever we get to see it), we’re going to start with the basics:

Do we agree there is, or should be, a basic right to healthcare?
Continue reading Charlotte and Janie Talk About Health Care

“Change Back”

Psychologist Harriet Lerner describes an interesting dynamic within family systems called the “change back” demand. Whenever any one person takes positive steps to change unhealthy patterns, everyone in the system is also forced to adjust. Lerner points out that even “good” change can be uncomfortable because the behavior patterns of the system become unpredictable and unfamiliar. Thus the demand: “change back.”

What we know is comfortable and what we are used to is predictable. But that which is unfamiliar is disorienting, distressing and distrusted. Continue reading “Change Back”

An Apology from an Embarrassed Christian to my non-Christian Friends

We American Christians are not doing a very good job of “christianing” these days. Maybe you could say we haven’t done a good job for our entire history. That would be fair.

I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.

I say this with all sincerity to you, my non-Christian friends who look at us and roll your eyes or scratch your heads or even curse under your breath. You’re right. We Christians suck at this Christian thing. Continue reading An Apology from an Embarrassed Christian to my non-Christian Friends

A Glass Half Full

The mother-wisdom I used to offer my children is coming back to me: Trouble and Goodness are both always abundant in this world and so the way we engage life depends on how we focus. We can focus our attention and our energy on what is negative and we will live our lives with anxiety, anger and fear. Or we can focus on what is positive and live our lives with gratitude, generosity and hope.

glass-half-full-webWe can say the glass is half empty or we can say the glass is half full. But it’s still the same glass. It’s still the same world. It’s still the same America.

I’ve been struggling to see the good in these days since the election. I’m anxious about the future of our nation. I’m angry that nearly unbridled power is being handed over to mean, ugly men. I’m afraid that our vision of an inclusive, compassionate America will be deeply damaged during the next four years.

I’m struggling to find my balance and to figure out how to focus my attention and energy. If these negative realities take over my vision, then I may become paralyzed; this feeling makes me want to crawl into my shell, pull the covers over my head, put my fingers in my ears and repeat “la-la-la-la…”

But today I will remember that positive realities are also at play. Today I will focus on the good, the healthy and the helpful. I will continue to believe that our collective goodness is greater than the darkness that threatens our nation. Continue reading A Glass Half Full

The Third Day

On the first day, I was in shock. Not because of the gross error of pundits and polls, but because of my overwhelming confusion that my fellow Americans could possibly have voted in favor of a man who embodies such anti-American attitudes and actions.

On the second day, the reality began to settle in. The classic grief cycle was in full swing and my shock and denial moved to anger.

On the third day, I awoke with a glimmer of hope. Continue reading The Third Day