Which Story Will We Choose?

Generally I try to resist Black/White dualities in my thinking and speaking. I’ve discovered that endless greys (or maybe a rainbow pallet) is a much better way to paint our human family.

That said, we humans do tend to think in Light/Dark, Good/Bad, Up/Down, In/Out categories; they are convenient handles that help us conceptualize the Big Picture of our world.

When President Obama spoke at the centennial celebration of Nelson Mandela in 2018, he talked about “two different visions, two different stories, two different narratives;” two broad approaches to understanding – and living in – the world.

We now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world.

Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be.

Continue reading Which Story Will We Choose?

Guns, Oil, Books: Follow the Money

The recent push back to the climate activism of Greta Thurnberg surprised me. And then it didn’t.

It reminds me of similar condemnations of the Parkland survivors who rallied a nation to protest our national epidemic of gun violence.

Then I wondered – what about the activism of Malala Yousafzai? Where was the outrage when she stood against the Taliban and insisted on every girls’ rights to an education?

  • Where were the photoshopped photos of Malala and George Soros?
  • Where were the cries of feigned concern that she was a child being exploited by adults?
  • Where were the fabricated stories claiming she and her parents were paid actors?
  • Where were the sniffs of indignation: how dare she scold? What does she know? She’s just a girl (and an ugly one at that).

Did I miss something?

Follow the Money
Continue reading Guns, Oil, Books: Follow the Money

When Difference Doesn’t Divide

Many families probably have some version of the old rule: never talk about religion or politics.

I’m from the South and this axiom has helped me through many a family reunion. Sometimes, there are some topics that just are not worth getting into.

But then – sometimes – open, honest conversation about the things we hold dear is very much worth it.

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to Texas last spring to visit with Joe and Daniel Aguilar: both life long Republicans and passionate Evangelicals. Joe, the dad, supports President Trump; Daniel, the son, does not.

Ms. Bruenig invited them to traverse this religious-political minefield together and they accepted the challenge.

Research has revealed a surprising continuity between older and younger evangelicals [with] young white evangelicals voting for Trump at roughly the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

But a fraction — less than 20 percent — didn’t, and Daniel was among them.

Most of us have been shaped by people we love and so it makes sense that consistent views about countless topics, including religion and politics, will continue across generations; we are inevitably influenced by the people who raised us. Young adults often embrace the values of their parents and grandparents uncritically because of the strength of familial ties. Because “this is who we are.”

As we mature throughout adulthood however, we question, challenge or even reject this generational family uniformity.

Discovering “this is who I am” while still respecting the power of “this is who we are” is the tricky journey of countless generations of young people.

Joe and Daniel Aguilar show us how to navigate these waters.

Continue reading When Difference Doesn’t Divide

Alright then. I’ll Just Go To Hell

The literary and moral turning point of Mark Twain’s iconic Huckleberry Finn makes me tear up every time.

Juvenile delinquent, Huck, and runaway slave, Jim, team up on a raft on the Mississippi River, sharing adventures, sharing life. Pretty soon, Huck realizes they have become friends – an epiphany that creates an existential crisis.  

Huck’s conscience indicts him: it is wrong to steal someone else’s property. It is wrong to lie. It is wrong for a black man to go outside his proper place. And it is wrong for Huck to help him.

Clear, obvious and universal wrongs.


So the entire story turns on Huck’s decision – not only to sin against fundamental rules of his society, but also (as he had been taught) – to sin against foundational laws of God.

“All right then. I’ll go to hell.”

Growing up as a Southern Conservative Christian Woman, I know something about Huck’s world.

  • The racial prejudices of our society were baptized as God’s will.
  • The hierarchical, patriarchal order we created was presumed to be God’s universal and preordained plan for the world.
  • Time bound, culture bound social attitudes and practices were sanctioned and sanctified by the God we created in our own image.
Much like Huck, my own existential crisis snuck up on me.

First came the questions; suspicions that my Hierarchical World was built on some very shaky foundations.

Then came movement; removing myself from the echo chambers of my youth and intentionally engaging in (often uncomfortable) conversations with multiple voices.

Then these multiple voices became friends. It was the friendships that created my own existential crisis.

“Anthropology trumps theology,” my husband says.

When new and different opinions came from the mouths of trusted companions, somehow I was able to listen differently; to hear whispers of truth about the Human and Divine that had been muted by all the clamorous “No’s” of my previous world.

I began to hear truth about the Human Condition and Divine Grace that had never been able to reach my heart before: all of us are fully included in God’s unconditional love.

Once I experienced full inclusion for myself, then I realized I dare not withhold full inclusion for any of God’s other children. This epiphany prompted a new formula for living:

I would rather face God’s judgment for including everyone than to be judged for excluding any one of God’s children.

If I am to be judged, then judge me for my grace.

  • Grace for my queer as well as my homophobic family
  • Grace for the Jims as well as the Huckleberry Finns.
  • Grace for the lovers and grace for the haters.

Grace like Huck’s that will do whatever it takes to subvert the systemic powers that diminish, limit and exclude.

I hope Huck finally realized he was not going to hell because he loved Jim.

And I pray this discovery for my countless conservative sisters and brothers whose skewed theology keeps them trapped in their small, sad world of “No’s.”

I hope some day these otherwise good-hearted people will finally understand that hell is not some place we go; hell is what we create when we limit love and grace.

An Eye for an Eye

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to my own state of Texas last spring in order to talk to some of the Trump supporters who live here in “God’s Country.” Her summary of those conversations was published in the Washington Post in August 2019 and I’m still pondering her insightful analysis.

The marriage between conservative Christianity and conservative politics has changed both – dramatically.

The amalgam of white evangelical Christianity and the Republican Party is a relatively new development in the United States. But this re-creation of both church and politics has been around long enough so that most people of my children’s generation assume they have always been in bed together.

This unholy marriage shifted the power base within conservative politics while at the same time it has eroded the teachings of Jesus about the true nature of power, service and self-sacrifice.

What happened to “turn the other cheek”
Continue reading An Eye for an Eye

Is It The Truth?

Asperger’s Syndrome has my attention; I’ve been reading and researching and trying to understand some of its strange gifts as this way of being shapes the lives of some of the people I love.

I’m especially curious about how to help calm and reorient an Aspie child when they spiral out of control. Turns out, there is such a thing as a weighted belt that can allow someone to feel grounded and secure, even when the environment all around bombards them with confusing, disorienting stimuli.

Then it hit me: aren’t we all bombarded with confusing, disorienting stimuli these days?

Every single news cycle seems to spiral to some new level of crazy. How can any of us find a sense of calm? How can any of us feel secure when our world seems to be spiraling out of control?

Turns out, there is a belt for us too.

Tucked within the little book of Ephesians in the New Testament, there is a little picture painted: people of faith suited up in our protective gear against “the cosmic powers of darkness.” Righteousness, faithfulness, peace and wholeness are pictured as thwarting the dizzying spirals of this world’s injustice, violence and malice. And right there, at the center of our “armor,” is the belt of Truth.

Truth has taken a beating lately.

No matter where we are on the religious or political spectrum, we all are experiencing a crisis of truth. Which facts are most accurate? Whose analysis is right? Which preachers or politicians should we trust? We all know facts can be manipulated and messages too often become a product of spin. We all are tempted to open our hearts uncritically to people we trust and automatically disregard those we have pre-judged to be untrustworthy. It’s a chaotic spiral of confusing, disorienting stimuli.

Thank goodness there is a “belt” that can surround and ground us. Thank goodness there is Truth that is so much bigger than our little opinions and perspectives. Right now, during this crisis of truth throughout our society, all of us carry an extra responsibility to discern truth and to speak what is deeply, authentically and cosmically true.

And how do we do that?

Whether we are operating out of religious faith or responsible citizenship, let’s all seek to surround ourselves and ground ourselves in truth.

  • Let’s test everything we read and hear.
  • Let’s ask probing questions and research information.
  • Let’s Google the articles that show up in our Facebook feed and trash the ones that are suspect.
  • Let’s all be more curious and try to understand someone else’s point of view, and then be willing to change our minds and grow.

The Rotarians ask: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” An excellent test!

People of faith must ask, not just what is true? but also Who is Truth?

If we call ourselves God-followers, then we too (like Christ) must seek to embody truth in every thought, word and deed.

Only then can we find any real security within this chaotic world. Only then can we hope to influence our society to live according to cosmic truths of justice, mercy and love.

Also published in The Paris News, September 6, 2019 under the title: The Only Security is in Real Truth.

When Political Tension is a Good Thing

Political tension is built into the fabric of our nation. The Founders intentionally created a checks and balances tension that forces cooperation and enforces collaboration across political differences.

However …

  • …when “we” are in power, we wish those checks and balances were not in our way.
  • …but when “they” are in power, we are grateful for the tension that limits the tyranny of the majority.

Good tension maintains the strength of a suspension bridge; creates beautiful music from a guitar string; produces lovely woven and knitted fabrics.

But, of course, there are other meanings of the word “tension:” definitions that include words like headache, anxiety, stress, anger.

This is where too many of us find ourselves in today’s political climate. This is why Parker Palmer wrote his wonderful little book: Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit.

Continue reading When Political Tension is a Good Thing

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’re both grateful for this nation we call home. But, on that particular day, I was surprised to realize how ambivalent I felt about the national anthem and about this flag waving to me from my front yard.

Maybe my problem is with our checkered past.

On July 3, I usually stand on the portico of our County Courthouse and take my turn reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. Every year I cringe when we 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…”

The Founders abhorred those evil “merciless Indian Savages.”

Never mind the fact that it was Europeans who mercilessly slaughtered and displaced the Native Peoples as they took over the New World. Never mind the merciless savagery inherent in every war – even in the war for our own independence.

Mark Charles is a wise, bold Native American blogger who reminds us of this complicated American history. In his essay, Reflections from the Hogan: The Dilemma of the Fourth of July, Charles calls us to remember all our national history with all its troubling 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 civilized understanding that “all” means ALL. And we must acknowledge that we still have more growing to do.

Maybe my problem is with our checkered present.
Continue reading Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot

Across All Our Aisles

To The Paris News

Guest Column by Charlotte Coyle

Once again, I want to compliment our party chairs for the Party Views column offered regularly by The Paris News. This last one (Sunday, June 9, 2019) was especially good. Both Gary O’Connor and Chris Dux stuck to their point without (much) snark or (many) red flag words. This is what we want: your well reasoned rationale for your position. We readers are pretty discerning: we can see right through Straw Man arguments that attempt to sensationalize and demonize the other side.

Both Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Dux commented on the bipartisan efforts of our Texas Legislators displayed in this past legislative session. As O’Connor pointed out, one reason this across the aisle cooperation happened is because there are more Democrats seated in the House and the Senate since the 2018 midterm shift.

This is a good thing.

This greater balance is good for Texas and I hope all of us applaud the many ways more people can now participate in our public and political conversations. When most of our Representatives are White Christian Republican Males then we all suffer because this demographic does not at all represent the wide diversity of Texans. Even though the love of my life is a White Christian Male and I am ever so blessed to have him in my house, in the Texas House and Senate I expect a healthy balance of men and women, Republican and Democrat and Independent, a variety of Christian as well as non-Christian, gay and straight, rich and poor, white and black and brown. Only then will Texans be appropriated represented. Only then will our public laws and policies reflect the needs of all of us and protect the rights of everyone.

This political process is what our Founders intended. Even though I doubt they could have envisioned the diversity we enjoy today, still they understood that checks and balances force cooperation and ensure a process that limits the tyranny of the majority.

This is a good thing.

My hope is that we Texans will not feel this cooperation with one another is a burden but will instead recognize the gift and will take more opportunities to connect with our neighbors who think differently than we.

Consider checking out the On Being Civil Conversations Project on-line. Or look into the good work of Living Room Conversations and Better Angels. May more and more of us take the initiative to reach across all our various aisles.

Find the Civil Conversations Project here: https://onbeing.org/civil-conversations-project/

Join a Living Room Conversation here: https://www.livingroomconversations.org/

See what the Better Angels effort is doing here: https://www.better-angels.org/

Charlotte Coyle is a retired minister who lives in Paris. She blogs about intersections of faith, politics and culture at her website: CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com

The Healing Power of a Broken Heart: Healing the Heart of Democracy

I stopped writing for quite awhile after the 2016 election. When I finally began again, I admitted I had been Speechless in my anger, frustration and discouragement. I held my tongue, resisting the temptation to heap up mountains of indignant words while my heart was so raw.

It took awhile for me to find my voice again, to find enough balance to trust myself to speak in the public sphere. There are more than enough authors of outrage these days; I want my voice to be one of hope.

To this day, I mostly avoid listening to the voices of rage; instead I seek out other writers who hold onto hope so that I can learn from their wisdom and patience. These authors of hope are still often heartbroken, angry and frustrated but instead of giving into discouragement, they are finding ways to transform negatives into positives. They are living courage during this challenging time.

Parker Palmer is one of my favorite mentors of hope. His gentle honesty written in his On Being blogs encourages me; he models bold, outspoken integrity without any vicious hyperbole.

Recently I went back to his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy; it is helping me sort through my own (still) confused thinking and feeling about the state of our nation.

“Heart” for Palmer is that part of us humans that “integrates the intellect with the rest of our faculties, such as emotion, imagination, and intuition.” When he considers the “heart of democracy,” he ponders how we together as a society might find again our common purpose with reason and imagination.

Palmer sees a tragic heart-brokenness within all types of people these days. The ugliness and indignities, the divides and distortions, the breaks and barriers to personal, communal and political relationships all reveal a pervasive brokenness. Palmer says:

When the heart is brittle and shatters, it can scatter the seeds of violence and multiply our suffering among others…

Continue reading The Healing Power of a Broken Heart: Healing the Heart of Democracy