Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pro-Life and yet ... Pro-Obama

Abortion is the poster child of election issues for Catholic voters. Just like the ragged kid with the haunted eyes on the Save the Children posters, the all-out modern assault on the unborn tears at our emotions. We are sickened, angered, grieving, and humbled by our impotence to protect so many innocent lives.

I am just a little cautious about basing important decisions on such strong emotion. I think about all the Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, even though many of them were very dissatisfied with his performance in his first term. Many people were motivated by the visceral fear and anger that had been stirred up on 9/11/2001, and that may have been magnified and exploited by the White House in order to motivate support for the administration and its policies. Many of the same people who let that strong emotion guide their decision now regret it. In the case of abortion, it's the guilt factor -- if you really cared about all those babies you'd vote GOP, no matter what!

It's not that I think we shouldn't take abortion into account in our voting decisions -- we absolutely should! It's just that I think we need to step back a little bit and try to look as objectively as we can at the concrete choice that confronts us. I feel a little bit as though the GOP has been telling us for years, "you're deathly ill so you need to let us bleed you! You need to take this magic elixir, because you're deathly ill!" We're deathly ill, all right. Our culture has become deadly hedonistic, utterly self-indulgent; sex on the first date is standard prime-time fare, and abortion IS used as birth control (take it from me, I've been out there single for a long time, this is something I know for a fact). But does voting GOP actually have any positive effect, or are they just pandering to our emotions and selling us snake oil? McCain's more anti-abortion than Obama, but he does not espouse a consistent respect for the unborn, either (supports embryonic stem-cell research).

And let's be clear, here. Obama is NOT the pro-life candidate, like a lot of my fellow lefty Catholics have tried to paint him, despite any fetal lives that may be saved by broader health care, and an expanded safety net in general. His comment about not wanting his daughters -- who have great health insurance and well-to-do parents -- to be "punished with a baby" if they should slip up in their sexual morals made it crystal clear. Given the chance, it seems that he will weaken any tiny margin of legal protection that the unborn have now.

But that's the crux of it, at least part of it: I am convinced that his or any other politician's impact on abortion is going to be very marginal, even if half of the Supreme Court were to turn over during the next 4 years. Reversing Roe vs. Wade would throw the question back to the states, and the fight there would be hot and ugly, and probably not very successful in very many places, and anyway how hard would it be to cross state lines for an abortion? Oh, a few lives would no doubt be saved, but the respite would be tenuous at best. The battle we have to fight is cultural, not legal. Legal restrictions on abortion will be meaningless, and probably unenforceable, unless they follow public opinion. We'd end up creating "martyrs" out of women with truly tough circumstances, and the whole attempt would backfire on us.

I recognize that Obama has terrific cultural appeal, as well, and unfortunately he may influence some young people in the wrong direction on this question. But again, so many people are already so far gone in the wrong direction, and so hardened in their positions, that I just don't think his impact, or McCain-Palin's, conversely, will be very great.

I've been a Democrat all my life, my family is all Democrat, probably all my friends are Democrats, nearly all my neighbors are Democrats (my county went for Kerry by something like 89%), and most of them are party-line pro-choice. Now, if you can radically lower the tone of the discussion ... maybe late in the evening, in a small close group, over the 3rd or 4th glass of wine ... thoughtful people will acknowledge that maybe the abortion-on-demand, no-questions-asked status quo goes a little too far. Maybe they would support banning late-term abortions, at least partial-birth abortions; maybe parental notification, with vigilance in case of abusive parents; certainly better informed-consent provisions (i.e., counseling of the mother). Maybe more, maybe they'd even support outlawing abortion except where the mother's life or health is really in danger. But they'd never admit any moderation in public! And they're really, really wary of that "slippery slope": they really don't want to give up their freedom, their autonomy.

And maybe they're right. Ultimately, God gives us free will, even though we misuse it daily. Ultimately, it's not about the brief suffering of the babies, it's about the everlasting fate of the perpetrators, the mothers and their doctors. It IS about choice, it is about conscience. No, I don't advocate abolishing laws. I totally advocate reversing Roe vs. Wade. I'm just saying that right now, today, until we can somehow restore the public's sense of horror about abortion, Roe vs. Wade is not the battle we need to be fighting. In fact, to reverse it now, as polarized as people are on this issue, would probably make it even harder to bring about the cultural change that will solidify pro-life laws, and really save lives.

You know, I read the Office of Readings every day. A lot of prophets. You know, before the exile to Babylon, one of the things the prophets condemned the people for was sacrificing their own children to a pagan god, Molech. What is amazing, though, is how little ink is spent on that particular horrific sin. Idolatry in general seems to be the number one issue, with child sacrifice and ritual prostitution being only the most outrageous manifestations of it. Social injustice, dishonest business dealings that impoverished others, covetousness and lack of charity, violence in general were all condemned. As horrendous, and as unequivocally condemned, as child sacrifice was, it was not singled out by the prophets among all the other sins of the people.

So ... Obama's attitude toward abortion is totally unacceptable. And yet, I am supporting him -- enthusiastically. I have the bumper sticker, I have the t-shirt. I get teary at the speeches. If I thought the next president would have more than a very marginal impact on the abortion craze, I would think twice about it. As it is, I pray for the heart-wrenching poster child, do my part to witness to the pro-life message among my friends and family, and then turn to what is really at stake in this election.

Other pro-life issues: Obama has worked effectively to save lives from capital punishment; and he opposed the war in Iraq, that was judged "unjust" by Pope John Paul II as well as our current Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger. McCain is on the wrong side of those issues.

America's image internationally, her relationships with other countries. This one, not abortion, is the number-one issue for me. We've had 8 years with a shoot-em-up cowboy, a playground bully. We do NOT need to go from that to an angry old man with a pit bull for back up. McCain seems to be haunted by our loss in the Vietnam War -- he talks and talks about how we can't quit in Iraq before we've won, but what would "winning" look like? We did win as the goal was originally stated, we deposed Saddam Hussein, but we did it so thoughtlessly that we threw Iraq into bloody chaos. What is the new definition of "winning" there? We need to be responsible about how we get out, but part of it needs to be to internationalize the stabilizing forces that support and train the still-new government there to stand alone. After Bush flipped off the UN and any ally who wouldn't accede to his illegal, unjust war, they have been understandably unwilling to send their troops into harm's way to help clean up the mess. McCain was for the war from the beginning, I don't see the allies helping him out there, either. But with Obama, they might. He spoke out against the war along with the allies, in 2003; maybe in 2009 they will come along and help him to pick up the pieces of the country that crazy cowboy broke. Did you know that 200,000 people went out to see Barack Obama speak in Berlin? He is extraordinarily popular overseas. If America's allies could vote, Obama would win by a landslide. Update: What this guy said

The economy. Of course, Obama's steadiness contrasts with McCain's erratic behavior. And on fundamental economic philosophy -- well, I never was a believer in the trickle-down approach. The gap between rich and poor has yawned wide open in recent years. Obama seems to be very rooted in social justice and the empowerment of marginalized communities and individuals. Poor working people can create jobs, too, if they can get a break -- there's just as much entrepreneurial spirit at the bottom as at the top, and and small, local businesses are in the aggregate (though not necessarily individually) a more stable and reliable base. Big business is not the be-all and end-all of "growing the economy", in fact it's a lot more likely to go chasing the bottom of the global markets for labor and other production inputs.

I was also never a big believer in rampant deregulation. I just don't have that much faith in the good intentions of the rich and powerful. Business has to be regulated; at the same time, regulations can't be so complicated, time-consuming and expensive to comply with that they create a serious lag on entrepreneurship. Obama has a record of consensus-building and creativity in crafting pragmatic solutions to real problems. A short record, granted, but his reputation both in academia and government is that of pragmatism and consensus-building. I wish I could cite the articles I've read to that effect, but I'm neither an academic nor a journalist, and I never think to keep track of that stuff. Sorry. Google it.

I have more faith in Obama's health-care plan than McCain's. He's "greener", more proactively supportive of clean, alternative energy -- Palin isn't even convinced humans are causing climate change. Oh yeah, Palin. The Couric interviews. Her ditsy performance generally. Comparing her years of experience with Obama's is just beside the point -- listen to them talk! Obama obviously understands the issues in depth. Palin obviously does not. Oh, she's a smart lady, I wouldn't call her a ditz if she were interviewing for some lesser job -- but well, doesn't McCain all of a sudden look a whole lot older? I mean, his age, his mortality, looms larger the more we see of his running mate. The thought of him in an ambulance and her all of a sudden at the helm ... oh no, no, no, no, no. No!

The way Obama has run his campaign is extremely impressive. Tons of volunteers all over the country, decentralized but perfectly coordinated, with a pragmatic strategy based on a perfect grasp of the convoluted electoral system. No, he hasn't been an executive, but this shows some serious executive talent.

There's something more, though, something indefinable. Obama really does inspire, he really does raise the level of discourse. It's as Ted Kennedy said, he makes us listen to "the angels of our better nature" (or something like that). Hope matters. Politics has been so dirty, so cynical and so untrusted, I guess ever since Watergate. We need someone to look up to. Someone who can lead, and make us want to follow. At least, I do, some of us do, some of us are tired of dirty politics and really want a change. You know, I am a Christian ... I believe in hope. Hope matters.

Obama/Biden '08

Monday, October 13, 2008


Today was a very good day.

Mondays I spend the morning at a hospice run by some very nice young nuns (I think it's their novitiate, actually). I've been struggling with it a bit. I wanted to volunteer to Bring Love and Hope to the Dying!!! To Share my Compassion and Empathy with the Suffering!!! You know, those lofty ideals. But what I am asked to do is to sweep and mop and make beds and hang laundry.

Well, once I had been there a couple of times, it dawned on me that these ladies are subjected to different random volunteers every day of the week, and half of us probably want to Love Them As We Love Ourselves. What, they're supposed to bare their hearts and cry on our shoulders just because we want to offer our shoulders to someone, any random suffering soul, to cry on? Uhhhh... maybe not. There IS time and opportunity, for a few minutes here and there, to sit and chat with one or another of the residents, but -- well, you know, they are grown, dignified women whose dignity is seriously under siege. Some space, please! Yes, it has occurred to me that perhaps after they have gotten used to me, seen me show up regularly to sweep and mop and smile and remember their names, not pushing myself on them, eventually I might become someone to whom they feel comfortable turning when they get down about their situation. Meanwhile, I mop.

And today I got 3 spontaneous hugs! This is out of about 11 or 12 women. 3 hugs! Wow! Even crusty J was congenial, and even A was polite! The first time I met A, she gave me the evil eye and told me to Go Away. Today she was perfectly respectful :-D

I also got told explicitly by a couple of them that they are very happy to be living there. Oh, the first few times I visited, it just seemed awful! They are told what to do and when to do it, what they are allowed to eat, when they have to get up out of bed in the mornings, there is even a dress code (no shorts or tank tops, same applies to the volunteers). You know, I'm not really good at obedience. I'm open to poverty, and chastity's not bothering me these days, but Obedience ... shudder. That's the big scary one. (I think I'm called to be a hermit, but I will not be surprised if God makes me face up to obedience of these days anyway! I hope not). But last week I realized that the residents are just like nuns themselves, living poverty, chastity, and obedience, and a life in community. In a religious house, in a religious context - e.g. they pray the rosary together every morning between breakfast and lunch. And although they are sick and all alone in the world, and maybe their options are limited, they do have the choice to stay or leave, none of them have been involuntary committed by family or anything like that. One of them did leave, over the weekend, and that's how it came up that G told me "they'd have to pry my fingers off the door jamb to get me to leave." Huh. I do live and learn.

Another thing went well today. One of the things that has bothered me about the place is that these perky young novices seem, in my middle-aged opinion, sometimes to fail to respect the dignity of the old, sick and disabled bodies. More than once I have walked past a door -- or even been told to go in and start sweeping a room -- where one of the ladies is having her diaper changed or is otherwise indecently exposed. I think perhaps some young women don't see very old women's bodies anymore as women's bodies -- but from the inside, well I betcha that old woman still feels the same shame at being caught with her skirts up. Last Monday I said something to one of the young sisters about it, and this morning she asked me and another volunteer (a teenage girl) to please leave the room while she washed one of the residents. I was so happy and proud! Oh, I hope she took it to heart, and does the same Tuesday - Sunday when I'm not there.

I didn't want to go this morning. But I do want to go next Monday! A very blessed day.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Discernment: the Wild Ride

I've been reading back through this blog, and I just have to laugh. This discernment process has been up and down and around in circles! OK, so there are some essentials that have not changed: I want to live a life consecrated to God, dedicated to God, dependent on God. I want to live stability, conversatio mora, poverty and chastity. Obedience, not so much, LOL -- no, really, obedience to God as He speaks in my heart, absolutely.

But the particulars? The path? Ay, ay, ay. I'm sitting here sipping a glass of wine -- thankfully I haven't had any violently upset stomach since the one that drove me to all of about 3 or 4 AA meetings a couple of months ago. Who knows what made me sick. I said I would go to 30 meetings, but I didn't ... I just wasn't there, ya know? Anyway, I don't think I'm an alcoholic, even though I should quit drinking because of poverty, and fasting, and fattening, and depressing, and etc, and I haven't actually quit drinking. I don't think I am an alcoholic, I just think I am undisciplined and self-indulgent. I went to the wine store today to buy wine for my cousin's party, and while I was there I grabbed a big handful of Smarties candies. Ate them all -- must have been 20 rolls -- one after the other, on my way to the party. Oh, Regina! I have the AA insanity, it's just not particularly tied to alcohol.

Well, and going back to how convinced I was that I would enter the convent, this time last year. That slipped away, even before I found out about Canon 603, that was just a happy reinforcement of the lifestyle I was already feeling my way towards.

And I haven't done that whole deep memory-dredging about my 20+ year-old sexual history. My spiritual director wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea, for one thing. And then I lost enthusiasm, too. Maybe I chickened out, took the easy way. Or maybe it was just emotion stirred up by a dream, and I took it too literally? Who knows.

In every case, a seed has been planted. I am not just zig-zagging, I'm circling. I come back to poverty & fasting over and over; the same with penance, and virtue, the same with sloth vs. holy leisure, the same with society vs. solitude. None of these "false starts" are really dead ends. None of them are even false starts! I get frustrated with myself because I make a commitment and then turn back on it (like 30 AA meetings). But then I think, maybe I am too glib about making commitments, given how my whole life, my vocation and my whole definition of myself is in flux these days. Take it easy, girl! All in God's time, all in God's way, no rushing, no pushing. Let it be, let it happen, let it unfold.

Ya -- it's past my bed time. Watch over me, Lord, I am in your hands.

Not enough solitude & silence

..... how to protect my private time? I keep thinking, "when I get out of town", when I get out into the country it will be different. But if I am to make any pretense at living as a hermit, I need to make some choices myself. I need to turn things down, even invitations to do good things with good people, family, community, even church. The new Chant Schola rehearses this morning. I want to learn more about chant ... I love to sing! ... I am the best and strongest singer in the group, and honestly, if it is to be a 4-part choir they really need me. But it rehearses every Saturday morning for an hour. No! Too much! I want to be nesting, building my nest. I want to go to the nursery and pick up some shrubs for the front border. I want to cook. I want to clean the chicken coop. I want to pack up the contents of the furniture that needs to be moved in order to furnish the rooms for paying guests, that will enable me to finally get out of town.

But this afternoon I am going to my cousin's housewarming party. This is a 3rd cousin, not a very close relative, but I very much value strong ties with the whole extended clan and it would be difficult to break that habit. And last night, there was a get-together of the "Ladies Auxiliary" (this is a purely social group) -- great community-building opportunity! Wonderful gals, it's the first time I've ever had really comfortable friendships with women, and I like it ... OK, last night there was a little too much talk about pregnancy and childbirth for this celibate to relate to, but there was enough other to be enjoyable.

Up until now I have thought of retreating into a hermitage as being a sweet indulgence for my introverted self. Going to work every day, in a very sociable office, was torment -- even having a private office I could shut the door to, not a cubicle like my poor mom has to work in. When I get out of town on occasion, away from the traffic and being constantly surrounded by people for a while, I can feel the stress fall away immediately.

But I am starting to see that if I am going to be a hermit, there will be some sacrifices. Some of the withdrawal will be painful, it won't all be sweet. I don't hate people, I just love solitude. There are times I enjoy being with folks, but as good as it can be, it pulls me away from the rhythm of the "cloister", and I feel thrown off. It's OK, all I really need is God, I know I can live with Him alone ... but it is going to be a learning process, an adjustment.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of work to do to outfit the house for renters, so I can get out of town once and for all. Good Lord, bless my hands, illuminate my mind with the next right thing to be done, and protect me from confusing your direction with the lures of the world or my own selfish will. Amen.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Yield Not to Temptation"

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each vict'ry will help you some other to win.
Move hopefully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus, He'll carry you through.

Ask the Savior to help you, Comfort, strengthen and keep you.
He is willing to aid you, He will carry you through.

Shun evil companions, bad language disdain,
God's name hold in rev'rence, nor take it in vain.
Be thoughtful and earnest, kind-hearted and true.
Look ever to Jesus, He'll carry you through.

To those that o'ercometh God giveth a crown.
Thro' faith we will conquer, tho' often cast down.
He who is our Savior, our strength will renew.
Look ever to Jesus, He'll carry you through.
I have been practicing piano by playing hymns, and I came across this one. I thought, how quaint! but faintly embarrassing! Gosh darn it, when did it get to be embarrassing to resist temptation, and strive to live a virtuous life? Ugh, I am so much a part of this cynical, self-indulgent, "me first" generation. Well ... doggone it, I am going to claim this hymn as my anthem. Sing it loud, sing it proud. I'll be a Christian yet! At least, with the grace of God, I can be a better one than I am now. Amen.