Archive for February, 2012
I’ve often spoken about the silent grief of miscarriages. I’ve spoken about how the mother, and father, will often bear the weight of the grief, when too few friends and family are willing to be sympathetic. Surely, the grief of miscarriages is a complicated grief process.
And yet, I’m not sure how it rivals the complicated grief that can result from an abortion.
While miscarriages can produce an intense sensation of guilt (after all, the very word seems to imply fault to the carrier of the child), I would speculate that the guilt doesn’t have the same potential as the guilt that can be produced by an abortion. And in all honesty — since we’ve never had a funeral service for an unnaturally aborted child — I simply have no basis to understand how both the grief and potential guilt is processed.
I can say, as one who has struggled for seven years to have a child, that it’s hard for me to understand how someone can abort something that I see as so precious. And, on the other hand — as one who also works with at-risk youth … youth who often find themselves pregnant in their early teens — it’s hard for me understand why so many evangelicals are so supportive of the idea of being pro-life and yet are totally unwilling to support the actions of being pro-life. If we acted pro-life, we may find that the abortion rates we so hate would begin to organically drop without any change of policy.
But no, Christians like to talk pro-life. We spout the rhetoric so that we can ignore the sacrifice that comes with both finding and supporting those who are unexpectedly expecting.
Is is possible that a person can be both pro-life and abort their child? Here’s a story from over at Slate.com:
This week my son turned blue, and for 30 terrifying seconds, stopped breathing. Called an “apnea seizure,” this is one stage in the progression of Tay-Sachs, the genetic disease Ronan was born with and will die of, but not before he suffers from these and other kinds of seizures and is finally plunged into a completely vegetative state. Nearly two years old, he is already blind, paralyzed, and increasingly nonresponsive. I expect his death to happen this year, and this week’s seizure only highlighted the fact that it could happen at any moment—while I’m at work, at the hair salon, at the grocery store. I love my son more than any person in the world and his life is of utmost value to me. I don’t regret a single minute of this parenting journey, even though I wake up every morning with my heart breaking, feeling the impending dread of his imminent death. This is one set of absolute truths.
Here’s another: If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs, I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.
More properly, I think what Emily is talking about is a type of euthanasia. Euthanasia simply means “the good death”, which often implies that death be induced unnaturally so as spare the terminally dying from that pain that is sure to come with natural death. This would have been a euthanization while in the womb.
Emily wasn’t aborting Ronan because she didn’t have the ability to raise him, nor was she aborting him because he was the result of an ill advised but consensual night with a nearly unknown man. She would have aborted Ronan for Ronan’s own good.
So — at least in my mind — although this would have been an abortion, it falls more in line with the mercy death of euthanasia.
Euthanasia makes sense from the standpoint of a culture of independence and isolation; a culture where a lack of individual pain and individual suffering define the good death. On the other hand, in more communitarian societies, dying well is dying with your family and friends surrounding you in their love. In the West, dying well is dying on your own terms, as pain free as possible.
And I wonder if a communitarian society doesn’t have something to say to this situation.
When community is at the center of death, death becomes more than suffering. It can become a beautiful display of love … a time when the community shines forth its compassion, care and giving. I know this isn’t an either /or situation, as though Ronan’s dying is either individual or communal (it’s both), but when you have community and you’re caring for a the needs of Ronan, love is created.
Is is possible that Ronan has created more love in his short lifetime than I will with my 30+ years of health?
I’ve seen it and let me say that while death is always somehow painful, it’s not always ugly. There’s few things that move me more than seeing the loving care of a family who have utterly surrounded their loved one in both the dying and in the death.
If Emily had chosen the “good death” (abortion), would her community have had the ability to paint the picture of love and care? Would the “good death” have stifled artistry? Would her act of love for Ronan — while saving Ronan pain — have diminished love in community?
So here’s my main question: is the “good death” ultimately defined by one’s lack of pain, or by the community of love it creates?
Even though I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question, I do know that we’ll never know if we only talk pro-life.
I’m not too sure I like the idea of arriving to heaven in a state of human perfection, where I’m free of my mistake ridden, gas producing body; and, where I somehow transcend my sometimes mischievous, often depraved, usually creative and darkened mind. I don’t like the perfect me.
Or, rather, I don’t like perfect me in the Greek philosophy sense of perfect, where I’m static, gloriously unmovable and unable to grow. I like the unGreek idea of perfect me, where perfection is growth! Where perfection is sometimes mistakes!
If the next “world” is an “afterlife” where we sit around like a bunch of 60 somethings at a high school reunion reminiscing about the old times, then take my name off the sign-up sheet. Life is growth. Eternal life is some type of eternal growth. But if the eternal is somehow after life, where we sit and admire both our own and God’s timeless perfection … then it’s not for me.
I want messy relationships with God and others. I want a place where it takes an eternity for the finite to exhaust the infinite. I want a place that’s lived in … not some fancy mansion where every little piece of furniture is in its rightful place, where the white carpet can’t be tread upon and the windows can’t be smudged. Give me the place where I can be myself and allow God and others to mold me as I interact with them. I want a place that’s dirtied by the use of people.
But I have a secret doubt that I’m afraid to admit. I’m afraid to admit it because this doubt could undermine both my legitimacy as a Christian and my ability to comfort people during their weakest moments.
Sometimes I doubt the whole resurrection and eternal life thing even exists. In fact, there’s times when I tell myself I have to learn to be content with this life because it could be all I’ll ever have.
I know that Jesus talks time and time again about eternal life, but is it possible that his understanding of eternal life is different than ours? Yes, it’s possible.
For those of us that are Christians, sometimes it’s the highest expression of our faith to believe in something that’s unseen. And so it’s hard to admit when we doubt about the seemingly certain promises of the unseen eternal life that’s promised in God’s Word. It’s as though we’re being faithless and, in a sense, unChristian if we doubt and question the life to come after death.
Realizing that few of us are brave enough to put our doubts out in the public for all to question, I’ve set up this anonymous poll.
Please answer honestly. I realize that many have NO doubts about eternal life. And I also realize that some of you have totally written off eternal life as a type of “opiate for the masses”. Either way, feel free to respond according to what you believe.
Once you take the poll, it will show you the results.
A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting Christa Wells via twitter. Not only is Christa the writer of the Natalie Grant song “Held” (which happens to be my mother’s favorite song; and a favorite in funeral services), but she’s also the co-author of the Todd and Angie Smith (of the music group “Selah”) song “I Will Carry You.”
“I Will Carry You” is — to the best of my knowledge — one of the only songs written about miscarriage (correct me if I’m wrong?).
Christa writes about “I Will Carry You”,
What an honor it was to sit in the room with Todd & Angie Smith just a few days after the tragic diagnosis of their unborn daughter’s condition. They had just learned that Audrey Caroline would not survive more than a few moments outside the womb. We spent the day processing together and putting music to a lyrical idea Angie had already begun writing for little Audrey. We wrote for her inevitable memorial service, not knowing it would end up on the album, as well.
Not only has this song been healing to it’s authors, it’s also been healing to Michelle Duggar, who recently wrote,
These last couple of months have just been very precious in the fact that I have been able to grieve over the loss of all those dreams that I was looking forward to, just hoping to getting to spend time with her. There’s a song written by Selah called “I Will Carry You,” and it is the most beautiful song expressing from a mother’s heart the love and the sadness of losing a baby while you’re expecting. At times I’ve played that song two or three times a day and just sing to the Lord and then just cry and release the tears that I need to let go of . Because I think if we hold the grief in it’s not going to help us to overcome and move on.
So I allow myself to cry and let it out, and it’s been the same for my children. We were all getting ready for Jubilee; we had bought items like a baby walker and a little jumparoo because so much of our baby stuff had been worn out. And then to realize that it’s not going to be used by her has been a hard reminder for everyone.
Here’s the song. And I think you’ll understand why it’s been so meaningful to the Duggars.
And, if the song touched you, there’s a book written by Angie with the same title.
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. It’s a day when the church takes repentance public. A day when something we usually reserve for the private sphere get’s pushed into the public sphere. It’s a day when repentance becomes corporate. When repentance is there for all to see, with the sign of the cross inscribed in ash on our foreheads.
And it’s not just a time of repentance, but it’s also a time of relinquishment … relinquishment of our project of immortality.
As I wrote earlier this week:
Denial of death, for Pulitzer Prize winner Ernest Becker, is an all encompassing explanation for human endeavors.
Death, though, for Becker has two levels of meaning: The first level is phyiscal death. After all, how many times a day do we attempt to distance ourselves from death? Do you eat healthy? Do you wear a seat belt?
The second understanding of death plays more into our discussion. This type of death can occur during life. It’s the type of death that takes place when we experience a loss of meaning, worth or affirmation. And this type of death, though it will happen eventually for us all, is what most of us work so hard to deny.
Ash Wednesday is an acknowledgement of Ernest Becker’s second type of death. It’s an acknowledgement of our mortality; an acknowledge of our finitude; and an acknowledge of our depravity.
It’s the day we repent for our denial of death. Essentially, it’s a day when we prove Ernest Becker wrong.
It does us good to remember the old saying that is found on some tombstones:
Remember friends as you pass by,
as you are now so once was I.
As I am now so you must be.
Prepare for death and follow me.
It’s good for us to remember that the works of our hands will not last forever. That our kingdoms will fall. That America will one day be no more. That our bodies will die. That our jobs, our business, our children, our name, our political ideals, and even our religion will one day — if they are lucky — find themselves in the annuls of history. That even our Christianity as we know it will one day be rendered dead.
And maybe this type of doubt is the reason few evangelicals partake in Ash Wednesday. After all, we have fervently engaged in the project of death denial as we’ve built theological buildings that we believe will last for time eternal.
And maybe it’s right to even press this farther.
Maybe Ash Wednesday is a day when the church should allow ourselves to doubt in the life after this one. That maybe our hopes of heaven are misinterpretations of Jesus’ words. That maybe all we have is today to love and be loved. And maybe, in forgetting this next life, we might strive for life now. We might find eternal life before our death.
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. No, there’s nothing comfortable about this day.
“From dust you were made and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19