Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jesus Christ: A Model of Rebellion

Let's be real.  It's been a heck of a week.  A lot has happened, and a lot of people are feeling a lot of things.  I'm no exception.  I've unintentionally become that person on your social media homepage, constantly posting about politics and only seeming to be in a state of continuous anger.  Well, that's because I am angry, but that's not really why I post so much or speak so openly about my beliefs and opinions.  My goal is not to create fights or insult and undermine people who think differently than me.  My goal is always to inform, to pull the curtain hiding the real wizard back, and to make sure everyone knows exactly what is happening in the world around us.

Image result for planned parenthoodLast week, I posted a piece explaining how I define pro-life, and why I stand with Planned Parenthood.  I was extremely nervous to post that piece.  I was afraid of what some of my friends and family would think, and how they would react.  I was afraid of the things total strangers could say.  I wasn't afraid that people would disagree with me.  I know people disagree with me about that issue, and that's okay!  What I was most afraid of was that people would try to cut me down and belittle my message without any attempt at actual dialogue or respectful engagement.  Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when the feedback I received was, overall, incredibly positive.

Now, I'm not naive in that I think everyone who read it was 100% on board with what I had to say.  I'm sure there are many people that would tweak a few things here and there.  I'm also sure that there were plenty of individuals who totally disagree with me but simply chose not to comment on the post, and that's totally fine.  I can't, and don't, expect everyone who reads what I write to be in total, or any, agreement with me all of the time.

There were some comments, though, that weren't so positive.  I was accused of not being a good Catholic, not being in good standing with the Church, and of not putting my faith and God first.  Instead of feeling bad like I expected myself to feel, however, or regretting the post, those comments actually made me think a lot about my relationship with the Church and with God.  And I came to a realization.

My faith in God and my obedience to the Church are not the same thing.

Maybe those individuals are right, and I'm not a good Catholic.  Maybe I'm technically not in good standing with the Church.  Ultimately, though, I have to answer to God and my conscience, not the Church.

I love the Church, and I love being Catholic, but I'm not blind to the problems within the institution.  I'm not going to pretend everything is okay all the time.  The Church is a human institution trying to figure out how best to be in relationship with God.  It's going to stumble every once and awhile.  It's going to make mistakes.  It's going to sometimes be stubborn, and controlling, and try to make people fall into neat tidy lines because that's what people do.  We don't just bow down and accept the things we disagree with, especially when those things go against what we feel to be true in our hearts.  We push, we question, we demand accountability.  We live out our Christian faith by demanding that our Church continuously do better and better.  Sometimes, we even outright rebel.

Christianity, like the United States, is built on rebellion.

Image result for hamilton battle of yorktown
Our Founding Fathers = Rebels
The rebellion for early Christians was quieter than that of the American Revolution, but it was a rebellion nonetheless.  Threatened by an authority determined to control them, body, mind, and soul, early Christians defiantly gathered together in secret to worship, support each other, and spread their faith.  In the Roman arenas, surrounded by roaring crowds calling for their deaths, they stood by their faith.  They stood by each other.  They wrote to each other in support.  They wrote to each other from exile and from prison.  They continued to spread their message of love and God across the empire despite the risks.  Despite the law.

Because they knew the law was wrong.

They knew there was something beyond it.  Something better.  Something they couldn't fully understand, but were still willing to give their lives to uphold if necessary.  They rebelled, and had they had support from other groups, had greater, easier ways of having their voices heard, they might have rebelled louder.

Early Christians didn't simply decide to rebel because they wanted to, however.  They needed to, and they rebelled by example.  Christianity, at its heart, is a radical religion, because it is based around a radical figure.

Jesus was a rebel.    

I've always found it kind of funny when people justify their mistreatment of others by claiming to be following the teachings of Jesus and Scripture.  They use Jesus' name like a get-out-of-jail-free card for discrimination, bigotry, and hate, disguising their true intentions with the excuse "I'm only trying to save your soul from damnation."  How easily they seem to forget that Jesus dined with outcasts, promised his kingdom to those considered weak, and criticized the wealthy.

Jesus was a radical in his time because he openly defied socially accepted discrimination and oppression.  He pushed back against religious authorities who insisted they alone had the answers to knowing and interacting with God.  He spoke to crowds about radical ideas of what it means to love each other and show each other compassion.  He opened the doors to those previously excluded from salvation.  He knew what he risked in his defiance, in his resistance, but he didn't let that stop him.

Image result for table flip jesusHe taught his followers to turn the other cheek, and also took up a bull whip, flipped tables, and chased the greedy merchants from the temple.  He showed us that resistance is complicated, it's not always neat and tidy, but it's always necessary when those in authority try to decide who is worthy of salvation and who isn't.  When those with power try to keep the downtrodden low so they can maintain their own privilege.  He showed us that to rebel is sometimes necessary to be truly faithful to God.

To be Christian means to be willing to rebel when human dignity is put at risk.  To resist when groups of people are treated as second-class-citizens, whether or not you believe what they believe, or value what they value.  To hold those in power accountable for their actions when they choose money and greed over the good of the people.  To speak out whenever injustice threatens your fellow human.

We rebel, because like the early Christians, like Jesus himself, we have hope in a world better than this one that is worth fighting for.

Just as Christians are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger so too are we called to rebel.  Whether against the oppressive actions of a government, or the excluding teachings of a denomination, we resist, we march, we speak out.  And as long as there is suffering in the world, as long as there are people in need, whose voices have been stolen, and whose dignity is threatened, we won't stop.

We will always rebel.

Until next time,
Erin B.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Am A Pro-Life Catholic, and I Stand with Planned Parenthood

Several years ago, I was trying to figure out why in the world Representative Steve King kept getting elected to office.  One answer I received kind of astonished me, and has bothered me ever since.

"He values life, so you know he has good morals."

Image result for steve king
Don't trust crazy-eyes here.
By that statement, of course, the person meant Steve King is pro-life.  Or, more realistically in the political world, anti-abortion.  It blew my mind that just because he operated off of a pro-life platform, people automatically assume he not only has good morals, but actually values life.  Steve King.  The same man who has proven time and time again that he is a racist bigot who doesn't care what he says or who he hurts so long as he's the loudest voice in the room.

But Steve King isn't the only example of a politician who can hang on to his political power by claiming a pro-life agenda.  We see hundreds of examples of politicians who oppose abortion, citing the need to protect the sanctify of life, but then turn around and support the death penalty, fight gun regulation, cut healthcare to those in need, criminalize immigrants, demonize refugees, slut-shame sexual assault survivors, and work to defund our educational system.  These people are not truly valuing life.  They just know speaking out against abortion is going to get them votes.

Image result for planned parenthoodI am a Catholic woman, and I consider myself pro-life.  How I define pro-life, however, probably sounds different than the rhetoric you're used to.  I am not politically pro-life.  I do not beat the drum and shout from the mountaintops about the need to protect unborn babies, but then turn my back on and ignore the needs and the sufferings of people once they've entered this world.  If a person claims to be pro-life, but doesn't bother to try to understand the complexities of the human experience, the differing perspectives that color and shape the choices and beliefs of individuals, then they're not really pro-life.  If a person claims to be pro-life, but refuses to acknowledge the sanctity of the environment, ignores the need to protect the planet rather than exploit it, then they're not really pro-life.  To be truly pro-life means to act with compassion towards others, to try and understand the thoughts and beliefs of those different from yourself, to care just as much for the poor and for the immigrant as you do for the unborn.  To be pro-life means to be an advocate for those in need, to be a good steward of the earth, to be a voice for the voiceless and stand up against injustice.  I am pro-life because I care about the lives of all those around me, and I work to make life better for anyone I can.

As a Catholic, pro-life woman, I support Planned Parenthood.  Congress is currently making moves to take away all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  They claim to be doing this out of a pro-life perspective, in an effort to stop the organization from providing abortions.  The fact of the matter is, it's already against the law for federal money to go towards abortion services.  The Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1977, makes it illegal for abortions to be paid for by Medicaid, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother's life is threatened.  What then would it really mean for Planned Parenthood to have their government funding taken away?  It would mean millions of people, many low-income who rely on government services to afford basic healthcare, would be without such vital services as cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, access to contraception and safe sex education, prenatal treatments, and pregnancy tests and screenings, just to name a few.  The potential defunding of Planned Parenthood isn't simply an issue of pro-choice vs. anti-choice.  It's a matter of the health and wellness of millions of people vs. the political agendas and manipulations of a privileged few.

There is a great danger in allowing politicians to use morality as an excuse to police and control the personal choices and beliefs of the people they are meant to serve.

In all honesty, though, I stand with Planned Parenthood because I don't care about the politics or moral debates.  I care about people.  I care about the girl seeking judgement free birth control, because her religious upbringing has made her ashamed and scared to talk to her parents about sex.  I care about the single-mother receiving breast exams and care because she can't afford to regularly go anywhere else.  I care about the young pregnant couple, just starting out on their own, who are able to find the prenatal care they need without having to stretch their already tight budget.  I care about the young man seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease he didn't know his partner had.  And I care about the young woman who needs a safe place to go for help because she has no where else to turn.

The simple truth is making abortion illegal or harder to acquire isn't going to stop it from happening.  It's just going to make it more dangerous for those who do seek it.  I can understand the conviction those who are staunchly against it have, and their desire to eliminate it as a choice once and for all.  I appreciate the deeply held beliefs many of those people have, and I know that the majority of people who stand against abortion are good people just doing what they believe is right.  I don't see abortion as a good thing, necessarily.  I would like nothing more than to live in a world where abortion is no longer seen as a needed option, but I know making it outright illegal isn't going to accomplish that goal.  It's only a band-aid solution to a host of deeper, more systemic problems in our society.

You want abortion to go away?  Then push for more holistic approaches to safe-sex education that accounts for the emotional responses as well as the bodily ones to sex, and doesn't shy away from the topic of contraception and reproductive healthcare.  Make churches talk more openly about sex as a good given to us by God, and not a shameful, sinful act that we should hide or remain close-mouthed about.  Throw out abstinence-only education and recognize that, ultimately, people are going to make their own choices, follow their own conscience, and if they do have sex outside of marriage, they need to be safe and educated about it.

Start teaching boys and young men not to sexualize girls and woman.  Teach boys not to rape instead of trying to teach girls to not draw attention to themselves.  That only leads to victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the end.  Stop reducing girls and women to their appearance and policing their bodies and dressing choices.  Stop portraying girls as damsels or lesser in strength and value than boys and men, and start recognizing and nurturing their power and tenacity.  Stop thinking that feminism is a bad word, or means anything other than equality among the sexes.

Pro-lifers, don't demonize the women who receive abortions, and start to try and understand the reasons and circumstances surrounding their decision instead.  There are women who choose it freely, but there are many who seek abortions because they simply don't feel like they have any other options.

I care about the defunding of Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood is pro-life.  Planned Parenthood is pro-life because pro-life means more than anti-abortion.  It means caring for those in greatest need, sympathizing with those in greatest pain, and showing compassion to those in greatest distress.  It means recognizing that not everyone is going to share your beliefs, but that everyone has a conscience and is able to make choices for themselves.  It means recognizing that, sometimes, we make sacrifices in our own lives so that other people can receive the care and support they need to not only survive, but to thrive.

Ultimately, I stand with Planned Parenthood because I know it's not just about me.  My thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives are not the only ones that matter in this world.  Just as I wouldn't want anyone to force their beliefs and opinions onto me, I have no right to force my beliefs and opinions onto anyone else.  I can walk with people, I can and should care for people, I can support people, but I can never control people.  And I shouldn't want to.  No one should.  Our government is meant to serve, not to control, and in those times that it does try to step over that line, people of faith, those who are truly pro-life, should be among the first to stand up and push back.  We shouldn't be the ones clearing the way.

Until next time,
Erin B.

P.S. In case you need a little more convincing as to why stepping back and broadening the picture around abortions is important, I highly recommend following this link to watch the video from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:  Abortion Laws