Friday, August 18, 2017

Reconciliation Does Not Mean Compromise: Thoughts in the Wake of Charlottesville

It's been a week since the events in Charlottesville took place.  Emotions are running high across the country.  More protests, both by Nazis and those brave enough to oppose them, are planned for this coming weekend.  People are afraid that last Saturday's violence will be repeated.  People are afraid that this country is crumbling at the seams.

There have been a lot of reactions to Charlottesville.  There have been a lot of opinions.  There's been a lot of blame.

I want to state a few things right away, before I get at the heart of my post.

First, what happened in Charlottesville wasn't as simple as Republicans versus Democrats, or Right versus Left.  This was a clear case of good versus evil.  Racism and white supremacy are sins.  They are evil.  They are a cancer in our society that is rotting us from the inside out.  The people that stood up to the white supremacists and Nazis parading their hate through the streets of Charlottesville carry no blame in what took place.  They were standing up to evil.  They were standing up for what is right.  They were protecting our values as Americans, and facing down an enemy we've fought before.

Second, the white supremacists and Nazis who gathered to protest the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were not doing so to try and "protect" national history.  Whatever General Lee's strengths may or may not have been, in the end he was a rebel, fighting against the United States to maintain an economic system literally built on the backs of slaves.  Whatever good he may or may not have done before or after the Civil War, his image is not one to be honored and memorialized.  He is an important figure in our history, but he is ultimately a villain in our history.  And now, whatever positive legacy he may have had has been forever tainted by Nazi ideology, and because he is now a rallying point for them and other white supremacists, his image must be restricted to our history books and museums, and not be immortalized in our public parks and town squares.

Third, there is no comparison between the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacist protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.  The white supremacists movement wants to maintain a racist system that keeps white people in power at the expense and exclusion of all other groups, and for some there is even the desire to exterminate those other groups.  The Black Lives Matter movement demands that the lives of black and other people of color be as equally respected as white lives, because the lives of people of color have been historically and systemically devalued in this country in a way white lives simply haven't.  White supremacists are about just that, maintaining white supremacy.  Black Lives Matter is about equality and recognition that black lives matter just as much as white lives.

Fourth, we must be very careful when we call for reconciliation, and this is what I truly want to emphasize with this post.  Since Charlottesville, I've heard many people say that we can't give into the hate and violence.  I've heard Church leaders declare that we must seek reconciliation and peace.  I agree with this.  I agree that our ultimate goals should be reconciliation and peace within our divided country, and violence should not be depended upon in this pursuit.  However, we are nowhere close to these goals, and anyone who thinks the problems in our country have an easy fix are deeply mistaken.

We must be very careful to not confuse reconciliation with compromise, or peace with quiet.  There can be no compromise with the ideologies that white supremacists and Nazis propagate.  We cannot be silent in the face of such hate and racism.  Many people have the misunderstanding that we just need to agree to disagree, that there are two sides that simply need to reconcile with each other.  This cannot happen.  White supremacy and the racism essential for it to thrive cannot be tolerated ideologies.  There can be no reconciliation until such beliefs are given up.  To settle for anything less only perpetuates the problem, and we'll be facing the same discrimination, hate, and violence in another hundred years if we bend in this.

Many people believe that if everyone just calms down, if we just stop talking about it we'll stop feeding the hate and we'll be able to make peace once more.  That's not true peace.  That's willful ignorance of the evil that surrounds us.  We've never had true peace in this country.  Groups of people, especially people of color, have always faced violence, discrimination, and subjugation in the United States.  It started when European settlers first arrived here and declared themselves superior to the Native Americans, and it's never stopped.  Speaking out against white supremacy, racism, and discrimination isn't feeding into the hate.  It's looking that hate in the face and saying "We will not stand for this!"  Peace cannot happen without confrontation.  I do not advocate for violence, and I do not wish for violence to be used to bring about peace.  Confrontation doesn't have to be violent, but it must be firm.  It must be unceasing until the ultimate goal of change is reached.

This isn't as simple as changing someone's mind or politics, however.  This is about changing hearts.  This is about showing the coming generations that these ideologies are evil, and that we don't back down from evil.  We fight it.  We oppose it.  We stand counter to it in our streets.  We blockade it to protect the defenseless.  We give it a name, and we shout that name as loud as we can so everyone knows exactly what the evil is we are fighting against.

Violence will not lead to reconciliation and peace, but neither will silence or compromise.  All good and decent people, all people of faith, all people claiming to uphold the ideals of America must be willing to engage in confrontation when faced with such clear and present evil.  There is no reconciling with it.  We must condemn it outright.  We must work to change the hearts of those who feed it and allow it to thrive.

For white Americans, much of this means recognizing how we benefit from systems designed to blockade everyone else, and being willing to tear those systems down in order to start anew.  It means not hiding behind our own privileges and pretending we don't see all of the wrong in our society because acknowledging and confronting it makes us uncomfortable.  

For people of faith, this means remembering that Jesus himself drove the merchants from the temple because they desecrated his house with their actions and greed.  There was no compromising in his dealings with them.  He restored goodness with direct confrontation.

For people who claim to uphold the ideals of America, that means remembering that America isn't perfect.  It never has been.  Any greatness it's had has always been tainted with the racism and subjugation of groups of people that has always existed in this country.  It means recognizing that the only way America can ever be truly great is if we give up the notion that only one group can lay claim to it.  This is a land of immigrants.  A land of diversity.  A land of opportunity.  If we wish to truly embrace our values and be the country we claim we are, we must not allow racism and hate to have any further hold on us.  We must hold ourselves and those who lead us accountable when it comes to condemning such evil and standing against it.  We must put our words into actions, speak truth to power, and shine a bright light on the evil that permeates our society so that we can more easily combat it.

Reconciliation and peace are our ultimate goals, but they cannot be excuses for inaction, silence, or compromise.  If we want to truly achieve either of them, we must not hide from the evil that infects us.  We must confront it.  We must condemn it.  We must defeat it.  Only then can we make America great, truly great, for the first time in its history.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Reality of Infertility: A Response to "Making Sense Out of Bioethics: Considering the Options for Infertile Couples"

Recently, I was home visiting my parents for a long weekend.  One night, as I was lying on their couch watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, my mom came storming into the living room and slapped a newspaper down next to me.  I looked to see that it was the Catholic Globe, the paper produced and distributed through our Diocese.  Upon seeing the paper, I knew in an instant what had upset her.  She'd been reading an article that I'd attempted to read myself, but hadn't been able to get through.  It was an article written by a priest, a Bioethicist, entitled "Making Sense Out of Bioethics: Considering the Options for Infertile Couples". Follow this link to read the article in full.

To anyone who hasn't experienced infertility, the article might seem rather practical and straightforward.  The author states that some couples experience infertility, that the Church is morally opposed to certain medical practices to counter said infertility, and then lists other possible options for those couples to "still realize their parental and maternal desires".  At first read through, it might be hard to point out anything particularly offensive or insensitive.

However, break it down and read it through the eyes of someone who has suffered through infertility, and it comes off much differently.  I myself have not had this experience because I've not tried to have children yet.

But my mom has.

I won't lie, this post proved very difficult for me to write.  There's so much about this article that angered me, and I found myself going on and on about the Church's stance on IVF and the author's claim that such treatments "produce" children rather than conceive them.  I struggled with what angle to take, thinking first to go paragraph by paragraph through the article and basically write what I found wrong with the statements and claims made.  I couldn't seem to wrap my head around everything that's in the article.  There's simply so much I could say.  So much I could write.  But then it dawned on me.  It's not about me.  This blog post isn't about me.

It's about my mom.

It's about my dad.

It's about every couple that has struggled with infertility.  Experienced the pain of knowing they can't have children the "natural" way.  Known the fear that the biological children they long for might be beyond their grasp.

This post is about my mom's reaction to the article.  Not mine.  It's about what she found offensive and painful.  What she objected to because of everything she's experienced.  In the end, it doesn't matter what I think.  It matters what she knows.

The author of this article spends much of his time writing about why IVF is considered immoral to the Church and listing other treatments that are basically Church "approved".  Even now as I write, it's very hard for me not to go off and rip into his statements.  But again, it's not about me.  I've never had to choose whether to do IVF or not.  My mom has.

Image result for infertilityMy mom and I never really talked much about her struggles before she and my dad pursued adoption.  She's never really told me about the other options they considered.  All I really knew was that it took them a long time to come to the decision to adopt, and that that decision was preceded by several years of pain and disappointment.  I never understood just how painful, though.  How disappointing.  I still don't understand fully, but after reading this article, my mom shared some more with me about that time in her life.  That time before I was even a thought.  When conception, not adoption, was the ultimate goal.

She told me that IVF had once been on the table as an option for her and my dad.  My mom will admit to having mixed feelings about procedures like IVF.  She isn't completely okay with it, but also isn't completely against it.  What she would never do is presume to think she can tell another couple whether or not they should do it.  She just knows, in the end, it wasn't the path for her and my dad, but not for the reasons I would have guessed.  She talked about the emotional roller-coaster she was forced through when she was going through fertility treatments.  About the hope when the doctor told her she might be pregnant, followed quickly by the despair when sometimes mere days later her body proved she wasn't.  She told me aside from any moral objections, what really kept her from pursuing the treatment was the fact that she simply wanted off that ride.  She couldn't take the sudden up and the crashing down anymore.

Infertility is not an uncommon condition in my family, and we are not unfamiliar with the medical options available to suffering couples.  It's important to highlight the fact that infertility is not just a female issue.  Men suffer from it too.  Men I know and love right alongside women I know and love have had to deal with their body's inability to conceive.  Though my parents eventually chose to go the route of adoption, I have several family members who were conceived using IVF, and no one will ever convince me that their conceptions were any less meaningful than if they took place naturally.  I saw the pain their parents went through.  The struggle.  They tried to hide it from the rest of us most of the time, but the frustration and despair slipped through the cracks every now and then.  If anything, the pain they went through, the disappointment, the perseverance in achieving their goal of conception is so much more meaningful than a lot of natural pregnancies that happen because someone forgot the condom.  Their use of IVF wasn't a way of "producing" children rather than conceiving them, or made their pregnancies any less meaningful than if they had happened naturally.  It made those pregnancies miracles.  The children born of those pregnancies are miracles.

Okay.  So, I managed to slip in a little something about IVF.  I simply couldn't help myself.

My mom was angry at the article for what it said about IVF and similar treatments, but it was the last few paragraphs that really pushed her over the edge.        

"In some cases, a couple’s infertility will end up being irresolvable. Even as a husband and wife face the grief and sorrow of not being able naturally to conceive children of their own, they can still realize their paternal and maternal desires in other meaningful, fruitful and loving ways. For example, they may discern a call to adopt a child, providing a mom and a dad to someone whose parents have died or felt that they could not care for the child."
Why did this paragraph set her off in particular?  Adoption is obviously a wonderful thing!  She ended up adopting three children and thanks God everyday that she did.  So what's the problem?
Read it again.
Read the last sentence.  Look at the part that says "providing a mom and a dad to someone whose parents have died..."  Again, if you haven't experienced adoption, you might not catch it.
"to someone whose parents..."
My mom isn't raising anyone else's children.  She's raising her children.  She and my dad are our parents.  You might not think the wording of this sentence is that big of a deal, but when you've grown up constantly correcting people about who your "real" mom is, it's a knife to the heart.  To me, this paragraph says "well, if you can't have your own children, there are plenty of people who don't want theirs so you can have them".  My mom read it in a similar way...these kids aren't really yours.  You're just the back-up mom.
"They might decide to become a camp counselor or a schoolteacher, or provide temporary foster care to a child in crisis, generously taking on an authentic parenting role. They may become a “Big Brother/Big Sister” to youth in the community who yearn for a father or mother figure in their lives."
I need to start this paragraph off by saying that these are all wonderful pursuits, and more people should take on such roles as camp counselor, foster parent, or Big Brother/Big Sister.  However, how dare the author assume that these roles will in any way compare to having children of your own, whether adopted or conceived?  It's comparing apples to oranges.  Foster parent comes the closest, but it's not the same.  Couples who suffer from infertility can experience years of physical, emotional, and spiritual agony, the effects of which can linger the rest of their lives.  My mom is so happy that she has my siblings and I, but she still experiences mixed emotions when she thinks about the fact that she never was pregnant.  She'll never know what it's like to carry a child.  When other women talk about their pregnancy experiences, she can't participate in the conversations.  She simply doesn't know, and as completely happy as she is, and how certain she is that she wouldn't change a thing about how we became a family, those feelings simply don't disappear.  That hurt and disappointment lingers.    
"Although these solutions do not take away all the grief, they are a means by which God helps to draw good out of their situation. By these means, couples are challenged to “think outside the box” and enter into the mysterious designs of God within their marriage. By stepping away from a desire to conceive and raise biological children of their own, couples facing irresolvable infertility can discover new and unexpected paths to marital fruitfulness, paths that bring great blessings to others, and that can lead to abiding joy and marital fulfillment."
Move on.  Get over it.  That's basically the gist of this final paragraph.
It's easy for someone living a celibate, unmarried life to write this.  Children aren't in his future.  He doesn't have the feelings of a spouse to consider.  His hopes for a family aren't unexpectedly crushed because his body has betrayed him on a primal level.  It's easy to pass judgement when you haven't been personally drowning in the experience.
Infertility is traumatic.  Grief is not the only emotion that couples experience.  Grief barely scratches the surface.  Disappointment.  Frustration.  Physical agony.  Hopelessness.  Guilt.
The guilt surprised me.
My mom told me how guilty she felt.  She said that when you go in to be tested for infertility, as bad as it sounds, you hope it's not you.  But if it's not you, then its your spouse.  It was my mom, not my dad.  He was perfectly capable of having children.  The guilt that she couldn't give him what someone else could was one of the hardest things for her.  The physical pain, the emotional strain...all of it was wrapped up in guilt.
I had never considered that.  I'm not at that point in my life yet.  I haven't been in a committed relationship where it's not just about what I want.  Whenever I think of having children, it's always with just me in mind.  I've always thought, if I have trouble conceiving, I wouldn't have a problem adopting.  But what about my spouse?  What would he feel?  What would he want?  What would he be capable of?
It's complicated.  Infertility is complicated and difficult.  People do almost unimaginable things to their bodies to try and overcome it.  You don't put yourself through that kind of pain for nothing.  The desire for children for these couples is so great, so all-consuming that they will put themselves through torture to achieve their dream.  I've heard people dismiss these efforts as selfish.  Unreasonable.  But they don't get it.  They haven't experienced the desperation these couples have.  This author has never and will never experience this first hand.  So it's easy for him to write about it.  To be practical and reasonable to the point of dismissive.  It's easy for him to pass judgement.  It's easy for him and the rest of the clergy to pass judgement on the way our families are made  in black and white terms because they don't know the gray.  They haven't lived it.  They haven't suffered through it.  Not the way some couples have.  Not the way my parents have.
Their pain isn't yours to dismiss.  Their experiences aren't yours to undermine.  Their tragedy is not your "mysterious design".  Their marital fulfillment is not your soapbox.  Their fruitfulness is none of your business.