Friday, July 21, 2006

Woman, why are you weeping?

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The gospel for tomorrow's feast contains this beautiful line addressed by Jesus to his faithful female friend and disciple. Wouldn't we all love to hear it directed to us personally?
"Woman, why are you weeping?"

It was inevitable, I guess, but I find myself at odds with the folks in CrossWalk America, whose cross-country walk for Christ my brother Mark is making. In St. Louis, they were met by pro-life protesters who held signs containing photographic evidence of the horror that is legalized abortion. Although CWA takes no stand on abortion per se, Affirmation 11 of the Phoenix Affirmations touches on the subject obliquely. Affirmation 11 is actually one of the affirmations that first attracted me to the group and their efforts. It reads:
"Affirmation 11 Caring for our bodies, and insisting on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship and recreation in addition to work;"

As Mark explained it to me early on, one of the reasons this group is walking across the country is to slow down the pace of their busy lives, and demonstrate by their own example that caring for our bodies involves allowing time each day for prayer, reflection, worship of God and recreation.

The trick comes in how Affirmation 11 is interpreted in the full version. Read through to the end:

As Christians, we strive to embrace and embody ways of living that promote the health of the body, the joy of living, and the benefits attained when work is combined with rest and recreation, reflection and prayer. We do this for our sake, for the sake of others, for the sake of the earth, and for the sake of Christ.

We affirm that the Path of Jesus is found where Christ’s followers care for their bodies as temples of the holy, and take time to pray and play, to worship, and to reflect, as essential parts of their vocation.

We confess that we have moved away from this Path when we have supported the ethics of Pharaoh over the ethics of God by promoting systems of production and consumption without attending to the disciplines of rest and recreation, reflection and prayer. We have further moved from the Path when we have denigrated or abused our bodies, or those of others, or denied the rights and responsibilities of others to make decisions about how they care for the bodies God gave them.

Did you catch that last sentence? "We have further moved from the Path when we have ... denied the rights and responsibilities of others to make decisions about how they care for the bodies God gave them." It is this that apparently prompted the protesters to carry the kind of "dead fetus" signs that I carry once a month or so for Delaware Right to Life in their Face the Truth demonstrations by the public highways of Delaware. They also held signs proclaiming marriage as between one man and one woman, in counter-distinction with current efforts to re-define marriage to include homosexual unions. CrossWalk America is a "gay-friendly" spiritual community whose agape has strayed into political advocacy for the re-definition of marriage along those lines mentioned earlier.

Scott Griessel, the independent filmmaker who is accompanying CrossWalk American and making a documentary of their journey, has some excellent photos and commentary on the protesters on CWA's blog. I have been impressed by Scott's blog entries even when I disagree with him because he is self-reflective and is an authentic photo-journalist -- he records reality and interprets his records as objectively as possible, while not standing back from the fray and pretending that he is a mute (and neutral) recording device. He knows that subjectivity creeps into his (and any observer's) viewpoint, and factors that in as he strives to describe truth through his pictures and words.

Scott sees absolutely no value in showing pictures of dead fetuses but completely approves of the protester's (and my) right to show them.

I love freedom of speech. The other day, Steve Elliot and I found ourselves apparently the only two pro-life activists to show up for a Saturday morning Face the Truth demonstration. We turned out to both have mis-read the announced gathering place, and both showed up at Border's instead of Borders Cafe, better known by my family as the EAT restaurant because of its huge sign saying "EAT" that can be seen from the interstate.

Steve is a wiry pro-life guy I see all the time but had never talked to at length before Saturday. Physically he resembles my brother Mark, and he has the same intensity of commitment to living a life in accordance with truth as he sees it. As with Mark, he has no cant in its classic meaning of "Empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; insincere talk; hypocrisy."

While I was holding a sign that had no pictures but only a verbal anti-abortion statement, a fellow in a car slowed down to read what I was holding. When he comprehended what I was demonstrating against, he took both hands off the steering wheel, leaned close to his window, grimaced fiercely and gave me the finger with both hands, jabbing for emphasis.

I thought, as I stood there, what a wonderful country it was that I could freely stand by a highway proclaiming an opinion that folks like that fellow find infuriating. In so many countries in the world, an action like that would put my freedom and my life in danger. Like in China, where my neice recently observed the police come and handcuff, then take away, a woman holding a sign outside of Tiananman Square.

Woman, why are you weeping? Christ is addressing those words to me personally. I don't know, Lord. My tears are tears of joy. I weep for the goodness of Your Being, amid all the sorrow and confusion of this world we your wandering sheep stumble blindly through, held up by Love and Love alone.

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