Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pro-Choice Friends: Can We Talk About This Defunding Planned Parenthood Thing? (Part 1)

If you've been reading my posts lately, you'll know that I've begun to take seriously my civic duty to become informed and engaged in the political process, despite my dislike of politics. Our country is facing numerous problems, but the increasingly nasty partisan divide is preventing us from dealing effectively with these problems. I believe that to solve this divide we must start talking with each other about areas of disagreement, respecting each other's differing worldviews, and finding solutions that are acceptable to both sides.

It sounds good in theory, but can it be done? There's only one way to find out...give it a try! I thought I'd start out with something pretty simple, where there isn't a lot of disagreement; an issue where there aren't many emotions involved. Baby steps, right?

So let's talk about defunding Planned Parenthood. 

(Waiting for the dust to settle after the inevitable explosion of outrage and indignation from both sides caused by the mere mention of this issue.)

Ok, yes, I was being sarcastic. There is nothing simple about this extremely emotional issue. Let's face it: abortion is one of the most emotional topics dividing us, and it does truly divide us, almost exactly down the middle. Gallup's recent poll shows that right now 51% of Americans call themselves pro-choice, while 44% call themselves pro-life, but the numbers have been fluctuating within 10 percentage points since the mid-90's. Sometimes more identify as pro-life, sometimes more identify as pro-choice, but either way the country is divided roughly in half about an incredibly sensitive topic.

Which is why it'd be way easier to continue ignoring it until we are all trampled to death by this giant elephant in the room. I'd much rather write about something uncontroversial like crockpot recipes or home decorating techniques.

But I'm more concerned right now about avoiding national death by trampling so instead I'm going to attempt to talk about this in a logical, respectful and reasonable way. I'm not sure this is possible, because if it were, you'd think it would've been done by now, yet in all the reading I've done on this issue over the last few weeks, I have only ever read things that are written:
  1. From a pro-life perspective to a pro-life audience
  2. From a pro-choice perspective to a pro-choice audience
  3. From a supposedly unbiased perspective to a supposedly unbiased audience that sounds suspiciously like the things being said by #2

So here's something new: I am going to try writing from an unabashedly pro-life perspective to a pro-choice audience in an attempt to get a dialogue started. 

Note that I said dialogue. Meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, "a discussion or series of discussions that two groups or countries have in order to end a disagreement" or "a conversation between two or more people".  Not an argument, which could mean "a discussion in which people express different opinions about something" but more often (when politics are involved) means "an angry disagreement."

I don't want that. There is plenty of stress in my life without adding people yelling at me or each other over their different perspectives on this or any other issue. So if that's where you're planning to go with this, please take your comments elsewhere. I will just delete them. There are plenty of other places on the Internet where you can vent your frustration. 

But here I plan to keep the discussion ("a speech or piece of writing that gives information, ideas, opinions, etc., about something") logical, reasonable, and respectful. I promise I will not resort to sarcasm again, which is saying a lot because I can be pretty snarky. But I've come to realize that sarcasm usually only succeeds in entertaining one side at the expense of shutting down honest dialogue with the other side. So it might be great for late night TV, or radio talk show hosts, but it will not serve my purposes here.

And since I've already taken up half of this post with explaining what I intend to talk about, why, and how, I'm going to have to break it up into two parts. This post will discuss the worldview clash at the heart of the national divide over defunding Planned Parenthood, and in my next post I'll talk more about the specifics of that issue and explore ideas for moving forward while respecting the worldviews of both sides.

That's it for my introduction. Did I built enough fences to avoid angry mobs of Internet trolls?

Yeah, right. 

(Ok, no more sarcasm, I promise!!)

Defining Terms

First, I have a small request to make. Pro-choice friends, can you please use the term pro-life instead of anti-abortion in this discussion? I realize that most people who aren't pro-life, and the media, usually use the term anti-abortion to describe us. But that is not the label we have chosen for ourselves. You might have noticed that I am using the term pro-choice to describe your position, rather than pro-abortion as is often used by pro-lifers. I am respecting your chosen label for yourselves, and ask that you respect our chosen label for ourselves.

This might seem like a small thing, quibbling about words, but words are very important, and labels can set the tone for the discussion. Using negative terms for one side and positive terms for the other side can put one side at a disadvantage before the talking even begins.

Also, while "anti-abortion" and "pro-abortion" might be good descriptors for everyone's position on the issue we disagree about, they do not address the reason we disagree about this issue, and that is what I really want to talk about today.

The disagreement comes down to a clash of worldviews. We each have a worldview, a set of pre-existing beliefs that affects our perception of any situation or issue. These beliefs are not emperically testable--we can each give reasons for our beliefs, but not proof that they are right--so arguing about them is problematic, but understanding them is vital if we are going to come up with mutually acceptable solutions.

The Real Question: Who is a Person?

While there is a vast range in the worldviews of us pro-lifers, and I assume the same to be true for pro-choicers, the common denominator as I understand it is a difference in belief regarding the definition of personhood. (I can't presume to speak for all pro-lifers, and certainly wouldn't presume to do so for pro-choicers; this is just what I have gleaned from reading many different opinions and having conversations with friends on both sides.)

I think we all agree that killing an innocent human being is morally wrong--murder ("the crime of deliberately killing a person"). The question is whether a fetus is an innocent human being.

There is no doubt scientifically that a fetus is a living human. Life, or "the ability to grow, change, etc., that separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks" is indisputably present at the moment of conception. A fertilized human egg is a genetically complete and unique living human being, differing from an adult human only in size, level of development, and degree of dependency--just as an infant or toddler differs from an adult human (but we all agree that toddlers are human beings with a right to life).

What pro-lifers and pro-choicers are really disagreeing about is when a human life can be considered a person, or "one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties."

A pro-lifer sees no distinction between humanity and personhood; every human being is a person in our eyes.

Pro-choicers, on the other hand, view personhood as something which some humans have that others do not. There seems to be a wide variety of opinion among pro-choicers as to when personhood begins; I've read pro-choicers argue that it begins at birth, or when a fetus is viable, or gradually as the fetus develops in the womb. In recent years philosophers have even argued for "after-birth abortion" on the grounds that babies aren't people any more than fetuses are people. 

Pro-lifers view the division of personhood and humanity as a false distinction that is quite dangerous, given the examples from history of the times when personhood was legally denied to certain classes of humans--slaves, Native Americans, women, and Jews being notable examples. We view all humans as persons deserving of equal human rights; even the tiniest of us whose bodies consist of just one cell. 

And that is why we logically and inevitably conclude that anything that is done to deprive that person of life (whether surgical abortion, pharmaceutical abortion, or contraceptives that prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus), is murder.

Since pro-choicers do not believe that fetuses are people, they reach the opposite conclusion: that preventing implantation or ending pregnancy does not constitute murder. Abortion is therefore viewed as an acceptable method of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Pro-choicers say they do not like abortion (which is why they object to being called pro-abortion) but view it as a necessary evil since women should have the right to determine what happens to their bodies. (Sidenote: I have always wondered what pro-choicers find objectionable about abortion if they do not believe it constitutes ending a person's life. I would appreciate it if anyone can explain this to me. Seriously, I'm not being snarky. I really want to understand.)

So who's right?

I know I believe I'm right, and I have no doubt that you also sincerely believe you are right. But we can't both be right since our beliefs are mutually exclusive.

We can't settle this empirically since there is no scientific definition of or test for personhood. This is a philosophical question beyond the realm of science. What evidence could possibly be offered that a fertilized egg or a viable fetus or even a 40 week old fetus about to be born is a person? For that matter, what evidence could a one-minute-old or a one-year-old baby offer that they are a person? They can't talk and utter philosophical profundities such as "I think therefore I am."

If I and all the other pro-lifers are wrong, then we have advocated allowing some women to be unnecessarily inconvenienced by unwanted pregnancies. That is regrettable, but what if it is the pro-choicers who are wrong about this? Then our country has legally sanctioned the murder of well over 50 million people for no greater crime than being an inconvenience. 

The way I see it, the moral stakes are far greater if pro-choicers are wrong. I personally prefer to err on the side of caution when the life of a person is possibly at stake.

The False Question: Who Cares More?

Does this mean pro-lifers care more about unborn babies than they do about the babies' mothers, or the babies after they are born? I hear both of these arguments frequently, and quite frankly, I am usually shocked into silence by the preposterousness of such accusations. I'm not really sure where this is coming from. Maybe the people saying these things are progressives who assume that pro-lifers are economic conservatives with different ideas about how best to help the underprivileged, since many unwanted babies come from underprivileged families?

That's a lot of assumptions, and even if they were all true, that doesn't mean we don't care.

My heart goes out to women who are desperate and scared because of an unwanted pregnancy--and to those who deeply regret having had abortions because society convinced them it was ok while their heart told them it was not. And my heart goes out to kids who aren't wanted because of physical problems or their parents' economic plight. But that doesn't mean the only solution is to kill the children. Why do we look at it in this stark either/or way? Women have options! We as a society have options!

While in college I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center where we provided help to mothers throughout and after their pregnancies. There are thousands of these centers across the U.S., maintained not through government funding but through the donations of pro-lifers who are putting their money where their heart is. And there are many pro-lifers like my own sister who are trying to adopt unwanted babies. I love the story behind the film The Drop Box, about a Korean pastor who takes in unwanted babies, often with physical limitations. He is a pro-lifer who cares.

So yes we have a different worldview than you do but please do not assume that it means we do not care. 

I am not unsympathetic to pro-choice arguments. I get the pro-choice argument that a woman should have the right to decide what happens to her body. Having experienced four pregnancies (two that produced wonderful but undeniably life-altering little boys, one miscarriage, and one currently in progress), I definitely understand that pregnancy does crazy things to one's body. It's bad enough when the pregnancy is planned and wanted, but I can imagine it's even more frustrating if the pregnancy was not planned or wanted. I also understand that unwanted pregnancies can wreak havoc with a woman's or couple's plans for school, career, etc. 

But I cannot get over the fact that I believe those unwanted "products of conception" are still living human beings deserving the same respect and legal protection as the woman whose body is unwillingly providing a safe harbor for their development.

I hear the pro-choice argument that our society is better off economically without the drain in resources caused by having to care for the additional million or so babies that would be born every year if they weren't aborted. Though I don't necessarily agree with it, I recognize the sincerity of those making this argument.

But that doesn't change the fact that I believe those aborted fetuses are actually people who deserved a chance to live, regardless of their impact on society.

I totally understand the pro-choice argument that, if born, unwanted children might suffer abuse or neglect or poverty. My heart bleeds for abused and underprivileged children!

But again, my stubborn belief that all humans are persons gets in the way of accepting this argument. What gives me the right to determine that someone else's life isn't worth living; that they would be better off dead than alive?

Which Comes First, the Inconvenience or the Belief?

Perhaps a couple of illustrations can help you understand the way pro-lifers see these objections.

Right now the world is trying to figure out the best way to handle the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria. While some countries are being more welcoming than others, all are weighing the cost of accepting refugees, both economically and culturally. But I haven't heard anyone advocate just killing the refugees because they are unwanted or inconvenient. 

Pro-lifers feel the same way about unwanted pregnancies. We really believe they're really people. 

(By the way, I'm not saying that pro-choicers advocate killing Syrian refugees. It's a good thing I'm not a politician or a public figure or that would totally be the headline tomorrow! All I'm saying is that, just as a pro-choicer would of course not advocate killing Syrian refugees, so also pro-lifers cannot advocate killing unwanted babies.)

Another illustration that hits closer to home for me is the recent case of an Arizona mom who drowned her twin 2-year-old boys because, she said, "nobody loved them." I'm not saying she was pro-choice (apparently she was mentally ill), or that pro-choicers would support what she did. I'm sure  everyone felt the same shiver of horror when hearing this news. Please remember that feeling, because that is the way pro-lifers feel when we hear that same logic used to justify the killing of unborn children. In our minds, it is the same thing.

Because we really believe they're really people.

If it seems like I'm beating a dead horse here, it's because I don't think pro-choicers get this. If they did, they wouldn't tell pro-lifers to consider economics or convenience as a viable excuse for abortion. That is morally repugnant to us. Not to you, I get that. But it is to us. And it makes me think you don't really think we really believe what we say we believe.

But we do.

As a pragmatist, I might wish I could "just get over" this inconvenient belief, but I don't believe it because it's convenient, I believe it because I really think it's true. 

What Next?

I say all of this not to try to prove you wrong, but to explain why I think I'm right; to help you understand where we pro-lifers are coming from, and why we are so resistant to legislation that violates our sincerely held beliefs. I'm not trying to get you to agree with me, but am asking you to respect that I have a different viewpoint, and it's not going to change.

While we can discuss our different beliefs, we cannot conclusively prove them one way or the other, and it is highly unlikely that everyone in our country will reach an agreement about the answers to these questions. The question is, can we move forward and work together toward common goals despite these differences? Must our government be perpetually paralyzed, or can we come up with solutions to problems that do not involve trampling on the beliefs of half of the country? 

Those are questions I plan to tackle in my next post.

In the meantime, here's a short and unemotional video that does a great job of summing up what I've talked about today. Maybe I should've just linked to it instead of spending hours writing this post. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Protesting Protests: Can't We Just Talk Instead?

Photo by Roselle Park Post
If you read my previous blog post, you'll understand why I suddenly feel compelled to talk about politics. It's not that I love confrontation and am itching for an argument, it's that I believe it's my civic duty (which until now I've been largely shirking).

All the political and historical reading I've been doing lately has convinced me that in order for America to move forward and deal with the many problems facing us--foreign and domestic, economic and social, etc.--we must become unified.

Stop laughing, I'm serious!

Ok, let's set our sights a little lower--we need to at least become less polarized. We have to be able to come together and find common ground so we can work out solutions to our problems.

I know, I know, it sounds hopelessly naive. I totally get that, especially after reading about all the discord that has been present in our nation's politics from the beginning. There will always be disagreement--that's to be expected. The question is, how do we deal with that disagreement and get things done?

Protesting Protests

Right now it seems like the most popular method of dealing with people we disagree with is to protest against them. Grab your signs, your bullhorns, and your riot gear, and let's go yell at the opposition!

I'm not saying protesting is wrong, but is it really the best way to change hearts and minds? It appears to me that most protests only succeed in solidifying both sides in their positions, further polarizing our country, and making it even harder to move forward.

So here's an idea: let's try talking to each other about the issues we disagree about.

I know, that's so hard. Who likes talking about politics? Those discussions often turn nasty, feelings get hurt, and friends stop talking to each other.

But I think it's really important that we do start talking with our friends about politics again (apparently it used to happen all the time). It's easy to demonize those you disagree with, to assume that their motives are evil, or they are stupid or uneducated--at least when they are random faces on the screen, or anonymous trolls commenting on news articles. It's much harder to demonize a friend--someone you already know and care about and trust.

I get it; it's easier to remain blissfully ignorant about each others' politics. Otherwise you might be forced to either change your opinion of them, or accept the fact that it is possible for normal, sane people to have differing opinions! 

Why Do We Disagree?

Demonizing opponents overlooks the fact that disagreements usually stem from different worldviews, not different levels of intelligence or education or evilness.

We each have a worldview; a set of pre-existing beliefs that shape the way we perceive the world. When people with different worldviews look at the same thing, they truly do see it differently. Their worldviews color their perception of it. Their differing conclusions are not the result of an attempt to deceive, but an attempt to explain the evidence in a way that fits their worldview.

This is why both sides can honestly say the same facts support their opposing worldviews.

In order to discuss issues with those we disagree with, we must understand this vital principle: if we have different worldviews we will see the world differently. So we can either:
  1. Refuse to acknowledge the other person's worldview and continue to demonize their perspective, preventing any discussion
  2. Attempt to change the other person's worldview (and often the discussion ends if they refuse)
  3. Accept and try to understand differences in worldviews so a mutually agreeable conclusion can be reached
So far method #1 seems to be the most popular one in use today, and we can see how successful that has been.

While method #2 might ultimately be the only way to make long-term changes in our culture, it is difficult because worldviews are very hard to change. Yes, let's discuss the relative merits of our worldviews, and may the best worldview win in the end, but in the meantime, how do we make progress right now?

Method #3 is, in my mind, the most practical way forward--at least it's a good place to start.

A Few Caveats

I am not saying that all worldviews are right, or that every perception of reality is correct. I'm simply acknowledging the fact that people perceive reality differently, and awareness of this is essential if we are going to discuss anything. 

For example, let's say you're wearing blue glasses and I'm wearing red glasses, and you say the ball is green and I say it's orange. Are we both right? We are both being honest about our perceptions, but because the color of our glasses is skewing the color of what we are seeing, we are both actually wrong. However, if we are humble enough to be aware of the limitations our eyewear place upon us, and apply known properties of light and a little reasoning, we might be able to figure out that the object is, in fact, yellow. That is the truth, the actual state of reality.

Also, I'm not saying that rational discussion is possible with everyone. I might be idealistic but I'm not stupid. I am aware that radical activists on any side of any issue are apt to deliberately twist facts and attempt to muddy the waters of any discussion in order to achieve their desired ends. That makes rational discussion impossible, and attempting it with such people will inevitably lead to much banging of heads against walls. I am not advocating this.

What I am talking about is conversing with the people in the middle of any issue, who don't have an agenda to push. Maybe I'm crazy, or hopelessly naive, but I think that describes many Americans.

Looking Back to Move Forward

In order to make this work, we have to first become aware of our own worldview and how it affects our perceptions. Then we need to honestly attempt to understand the worldview of those we disagree with. Only then will it be possible to have a rational discussion about controversial issues, and come up with ideas that are acceptable for both sides.

Sure, it sounds great on paper, but is it possible in real life? 

I started writing this blog post on the 14th anniversary of 9/11. I was encouraged by memories of the unity our country saw in the wake of that horrible day. That time gave me hope, because I saw my country come together as one in a way that I hadn't thought possible. I look back at those days when it seemed like everyone was displaying American flags as a show of unity, and it didn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican, or who you'd voted for in the election the previous year. We were all Americans, and we were all standing together with our fallen brothers and sisters in the name of freedom, proud of the beacon of hope that our country has always been in the world.

What happened to that unity? That willingness to set aside our disagreements in order to work towards solutions to the problems that we face as a nation?

For years I have pointed my finger at our elected representatives in Washington (on both sides of the aisle) as the instigators of this partisan divide, and have chosen to mostly sit out of the nasty world of politics, burying my head in the sand and busying myself with day to day life.

I am now beginning to realize that partisan politics only divides us--the American people--if we let it. And when we let it divide us, or turn us away from our civic duty to be informed, involved voters, we are abdicating the responsibility given to us by the founding fathers of our nation, and turning over our right to govern ourselves to unelected party machine bosses.

The solution to the partisan divide is not to be found with politicians but with We the People.

We have to start talking to each other about the things that matter to us.

Talking. Not yelling. Not debating. Not arguing. Not protesting.

Discussing. You know, like spouses are supposed to do? "We're not fighting, kids, we're having a discussion."

So let's try this. Let's take an issue, define our opposing worldviews, recognize our respective non-negotiables, identify our mutual goals, and brainstorm ideas to reach those goals without trampling on each other's non-negotiables.

To be continued...

Monday, September 14, 2015

From Apathetic and Powerless to Informed and Engaged

I'll be honest with you. I hate politics. I've spent much of my adult life trying to tune it out as much as possible. But over the last few months my attitude has begun to change. I still hate politics, but I now see it as an unavoidable evil that responsible citizens cannot ignore. We have a duty to be informed voters and engaged community members. This is the story of how that change of heart came about, and what I intend to do about it.

Why I Hate Politics

I've been pondering why, exactly, I hate politics so much. Maybe it's because I'm the middle child; I spent almost two decades of my life trying to make peace between bickering siblings, and have had quite enough of that, thank you very much! 

Or maybe it's because, as a child, politics seemed like something very important, but also very negative. Discussions turned into heated arguments with dire pronouncements about the future, which seemed completely hopeless. It seemed like the most important aspect of life, and was always going wrong, so it made me feel really insecure.

As an adult, I began to see God as the most important aspect of life, and politics became less and less important. Learning about the politics going on during the early church's history made modern politics seem less relevant. If the early church was persecuted by the government for their faith, why should I fear persecution from my own government? My attitude towards politics became fatalistic: whatever will be will be, and it's probably going to suck so I'm going to try to ignore it as long as possible. I figured, life is hard enough as it is, why bother adding to my stress and worry by caring about what goes on in politics, especially if I can't do anything about it anyway? If I don't care about it then it won't hurt me, right?

Ok, I wasn't that stupid. But I did have good reasons for disliking politics. Here are some of them:
  • The drama. There's so much arguing and yelling! People just get emotional instead of having thoughtful discussions, and act like it's ok to treat people as less than human just because they disagree about something.
  • The corruption. Power seems to be in the hands of unelected party bosses, and special interests and cronyism appears to wield more influence than the needs and will of the people.
  • The confusion. What are the facts? What do they mean? Getting beyond the spin put out by all sides of any issue is so difficult. And who has time to do that kind of research?
  • The helplessness. I mean, really, what can someone like me do to impact the government processes that impact me?

This is not an exhaustive list, and I'll bet you could add a few items of your own. Disgust with the antics of both political parties drove me to register as an Independent. I'll probably have to change that soon so I can vote in the presidential primary...but first I have to decide who to vote for.  More on that later.

Anyway, suffice to say that I've mostly tried to avoid politics for several years now, and I've especially tried to avoid discussing politics with friends...at least if I wanted to remain friends! ;-)

It's not that I didn't have convictions and opinions; I did! And it's not that I buried my head in the sand; I tried to stay aware of what was going on in the world. I scanned the headlines with the Google News and Weather app on my phone (best app ever! well, besides Evernote. And Kindle. And...okay, it's in the top 10 anyway.) and I even read articles sometimes!

But caring too much about what happens in government just seemed like a recipe for heartburn and headache. Again, I had enough of that just dealing with my own little life!

Overcoming Apathy with a Biography

One of my New Years Resolutions was to read more non-fiction. So one day in May I browsed through the Greater Phoenix Digital Library's available offerings  and randomly chose a biography of John Adams by David McCullough. I started reading it...and I could not stop! John's (and Abigail's) story really impacted me. I began reading more books about early American history, and was challenged and encouraged by what I learned.

I'd always had the impression that our Founding Fathers were all united in fighting for and forming a more perfect union and all that. That's one reason the discord in modern politics seemed like such a dire sign of impending doom--we used to have our act together, but good luck getting back to the good ol' days now! I didn't realize that the members of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the first Presidential Cabinet fought with each other almost as much as they fought the British!

Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. But the point is, they didn't all agree about everything, and they had to figure out a way to work together to solve the problems faced by their fledgling nation. Besides philosophical differences they had to deal with apathy, corruption, cowardice, and conflicting interests. A lot of times that "working together" entailed a lot of hyperbole and name calling--both in person and in the newspapers--and even fighting duels! 

Hmm. That sounds kinda familiar (minus the duels). I guess there really is nothing new under the sun after all. 

Anyway, I was actually encouraged to learn this, since it meant the acrimonious state of politics today isn't necessarily something unique to our generation; an indication that our country has devolved irretrievably beyond the realm of civil conversation. The state of politics today is nothing new, and it's exactly what's to be expected when there are human beings involved. 

And hey, at least politicians have stopped challenging each other to duels. We've made some progress.

So not only did learning more about our history give me hope, it also gave me a sense of civic duty. The way early Americans--not just famous and influential ones like the Adamses and the Washingtons, but also the ordinary farmers and merchants--served their country is so inspiring and convicting. They were well-read, stayed informed, thought deeply about history and current events, discussed problems and solutions with friends and colleagues, and were devoted to doing what was best for their country. 

Of course they didn't all agree about what was best. Disagreements were sharp and ran deep, and corruption and special interests and party machinations kept things interesting. But at least people cared enough to pay attention to what was going on and felt compelled to do something about it.

Also, many were motivated in this by their beliefs about God. Far from being fatalistic, they pushed for what they believed was right, while trusting God for the results. I found this especially convicting, and realized that God being in control doesn't mean I don't have to do my part. The difference is who is responsible for the results. When I recognize that results are God's job, not mine, it really takes the pressure off!

Fighting For Something

Then I came across the book The Conservative Heart, which I read about as quickly as I'd devoured John Adams' biography. I'll have to write a more in-depth review sometime, but the main takeaway for me was the importance of fighting for something, rather than against something.  

I determined that in this presidential election I would not vote against someone, but would find someone I could fight for. 

I've begun my research on the candidates by giving them the courtesy of speaking to me in their own words, at length, without a news editor choosing their soundbytes. Thankfully many of the candidates have written books to share their stories and ideas, and thankfully the Greater Phoenix Digital Library carries a lot of them, or this project would cost me a fortune! It's a good thing I started now, with over a year to go before the election, because there are a lot of candidates! 

So far I've read books by four candidates, and started two more (coincidentally, by the two Arkansas candidates, Huckabee and Hillary...that is an interesting juxtaposition!). While I haven't yet decided who I'm going to vote for, I have learned something from each of the books I've read.

Disclaimer: I realize that the candidates' books are written from their perspectives, telling only their sides of the story, and while I do intend to try to get the other side of the story as part of my research process, I haven't had time to do that yet. So I'm taking everything I read with a huge ol' grain of salt and not treating it as gospel truth. If you disagree with anything I say that they said, please point me to your source so I can add it to my growing list of research material. I would greatly appreciate it. Seriously. As long as you don't jump down my throat about it. :-)

From Ted Cruz's A Time For Truth I learned that grassroots campaigns can be successful. I will never again vote for someone just because they're "electable." It was encouraging to read about politicians who do actually listen to the people who voted for them, and stand for their convictions while trying to work with the opposition. Though my jaw hurt from continually dropping while reading his stories about the stunts being pulled by the leadership of both parties. 

I was inspired by all of the innovative ideas in Marco Rubio's American Dreams. Twenty-first century problems cannot be solved by twentieth century programs and ideas. Let's not keep doing things just because we've been doing them that way for a long time...if one approach isn't working, let's try a different approach.

Scott Walker's Unintimidated showed me the importance of local and state government--it has huge direct impact on people's lives. My big takeaway was to not accept false choices. If A and B are both cruddy options, look for (or create) option C. 

One Nation by Ben Carson impressed upon me the necessity of unity among the American people in tackling the problems we face today. That unity can only come about when we talk honestly and civilly with those we disagree with.

Looking Forward

It's been an interesting journey so far, and I know it's just begun. I've learned a lot over the last few months, and while I still find the backroom deals and hyped up headlines of modern (and not so modern) politics completely loathsome, I know I can't let that keep me from doing my civic duty and becoming an informed voter.

In many ways this political journey parallels the spiritual journey I've been on for the last year or so. I guess it's really just one manifestation of my growing understanding that God is in control, but he lets me be a part of his plan. I am responsible to take action as he guides and empowers me, and he is responsible for the rest. It's an encouraging realization--it isn't all on me, but there is something for me to do. 

The next step is getting engaged in what's going on. Emulating my early American heroes means going beyond just learning, thinking, and voting. Everything I've read has encouraged me to seek political change not by protesting against those I disagree with but by talking with them instead.

Wait. Talk about politics? With people you disagree with?  

I know, crazy, right? But people used to do it all the time, I hear. It was even considered normal in most circles, though it is now most definitely frowned upon in polite society.

Is it still possible? Or have we devolved irretrievably beyond the realm of civil conversation?

I intend to find out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Remembering Faith Will

Our 4th child, "Baby Boo," at 13 weeks
It's been a long time since I've posted, but I have an excellent excuse: I'm 4 months pregnant, and the first 3.5 months were pretty miserable. I was so exhausted and felt sick all the time (in contrast with my previous pregnancies) so I'm just thankful I got through them. But I'm feeling a lot better now, and there is so much I'm itching to write about!

Three years ago today I had a miscarriage. It's a common experience for women, but one that we usually don't talk about. Thankfully my mom was always very open about the two miscarriages she had between my sister and I, and my sister and other friends had shared with me about their miscarriage experiences, which helped prepare me to deal with my own. 

But the best preparation and help I received before and during that time was from God. The way He reached out to me then through His Word still gives me chills when I think of it, and continues to help me trust Him, giving me strength and hope. It's one of the big "ebenezers" in my life.

When God did amazing things in the Old Testament, he instructed the people to build monuments to remind them and future generations of what He had done. One time, after God confused an attacking army and sent them running, the prophet Samuel "took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'" (1 Samuel 7:12 NKJV) So also in our own lives when God does amazing things, we should look for ways to memorialize the event so it can be a reminder and source of strength in the future. 

In this case, I wrote about it on Facebook, and have gone back and reread the story to remind myself of what God did.

Today I share my ebenezer with you. 

I have a charm on my bracelet
for each of my children, including Faith.
In Memory of Faith Will
September 9, 2012

I found out I was pregnant on Tuesday, September 4. We were sooooo excited, but decided to not tell the world right away this time, since we’ve had several friends experience miscarriages, and so wanted to be a little more cautious.

In my personal Bible study that day, these verses from Isaiah 26 stood out to me: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” I decided to make that my theme for this pregnancy, and hold onto those verses through all the good and bad days ahead.

For six days, we happily made plans and talked about the future and I smiled when I saw babies and pregnant ladies.

While Andrew was teaching our Sunday School class that week, another verse stood out to me – Isaiah 7:9 “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” I jotted it down in my journal. Later that day, in my personal Bible study time, yet another passage from Isaiah seemed to leap off the page. This one was a bit longer:

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him…you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:18-21)

That night, Sunday, September 9, I began to miscarry our second child. As soon as it happened, the first thing that came to my mind were all of those verses, and while I cried over the loss of this precious child that I had barely had time to rejoice over, I marveled at the fact that God cared enough about me and the pain He knew I would endure to send me passages of comfort to cling to before I even knew I would need them.

That last passage especially keeps coming back to me. I certainly feel like God gave me “the bread of adversity” and “the water of affliction” last week, but just like the verses say, He also showed Himself to me in an amazing way by giving me these verses ahead of time so I had them when I needed them. So I feel even closer to Him than before, and am so thankful that our little Faith (that’s what we’ve named her) is with Him right now.

We went to the doctor on Monday and he ran some tests and confirmed the miscarriage. It was very early, and very normal, and he assured us that we shouldn’t have trouble having more children in the future. I sure pray so!

But little Faith is still a member of the family (even though we won’t meet her until we get to Heaven) so I want to tell her story. A friend of mine recently had a miscarriage and is now pregnant again, and she feels bad when people congratulate her for her current pregnancy, and never even knew about her first pregnancy. “In no other relationship would we allow a death to go unacknowledged,” she said. She’s right, so I want to acknowledge Faith’s short life and her death.

By the way, I still smile when I see babies—even if there is a tear in my eye, too.

Goodbye, Faith. I love you. I look forward to meeting you someday! 

Note: We don't know if Faith was a girl or a boy, but since we'd already had a boy, I thought of our unborn child as a girl, and the name Faith seemed very fitting. We are very thankful that a few months later we were able to conceive again, and this time carry our second born son to term. He is now a very energetic two-year-old. And now I have an 18-week baby kicking in my womb! There have been many moments--especially during this pregnancy--when I have been tempted to worry. But I keep looking back at my ebenezer and remembering that God is in control and my Teacher will help me through whatever difficult circumstances he allows in my life.