I AM PRO-THRIVE

Recently, I have noticed that many people on Facebook have a purple banner at the bottom of their profile picture that reads, “I AM PRO-LIFE”.  

 

Now, I am not one to condemn free expression, since I love my own and hate when people try to silence me.  But those little banners annoyed the crap out of me after a while, and I needed to say something about them.  But I chose to say something here, instead of saying something on my Facebook profile, because I thought that my response required more explanation than a few sound bytes.  It required something more fully reasoned and more fully expressed–with some history and some anecdotes, perhaps.

 

And as I started firing up the Chromebook and getting ready to respond,  the first two songs on shuffle play were Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield and All I Want Is Love from A Great Big World, which just seemed to be signs from The Divine that I was on the right path writing this here.  

 

I am not “pro-life” any longer.  Lots of people assume that is because I am liberal.  And I suppose, in many respects, I am.

 

But blanket terms like “liberal” don’t always describe what we think we are describing, and I would call myself progressive, not liberal, as a point of fact.  Because I don’t agree with things along a party line, and am an independent voter, based on whatever and whomever I think follows what I believe is “right”–ethical, beneficial, and based in love, beauty, and truth.  

 

This is the point where lots of people want to yell comments about killing babies not being ethical, beneficial, or based in love, beauty, and truth.  But that assumes a lot of things. That assumes that you believe life begins at conception–which I don’t think is a true statement. That assumes that our society deems all life equal–and it doesn’t.  That assumes that “benefit” and “love” are seen through the eyes of a fetus and not a pregnant woman–which I don’t believe it should be or can be, exclusively. And I understand those assumptions because I used to hold them as facts to be demanded, not assumptions to be challenged.  I used to be pro-life and a supporter of anti-abortion causes and rhetoric. I hope that I will be forgiven for my narrow-minded, single-focused, self-righteous stance at that time in my life. Because I should have challenged my assumptions and listened to the stories of others and wondered at the courage of women who walked beyond a line of picketing jerks to get an abortion, and why it was so important for them to make it through that door–because it couldn’t be that they were just liberal Jezebels with no love in their hearts, if I had stopped to think on it for a few seconds.  There were really good reasons. But I didn’t stop to consider those reasons for far too long.

 

I’m not entirely certain when the break came for me.  It was a gradual understanding that things couldn’t be as I believed when I was back in high school and my first year of college.  Maybe part of my consideration of women’s choices being valid came because I started losing my own fetus on a regular basis. One live birth out of six confirmed pregnancies–and a couple of suspected early miscarriages where I missed and then had heavy menstruation.  My body killed one in six babies, at least, on its own, without any interventions. And that takes a toll on a woman, even when she doesn’t particularly want to be pregnant or give birth. Then the child that survived did so at the most inopportune time. And I love that daughter with every fiber of my being, and didn’t consider abortion for a moment of my pregnancy with her, but I did learn the challenges of adoption agencies and the choice that is offered to many women as an “opportunity” to place their child in a “loving family” that can “better meet his or her needs”.  

 

I called bullshit on adoption.  I would hear many more stories that called bullshit on adoption later in my journey, but most of you won’t like to hear those stories.  You prefer the idea that adoption is always good people saving helpless children from lost souls. Bullshit. It’s terribly corrupt–especially when it involves children from overseas–and it is damaging for children in significant ways, but even more so for parents.  The suicide rate for birth mothers is outrageously high, and their risk of substance abuse AFTER placing their child (not before) is also much higher than that of the general population. Placing your child harms you in serious and debilitating ways. But we don’t like to talk about that.  We like to pretend that adoption is all about the babies and saving their lives. I’ve had more adopted children, as teens or adults, tell me they would rather have died than been placed where they were, than I can count on my fingers. But nobody wants to hear that part of the story. Nobody wants to hear that we took a baby and placed it with abusive parents who ruined the life of that boy or girl in really terrible ways.  And we can’t say, “At least they are alive!” We can’t promise that not living would have been worse. We cannot prove that hypothesis!!

 

I’m always struck by the instances in the biblical text where there are cries such as “Oh that I had never been born!”  There were clearly those who thought not living was better than suffering.

 

I’ve been there.  I’ve been in struggle deep and affecting enough that I wished not only for death but that I had never been born to suffer this way at all.  If I had a choice. If we went back in time, and The Divine laid before me life with all that I have suffered, or not living, it would be a very challenging decision.  And if I knew that dying in the womb brought me straight to some afterlife, where living made me suffer first and then brought me to the same end, I would probably skip to the end.  

 

There’s been a ton of joy in my life.  Don’t misunderstand. I’m not discounting that joy.  I’m just saying that the suffering has been far outweighing the joy for most of my existence, and other people don’t get to say that my suffering is better than not being around to suffer–joy or no.  Other people don’t get to define the limits that I can tolerate, or the impact that events have on my person, or the way that I choose to cope with what I have endured and will endure. We don’t get to tell other people that they are better off alive and suffering than they would have been if their parent would have chosen to abort.  We don’t know that. We can’t prove that. We want that to be true, but that doesn’t mean it is.

 

That sounds crass, but it is true.  I can’t say that being born is better.  I can say that I am glad those people are here and that they offer great things just by being alive in this world.  So, it isn’t as crass as you might imagine, in practice as it is in theory.

 

I almost typed that I “would never express that a person is better off dead”.  That would have been a lie.

 

Lol.  Now some people are really stirred up!!

 

But I did say that.  I thought that sometimes when my mom was suffering a lot from her Alzheimer’s and would cry uncontrollably and be confused and frustrated.  It was hard to see her that way, and there were times that I said I wished her disease would progress, because I wanted that suffering to end.  I, obviously, didn’t want my mother to be dead, but I didn’t want her to suffer. I felt that way because of how much I loved my mom. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone.  

 

Earlier, I said that many would not believe that being pro-choice could be a thing that came out of love.  But it can be when you consider that feeling–the love you feel that makes you let go of someone. And that is the love that lets women let go of the potential of a person.  It isn’t yet a baby in the mind of most–because science. But even if it were a person, and it were a medical necessity to let go, love is still the driving force that makes that decision.  It isn’t selfish. It is selfless, almost always, to choose to end a pregnancy. And often the challenge is that you cannot provide the home that this child will deserve, because you have other children to feed and care for and cannot take on the responsibility of another.  

 

I know, the trope is the irresponsible, young girl who gets knocked up … and like all the tropes, it isn’t true.  

 

I have hundreds of stories and all sorts of scientific facts that I could tell, and they would express my transition from someone who didn’t understand that most abortions are had by women who already have children, and that there is a decidedly racist and classist reason that black women are more affected than others by unplanned pregnancy, and that Planned Parenthood saves far more lives than it has or will ever end (my own included in those saved), and that the decisions of others regarding procreation are not anyone else’s business, to someone who now does understand those things.  I am happy to share statistics and happy to share stories at any time. From the 12-year-old friend whose mom pimped her out for drugs who had 2 kids by age 14, to the friend who suffered trauma from placing her son with an amazing family, to the intrusions of others into my own choices about my body when I had to have a hysterectomy. I have people in my life who have had abortions, who have been placed or placed their children for adoption, who have adopted with relative success or adopted and been faced with a host of problems, and who have faced all sorts of choices and challenges regarding procreation, fertility, birth control, and similar subjects.  But none of that is what I want to take away from this post.

What I want to take away from this post, is the ways that being “pro-life” tends to ignore the “life” portion of that statement once that life has gotten beyond the point of gestation.  Really, many of those who have that purple banner under their name should say, “I AM PRO-GESTATION”. Because once that baby is born, it ceases to have any support or care from most of those same people who proudly shout at innocent mothers and spread propaganda against Planned Parenthood.  

 

I found this out the hard way.

 

So many people were pro-baby Bloem before I had my child as an almost divorced mom.  After I pushed away the baby-grabbing adoption agency and they essentially called me a crazy person for keeping my child, my parents offered their full support.  Many others offered support as well. But my parents were the only ones to keep their promise. The rest were loving and supportive so long as I kept that little one gestating safely, and lots of people were also loving and supportive for a month or so after she was born.  After that?

 

I remember crying as Bill Clinton addressed the country in his State of the Union in 1997 and promised reforms that would make life easier for women like me on welfare.  I didn’t know then that welfare reform would mean lifetime limits and work demands that were impossible in my tiny community, and that would actually make life harder. It would toss millions off of the rolls, and pretend at success, but would actually disappear those families–many of them forced into homelessness, sex work, illegal enterprise, or fraudulent use of programs to survive.  The laws still haven’t been reformed from Clinton’s crap reform, so the number of people forced to survive off the damaging and difficult circumstances that the late 90’s forced people into has stayed relatively steady, and the welfare rolls don’t increase much with the strict rules still in place. So, while this desperation and struggle continues, there are many who promote their pro-life agenda and also still call for cuts to spending on social programs.  They think too many people get “handouts”. Too many people on food stamps. Too many people on disability. Too many people on welfare.

 

I wonder, how many is too many?  How many is just right? Who is the fucking Goldilocks of social programming who decides what is the correct number of disabled and hungry people, and then how do we make that number equal with the number of people in society that actually NEED these services???  

 

If you won’t vote for MORE social safety net funding, you aren’t pro-life.  Because if you won’t vote for more such funding, you don’t want all people to thrive.  Do you think life is worth living in a state of constant need and hunger and suffering?  Do you think it is great to sell your vagina to buy formula? Great! You do it! Otherwise, vote for equal pay and equal rights and more funding for every program that helps people who are not you.  And if you will not, then do not say you promote life. Say that you promote gestation and birth, but not life, per se.

 

Let’s move beyond that subject to another aspect of thriving–prison!  The most obvious thing to bring up here is the death penalty. If you support killing people who break the law, but not a fetus, I call bullshit.  And you can quote the Old Testament until you are blue in the face, but before you do, let me remind you that I went to not one, but two seminaries.  So, I can not only quote the bible back, but I can explain why the New Testament offers an alternative to the penalty of death and asks you to extend mercy, not judgment.  Does the law allow for death? Yes, in some cases. Should it? Absolutely not, if you claim you are pro-life. You can’t ask for life on one hand and death on the other. If life begins at conception, then once god conceived of you, regardless of your sins against him, you deserve life.  If not, then we can talk. But you can’t have the cake and eat it too, people. Pick one and stick with it.

 

Secondary to this is the treatment of humans in general.  Being beaten, raped, tortured, etc., is NEVER acceptable if you are to claim you want life for all.  What kind of life is that?? Nobody deserves such treatment, and if you aren’t supporting an end to mass incarceration, rights for foreign detainees, and just treatment of prisoners everywhere, then you don’t want life for all, but you want gestation and birth for babies.  Once they are born, and make a mistake, you don’t care who does what to them. And that is NOT the will of any god that I will ever serve. If you are fine with the rape and torture of anyone, anywhere, you should seriously evaluate your heart.

 

Please don’t tell me, “Those people committed crimes!”  So did you. Every last one of you has gossiped, or committed adultery, or lusted, or lied, or, at the very least, driven over the speed limit.  You are all just as depraved as the next, right Calvinists? So, don’t tell me now that you are better than those criminals. You aren’t. They may have sinned differently, or gotten caught, or just been unfairly treated by an unjust system that leans toward punishing black and brown boys, but they certainly are not less human or less good than you at their core.  They are people–every bit your equal. And they deserve equal rights, as such.

 

I can go on and on.  An end to war. Equal pay for women.  Ending sexual violence. Gender justice.  Racial justice. Stopping this incessant whining about immigrants taking something from you when you are extremely fucking privileged and losing nothing to them.  

 

I am Pro-Thrive.  I consider all of these things when I speak, write, read, vote, and live out my days.  I consider the actual LIVES of the poor and marginalized, not just their births. Because what the fuck does it matter if babies are born if you won’t do anything to fight for justice in their lives after that fact?  If they die of hunger, or they have to sell their bodies to pay for necessities like food and housing, or they end up in prison at age 14, or they die by war or suicide or gun violence at a young age, then what was the point in funneling all that money and energy into keeping them gestating until birth??  Was that better?? I don’t think it was good enough!

 

We can do better!!

 

The fact is, I don’t particularly love abortion as an option.  I’d love to see free birth control offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see, science-based, comprehensive sex education courses offered to everyone, so that we can limit abortion.  I’d love to see social programs increase, so that we can limit abortion.

 

But I would never tell a woman what she is or is not allowed to do with her body, because I don’t have that right.  I’m not her. And if there is one thing that being sexually violated teaches you, it is that NOBODY tells you what to do with your body but you.  So, I would rather she get a safe, legal abortion, if that is her choice, than go back to the fucking stone age and endanger the lives of women who do make that choice.  

 

Regardless of my personal preferences, however, the point here is to look at the whole life of a person, and to make whole life a consideration.  If you claim to be a person of faith, and you claim to honor life, but you support war and torture and the death penalty and cuts to medicare and SNAP, something is off-balance.  If you wish to claim that you are for life, you must be for all of it, in all of its forms and for all of its people. If you are not for life for all people, at all ages, in all circumstances, you should come up with another claim.  You are not pro-life. You are not pro-thrive. I’m not sure what you are, but it isn’t very inclusive and it isn’t very much like the Christ of the bible that most of you claim to be following. So, that is a concern that you might want to take to heart and consider for a while.  

 

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out over here in my progressive corner with The Divine.  I am pro-choice.

 

But I am also PRO-THRIVE!!   And I am very glad I have evolved to that point.  Hallelujah!!

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In Jesus’ Shame

 

I grew up going to church.  Not just going, but religiously so…attending every single Sunday morning and Sunday night, unless terribly ill.  And I hated church, largely because I was forced to attend without my personal consent.  Any part of life you can’t consent to can be a struggle, especially for the naturally independent leader that lived deep inside of me, but when other really important decisions are also made without your consent (like the bodily choice of surgery or testing or sexual contact or any number of things that I struggled with over the course of my formative years) then being forced to go to church just becomes another area outside of your control that makes you feel diminished and marginalized.  So I hated it.

And at some point I got over that hatred of church because later in life I was given the choice to go, and I chose to attend and participate, not only in church but in the pursuit of multiple degrees in theology.  Church became my life, in many ways.  But the longer I stayed, the more I knew that I wasn’t really wanted there.  Inside my head the “if people knew” clause started to pop up over and over.  If people knew that I was an addict…   If people knew that I have sex on the regular…   If people knew about my molestation…  If people knew I was pro-choice…    If people knew I get food stamps…   If people knew my personal view of eschatology…  If people knew I don’t believe [insert some sort of popular religious belief here]….    If and if and if and if and on and on it went.

I started to feel like I had to hide myself from the church.  I started to feel the weight of shame, even while I wasn’t personally being shamed (because I was hiding my true belief and experience).  I began to know that I wasn’t welcomed “just as I am” in any church that I had ever attended.  I began to search for churches that would let me in, even if I were just me—as is and with no hiding and no apologies.  I have yet to find a church sans shame.  So I have yet to join a church again.

It has been a little over three years, I suppose, since I last attended church, and I have never been more free.

I was always taught—from Sunday school classes as a small child to my seminary training—that Jesus brought freedom. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.  But the only time I was actually free to study and believe without shame was when I left the confines of religious communities and went out into the world.

Ah, the world.  That damnable expression of all that is evil and to be feared. Or so one would think, given the reactions of Christians in the United States. But the world, you see, is open in ways that the church had never been for me.  The church confined and constricted.  The world let me investigate and study and try and experience and discover in ways the church never would.

The world didn’t try to shame me as much or as often as the Christians tried to shame me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the church isn’t usually practicing in Jesus’ name.  It is often practicing shame.

Sex is bad and you are bad for having it.  Poverty is bad and you must be doing bad things to land in that state.  Being gay is bad and you are messed up if you love people outside of the parameters that we express.  Rape is bad, so if you have been raped you must have done something wrong to deserve it.  Women’s butts are bad, so you mustn’t let them be out in the “open” with revealing yoga pants.  Being single is bad, because you are supposed to make babies.  Abortion is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  Birth control is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  You are bad if you don’t make all the babies all the time. Except if you have a baby and not a husband then you are bad.  Drugs are bad and if you are addicted you are bad.  Depression is bad, and if you are depressed you are not good at trusting in god.  Disability is bad, so you need to suck it up and get back to work or you are bad.  You are bad.  You are bad.  Christy, you are extremely fucking bad.

And then one day, I decided I am not bad.  Because every religious text I have ever encountered promises hope and renewal and the “becoming” of the person. The promise is that shame disappears, not becomes the defining characteristic of the church.  The promise is acceptance and love without conditions and grace and a forgiving spirit and a love of peace.  All of these things require that we kill all this rule-making and fear-inducing and humanity-stripping, damnable shame!

“I love you, but…” cannot be a part of our language or our thinking if we are going to be the love and grace and peace that every single religion I have ever encountered says we must or shall be.  “I will love you if…” cannot be a part of that language or thinking.  “I love you because…” is not a religiously accepting statement unless it is followed by “you exist”.

There is a passage in the Christian biblical text that I once had to translate in a seminary course.  I was shocked to read and to learn and to begin to hold the belief that “anyone who loves is of god”.  This transformed all for me, in the sense that love becomes the definitive aspect of what is right and good, and of who belongs to and with and in god.  So the impoverished woman who helps me up when I fall is of god, and the prostitute who always asks about my day and shows concern for me is of god, and the person to whom I am not married, but who shows me love and care both in and out of my bedroom, is of god, and my Atheist and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan friends are all of god, because they all love fiercely and choose peace and show grace all of the time.

I am of god because I just reminded myself, during the interruption of my short time in which to write by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, that I need to show even those who interrupt my theological expressions or blog posts the grace and the love and the promise that is god.

And because of this discovery, I have moved away from the term “god”, for the most part.  I choose to use the term “the divine” or sometimes “the universe”, depending on the situation. (Because the word “god” carries so much weight for so many…and usually not in a positive way.)

Anyone who loves is of the divine.  Anyone who loves….without qualification, without exception, without condition, and without being shamed into compliance with the normative religious ideal of the day…is of the divine.

Shame is not discipleship.  Shame is not beneficial.  Shame is not helpful in any proven study regarding any desired behavior.  Shame is not love.  And love is god, and god is love, and those who love are of god.  So, if you insist on shaming others, you are not of god.

Love = divine.  Shame = not divine. (For those who would like this boiled down to its most basic expression.)

So, let’s all stop trying to shame others and call it something we do in Jesus’ name.

And let’s all recognize that trying to shame people like me, who have come to understand the will of the divine in this open and free and beautiful way, is a waste of precious time.  Maybe hug your grandkids or knit a scarf instead, or do something that expresses love and grace and equity and peace to those less fortunate than you (as Jesus also suggested), but without superiority and judgments and shame (which Jesus never suggested, and instead taught against).  Let’s spend less time assessing my yoga pants and sex and spend more time assessing ways to reduce violence against women and inequity in our justice system and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the ways that our current support system isn’t supporting the people who need the most support.

I sometimes wonder what troubles we could eliminate if we put into Alzheimer’s research, or new mental health care facilities and programs, or access to fresh vegetables all the same energy I see being spent on demanding less yoga pants and decrying the (very legal) right to choose what happens inside a person’s own uterus. What if we cared about the 2,114 people who have been shot in Chicago (as of yesterday…today it will likely be higher) this year as much as we did about the shape of a buttock or the type of birth control a couple chooses or the number of meat packers who happen to have come from Mexico? What if we spent our energy on loving meat-packing Mexicans and loving couples and loving my buttocks?  How would that change the world?  (I do have a rather amazing ass, by the way.  It deserves much love.)

I would much rather express love than refrain from sex.  I would much rather choose peace than promote conflict.  I would much rather be the divine than shame the poor or the addict or the disabled or the person who has less understanding on a subject I may have studied extensively or any that may be deemed “less fortunate” (though when you begin to be love and grace and peace, your idea of “less” can be transformed in myriad ways).

So, I leave you with this question:  Do you speak in Jesus’ shame, or are you of the divine?