Posted in musings

on abortion and disability

I’ve noticed lately an uptick in the discussion on abortion among my online friends and on the radio; I’m pretty sure it is due to some recent state laws (or proposed laws) related to the topic, but I have been avoiding political topics like the plague recently for various reasons so I don’t know the details. So I am not planning, here, to go into legal details. I don’t know what is best from a pragmatic perspective, balancing the needs and rights of every person in a far-from-ideal world full of broken and sinful people and circumstances.

But a lot of the arguments I have seen remind me of the atrocities commemorated every March 1st on the Disability Day of Mourning. There are parents who believe that their children’s lives will be not worth living because of their disability, who think it would be better if they didn’t live at all then live with that suffering, and quite logically decide to kill them. There are reporters and juries and judges who believe that the burden of care and support placed upon these parents by their disabled victims somehow makes their crime less heinous and more deserving of leniency and compassion. None of these parents wanted a disabled child, after all. Their entire lives were overturned and their expectations and plans were dashed because of these children’s existence. And since the victims weren’t going to have great quality of life anyway, due to their disability, surely we can all identify with their parents and the hard decision they made stemming from their grief and anger and stress (again, all the fault of the victim). On the Disability Day of Mourning, the disabled community remembers these victims, speaking their names, attributing to their memory the individual worth and human value that they were denied in life.

And when I read what my friends have to say in defense of abortion – focusing on the pain and grief of the mother, on the brokenness of the situations that most commonly lead to abortion, on the emotional and physical caregiving demands placed by the fetus on an unwilling parent, on the potential for child abuse and poor quality of life for the unaborted child – it makes me think that if we (as a society) can say these things about the killing of the unborn, it won’t be long before we can say them about the disabled. Because yes, all those points are true and valid and need to be addressed, but they do not invalidate the humanity of the vulnerable and needy and young – of the child who did not ask to be conceived, or to be born with a disability, but who as a result of the brokenness of the world finds herself in need of care and support with no open and loving arms extended to her.

How do we love and support those who unexpectedly find themselves parenting a special needs child with no clue of how to handle things – or who find out they are pregnant and know they have no resources to raise a child? How do we protect children whose parents sink into abusive or neglectful behaviors because they are overwhelmed by the support and care necessitated by their child’s disability or believe their disabled child to be less valuable or deserving of love – or because they never wanted a child and are suddenly pregnant and have no love to give to the child of a rapist or abuser? Whatever the best answer is, I’m fairly sure it doesn’t involve killing those children, anymore than it would involve killing the adults who find themselves in parental positions they are inadequate to cope with. We need to reach out with hands gentled by our own knowledge of the brokenness of the world and of each human heart, and smooth the troubled path before the feet of these parents and their children: sometimes to guide, sometimes to lend a helping hand over obstacles in the way, sometimes to carry, and sometimes to chart a splitting of ways. And at the same time, we need to make sure that the amount of support a person needs – the extent of their dependence on caregivers – does not impact the value we ascribe to their life.

Otherwise, we end up attempting to erase a problem by erasing a person.

Posted in musings

sacrament

“…Ransom had been perceiving that the triple distinction of truth from myth and of both from fact was purely terrestrial – was part and parcel of that unhappy division between soul and body which resulted from the Fall. Even on earth the sacraments existed as a permanent reminder that the division was neither wholesome nor final. The Incarnation had been the beginning of its disappearance.” – C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, chapter 11

What is a sacrament? It is a meeting of supernatural truth and physical fact – a symbol or a sign that also accomplishes that which it symbolizes, a moment of living myth.

In baptism we symbolize our union with Christ in His death and resurrection by plunging into the water and rising out of it again – but it is more than just a picture, as the Scripture says: “Baptism, which corresponds to this [Noah’s ark], now saves you” (I Pt 3:21).

We eat the bread and drink the wine, and remember Jesus’s body broken and His blood shed on the cross – but it is more than a memorial, as Jesus told us: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life.” (Jn 6:53-54).

Into the physical water comes the saving grace of God; into the tangible wafer and wine comes the true Presence of the Bread of Life.

For in taking on humanity – one Person holding in Himself both natures, being at one time both supernatural and natural, both human and Divine – Jesus began the knitting together of those things which sin had torn apart. No longer is the material world completely separate and distinct from the spiritual; now they begin to work together as one, water and spirit in our baptism, bread and body in the mystery of the Eucharist, even as Jesus Himself is one.

Posted in musings

to the end

As the narrative of the gospel of John transitions from Jesus’s ministry into his final teachings before Passover (which in turn are the build up to His suffering, death, and resurrection), there stands one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.

“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” – John 13:1

With the end of Lent in sight now that Holy Week is at hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ends of things. So often I start with high ambitions and good intentions on a new and brightly fascinating idea, only to peter out into nothing before I complete anything (and oh, that phrase of unknown etymology calls up some interesting analogies here: the disciple who strode out on to the water in faith, only to end by sinking in doubt; who boldly proclaimed that he would never forsake Jesus, only to deny him three times not long after). The daily grind of discipline and maintenance required to see a task through to its end, after the shine has worn off and the hardship and tedium has set in, is not something that comes naturally to me (does it to anyone, really?). But eventually, the end comes. The deadline approaches – time runs out – what is left undone must still be called up and held accountable. At some point there is no “tomorrow” left to finish up the chores, to do something special with your child, to read the last chapter of your book, or to turn your heart towards God.

What do you want to be focusing on, when the end comes? What do you want to have finished, or to at least have put your best effort into? And if it is not what comes naturally, how can you give yourself the motivation and support you need to do what you truly, deeply, desire to do?

Jesus, here, was approaching the end, and he knew it, and he was most definitely not looking forward to it. The task he was about to complete was not a pleasant one. But as the end came, he held fast to the bright and beautiful idea that had started it all: he loved his people. Having loved them from the beginning, he loved them to the end. He would prove that love, on the cross, that great and terrible end towards which he was at this point rapidly proceeding.

And what happened then? He loved them to the end – the end of his earthly ministry, the end of his very life – and then he showed them, showed us, that the end is not final: that hope and redemption and life and restoration continue on. He loved us to the end – and his love did not end. Peter sank into the waves, and it could have been the end – but Jesus pulled him up onto the boat. Peter denied his Lord and Savior, and that could have been the end too – but Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, equipped him, and built the church upon his shoulders. He caught hold of that unending love, and it pulled him past the end and into the eternity awaiting.

I know what I want to be focused on, when Lent ends, when I end: that same unending love. I know what I want to have put my best effort into: leaving behind my vices and sins, into loving the people around me and fulfilling my responsibilities to them, into making my small corner of the world more beautiful and more illuminated by the light of heaven. And since it does not come naturally, most of the time? I pray that I might strive (for righteousness) and rest (in grace) both now and at the end: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Like Peter, I stretch my hand over the raging waters to catch hold of the ever-strong grace and the never-ending love of Jesus.

Posted in musings

internalized ableism

Sometimes the things we hate the most are things inside ourselves.

If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, you may remember the story of Dumbledore’s younger sister Ariana, who was unable to acknowledge or accept her own magical abilities after a traumatizing encounter at a young age. Because of her experience, she began to see her magic as something freaky, abnormal, disgusting, or fearsome – so she tried to conceal it, control it, eradicate it. But it was a part of who she was, and for all her attempts it would still come bursting out, wild and uncontrolled, in moments of high stress or emotion. And through trying to bury her magic, she was never able to reach the heights of power and beauty that she would otherwise have been capable of: her own self-hatred, shaped by the fear and disgust of others, held her back.

The movie Frozen tells a similar story. Elsa tries for years to lock in her power, controlling it only in the sense of never using it and never letting anyone know it exists – but she has to isolate herself to do so, locking herself away just as she tries to lock her power away, and when circumstances intensify, her power is revealed in erratic, wild, dangerous ways. And because of all those years of the people she loved and trusted most telling her not to use her power, to hide it, to control it, she is (at first, anyway) unable to see the beauty and potential of it. She is swamped by feelings of her own inadequacy and monstrosity, believing the lies of the disgusted and fearful crowds.

This is what internalized ableism looks like.

This is how it feels to believe that a part of you is broken or inadequate or shameful, that something about yourself should be hidden and controlled and never talked about, that something central to the core of your being is something normal people are right to be afraid of or disgusted by. This is what it looks like to shut down your abilities because they are different than other people’s abilities and they make you stand out in an uncomfortable way – to deny the fullness of who you are in a futile attempt to just blend in and meet the expectations of normalcy. It can lead to anxiety or depression: to a fear of rejection, perhaps, a fear of being revealed as some sort of unlovable freak or incompetent imposter. It can lead to resentment of or contempt for those who are open about their differences – maybe there is a bit of jealousy there: that someone else is able to live without shame into the fullness of the abilities God gave them, without the constant self-hatred and fear; or that someone else gets to inconvenience everyone with their needs while you have to suck it up and pretend your needs don’t exist because you don’t want to be the abnormal monstrous burden that your ableism tells you that you are.

It gets a bit emotionally convoluted, in case you couldn’t tell 🙂

And the worst part is that it is so hard to see it in yourself, and so hard to change it once you do. Shifting your paradigm about the world and your place in it feels like repeating a lie, over and and over again, in an attempt to make it true. Different is not less, over and over again. My needs do not detract from the value of my personhood, over and over again. Having areas of weakness does not mean I am incompetent and lazy, over and over again. Asking for help does not mean I am a failure, over and over again. My success, and my path to it, might not look normal, and that is ok – over and over again. Maybe if the new thoughts get repeated enough they can beat down the ascendancy of the old negative ones.

Ariana never had the chance; she died before she was able to heal, if she ever would have been able to anyway. But Elsa – by the end of her story she is beginning to learn, beginning to accept herself with her differences, not despite them. She is beginning to see the extra beauty the world can hold because of the differences of the people in it, no matter how abnormal or debilitating their abilities may seem at first. She is beginning to focus on what she can do instead of trying – and failing – to act just like everyone else, and in so doing is able to fill a unique place in her community instead of staying isolated and hurting.

We all have something to give, and we all have strengths and abilities we can develop, and we hurt ourselves most of all when we believe the lies that say our differences make us less or that we should be ashamed of our weaknesses and needs. Society has enough contempt for the disabled and the neurodivergent; why should we add to it with our own self-hatred?

 

Posted in musings

it is not surprising that those who neglect the Mother of God also demean and objectify womanhood

A toxic strain of misogyny dwells within Christianity, an infection that pretends to be part of its host. It makes women out to be spun glass or precious china – beautiful objects, of great value and worthy of being protected. Notice that this analogy, while purporting to elevate women, actually paints women as objects, not persons, and portrays them as being unable to protect themselves or others who they love or who are vulnerable and in need. It limits the acceptable competencies of womanhood (i.e., from fighting to nurturing) and removes agency and autonomy from women.

A particularly egregious article from the well-known ministry Desiring God has by virtue of its poor writing made this misogyny more blatant than is typical (or, likely, than was intended). First, the author writes that “our God, our nature, our love must firmly say, You are too precious, my mother, my daughter, my beloved. It is my glory to die that you may live.” Here part of the true reasoning behind the overprotective platitudes is revealed: the pride of men is at stake, and it is a fragile thing! Far be it from these men to endure the long years of loneliness and deprivation following the death of a loved one; no, for them it is the single shining moment of a glorious death that they crave, that though the women they leave behind might suffer and be forgotten, they at least might be remembered and praised for their valiant bravery. No matter that if they had fought together, this man and his mother (or daughter, or beloved) may have both escaped unscathed, or more effectively protected their children or neighbors. The heroics of the man would be diminished, his glory tarnished! May it never be!

I (and I believe I speak for most women here) have no desire to be the token object by which a man’s glory is elevated, a precious thing but a thing all the same. Womanhood complements manhood that the two might fight the battles of life hand in hand, and they are not so dichotomously opposed that is must always be the men who die in glory and the women who remain at home in silence and tedium. The strength of manhood grows more patient and steadfast when tempered by the daily tasks of nurturing and maintaining a family and home; the strength of womanhood gains sharpness and fire when allowed to whet itself on the battlefield (whether philosophical, political, or physical). Though cultural traditions have often mandated otherwise, God has given to some women – like Deborah and Joan of Arc – a vocation of war and public ferocity; and He has similarly given to some men, though their names may be lost to a history that treasures only moments of flashy glory, a vocation of tenderness and private service.

The unfortunate article in question, however, does not content itself with this first statement of objectification. In the concluding paragraph, the author states that “God’s story for all eternity consists of a Son who slew a Dragon to save a Bride.” Conveniently, it seems, he forgets or ignores the great foremother of that Son, of whose seed – not of Adam’s seed, note – the Lord promised that the Savior would one day come. Conveniently again he forgets or ignores the Mother of that Son, who suffered the ignominy and shame of an unwed pregnancy to bear Him for the world, who raised Him in poverty and exile to know and love the Scriptures, who protected with her own body the Savior who that Dragon was waiting to devour. In His person, Jesus united deity with humanity, and though He took the form of a man, He ensured in the person of His Mother that womanhood was not omitted from the salvific narrative, a mere passive item to be protected and preserved. In her, womanhood also fought against the temptations and forces of Satan, and by her obedience and faith – by her willingness to be thrown into the center of the battle for the souls of all humanity – the Son of God was able to be the Son of Man as well, and so die and rise again to bring life to us all.

Of course, it is so much easier to forget about Mary. She comes with theological baggage enough to make any Protestant uncomfortable, especially the Reformed persuasion at Desiring God. But when we write her out of the story, we run the risk of writing out womanhood in general, from social and cultural mores as well as from the life of faith. You can keep your precious china, locked away in your home, safe from the dangers of life until it fades and grows brittle with the years of disuse. Let me instead be a woman like Mary, if I can dare to even dream so high – a woman like Deborah, like Joan of Arc, like Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, like the saints who fought for the faith and the martyrs who died for it; I am like them a woman, a child of God, and I refuse to be objectified.

Posted in musings

meditation on lenten fasting

Not quite a week into Lent, I’ve already had many opportunities to think about the nature and experience of fasting. It is a constant running up into a wall that isn’t normally present, a rebuttal of habit and comfortable patterns, a never-ending awareness of hungering desire countered by a never-ending “no.” No matter how insignificant my fast is compared to many others throughout history and tradition, it is still satisfying to reach the end of another day without breaking it, without crossing those invisible boundaries – and the crossing, the satiation of that gnawing desire, when it does happen, doesn’t feel nearly so good as it promised.

It’s an interesting demonstration of the power of our internal rules for life: of the strength that our decisions and convictions hold over us, even when we aren’t very good at holding true to them. That internal satisfaction is a deep motivation, regardless of whether anybody else knows of our success in following the path we have chosen or staying within the lines we have drawn. So Lenten fasting is an exercise in strengthening our will by holding ourselves forcibly to the (arbitrary-seeming) rules we have designated for the season; in the end, ideally, our will is then better-equipped to hold fast to the laws of God and the way of faith.

For that, ultimately, is the most important thing about Lenten fasting. It’s not primarily about the surface things we give up – alcohol or chocolate or frivolous Internet browsing, or more traditional limitations on consumption – but is rather about training our minds and emotions and wills to forego pleasure for a greater end, about focusing our pursuit of God. If I give up a certain activity, it is so that in the empty spaces it leaves I can devote more time to prayer or edifying reading. If I choose to eat less, it is so that through the physical emptiness inside I can remember in my prayers and actions those for whom hunger is not a choice; or so that I can be reminded of the spiritual emptiness I can become so deadened to, that results when I fail to feast on the Bread of Life.

Up against the wall I will come every day, for these forty days, and sometimes I will fail, and sometimes I will succeed, and in the end I will come to the cross of Christ and know that those failures will make me more glad of His grace, and that those successes will strengthen my ability to love and emulate Him more fully. In the end, having walked through the desert of self-denial, I will come to the spring of the water of life, bursting forth in the Resurrection for my refreshment and renewal, and it will taste the sweeter for the burning sands and parched lips of the journey.

Posted in family life, musings

social learning through play

When I first read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn a couple years ago, I was struck by his descriptions of young children playing together. In the interactions he transcribed, these children were negotiating social hierarchies, defining relationships, experimenting with emotional expression and response, making small talk, and learning to understand the thoughts and feelings of other individuals – all through the context of undirected, independent, imaginative play with each other.

At the time I was both impressed and discouraged: impressed at the ability of the human mind to use pretend play as a means of acquiring important social skills, and discouraged at the thought that I hadn’t yet seen my son engage in pretend play with another child in that way. He could parallel play with his baby brother, and that was about it; other children overwhelmed and even frightened him.

But lately I have watched him playing with Limerick, roaring and yelling and screaming at each other, and when I cautiously peek around the corner they quickly assure me that it’s all part of the game, and their characters are angry, not actually them. Their pretend animals ask each other if they can come in, or share space, or help with something difficult. The boys ask each other, outside of the game, about what they are each comfortable with and what the other one’s preference would be for the kind of game they play, back and forth until they reach a compromise.

I have watched him playing with Aubade, laughing and wrestling and generally being silly, until suddenly she pretends to be sad with a pouty frown and a slump of her shoulders, proclaiming that she is sad, and he instantly changes his mood to match her emotional expression, curling up next to her to give her snuggles until she decides she is happy again.

While his understanding of other people’s emotions may not be as intuitive, and while social norms and niceties may always be more of a second language, he still has the innate desire to connect and belong with others. And so with the people he loves, he works hard to understand them, to compromise with them, to adapt to their wants and feelings. We’ve done a lot of “play coaching” with him and his siblings over the years, to get to this point, but now, every time I see him bend and adjust, every time I hear him ask what his siblings would rather do instead of demanding things go his way, I am so encouraged by how much he has learned, and by how much he can do without any adult around reminding him. Those hours of play have really been effective in helping him pick up and hone his budding social skills – and I have no doubt they will continue to be.