opinion

Be ProLife for Millennials’ Sake

There is no end of opinion pieces proliferating the internet which decry millennials for their unique faults or puzzle over what exactly made them the way they are.  Poisoned by their parents’ failures to respect life, marriage, and children, they have no real concept of what makes healthy, stable families and relationships; porn and the hookup culture is the perpetual context for their love. Dealt a losing hand, they are often understandably dragged down by apathy, immaturity, and a myopic self-centeredness. Little or no social guidance and much cultural hindrance is offered to millennials trying to climb their way out of this quagmire.

baby-22194_1920

And that is why millennials are especially in need of a prolife culture. It is not just that babies in the womb deserve life, though of course they do; it is not just that abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women, though of course it is; it is that my generation needs these children who are most vulnerable, most at risk, most expendable and disposable in the eyes of the world.

Society asserts that children are to be regarded as an accessory: to be obtained, customized, or flaunted when desired, but absolutely not to be had about if inconvenient, and certainly not at the expense of other things, like careers or checkbooks, which bring more immediate gratification. This pervasive disregard for the broader value of human life has largely been adopted by my generation. Some millennials, in fact, are vehemently anti-child, opting not simply for child-free sexual relationships but demanding child-free lifestyles where children, with their noise and inconvenience and unpredictability, are forbidden to disturb the settled, manageable atmosphere of adulthood.

This is the darkest kind of ignorance about human reality. In insulating ourselves from the realities of childhood—just as, indeed, we often insulate ourselves from the realities of old age and death—we become hardened, blindly self-centered. No matter what else our interests or pursuits, such an anti-human attitude betrays a dangerously misanthropic turn of heart. If we cannot love children, we will never truly love Mankind.

Children are living contradictions to the millennial culture of cynicism and selfishness; they are both an unshakable sign of hope and a reason to keep fighting for ideals. Their innocent honesty and sense of wonder alone is a powerful antidote to the cloud of apathy that can settle around a millennial heart. Even the cries and annoyances of a baby challenge us to come out of ourselves; to pull out our earbuds, put down our phones, and attend to the needs of someone who is unable to help himself.

That is a challenge millennials especially need to hear.

Children, uniquely innocent and vulnerable, wake us to the tragedies and horrors we commit on other adults. When a child is caught in the crossfire of our petty political strife or serious worldly conflict, it shows up in one vivid flash our cruelty and hypocrisy for what they truly are. A hundred men may die in a given crisis before the world looks up from its agenda to do something about it; but the image of a toddler killed in their midst makes us stop in our tracks, reassess, question what we have done and are doing. Adults may be dying from starvation in a far-off country, and we will turn a blind eye; but the sight of a child dying from starvation is too tragic a thing for even the casual observer to really ignore.

Parenthood likewise demands that parents grow in maturity and responsibility; it challenges human vanity and pettiness. And the unpredictability or uncertainty that children bring—the personal struggle and commitment which raising them entails—is certainly something millennials need more of.

I do not mean by this that all millennials must get married and raise a family. For many this is simply a present impossibility. No, it is not only the potential millennial parents who need children in their lives. It is their millennial neighbors and siblings, their teachers and office workers, their relatives and friends. Single college students, busy young doctors and lawyers and contractors, and society at large all need children—to see them often, have them as part of their extended if not immediate families, and learn from their very existence that human life is at once both small and beautiful, needy and giving—and, most importantly, that we must bear always in mind what kind of world we will pass on, because there is a generation coming after us. These others, working in single vocations, need a world in which children are a real and powerful presence—whether or not they ever marry and make some of their own.

Neither do I mean to say that having children will instantly repair the damage done to millennials or cure them of their problems. There are, to be sure, wicked and foolish people who remain wicked and foolish after having children. This has always been the case in human society. But the transformative value of children in rooting human families, in strengthening family responsibility and morality, in shaping communities to regard the whole of human life, cannot be denied. Children challenge us to live better, more purposefully; we must blame ourselves, not children, if we fail to respond accordingly.

And what of the worst of circumstances, those truly heartbreaking situations of poverty or abuse where one is tempted to see abortion as the only way out? It is precisely those challenges which millennials deserve the chance to meet, to solve, to aid. If abortion was taken off the table for my generation, we would no longer be able to think of killing children as a “way out.” We would no longer be able to suggest abortion to struggling young mothers, shrug our shoulders, and move on. We would have to remain in the thick of it, get up to our elbows in the gritty reality of dealing with these terrible problems. We would be forced to find other solutions—or at least to really try. We would be forced to face our fears, to take on the sobering burden of responsibility for our actions and uncertainty about the future; to step up to the plate and help those who are caught in desperate circumstances, instead of offering them permanent tragedy in exchange for temporary relief, under the excuse of convenience or the veneer of compassion.

There is no life free of personal suffering. There is no life in which human fulfillment can coexist with selfishness. Children interrupt and flatly contradict these two great lies, of escapism and selfishness; lies on which many millennial lifestyles and worldviews rely. Such lies are the crutch which enables my generations’ clinging to childishness; the foundation on which our self-centeredness and apathy rest. But such lies cannot last an hour in the same room with a living, breathing human child.

Be prolife for sake of all women and children; but also, let’s be prolife for sake of the millennials.

man-863085_1920

“Good Thoughts Lead to Good Things,” and Other Lies

my latest over at The Mirror!

Last Saturday, in a fit of DIY fervor, I decided on an impulse to drive to an unfamiliar part of town in search of a particular fabric store. Half a mile down the road, suddenly I realized that the blinking gas tank light I had been responsibly ignoring the last couple of days was sinking to abysmal predictions: “Three miles to empty.”

Already locked into rapid traffic on a strange street in a suburban city, I decided to take a chance. Surely, I thought, there would be a gas station in a couple miles—surely before I have to turn onto the highway and start going at high speeds, anyway.

At first, quarter mile by quarter mile, I wasn’t too concerned. But as the ticker sank lower and my chances were running out, I began to scan the road ahead for the slightest glimpse of a gas station sign.

Then, I saw a sign that was meant to give me hope. Not for a gas station—for a church. The “Chapel of Metaphysical Thought,” in fact. Below it, on a billboard, black and white letters proclaimed this little church’s message to the busy city drivers: “Good thoughts lead to good things.”

It’s a popular—if somewhat empty—sentiment, and it didn’t surprise me to see it plastered on the billboard of a startup church in a bustling city of modern Americans.

Now, the sign itself was sufficiently vague that it could have applied validly to any number of things. Positive thinking is popular in America, and it has been since the 50s when Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. And certainly the idea has an appealing premise: think “good” thoughts, and generate “good” results. Who wouldn’t find that appealing? It leaves the definition of “good,” on both ends, entirely up to the thinker.

But beyond that veneer of positivity, the sentiment had little to offer. Thinking good thoughts could lead to good things: if, for instance, everyone in this country started thinking rightly along the lines of “Marital fidelity is good. Pornography is bad. As a society we should encourage chastity,” then undoubtedly an abundance of wholesome sociological changes would result. If people would stop thinking the objectively bad thoughts all too prevalent in the modern mind—that porn is harmless, or that materialism will make us happy—then, indeed, surely good things would happen.

But I’m not sure that that is what is meant by the concept “good thoughts.” If we are to take our cue from the title of this optimistic church, then the sentiment is meant in a more metaphysical way—that is, that positive and optimistic thoughts can bring in to being a whole order of good things—make them happen, make life be a certain way—sort of the way Luke Skywalker just has to think and feel the force hard enough to lift a battleship or mind-trick a storm trooper.

And this, indeed, is where the real seduction of this coquettish sentiment lies. Everyone would like, by merely thinking and willing hard enough, to make “good things” happen. To find a job or spouse or good school. To smooth over longstanding family feuds; to erase mistakes and their consequences. To conquer a major project, or make our life plans sort themselves out in the best possible way with a wave of our positive-will-power wand.

This is the stuff of office motivational posters—and it is the temptation of the worrier. Of the scrupulous. Of the controlling, over-planning type: that if you wish for something hard enough, if you think about it the right way, you can make it happen. And in the end, this is just another form of the whisper of the tempter—”You shall be like gods.”

It is hard and humbling for human beings to accept that much in life is simply out of our control. Both pernicious anxiety and “positive thinking” are, effectively, our grasping attempts to be in real control—as if our mere thinking or stressing could bring about happy resolutions. And it is harder still for us to accept that we may be mistaken about what is good right now or as part of God’s grander plan.

So, perhaps, in some sense, good thoughts will indeed lead to good things—inasmuch as we may change our lives or our actions if we begin to think rightly about them. And this is not, of course, to say that positive attitudes are a bad thing. It is a lie, however, if we tell ourselves that we can change the world merely by willing it to be a certain way.

But that day, when I was driving by the little chapel, I really, really wished that the sign was actually right—that in a vague metaphysical sense good thoughts would miraculously lead to good things—like a gas station in front of me. But alas, no matter how positively I thought about finding a gas station, none materialized merely by my willpower; and no matter how much positive energy I put into finding fabric at the fabric store, the perfect swatch of cotton didn’t manifest during my shopping trip.

Good things, I’m afraid, don’t come to those who merely think.

Love Is Here to Stay

On Brittany Maynard and George Gershwin 

In 1938, George Gershwin, gifted composer and songwriter with his brother Ira, died at a tragically young age of brain cancer. His death was sudden, and Ira was devastated. George had left one song melody to which Ira had not yet written the words. When he finally sat down to write them, he entitled it, “Love is Here to Stay.”

In the sentimental lyrics, it’s easy to hear the echoes of Ira’s grief as he copes with George’s death. Most renditions don’t include the intro, but it speaks poignantly of a search for stability in a tragic world:

photo credit: wmky

The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
The world and all its capers
And how it all will end.

Nothing seems to be lasting—
But that isn’t our affair
We’ve got something permanent,
I mean, in the way we care.

The song then enters its main theme, the theme of everlasting love:

It’s very clear,
Our love is here to stay
Not for a year
But ever and a day.

The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies
And in time they go—
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay. . . .

In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble;
They’re only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.

Of all the songs the brothers wrote together, this posthumous one touches the most powerful truth: that human beings, in the midst of suffering, want a love that doesn’t end. They don’t want a world that constantly changes, that gives only to take away, a pain-filled world that crumbles around us leaving us empty and longing for something permanent. It’s hard enough to cope not only with “the world and all it’s capers,” but, like Ira Gershwin, with a more personal—we can even say, more painful—loss. Even surrounded by a disintegrating world, the human heart finds solace in the permanence of love and in knowing that love makes perseverance through suffering valuable.

Yet, not everyone sees value in suffering with love. For some, love is a many-splendored but totally temporal thing, which suffering renders impotent and death cuts off with finality. To them, heartache, pain, and suffering are simply to be avoided at all costs, and ultimately an invitation to despair.

I was reminded of this sadder perspective when I encountered the recent buzz over another individual suffering from brain cancer—Brittany Maynard, a woman who has very publicly decided she would rather commit suicide than accept suffering for herself or her family. Her response—at root a pitiable but also selfish one—stands out in particular contrast, for me, with the other people I know who have battled similar illnesses.

One woman, Elise, who is battling breast cancer, has five children, one of them an infant, and is facing this battle with a radically different attitude: an attitude of loving trust, of confident surrender to the Providence of God. Or I think of Andre, a 14 year old hero, who lived every day of his short life to the fullest even though he spent his final years suffering in a hospitable bed with a very low “quality of life.” His suffering, his sacrifice, his courage and joy, and especially his faith in God, fundamentally impacted—even sanctified—the people around him.

This is the difference: people like Brittany see no value in suffering that is offered up in love, but people like Andre and Elise really live their belief in a loving God who can bring goodness out of the worst heartache or most devastating medical diagnoses. They really live the love only hinted at in the sweet 1930s love song—that real and perfect love, the love of God, which is here to stay. It is a permanent, life-changing event, in the face of which death and suffering have lost their sting. Unlike Brittany, they face the painful, frightening battle or suffering and death with a response of love—a love that fills their suffering with significance far beyond the comprehension of the world.

And that mystery is why, while everything may indeed be going to hell in a handbasket and maybe after all the world is coming to an imminent end around us, Christians live differently. “We’ve got something permanent—I mean, in the way we care.” We don’t face radical loss the same way as other people do. We face it with the confidence that no matter what comes, this changing life is not all.

Christians live differently, because for us, this life is just the beginning. As impermanent as this world is, we know we’re destined for something more. This life is only the prelude, the intro to the final love song—when Love will be here to stay.

photo credit: classicfm

When You’ve Lost the Culture War

Every day, I walk by the Capitol building in Washington, DC, along with thousands of other busy DC commuters.  On clear days, it stands out sharp and white against the skyline, a thing of beauty. And every day, when I pass it, I hear echoing in my head words from one of my favorite movies, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: “Look, it’s the Capitol Dome!”

(Except you have to say it like Jimmy Stewart, with a slight stutter: “L-look! It’s the C-Capitol Dome!”)

His companions roll their eyes, because it is very easy to lose one’s appreciation for being in the Capitol every day. Rookie Senator Jefferson Smith, played innocently by James Stewart, comes to DC with bright-eyed, eager enthusiasm to serve his country well and do some good in the world. Eager, that is, until he gets kicked in the gut by the gritty reality of politics in Washington. But he chooses to put his idealism into action, even if he loses the battle, rather than abandon it for the ways of the world. What happens to him is not unlike what Chesterton says happened to him in “The Ethics of Elfland.”

They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics.

I’ve realized that “practical politicians” here in DC have long abandoned the causes I believe in. When the odd headline queries what GOP leaders will do about gay marriage, I almost laugh. I have little doubt what they will do. The culture is against them, and, fighting for the favor of the culture, they will probably comply. Recently, for the second year in a row of decisions that can only be expected in the current social climate, the Supreme Court, in the old “silence gives consent” method, tacitly legalized gay marriage in a slew of states, including the one in which I live.

What do you do when you’ve lost a cultural war? I know cultures change (at least in the last two centuries) all too quickly for perfectly accurate predictions to be made about where they’re headed or what is or is not inevitable. But during the week I sit in an office building in DC realizing that for miles and miles around me are people who, even on the slim chance they opposed it, could never raise their voices against gay marriage in any public forum without being utterly ridiculed and shouted down.

No matter how we slice it, the cultural tide, at least for now, has definitively decided that anyone who opposes “gay rights” is essentially ignorant, or hateful, and at the very least hopelessly outdated.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: to continue to oppose the normalization of gay “marriage” in our culture is to take a stance which requires no little courage and will certainly rub some people (including well-intentioned loved ones) the wrong way. It will mean rejection and mockery. It will mean being branded as a proponent of hate despite the fact that all we want to do is help our culture seek authentic love above misguided acquiescence to gut passions.

I don’t know if there is anything we can compare this to. The rise of contraception? Maybe. But even that one is far more open to public debate in Catholic and secular circles alike. I think that this particular war is a war we have, for the most part, lost at this point in our cultural evolution. How do you battle something operating (falsely, a wolf in sheep’s clothing) under the banner of love? We simply don’t have a ready response.

All the arguers are now tired. They’ve run out of ways of repeating themselves to deaf ears. Like the disillusioned Jefferson Smith, we realize that no one is listening no matter how hard we fight. How do we change this? What will turn the tide?

The lucky thing about tides, I suppose, is that they always change. October 7th was the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a commemoration of the Battle of Lepanto, which took place at a time when the tides were similarly lined up heavily against the kingdom of Christ. Christendom was splintering interiorly, with the Protestant Revolt, and was battered from without by Muslim forces–a situation not unlike today. But against all odds, despite the predictions of all the pundits of the day, something happened. The Battle of Lepanto was won by the Christians, armed primarily by the power of prayer. And for that era, Christian Europe was saved from utter destruction.

The consolation of living in the kingdom of Christ is that this kingdom is not my kingdom. It’s His. And He is no fool as a ruler. Ultimately, whatever is happening, however dire the situation appears to one who hopes for Heaven, we know that nothing will happen without His Providence directing it to serve a role in His ultimate plan of redemption.

So, what do you do when you’ve lost a cultural war? You keep fighting. In whatever way you can, in whatever means reason and faith dictate—and especially by prayer—you keep fighting. Speak the truth in love, even if you are met with hate. Even when it seems like a lost cause.

Because, after all, “Maybe lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for, Mr. Paine.”

 

Mrs. Mike

~This post first appeared over at The Mirror Magazine.~

“It is the possibility of loss that makes love tender.”

I’ll be honest: I anticipated something much less intense than what this slim, chick-flick-ish novella cover disguises. In fact, I expected a quaint romance with a little adventure thrown in and possibly a love triangle or something, but ending with the standard romantic proposal and happily ever after.

I was wrong.

Published in 1947, this little gem of a book was highly recommended to me by a friend, as a romance based on a true story–-“But I’m pretty sure it’s out of print now,” she added dolefully. Intrigued, I began begging everyone who I knew lived within 50 miles of used book stores to start searching the shelves to see if they could find me a copy. I ended up with two, miraculously, and eagerly began delving into its pages.

The cover bills Mrs. Mike as a “heartwarming classic story about the girl who married a rugged Canadian Mountie,” but unlike the conventional romance setup, the real love story does not end in a wedding but begins with it. Sixty pages in, 16-year-old Katherine Mary has already wed handsome Mountie Mike Flannigan, and I asked incredulously: “But, where is the story going to GO from here?!”

Authors Benedict and Nancy Freedman, a married couple themselves, clearly utilized their experiential insight into the “feel” of a marital relationship, it’s struggles and tensions, it’s highs and lows, and what it means for two people wedded to each other to cope with adversity, suffering, and loss.

The story traces Katherine and Mike through years upon years–-making this a real story of their love and their marriage, not just of their (admittedly loving and tender) romance. And that makes it particularly unusual in a world where popular romance lit is dominated by porn-fests like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Neither Mike nor Katherine is perfect. Katherine has a hot temper and a tendency to daydream her way out of the struggles of daily life in the Canadian frontier, pushing away her husband’s affection through her escapism. Mike, in turn, withdraws into his shell when faced with marital stress and personal grief, thus isolating his wife when she most needs his help to heal.

Besides the romantic content, a word should be said for the fairly unusual setting of the story: the Canadian wilderness (two words I’ve rarely heard put together, and never encountered as the stage for a story before now). From the snow and frozen rivers to unbearably mosquito-infested summers (who knew?!), from the dangers of fur-trapping to vivid native culture, the Freedmans bring both the beauty and the danger of this stunning setting to life–a backdrop fitting to the passionate and unpredictable love of Kathy and Mike.When I learned that the authors were Hollywood scriptwriters from the 1940s, I imagined an idealized version of pioneer life in Canada, a la Little House on the Prairie. However, while the Freedmans definitely spend plenty of page time praising the natural beauty of the Albertan wilderness, the portrait of Flannigans’ life is punctuated by the all-too-gritty details of pioneer hardships. Ignorance, mental illness, misogyny, abortion, violence, petty thievery, and disease far away from the comforts of civilization, all play prominent roles in the tale. Death, especially, recurs as a theme again and again with grim inevitability. The authors don’t shy away from tragedies that provoke the deep, heart-searching questions: “Why? Why did this have to happen to me, or to you?”

In the end, Mrs. Mike is fundamentally a romantic adventure, with a stingingly realistic twist; it offers significant insight into the workings of human relationships and the role of Providence in the pattern of a human life. It’s not exactly Brideshead Revisited, and perhaps doesn’t plumb the answers as deeply as it could, but if you’re looking for page turner that still has substance, and a tender look at the intricacies of the human heart, Mrs. Mike is well worth the read– and a masterful alternative to trash like Fifty Shades of Grey.