Archive for June, 2006

Mid-Season All-Stars

June 30, 2006

This week’s Sports Illustrated features Tom Verducci’s mid-season All-Stars. Here’s the list:

C: Michael Barrett
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Edgar Renteria
OF: Jason Bay
OF: Carlos Beltran
OF: Matt Holliday
SP: Brandon Webb
RP: Trevor Hoffman

C: Joe Mauer
1B: Jason Giambi
2B: Jose Lopez
3B: Troy Glaus
SS: Miguel Tejada
OF: Jermaine Dye
OF: Vernon Wells
OF: Alex Rios
SP: Johan Santana
RP: Jonathan Papelbon

Any disagreements?

The Quarterly Book Report: Kevin Brockmeier’s "The Brief History of the Dead"

June 29, 2006

The Dead, it would seem, live in a world not so dissimilar from our own. A parallel universe constructed much the same as our own. There are towns and streets and shops and newspapers. There are rich and poor. People go to work doing the same thing as they did when they were living. They are married to the same people, have the same friends, move in the same circles. The Dead try to recreate their life after death just as it had been when they were alive. And they don’t age. They are forever the age they were when they died. But the Dead, their world exists only as long as their memory is alive in someone’s mind. For instance, I would live in the next world only as long as someone I had known while alive, or had even met in passing, still lived. And because this world is created from the memory of someone still alive, only the good parts of a persons’ life exist when they die. The living seem to have forgiving memories.

This is the afterlife Kevin Brockmeier creates in The Brief History of the Dead.

This version of the afterlife is created through a catastrophic event, a pandemic like none before. There is an unknown disease that strikes earth and within days wipes out almost every human. No one knows what the disease is or how it spreads. People develop symptoms and then are dead within a few hours. The only survivors are three researchers on Antarctica. They are in a remote outpost, even for Antarctica, and haven’t had any contact with anyone. So they are not exposed to the disease. But they are running out of supplies. Winter is coming. When they begin to run perilously low on supplies, they head out across the continent to their supply center.

The Dead have never really questioned why they are where they are. They seem to assimilate to their new home fairly quickly. It’s an easy process, as they are quickly surrounded by people they have known in their life. They seem to accept it when someone leaves them – when someone dead dies and moves on to whatever comes after death. These people disappear as soon as the last person who knew them dies. This is normal. But the catastrophic disease speeds up the disappearances. The Dead begin to wonder why so many people are disappearing so quickly. The Dead are disappearing so quickly that their cities are shrinking, their newspapers aren’t being delivered, they can’t find a decent hair-jelly. The Dead start putting the pieces together. They begin to figure out why they are still “alive.” They are alive because of their connections to the three researchers, the only three humans still alive.

So despite almost all of humanity dying, despite half of the book taking place in the land of the Dead, The Brief History of the Dead isn’t actually about the dead. It’s about how we remember – or forget – the people we meet in our lives. History, as the cliche goes, is often forgiving. Our uncle’s brutality in life is forgotten as we choose to remember the better aspects of his life. We remember his goof-ball jokes or his hard work ethic. We choose to remember the good things about those who die. One of Brockmeier’s unstated questions in the book seems to be: is this a good thing? Is it good to be so forgiving to the Dead? Is it good to forget about the mistakes those we were close to made during their lives? He doesn’t answer the question, he just constructs a world in which no one has faults, where no one has any knowledge of the faults of others. This sounds very much like Heaven.

The problem is, this isn’t Heaven. This is just another version of the same life people live on Earth. What comes after that…well, he doesn’t even speculate. So in essence, Brockmeier dodges the question of what actually happens after death. The second question unstated question of the book is: why can we only dream of places that we have been? For me, and for Brockmeier, that’s the real problem with death – trying to imagine what the next world will be like. If indeed there is a next life. Brockmeier’s History is about how the living construct a world for the dead. It’s about our inability to dream of a world very different from the one we now live in. Heaven is often just a better version of the life we already live rather than a completely different existence.

Brockmeier, for those of us from Arkansas, is a local boy – lives in Little Rock. He’s written several books, although this is the first one I’ve read. It’s very well written. He’s got talent, and he’s relatively unknown. At least I don’t hear much about him. And he writes a novel in which almost all of the characters are either dead or dying, and he does so without making this tragic. Which is an accomplishment.

Please Tell Me They’re Kidding With This Crap

June 26, 2006

Well, I have to apologize to you all. For the past few weeks, I have been singularly uninspired and thus my lack of blog postage. Nothing really moved me to say something I thought worth sharing, at least not anything that I hadn’t written about once or twice before.

But then I saw this article on Salon, and remembered that I had read something recently that induced gagging and retching noises. It’s the flag-burning amendment.

[Note: what I’m about to say is highly inflammatory and written in a sarcastic, condescending tone. I honestly and sincerely believe that it is immoral to be patriotic, but I didn’t write that post, I wrote this one. What can I say, I’m good at sarcasm. I promise to return to being warm and fuzzy next time].

I tried to think of something erudite and high-minded to say on this issue. But I got nothin’. Because this entire NON-issue is so soul-numbingly, mind-blowingly stupid, pointless, and asinine that it sets my teeth on edge. Never mind that hardly anyone inside the United States has burned a flag since the 1970s — we need to amend the United States Consitution to prevent it anyway. The money and time that are being frittered away on this annoys the crap out of me.

I guess you’ve figured it out by now. Because I’m missing the “patriot” gene, I get exceedingly frustrated with those who have it. Yes, I will come out of the closet here: Patriotism is completely beyond my comprehension. It has always struck me as a thinly-disguised way to assert an ill-imagined superiority over people who live in other countries. A superiority that I, frankly, haven’t felt since I was in junior high, before a classmate thankfully knocked me out of my Reagan-induced Yankee Doodle delusion with a much-needed dose of reason.

I should point out before anyone has their stereotypes reinforced that many, many of my otherwise progressive friends disagree with me about patriotism. They spout what sounds to me like inane hogwash about “reclaiming” patriotism, as if it ever was or could be a “good thing.” I’m not buying. But most Americans apparently are, which is why this time, the amendment is closer to passage than it ever has been.

The flag thing is one aspect of the patriotism thing, and perhaps the aspect that I find most puzzling. Maybe someone in the audience can explain to me what this obsession with the flag is all about. It seemed pretty obvious to me when I was 13 and the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ anti-flag-burning law, and it seems obvious to me today: it’s just a piece of cloth, folks. Really. Burning a mass-produced replica of the Stars and Stripes is not at all akin to, say, flying an airplane into the Capitol. Why pretend that it is? Why waste a colossal amount of time and energy on something that happens so rarely and that has no effect at all on the continued functioning of the government or the well-being of the citizenry? Not to mention the fact that amending the Constitution is NOT something that should be taken this lightly.

Look, despite my tenure with the ACLU, I am not fully a First Amendment absolutist. In fact, the First Amendment is the least of the reasons I oppose the existence of this trumped-up issue. My reason is that I don’t think the American people need to have their knee-jerk desire to view themselves as the most virtuous, most powerful, and most blessed people on earth reinforced. We have our problems just like everyone else. Sure, there are positive aspects to our system of government and our civil society. There are also lots of negative ones. I don’t understand why it seems so central to the sense of self-worth of the average American voter to believe that we are better than other people due to the accident of having been born here. The potential passage of the flag amendment seems to me like the latest manifestation of this misguided patriotism fetish — and worse, of the fact that Republican ideas about patriotism are currently winning the day.

Failure of Imagination

June 24, 2006

My favorite passage in Graham Greene’s classic novel, The Power and the Glory, is found in a prison cell, when the main character (a pitiable alcoholic priest) considers one of his cell mates. The novel is set in a time when Christianity was outlawed in Mexico, and the sad priest is on the run. His alcohol addiction lands him in jail, an inhuman, overcrowded jail. It is here, surrounded by hopelessness, that the priest reveals who he is, only to find himself ridiculed by a woman for being a bad priest.

Greene writes, He couldn’t see her in the darkness, but there were plenty of faces he could remember from the old days which fitted the voice. When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity… that was a quality God’s image carried with it… when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.

Hate was just a failure of imagination. That is a statement I intend to carry with me. Jesus-followers are called to learn to love one another, but maybe the prerequisite course is to first learn how not to hate. To do so, we must learn to use our imaginations, to see God in every person. Jesus said that it is easy to love those who love us, those who are like us, those we count naturally as friends and family. It is not easy to learn to love those different from us: for some, this is those who are looked down on in society (the outcasts), while for others, this is the religiously stuffy.

Whoever it may be, the call is to look beyond the exterior, to employ the imagination to see hints of God in those we find different, not to hate, and then, if by grace, to love.

Something More Important Than Sports

June 23, 2006

* NOTE: I’m going to be out of pocket for several days (just so’s ya know). I didn’t feel like bragging about the NBA Finals today or making fun of either Clemens or Pujols in their grand returns yesterday. I did run across this both troubling and inspiring article in an email from Sojourners this week, and I wanted to share it with you for your consideration and/or comments.

Shining a ray of light on Thailand’s sex trade
by David Batstone

My ongoing investigation of the slave trade – 27 million people around the globe are trapped in forced labor at this moment – took me to Southeast Asia this past week. Prior to the trip, I had poured over a considerable amount of research about the trafficking of women and children for the sex trade in the region. Reading about the practice is disturbing enough; seeing it first hand proved to be overwhelming.

In Cambodia and Thailand I visited several projects that care for individuals lucky enough to escape – or be rescued – from the bars and brothels that exploit them. I cannot get out of my head the sight of the 50 girls between the ages of 7 and 12 who found safe haven in one rescue center in Cambodia. To think that grown men used these innocent, slight girls for their sexual pleasures numbs the mind. Thanks to the efforts of faith-based activists, these girls are now in a safe environment where they can imagine a better life.

A growing movement of abolitionists offer a glimmer of hope in the human trafficking story. In the spirit of William Wilberforce and his 19th century contemporaries who felt called by God to bring an end to the African slave trade, they act with faith and conviction to “bring release to the captives.”

Annie Dieselberg, who operates a refuge in Bangkok, Thailand, views abolition as her Christian vocation. She calls her project NightLight Ministry, playing off the image of a light that leads to safety in moments of darkness. The creativity behind her project matches the compassion that brought it into existence.

When she launched NightLight in 2005, Annie aimed to offer an alternative for young girls who work in bars that operate as brothels. Annie and her husband had worked in various ministries in Thailand for more than a decade. Witnessing so many women in Bangkok forced to engage in demeaning sex work stirred her to pray for the chance to help them. In early 2005 she took a visiting U.S. church group to a brothel bar. While the men in the church group stayed outside praying, Annie led the women went inside to make a caring connection.

“One of the young prostitutes told me that she hated being at the bar,” says Annie. The woman was 22 years old, with two children. “When I asked her where she would like to be in her life,” Annie continued, “She told me that she would like to be home with her kids.”

So Annie and her sisters in the faith paid the bar owner 600 baht (roughly $15) to take the woman out of the bar for the night – the normal price for a customer. This night, however, the price transformed into a redemption. Annie decided to turn this one-night reprieve into a life-changing opportunity. She had spent the last year teaching herself to make jewelry, and she spontaneously offered the young women a job to work alongside her.

Programs that encourage girls to escape the sex trade but leave them poor and jobless do not lead to long-term success stories. In short, the girls remain vulnerable to being trafficked once again.

Annie designed the project to equip young women for life beyond the brothel. Like a prism, NightLight can be viewed from a number of angles. To start, it is a for-profit business that trains women how to make and sell jewelry. The products are made in NightLight’s humble factory in central Bangkok, and sold through church networks in Thailand and the United States. The jewelry is high-quality and the design ranges from classic to trendy – my 15-year-old daughter was thrilled with the NightLight pearl-string necklace with a cross that I brought back for her.

NightLight pays the mostly young women a salary twice the minimum wage established by Thai law. Obviously, the workers will not become rich quick off this pay, but the compensation does offer a sustainable livelihood. To pay the women a salary rather than a piecework scheme (per produced item) also enables NightLight’s underlying mission to develop healthy women. During the course of a work day, women engage in workshops on health care and HIV/AIDS prevention, managing personal finances, and take English classes. The workforce also is invited to daily worship services to kick off the work day, and a weekly spiritual formation class. Participation in religious activities is not a requirement for employment.

NightLight now employs 32 women in its jewelry business and several more women are on a list pending employment. The biggest hurdle for expansion: financial resources. Truth be known, Annie never intended to grow this fast. The project took on a life of its own as word spread through the brothel bars that escape was possible. And Annie understandably finds it hard to put on the brakes. “At one point early on I felt like we had to halt our progress,” she said. “But then one young woman whom I had been praying for over six years called me and asked if I would help her leave the brothel where she was working. I took it as a sign from God to move forward,” she said. As she says this last statement, she raises her arms as if to add, “And who am I to stop God’s work?”

The mixed demographic of the women who find their way to NightLight reflects the international scope of human trafficking. The 32 escaped prostitutes come from nine distinct countries: Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Laos, Ukraine, and India. These girls did not plan to come to Bangkok in most cases to work in a brothel. They were deceived, kidnapped, trafficked, and exploited.

Annie makes it clear that resisting the criminal networks that make money off the trade of human beings must go beyond the humble efforts of NightLight. “We badly need a movement of the Spirit in the global church,” she tells me. When I ask what that will take, she remarks with a laugh that more Christians need to read Sojourners. “What I mean by that,” she explains, “is that Christians need to understand that their faith has to take specific action for justice in the world.”

When I press Annie whether churches can actually impact the global slave trade, she becomes resolute: “I grew up in the mission field in Zaire for most of my childhood, along with a couple years in Thailand, and I saw a great deal of injustice. But when I watch the darkness that destroys the lives of young children in the sex trade, I feel that I am confronting a profoundly evil spiritual force.”

For that reason, Annie looks to churches to deploy prayer and action against human trafficking in their own local region, and link those efforts to international movements. “The world badly needs the love for family and bonds of community that the church teaches,” she said. “Now we have to go out into the society and live it.”

The First and Oldest

June 21, 2006

I’m not really posting a day early. Actually, I’m six days late. Real life intruded on the Blogisphere last week – visits by all three children and three grandchildren plus moving my mother-in-law in to live with us.

Meanwhile, a lot of interesting anniversaries in history have gone by, but none of them any more important than this one. 218 years ago today, the oldest continuously functioning written national Constitution in the world became official. On this day in 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, hammered out by the Constitutional Convention nine months before, thus achieving the 2/3 majority required for it to become binding. The new Constitution actually went into effect on March 4, 1789, with 9 states participating. Virginia and New York signed on that summer, North Carolina in November, and the final of the original 13 Colonies, Rhode Island, in May 1790. The final piece of the puzzle, the Bill of Rights, wasn’t ratified until the following year.
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a lady in the crowd stopped Benjamin Franklin and asked him directly: “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it” responded Franklin.

Americans were the first colonial people to successfully revolt and separate from the mother country, and our Constitution has become the standard for representative government. What do you think men like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton would think if they could see us today? We hear a lot of talk about “Original Intent” concerning interpretation of the Constitution. If these and other original authors and collaborators could see how the document has been amended and is being interpreted today, what do you think they would say?

A few interesting quotes about a Republic verses a Democracy:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

Winston Churchill

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”
Benjamin Franklin
[Any NRA members out there? I wonder why Franklin’s quote isn’t their national motto.]

“Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos.”
John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 1801-1835


On Father’s Day

June 18, 2006

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff recently written by a complex theologian named Stanley Hauerwas. He doesn’t think like… well, anybody. Possibly too smart for his own good, he comes at issues from different angles and causes everyone to think (whether you like him or not). When I haven’t been completely lost, I think I’ve learned a thing or two.

Some of his essays criticize the romantic presuppositions about marriage in our culture. People think they should marry because they have “fallen in love” with one another, though this motivation for marriage is not a Bible idea, nor even a very old motivation. One of the negative side effects of this romantic ideal is that people also choose to have sex because they have “fallen in love” instead of reserving sex for marriage. The tragedy is that this misguided notion has led many men to leave women alone when they have “fallen out of love,” leaving them to care for children without the help of the husband.

Christians should offer an alternative view to the world. Marriage commits two people for a lifetime. In addition, Christians should care for everyone, especially the weak and vulnerable (and both children and single parents more than qualify), so in a world like ours, Christians should be prepared to open their arms for all who are in need. As James puts it, a significant part of pure religion involves caring for the “fatherless.” (1:27)

So on Father’s Day, those of us Christian men who have produced children should be reminded of our responsibility to our children. But taken one step further, we should all remember our responsibility to serve as “fathers” to so many in the world who have fallen victim to our misguided culture. May Father’s Day remind us of that calling.

So, What Do We Think About Breast-Feeding?

June 16, 2006

I feel bad for not posting on my appointed day — incredibly busy week at work — so I thought I would share with you all this article from the New York Times regarding a new ad campaign that suggests that formula-feeding babies is bad for their health.

Now, I know that the audience for this blog is largely male, but that’s exactly why I thought it would be interesting to get some reactions. Here’s some background for those who’ve never thought about this issue: I don’t know the precise timeline, but mid-20th century breast-feeding fell very out of fashion and out of favor with doctors. Breast milk out, formula in. Over time, it became apparent that the switch to formula was not in fact better for babies, and evidence has been mounting that formula is greatly inferior to breast milk. But the formula companies had already sunk their claws into American culture and were not letting go without a fight. Large swathes of the country apparently still believe that formula is just as good as breast milk. Many of these same people find breast-feeding icky, think that “breasts are for husbands, not babies,” and that it shouldn’t be allowed in public (a la Barbara Walters on The View). Formula companies provide free samples that hospitals push on women, discouraging them from continuing to breast-feed at the first sign of trouble. Workplaces (except in California) are not required to accommodate breast-feeding mothers, and many don’t provide pumping breaks or a clean and private space to pump. All of this can and should change, in my view.

On the other hand, a lot of people find the ad campaign to be overstated and heavy-handed. I agree. Misstating the facts about the science on this issue, and in general using shock-value tactics to raise public awareness, seems the wrong way to go about this. When they feel preached or condescended to, people often tend to react by opposition — not what anyone who wants to improve the health of America’s infants really wants.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, I guess I just wanted to hear someone go off about the breast-feeding Nazis and how people should be able to feed their babies sugar water and put a nip in their bottles because that’s our God-given right as free Americans. Any takers? 🙂


June 16, 2006

Shaq said it best: “I think this is our first almost-good game.” My sentiments exactly.

After a good 1st quarter in Game 1, the Heat played ten horrible quarters in a row, but beginning with a strong 4th quarter in Game 3, they are now on a five-quarter winning streak. But even though Dallas has outplayed Miami 10 to 6 in terms of quarters, the bottom line is that the series is tied at two games apiece with a best of three remaining for the NBA championship. We’re starting over now.

As much as I’d like to promote basketball strategy as rocket science, it just isn’t that hard. It is probably more complex than some people expect it to be, but in the end it comes down to a few simple things: (a) there are two sides of the court, offense and defense, and (b) there are three important areas on each of those ends: match-ups, intensity, and execution.

When two teams play for the NBA championship, intensity on both ends of the floor should be a wash, although for most of this series, Dallas has wanted to win more than Miami. That seemed to change somewhat last night.

When it comes to match-ups, Miami has what should be a big advantage. With a huge presence in the post, a Jordan-esque guard, and spot-up shooters on the offensive end, the undersized Mavericks shouldn’t have an answer. And although Nowitski is a wonderful freak of nature on the other end of the court… (a) Dallas has no inside game, (b) penetrating to the basket has the unfortunate mountain of Shaq to deal with, so (c) their only strength is on the perimeter. (I learned my senior year in high school, if that’s all you got, you aren’t going to win very much.)

So it should come down to execution. If Miami executes (and plays like they care), they should win.

Last night’s Game 4 pretty much showed this. Miami still allowed Dallas too many open 3-point shots (twenty-two!). Miami still had far too many careless turnovers (eighteen!). Their intensity and execution still wasn’t what it ought to be to win a championship.

But, as Shaq said, it was their first “almost-good” game.

If they can get their act together, the series is now theirs for the taking.

Finally… (the last installment in the Hauerwas speech)

June 11, 2006

The Male Issue

When addressing abortion, one of the crucial questions that we must engage is the question of the relationship between men and women, and thus sexual ethics. One of the things that the church has tried to do–and this is typical of the liberal social order in which we live–is to isolate the issue of abortion from the issue of sexual ethics. You cannot do that.

As this evening’s sermon suggests, the legalization of abortion can be seen as the further abandonment of women by men. one of the cruelest things that has happened over the last few years is convincing women that Yes is as good as No. That gives great power to men, especially in societies (like ours) where men continue domination. Women’s greatest power is the power of the No. This simply has to be understood. The church has to make it clear that we understand that sexual relations are relations of power.

Unfortunately, one of the worst things that Christians have done is to underwrite romantic presuppositions about marriage. Even Christians now think that we ought to marry people simply because they are “in love.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! What could being in love possibly mean? The romantic view underwrites the presumption that, because people are in love, it is therefore legitimate for them to have sexual intercourse, whether they are married or not. Contrary to this is the church’s view of marriage. To the church, marriage is the public declaration that two people have pledged to live together faithfully for a lifetime.

One of the good things about the church’s understanding of marriage is that it helps us to get a handle on making men take responsibility for their progeny. It is a great challenge for any society to get its men to take up this responsibility. As far as today’s church is concerned, we must start condemning male promiscuity. The church will not have a valid voice on abortion until she attacks male promiscuity with the ferocity it deserves. And we have got to get over being afraid of appearing prudish. Male promiscuity is nothing but the exercise of reckless power. It is injustice. And by God we have to go after it. There is no compromise on this. Men must pay their dues. There is absolutely no backing off from that.

Christians must challenge the romanticization of sex in our society. It ends up with high school kids having sexual intercourse because they think they love one another. Often we must say that that is rape. Let us be clear about it. No fourteen-year-old, unattractive women–who is not part of the social clique of a high school, who is suddenly dated by some male, who falls all over herself with the need for approval, and who ends up in bed with him–can be said to have had anything other than rape happen to her. Let the church speak honestly about these matters and quit pussyfooting around. Until we speak clearly on male promiscuity, we will simply continue to make the problems of teen-age pregnancy and abortion female problems. Males have to be put in their place. There is no way we as a church can have an authentic voice without this clear witness.

The “Wanted Child” Syndrome

There is one other issue that I think is worth highlighting. It concerns how abortion in our society has dramatically affected the practice of having children. In discussions about abortion, one often hears that no “unwanted child” ought to be born. But I can think of no greater burden than having to be a wanted child.

When I taught the marriage course at Notre Dame, the parents of my students wanted me to teach their kids what the parents did not want them to do. The kids, on the other hand, approached the course from the perspective of whether or not they should feel guilty for what they had already done. Not wanting to privilege either approach, I started the course with the question, What reason would you give for you or someone else wanting to have a child?” And you would get answers like, “Well, children are fun.” In that case I would ask them to think about their brothers and/or sisters. Another answer was, Children are a hedge against loneliness Then I recommended getting a dog. Also I would note that if they really wanted to feel lonely, they should think about someone they raised turning out to be a stranger. Another student reply was, Kids are a manifestation of our love.” “Well,” I responded, “what happens when your love changes and you are still stuck with them” I would get all kinds of answers like these from my students. But, in effect, these answers show that people today do not know why they are having children.

It happened three or four times that someone in the class, usually a young woman, would raise her hand and say, “I do not want to talk about this anymore.” What this means is that they know that they are going to have children, and yet they do not have the slightest idea why. And they do not want it examined. You can talk in your classes about whether God exists all semester and no one cares, because it does not seem to make any difference. But having children makes a difference, and the students are frightened that they do not know about these matters.

Then they would come up with that one big answer that sounds good. They would say, “We want to have children in order to make the world a better place.” And by that, they think that they ought to have a perfect child. And then you get into the notion that you can have a child only if you have everything set–that is, if you are in a good “relationship,” if you have your finances in good shape, the house, and so on. As a result, of course, we absolutely destroy our children, so to speak, because we do not know how to appreciate their differences.

Now who knows what we could possibly want when we “want a child”? The idea of want in that context is about as silly as the idea that we can marry the right person. That just does not happen. Wanting a child is particularly troubling as it finally results in a deep distrust of mentally and physically handicapped children. The crucial question for us as Christians is what kind of people we need to be to be capable of welcoming children into this world, some of whom may be born disabled and even die.

Too often we assume compassion means preventing suffering and think that we ought to prevent suffering even if it means eliminating the sufferer. In the abortion debate, the church’s fundamental challenge is to challenge this ethics of compassion. There is no more fundamental issue than that. People who defend abortion defend it in the name of compassion. “We do not want any unwanted children born into the world,” they say. But Christians are people who believe that any compassion that is not formed by the truthful worship of the true God cannot help but be accursed. That is the fundamental challenge that Christians must make to this world. It is not going to be easy.