« Jon & Kate Plus 8: Why am I Defending Kate? | Main | Hot Air Epidemic »

June 02, 2009

Onward Christian Soldier....

Onward Christian Soldier....

I attended a life changing event last weekend, the bar mitzvah of the 13 year old son of our friends here in Vermont. It was quite a different experience from the last bar mitzvah I attended in New Jersey at a Jewish star plush hotel ballroom where the boy turned into a man below chandeliers that glittered and above a podium that said Hyatt. That was on a Friday evening and people were dressed to the nines and the food was more elaborate than most weddings.

Montpelier does not have a huge Jewish population. In order to find bar mitzvah cards, I had to ask the clerk to look in her special selection under the counter, as if it were porn. This happened at the local stationery store and also at a nearby Hallmark that had not one - not one! - card. Though it did have plenty for On Your Dog's Birthday and On Your Retirement from the Priesthood. 

The bar mitzvah was held last Saturday morning in a crumbling room of an old house turned into makeshift synagogue. There was no rabbi - instead there was a leader, Sara, assisted by other women as they worked through a Reconstructionist prayer book that offered helpful footnotes on deep breathing for meditation and the origin of various words. The chairs were folding and the bathroom was within earshot. The entire service lasted three hours.

It was fantastic. If they'd have me, I'd go next Saturday.

Put aside the touching moments of father and son continuing a 3,000 year old tradition, what got me about this service was not only that it was run by women (yes!) but also that it had survived. There were no stained glass windows (to break) or organ (to be financed). Voices provided the music, clapping hands provided the percussion. The prayer books were nice for us the outsiders, but were not necessary for everyone else. If the congregants (is that the right word?) needed to pick up in a hurry and go, they could. If they needed to reassemble in another location with only their memories to work from, they could do that, too.

This is a religion that has survived through epics of intense horror. As I sat there not understanding one word of Hebrew besides Amen, I thought of all the shabbats that must have been observed in secret in Amsterdam/Poland/Germany. I thought about fear and how true faith is fear's most ardent opponent.

This was how it was, too, in the days of the early church when Christians met in caves so Romans - those sweet and gentle people - didn't gather them up and throw them to the lions. Nero rolled ChristianCrosss in tar - entire families - stuck them on posts and torched them to light his parties and it was the Christians he blamed when he set fire to Rome in the hope of rebuilding it as Neronia. Nero died slitting his throat because he thought the guards were coming to take him to his execution. They weren't. They were coming to give him a pardon and he lived long enough to hear it.

Sometimes, God does come through with the justice.

I thought about overcoming fear, again, when I learned the next day that a Kansas physician had been gunned down in his house of worship, the one place that we Christians assume is sacred but that Jews have learned all too painfully is not.

Dr. George Tiller, long a lighting rod for the anti choice movement, a man who'd been shot twice and whose clinics had been bombed, provided what few doctors will - anywhere: late-term abortions in which the mother's life (and, most often, the fetus's) were in peril. These were not birth control abortions. These were cases in which the fetuses suffered severe abnormalities such as brains developing outside the skulls, or babies developing without vital organs. These were cases in which the mother would have died had the fetus thrived to full term.

To ask a mother to birth a child and then watch it suffer and die in her arms at a more advanced stage is cruel, pure and simple. I cannot imagine the pain of learning the fetus you've been carrying for six months is fatally deformed and then having to make the horrific decision to abort it. I cannot imagine suffering the insults of protestors on top of the hassle of finding a qualified, cooperative doctor. 

Where is the compassion?

The suspect in the shooting, Scott Roeder, 51, supposedly has some mental health issues. Then again, so do most murderers. Unless Roeder thought he was picking daisies instead of blowing away the most controversial figure in the anti abortion movement, his family has a fat chance with that argument.

But this is where I get pissed off - I resent the militant (stress on militant, I'm not talking about those with understandable objections to abortion) movement claiming to "decry" Tiller's murder. Anti-abortion extremists have killed eight and wounded sixteen. These are not rational people. And their hateful rhetoric has inflamed too many fires.

Randall Terry (remember him?), head of Operation Rescue, in response to Tiller's murder wrote, "George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God."

 Oh, please.

And then there's this gem from the New York Times:

Scott Roeder... was once a subscriber and occasional contributor to a newsletter, Prayer and Action News, said Dave Leach, an anti-abortion activist from Des Moines who runs the newsletter. Mr. Leach said that he had met Mr. Roeder once, and that Mr. Roeder had described similar views to his own on abortion.

Commenting on Dr. Tiller’s death, Mr. Leach said, “To call this a crime is too simplistic.” He added, “There is Christian scripture that would support this."

Uhm, no. The "Christian scripture" to which Leach is referring is the same primitive one that mentions eye for an eye as retribution. It speaks of husbands getting revenge on warriors who slay their pregnant wives. Listen up, Leach, this is the 21st century. We've evolved. We don't offer our daughters up for slavery, either, nor our sons for sacrifice. And I'm pretty sure forcing rape victims to marry their attackers is straight out.

Peace The thing that got me about Tiller was his refusal to be cowed. His opponents might argue he was an egomaniac who relished his role in the abortion spotlight. If that's so, then he was a masochist, too, because who would want to be in the abortion spotlight?

I prefer to think that Tiller, like abolitionists, civil rights advocates, suffragists, medieval scientists and many others who took positions that made the ignorant uncomfortable, kept their heads held up high and marched forward not because they were nuts, evil, or egomaniacs, but because they were right. 

And when you're right, fear, though threatening, is more to be pitied than obeyed.


PS - Oh, I forgot to note that SWEET LOVE is out in paperback officially as of today, though I've beSweetlove-photo en seeing it everywhere....


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Onward Christian Soldier....:


This is an absolutely beautiful commentary on an unbelievably hideous incident. Thank you, Sarah.

Jesus taught that the opposite of faith is not disbelief, but fear. Fear is the root of sin, the thing that separates us from one another and from the love of God. You're right -- when we obey our fear, we find ourselves in dark places where we act out of a need for revenge or hatred, rather than in the light of compassion, understanding and forgiveness. It's fear that gets us every time, and you don't have to look very far to see its result.

People are willing to commit murder to ensure a child is born. After the birth, of course, everyone's on their own, no one gives a damn, but people will kill to make sure a baby has the right to be born.

That kind of thinking terrifies me....

Wow, Sarah. Wonderful blog, and so much here to comment on.

First of all, I've been to a couple bar mitzahs for my husband's boss's sons. They were much more elaborate than any wedding I've been to, but I love the ceremony and feeling of hundreds (or thousands) of years of tradition in the words and rituals. My mother-in-law grew up in a Jewish family in Prague, fairly well off. She was in her late teens and early 20s during World War II, and her father was able to obtain passports that said they were Catholic, and snuck his family out of Prague to England, just as the Nazis were marching in. They left almost everything they owned behind.

We also had a personal reminder over the weekend of more lingering hate. My daughter's friend from school is staying with us for the summer. He's a handsome, quiet, polite, 22-year-old black male in wonderful physical condition from being on the cheerleading squad - throwing girls around. (He goes in our backyard and practices his flips.) For reasons I'm not clear on, he had nowhere to go over the summer, so we invited him to stay here. He's been no trouble, has been looking (unsuccessfully) for a job, and has offered help with anything we ask, at any time. He was walking 3 miles to the Visiting Nurse Association over the weekend to see if he could volunteer. He was crossing a side street, and the car waiting to pull out didn't feel he was moving fast enough, and started honking and gesturing to him. After he reached the other side, the person leaned out of the car and shouted, "Godddamn Lazy Nigger!"

I just want to cry.

What is that Biblical word--abominations? That is what these are, large (the murder of George Tiller) and small (the insult of Laura's friend).

Sadly, I think there's another fitting word here, too: martyr.

Wow. A fantastic post, Sarah

I think the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the most beautiful of all the religious ceremonies.

Susan is so right - and the hate mongers know how to use fear to bring out the worst in human behavior. You don't need to study with Master Yoda to see this clearly - you just have to be willing to open your eyes.

Very good article, Sarah. There's so much here to comment on. They never described 'late term abortion' on the news. The title itself sounds so awful it makes him sound like a monster. With your description, it still sounds awful to have, but now I understand the need to have someone willing to do it.

A long time ago, we went to a large bar mitzvah party that was very nice, but I was always disappointed that we weren't invited to the actual ceremony. What an experience you had.

I have to remember your basic 'oh, please' comment for the next time I am assaulted by a stupid comment. That says it all.

SMR33: I never understood how the Religious(ha) Right could reconcile their rhetoric with the 'compassion, understanding and forgiveness' that is the basis of our Christian faith. I think that the one thing that frustrated me the most during the election (and after) was that the side they vilified is more compassionate than they will ever be.

Laura, please apologize to your daughter's friend for those of us in PA who are embarassed and outraged. I know racists still exist in PA, but I keep thinking at the very least, we have them outnumbered and on the run.

Yeah, Ramona, I'm afraid you're right. Martyr.

My understanding of Kansas law is that late term abortions cannot be performed without a second opinion. There's a process.

To add to the pain, the number one reason why a brain might be developing outside the skull is because of spina bifida, a defect caused by environmental factors (lack of folic acid BEFORE pregnancy) and genetic. It is a trait more common in babies of Irish descent, which means many Irish Catholic mothers, raised to believe abortion is the ultimate sin, have had to make this agonizing choice.

Fortunately, spina bifida can be mild - John Cougar Mellancamp was born with it - or extreme. I just remember taking that blood test when I was 4 mos pregnant (you have to wait past the first trimester) and keeping my fingers crossed.

Those were wonderful points to hear!! Thank you for putting into words exactly
how I feel. Abortion is such a tough
topic...I feel it should be listed with
politics and religion which my mother
taught me should be private topics!!
I'm SO tired of people trying to force
their viewpoints onto others. Some
folks just don't get that it's ok to
agree to disagree!!

This is wayyyyyyy off topic (sorry, Sarah), but I could not avoid passing it along:


Oh...my....god. Where's Margie!

If they'd only had those at RT. And just think of all its practical uses!

Sarah, I'll join the others in thanking you for writing what I've been thinking . . . and saying it so beautifully. I've felt sick since I heard about Tiller's murder. I'm lucky--I had healthy babies and easy, planned pregnancies. I've also never faced what Laura's friend faced. Or what the Jews faced. I've never had to be a martyr. And when I look at those who have, I always wonder if I have it in me to do so. I hope I do. And a little part of me also hope I'm never tested.

Sarah, Amen to all that.

I wonder why it is always rabid men, who are the loudest protesters of abortion, who are the ones who lead the fanatics, who are the ones who pull the trigger or set the bomb, and yet are never the ones willing to step up and care and provide for the unwanted, oftentimes physically and or mentally afflicted babies who are born to women who would choose to end their pregnancies. We never see those same men offer to adopt or provide financial support for any of these unwanted children. And killing to protest their concept of killing just doesn't make sense no matter how one tries to justify it. I could go on and on, but Sarah and William, you said it too well.

Eloquently put, Sarah.

The hypocrisy of murdering someone because they are considered a "murderer" stuns me. That the murder is generally committed by a MAN is even more stunning.

This entire topic just makes me tired.

Wow, Jodi, we were on the same wavelength here!

That Bond ice lolly? So wrong, so creepy.

Jodi...we could go on and on, couldn't we, about some men - NOT ALL AND CERTAINLY NOT THE ONES WE KNOW AND LOVE - find it easiest to control society by controlling the one function they can't perform. Childbirth.

Women's reproductivity is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Without it, the human race ends. So when women give birth and how often is vital and there are some men - and many more institutions, often religious - that consider this their interest.

But this case is just whacked.

Also, I'd like to point out that there have been plenty of fathers who've suffered with the decision to abort their children. I feel for them, too.

Brilliant post, Sarah.



It's Me, Margie

Sarah - loved the blog. People who spend that much time hating clearly are not getting enough. Of anything. They should come to my neighborhood where they will get a lot of something.

Saw the Bond Pops. Puh-leeze. Why would you want to eat that? I mean, unless the photo was cropped or something.

While you're out today picking up a copy of Sweet Love - which you are going to do, right? - check out my cousin Bobbie Faye's books. They are being released with new titles and covers - the first one is Charmed and Dangerous. Tell Toni McGee Causey (friend of TLC) we sent ya.

Yeah, Margie, cousin Bobbie Faye sure has it rough, what with a hot truck driver dude and a hot state trooper detective dude fighting over her. Boo hoo, I should have such problems, ya know?

Sarah, very well put.

It reminds me of the decision of some friend's many years ago. And his parents were involved in it due to their years in the mission field before pastoring at my church. I don't remember the test diagnosis, but recall that it would have been death for the child within minutes and also dangerous for mother. They did abort, and went on the have two more lovely children.

OT...how about the extremist who just killed a soldier at an army recruitment station? Now, claiming not guilty. WTF?

Yeah...Sweet Love is in PB... already have the HC, but I like to have a spare. Same for Bobbie Faye...I have to pick up the new books to compare to the originals.

Laura? How sad for MK's friend. He sounds like a wonderful young man, so hopefully this will not bring him down.

Sarah - the test you had when you were pregnant was an Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Test. I used to run the MSAFP program at UT Memphis. I have seen too many deformed fetuses and babies than I want to remember. I've watched women suffer with the decision to abort or carrying a pregnancy to term, knowing the baby would either be horribly deformed and/or die after birth. Abortion is NOT an easy decision. I do not approve of abortion as a means of birth control, but never never would I inflict my opinion on others. Abortion must be kept legal and safe. It must. What drives me NUTS are religious fanatics who pick what scriptures to quote and believe and ignore those that don't exactly "fit" their personal lifestyle.

I resent the hell out of people who harass women about abortion. I'm with William - when these pious POS step up to the plate and help with unwanted children by adopting them or offering financial support, then they have voice in what happens. But until then, shut up and go home.

Sorry for the rant. One of my hot buttons

Never been to a Bar Mitzvah. 3 hours? I'm afraid I might get a little antsy.

The most disturbing factor in this story, aside from the murder itself, is that Bill O'Reilly is reported to have singled out Dr. Tiller as an abortionist, and the man who murdered him may have been incited to do so by O'Reilly inflammatory rhetoric.

One of these days the media needs to take responsibility for the misinformation and downright lies that lead to this sort of mayhem. Like Dick Cheney, who today said that he is now sure that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Walter Tango Foxtrot???? Seriously? After bankrupting not only the US, but murdering some untold number of Iraqis and being responsible for a diaspora of more than two million Iraqi citizens, not to mention the thousands of Americans who have died there and the tens of thousands who are permanently maimed, NOW he owns up? This infuriates me. You?

I do not at all "get" dick cheney. He was so silent in office, such a weird hermit with his bunker and his man-in-black outfit in the wheelchair on the last day. And now he's hopping around promoting gay marriage and debunking his administration's entire foreign policy premise.

What's he after?

As usual, a wonderful, well written blog. Thanks for putting all of this out there today.

Sarah, my hat is off to you. Very difficult material, and you've made excellent points.

How many of us can look coolly at results from those late term tests and make a choice? I'm actually glad the tests weren't available to me back in the day.

"I wonder why it is always rabid men, who are the loudest . . ."

There are people desperate for someone to hate, someone to blame. For what? Doesn't matter. They're too full of poison and resentment to contain themselves. "Those Hateful Others – we have to punish them."

There's still an awful lot of baboon left in the human psyche.

Brilliant blog, Sarah. I don't have much to add, except I thought this quote from the killer's ex-wife (in today's Times) was telling regarding the way troubled people are just naturally drawn to extremism:

"The man I married disappeared into this other person,” Ms. Roeder, shaken and puffy eyed, said of Mr. Roeder, from the home she shared with him in Overland Park, Kan., near Kansas City.

“He wanted a scapegoat,” Ms. Roeder said. “First it was taxes — he stopped paying. Then he turned to the church and got involved in anti-abortion.”

Classic case of blaming one's troubles on others, don't you think, Michele?

My god, the rage he must have felt, casting about for someone to take it out on. That is truly sad and upsetting.

One of the most gut-wrenching things about this is that it happened at the Dr's church.

Sadly, history is full of barbaric acts committed in the name of religion.

Exactly, Kathy. Ridiculous.

Discussing abortion is sort of a combination of religion and politics and doubly explosive. I finally started asking students to not choose abortion as a topic of their persuasion papers, telling them it was just too large a topic to cover in the length they had, which was true, but I was also tired of the arguments going in circles and of trying to be fair when reading opposing views.
Killing for "life" -- in the antiwar movement we compared that dichotomy to "f***ing for chastity." No sense to it at all . . .

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site