Religion

What Will Make Christians Care About Abortion? by Stephanie Gray

 Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler

     Last week I spoke at Church of the Resurrection, a thriving Anglican church in Wheaton, IL, with a fantastic shepherd, Bishop Stewart Ruch.  During Q and A, I was asked about how people can appeal to their fellow Christians to take abortion more seriously; in particular, I was asked what influences Christians to respond adequately to the plight of pre-born children.  I believe there are three factors in particular:

1.      Conviction,

2.      Education, and

3.      Courage

     Conviction is a strong persuasion or belief.  It is deeper than intellectual assent.  It involves capturing the heart.  And in the context of Christianity, it's not simply knowing about Jesus, or about His commands; it requires a personal relationship with Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  This way, just as we care about the things that people we care about, care about, a personal relationship with Jesus will naturally draw forth from us a deep concern for what concerns Him.  As the song “Hosanna” by Hillsong United declares, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Abortion destroys God's creation that is more than good--it is "very good" (Genesis 1:31); it destroys life made in His image (Genesis 1:26); it destroys the result of His command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).

     I am reminded of an allegory I once heard about two people who recited Psalm 23.  The first was a professional orator who declared “The Lord is my shepherd…” with drama and exaggeration.  When he finished, the crowd jumped to its feet and clapped with much enthusiasm.  Then a humble pastor got up.  He lowered his gaze and bowed his head; then he slowly and reverently prayed, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  When he was finished the crowd was struck with silence—the only sounds being gentle weeping from a people profoundly moved.  The conclusion?  The orator knew the psalm but the pastor knew the shepherd.

     It’s like the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: When the priest and Levite saw a half-dead robbed victim on the road to Jericho they passed by on the other side.  The Samaritan man, however, was moved with compassion and cared for the wounded soul.  It was as though the priest and the Levite knew the law, but the Samaritan knew the law-giver.  We need to foster more than simply knowing about Jesus, but actually being in relationship with Him so that the cry of our hearts becomes the cry of the blind man Bartimaeus to Jesus: “Lord that I may see” (Mark 10:51).

     Just as the Good Samaritan “saw” with his eyes, and his heart, the plight of his neighbor, we should pray “that we may see” the plight of our pre-born neighbors just as Jesus sees it.  We should allow ourselves to come face-to-face with their broken bodies and allow their dismembered limbs to communicate to us what their silent screams could not.  We should pray to “see” their beauty and fragility, and the corresponding destruction of what abortion did to them, so as to respond with the broken heart that God Himself responds with.

     Following conviction, there can arise within us a fear of how people will respond if we act on such conviction, which is why education is so necessary.  The more people are equipped to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15) the more readily people will share.  We need to help people gain confidence in their beliefs, helping them both understand and articulate the rationale behind the pro-life claims.  The better prepared people are to rebut objections, to explain things clearly and persuasively, the more they will increase in confidence, which means they will naturally decrease in fear.

     But fear won’t necessarily be entirely eliminated.  Which is why we need courage too.  I once heard it said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but a will to do what is right in spite of your fears.”  How do we instill courage?  I firmly believe we are more likely to be courageous when we surround ourselves by people who are.  There is something inspiring about the example of people who are other-oriented, especially when there’s personal cost involved.  The courage of others is magnetic, and draws that same virtue out of those who are exposed to it.

     That’s why I encourage communities of believers to immerse themselves in the inspiring examples of heroes and role models who responded to injustice in their midst and advocated for the vulnerable.  Movies like Schindler’s List, Gandhi, Sophie Scholl, Beyond the Gates, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and Eyes on the Prize are not about abortion, but they are about good people responding to injustice.  That’s what we need in response to abortion, and watching these examples and then discussing how the past can relate to our present, will instill the courage Christians need to make a better future.

Has Your Pastor Preached on Abortion? A Resource to Help, by Stephanie Gray

A year and a half ago, I met Pastor Ken Shigematsu, senior pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, where 2,000 people attend each Sunday.  He was preparing to deliver a sanctity of life sermon on abortion and asked me to preview his outline and give feedback.  Unfortunately Pastor Ken is rare—all too often church leaders avoid doing what he did: they avoid preaching on abortion from the pulpit, especially on a high-attendance Sunday morning.  But that needs to change. 

 

After working through his outline and doing my own presentations in various churches over the years, I developed a resource to make a pastor’s job as easy as possible when preparing to speak on this sensitive subject.  By clicking here you can access my PDF “Notes for a Pro-Life Sermon” and share it with your church leader.  In fact, last fall Bishop Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, Florida, circulated this resource to all of his priests.  Regardless of denomination, this document provides insights and resources a pastor can work with to deliver a pro-life message that is his own.

 

And why should he?  Because of the following:

 

1) Abortion happens a lot: 56 million of the youngest humans among us, pre-born children, are killed by abortion—every year around the world.  

 

2) Abortion happens amongst Christians: According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13% of women obtaining abortions identify as Evangelical Protestant, 17% as mainline Protestant, and 24% as Catholic.  That means that over 50% of women aborting align themselves with a Christian faith tradition of some sort. [Note: The source for this comes from the Guttmacher Institute (GI), which is a pro-abortion organization; however, they collect statistics that are otherwise difficult to obtain.  Furthermore, GI is an American organization.  Similar statistics are near impossible to get in Canada since statistic-collection regarding abortion in Canada is limited.  However, given the similarity between both countries regarding abortion rates and public opinion on abortion, it is reasonable to deduce that Canada’s statistics about the faith background of women having abortions would be similar to those of the US.]

 

3) Abortion happens amongst women who have already made that choice: As I’ve written in the past, some of the post-abortive are pre-abortive, as pointed out in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology Canada (2012; 34(6): 532-542) which stated, “At least one third of women undergoing induced abortions in Canada have had a prior abortion.”  So not only can preaching spare women from ever killing their children, it can spare women from killing more of their children.

 

These statistics alone highlight the importance of preaching on this topic.  And any fear a pastor may have that people will react poorly needs to be addressed by this point: People may react poorly if the topic is handled poorly.  But the opposite of poor preaching is not no preaching—it’s good preaching.  This PDF will equip pastors to preach well on the topic of abortion in order to bring justice, mercy, and healing to our world. 

Cultivating Virtue, Part 3 of 3, by Stephanie Gray

In this series I’ve been examining 5 things people can do to cultivate virtue.  Point 1 about organizing self-less activities can be read here.  Points 2 to 4 about creating alternate heroes, strengthening willpower, and nurturing connection can be read here.

That leaves point 5: Protect against invasion.

     No matter how hard one works to strengthen themselves or their children, we are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.  So what safeguards can be put in place, particularly due to the invasion (such as pornography) that technology can bring into one’s home?  Here’s the list I recommend at the Parent Support Meetings I teach at:

     a)      Have a “no technology in the bedroom” rule; it simply decreases the odds of a child accessing pornography if they’re using technology (at least in your home) with other people around.  Consider the story of a 9-year-old girl in England who had set up a profile on a dating website, which connected her to a couple in Canada, who had sex in front of a web cam for her and were planning a camping trip where they could have sex with her.   A rule about no technology in the bedroom could have dramatically changed this situation; however, it’s important to point out that even technology in shared spaces can be used improperly when no one is around, which is why the next step is important.

     b)      Put a filter on all your family members’ devices.  Covenant Eyes has a good one and you can learn more about it here

     c)      Continually ask the question, “Why?” when you make decisions.  When I speak to parents of 11-year-olds, I ask how many of their kids have cell phones.  A few raise their hands.  So then I ask why their child needs a phone?  If a child, who is a minor, is always with a trusted adult, and if adults have cell phones, then a child doesn’t need a phone.  However, there are some times where that isn’t the case; as one parent told me, his child uses public transit so the child needs a phone in case of an emergency.  In this case, asking “Why is a phone needed?” brings us to a good reason for getting a phone.  But, it brings us to a good reason why only a phone-calling phone—not a data-enabled device—is needed.  As my fellow trainer Sue points out, her kids’ first phone is a flip phone that they have during their high school years—that enables her and them to communicate, and for them to have a resource to call for help in an emergency, but which doesn’t have access to data which is not needed and could give access to harmful material.

     When considering giving teens devices that adults use, such as data-enabled phones, it’s important to remember that the teenage brain is not properly developed.  Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gives an excellent explanation of this in her TED Talk, in which she states her great motto, “Keep ‘em alive to 25.”  There are some things adults do (e.g., drive a car) that we don’t let children (e.g., 13-year-olds) do because we realize that while the tool is very helpful, it can be dangerous if mishandled.  Even when we eventually do transition young people to driving, it is with training and supervision before they are left independently with a car.  Technology, which is helpful but can be dangerous, should be treated the same way.

     d)      Have conversations—lots of them—with your child.  Don’t just make rules without explaining them.  Listen and talk.  Ask good questions.  Speaker and author Matthew Kelly illustrates well the art of good questions for teaching one’s child at this link (click on preview and listen at 4:31).  Use analogies to help your child understand that rules are meant to help us, not harm us; for example, you could ask them to think about stoplights at intersections and what the red, yellow, and green lights mean.  Then ask them what would happen if a person going one direction thought red meant go, and a person going in another direction knew green meant go.  The subsequent crash would be bad, and potentially fatal.  The standard about the meaning of stoplights and the expectation that people follow the rules is meant to help us run as a civil society and keep things peaceful and safe, rather than be unduly restrictive.  So it is with a parent’s rules—they are meant to help us, not harm us. 

     Moreover, spend time—with your child—going through websites like Fight the New Drug  and Chastity Project, watching video clips and reading the material and then discussing together.  Let your child know they can come to you to talk about anything they are struggling with or stumble upon, and make sure you are calm, receptive, and compassionate in the face of your child revealing weakness.

     e)      Foster silence: There is so much noise, visual and audio, in our culture today that it can be hard to hear the voice of God; it’s difficult to perceive the still small voice of conscience.  Consider Elijah: In 1 Kings 19 God wasn’t in the wind, earthquake, or fire.  Rather, He was in a whisper.  Elijah heard God’s command in the silence.  So too must we make it a priority to encourage times of silence in our homes, which should lead to prayer and repentance.  As author Jacques Philippe writes, “Prayer enables us to draw from God a life that is ever new, to let ourselves be continually reborn and renewed.  Whatever our trials and disappointments, harsh situations, failures, and faults, prayer makes us rediscover enough strength and hope to take up our lives again with total confidence in the future.” 

Cultivating Virtue, Part 2 of 3, by Stephanie Gray

 Me with one of my heroes, Nick Vujicic, who I met in 2010.

Me with one of my heroes, Nick Vujicic, who I met in 2010.

     Last week in part 1 of Cultivating Virtue, I said there were five things we can do to respond to negative forces in our culture like isolation, no self-control, self-centeredness, using others, and a false identity.  Point 1 was to organize self-less activities.  Today we reflect on three more responses:

2. Create alternate heroes

     My fellow trainer Sue came up with this great idea.  As the saying goes, we become who our friends are—because friends are who we spend a lot of time with, and who or what we spend time with ends up rubbing off on us.  What goes in will come out.  So it is with heroes—whoever we spend our time watching, studying, and thinking about will manifest in our behaviors.

     If you don’t want your children to emulate foul-mouthed promiscuous celebrities, you need to fill their minds and lives with good alternatives.  That’s why I love featuring the stories of Nick Vujicic, Dick and Rick Hoyt, Zach Hunter, or Caden and Conner Long.  There are endless examples in the history books and online of people, young ones in particular, who are making, or have made, a positive contribution to the world.

    What these true heroes demonstrate is how to live life based on “Happiness Levels” 3 and 4 instead of 1 and 2.  The Washington-based ministry Healing the Culture  has taught extensively on this topic of what they call The 4 Levels of Happiness.  They say the following,

     “The way we de­fine happiness will determine how we live our lives, what we think is most important, how we treat other people, what we mean by ‘success’ and ‘quality of life,’ how we view human rights... even how we view ourselves as human beings.”

     They point out that defining happiness simply based on physical pleasure (Level 1: I’m hungry; I eat; I’m happy) or ego-gratification (Level 2: I run a race; I beat you; I’m happy), will bring about an unhealthy society.  But real heroes, as mentioned above, define happiness based on contribution and self gift (Level 3: I see you are in need; I help you; I’m happy) and faith in God’s unconditional love (Level 4: abandonment to God and experiencing the peace which flows from that).  It’s important to note that happiness levels 1 and 2 are not bad in and of themselves—it’s good to meet our physical needs and advance our talents; the point is simply that a problem arises when our ultimate end of happiness, our focus in life, or our purpose for living, stay on those levels rather than advance to higher ones.

3. Strengthen Willpower

     The third thing we can do to cultivate virtue is to strengthen willpower, and I wrote about that here

4. Nurture Connection

     Humans were made for relationship.  Whether it’s the Bible telling us that (in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone”) or whether it’s clinical psychologist and professor Dr. Sherri Turkle telling us that (as outlined in her TED Talk Connected, But Alone?), we are creatures built for connection.

     When I went on a 40-day retreat last fall, I experienced freedom by being unplugged.  Not having technology as a distraction left a void that was beautifully filled by connecting face-to-face with the people I was living with in community.  Whether it was talking face to face with others over three sit-down meals/day, or evening chats with my dorm sisters before bed, or joining other guests and members in card games or musical extravaganzas that involved harmonized singing, piano, guitar, and fiddles, we were together, in relationship; that is what we were made for, and as a result our spirits were nurtured.

    If, for the rest of your life, you had to choose between only spending time with your loved ones face-to-face or only staying in touch with them via technology, which would you choose?  Our answer explains why it is important to set up boundaries around technology—to make sure we truly stay connected.  Technology should aid our human interactions, not replace them. 

     Case in point, when I returned from my retreat and "plugged back in,” I started to handle technology differently: I found I wasted a lot of time swiping the Facebook app on my phone, so I removed the app.  Instead, I allow myself to log in only twice each day.  I am able to receive the benefits of this social networking tool (stay connected to find out about in-person events and share and receive information related to the culture wars) but keep things ordered so that technology is a slave of me, not me a slave of technology.  These limits force me to think through my usage (one log in during the day means I only have one login left!), to reflect more deeply about what is worth posting—and what isn’t, and to give primacy to my in-person relationships, not technological networks.

     Likewise, families that thrive will set up boundaries and limits around technology use.  There should be times where technology isn’t allowed (during meals, during family games nights, and in the car [some of the best parent-child conversations can happen in the car where people are in close proximity but staring in the same direction—if technology isn’t allowed to get in-between]).  If done right, far from being oppressive, such boundaries will be freeing to the human spirit and will make sure face-to-screen connection doesn’t replace or supersede what we were made for: face-to-face connection.

Wonder what the fifth point is?  Read it here!

Cultivating Virtue, Part 1 of 3, by Stephanie Gray

“When we deny children access to meaningful education about their burgeoning sexual development, we give them no choice but to glean what they can from a highly sexualized media.” –Sharna Olfman, psychology professor

     Since moving back to BC a year and a half ago, I have partnered with Signal Hill and the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese to be part of a team of speakers who train parents how to talk to their children about human growth, development, and sexual morality.  When parents don’t feel equipped or comfortable speaking to their children on this topic, the culture’s reaction is to say, “We’ll do it for you,” and then government steps in, as we’re seeing with the Ontario sexual education curriculum.  But what we teach at these “Parent Support Meetings,” is that the parents, not the government, are the primary educators of their children when it comes to sexuality; therefore, instead of replacing the parents in their role, we aid the parents in their role.  That’s why, parents of students in grades 4-7 in Catholic schools in the Vancouver archdiocese are called to come to meetings to be informed, enlightened, and equipped for how to speak with their children on this sensitive topic.  My role is to give a general session presentation and speak to the parents whose children are in grade six.  And upon reflecting on one of my recent presentations, it occurred to me that what I recommend for these parents is good advice for us all.

     After playing this short video, I reflect on the quote by the featured dad who narrates “We have some pretty big hopes for him [his son James].”  Parents naturally want what’s good for their children, and the parents gathered that evening have big hopes for their own kids too.  But, there are strong forces in the world today that can interfere with this.  I ask the parents what challenges they see facing their soon-to-be teenagers, and I get a litany of answers such as

·         video games,

·         social media,

·         pressure to fit a certain mold, and

·         pornography.  

       While some of those things are inherently wrong (pornography), others may or may not be a problem—it’s how they’re used (social media).  So if we step back from the specifics of that list and look at what general problems can be brought about, they are the following:

·         isolation,

·         addiction/no self-control,

·         self-centeredness,

·         using humans as objects, and

·         a false identity.

     So if we want to directly respond to these negative forces we need to develop their opposite, positive, forces.  Doing so creates an environment where virtue, instead of vice, will naturally breed.  So there are 5 things I recommend for the parents, and us all:

1.      Organize self-less activities

     When I was growing up, my mom volunteered—a lot.  And because she volunteered, quite naturally my sister and I volunteered too, helping her deliver meals on wheels or assisting at various pro-life and church events.  Her nursing work with the elderly naturally lead to our playing the piano for the elderly, and so forth.  How often are parents taking their children volunteering?  The more that happens, the more children will naturally look outside themselves, building a defense against the temptation to turn inward.

     Then there is RAK: Random Acts of Kindness.  A few years ago when I was living in the Toronto area, I was bored about an impeding lonely weekend with no plans.  While lamenting over text with one of my friends in Calgary, she too was bored and down on life, and although we were texting that we wished we could hang out with each other that weekend, geography and expensive flights put that idea to rest.  Then she texted me, “I know what we need!  We need RAK!”  I thought it was a typo or strange auto-correct, but then she explained to me what RAK was, and how we could challenge each other to spend the weekend doing at least 7 random acts of kindness, taking photos of our adventures, and then swapping stories at the end of the weekend.  From leaving flowers on a car in a parking lot, to placing an uplifting quote on a post-it note in a public washroom, to making a meal for a needy friend, to leaving an encouraging note at a bank machine, to dropping off an envelope at Tim Horton’s with money for the cashier and the next customer, and more, We. Had. A. Blast.  Our weekend started off negative, but it ended so positively; there were smiles, laughter, and joy, all because instead of looking inwards, we chose to change our gaze outwards.

Wondering what the other points are?  Fine out in part 2 of this reflection!

My Changed Perspective on Coffee, by Stephanie Gray

     I once was a coffee snob.  The key word is was.  It all began in Costa Rica.  I traveled there in 2011 to give several talks, and was introduced to the wonderful world of coffee (before then, I had been only a Tea Granny, and that I still am).  You can’t go to one of the best coffee growers in the world and not begin to enjoy the luxurious liquid that is coffee.

     I returned to enjoy fine coffee shops, including Vancouver’s wonderful 49th Parallel.  I was that person who, when going to a restaurant, would order coffee and ask, “How fresh is the coffee?” and the waitress would usually say, “I’ll put on a new pot for you.”  And I would be quite satisfied at the fresh cup of java coming my way.  But last fall, everything changed. 

     I went on a 40 day experience in the wilderness at Madonna House (which I’ve written about previously here).  Suddenly, daily coffee was no longer a reality—it was relegated to special occasions, namely Sunday.  Their founder Catherine Doherty, a Russian baroness, had instituted “tea time” at several periods throughout the day, and as much as I love tea too, something happens when you’re deprived of something you like: you seem to want it even more.  I would drink the tea but think, “I wish I could have coffee.”

     And then Sunday came.  Madonna House lives a spirit of poverty so although there would be no “whole milk latte” or fancy, freshly ground coffee beans, Sunday was the day where there was, at least, plain ‘ol coffee.  Having been deprived of it for several days, I can’t begin to tell you how good it was. 

     Then, imagine my surprise one Monday when coffee was in a canister at my table.  I eagerly poured a cup and savored my first sip: “Wow, this is really good; it tastes even better than yesterday’s coffee,” I said.  One of the members then said to me, “It is yesterday’s coffee; it was leftover so we reheated it.”  The coffee connoisseurs out there might cringe but I have lived to tell the tale and can testify that it tasted even better after 24 hours.

     Then there was the day I was assigned to work on the farm.  The community had just slaughtered 4 cows and over 30 sheep, and I was one of the people tasked with cutting up the meat.  Since our job was more challenging, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that when we took a break for tea time, those of us cutting up the meat got a special treat: Coffee!  But it was instant coffee.  Well, no joke: It. Was. Delicious.

     Through all this, I enjoyed coffee more.  Why?  Because I appreciated it more.  Why?  Because it wasn’t accessible every day, so it became “special” and thus notable.  Unfortunately this experience is uncommon in the western world.  We have such excess that we are rarely, if ever, deprived.  Whatever our mood, craving, or desire, we can generally satisfy it.  It’s not that to do so is necessarily bad, it’s just that when we don’t temper our consumption of things, we can find ourselves losing the ability to see the special and to grow in discipline.

     As I have reflected on our culture of late, what has struck me is how, if we are to be a better society, we need to get back to basics like growing in virtues such as temperance and prudence.  A virtuous society must pursue the good, but what is good is often not easy.  Being ethical in law, in politics, in medicine, or in any field for that matter, requires sometimes going against what we want or against what is easy, because it is what is right.  We are more likely to do this if we exercise our willpower.  Just as someone who is physically strong must work out, must start with lighter weights and increase the heaviness, so too, if we want the moral discipline to do the right thing even when it’s hard, do we need to “exercise” our non-physical will and look for little ways to consistently practice going against impulses.  This is where depriving ourselves of something we desire, such as coffee, exercises those “muscles” so we’re stronger when it really matters.  It’s not that consuming coffee or something we crave is necessarily bad (nor is it wrong to enjoy a “finer” product—I still enjoy a luxury coffee now and then), it’s simply that when we practice saying no at times, it helps us in future situations where we really should say no.  It also helps us appreciate what we do get, when we get it.

     Author and speaker Matthew Kelly has written about this when he says,

     “Learning to delay gratification is one of life’s essential lessons…You cannot have a successful marriage, be a great parent, maintain good health, establish financial stability, or become educated unless you are willing to delay gratification.  The best at anything are better than everyone else at delaying gratification--and that includes the great Christian heroes, champions, and saints who fill the history books” (Source: Rediscover Jesus).

     That’s why, every morning, I pull a piece of paper out of what I call my “Sacrifice Box.”  On the papers is written the three things I ideally like to consume daily: Coffee, tea, and a little sweet (90% dark chocolate and gummies are my favorites).  Each morning I choose to deprive myself of one of them.  I put my hand in the box and close my eyes and ask God to help me pick out the item that will be most pleasing to Him, that will help me grow in holiness.  Then, whichever paper I grab is the object I deprive myself of that day.  When it’s free coffee day at McDonald’s, that’s usually when the coffee sacrifice is picked out.   And the day that’s set aside to go to a tea room with friends is typically when the tea sacrifice is selected.  The deprivation pinches, but it also builds self-control and helps us make decisions based on will power, not feeling. 

     “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23

Why Should Christians Care? by Stephanie Gray

    Last Sunday I spoke at an Alliance church and the pastor asked me to explain to his congregation why Christians could be concerned about abortion.  Although there are many passages in the Scriptures I could have highlighted to make the Biblical case against abortion, I chose one: Luke 1. 

     Those who reflect on Luke 1 as it relates to the pro-life message, often point to John the Baptist, the late-term fetus, “the babe [who] leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb” (Luke 1:41).  But the animation of John the Baptist is not what I was focused on.  Instead, I was focused on why John the Baptist leaped for joy.  We read that Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:40).  John the Baptist leaped “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary” (Luke 1:41).  To understand why the pre-born prophet did this we need to rewind.

     Mary had recently had a visitor of her own: “the angel Gabriel [who] was sent from God” (Luke 1:26).  This messenger came not only to state “you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30) but that “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).  Mary then gave God her yes: “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  And so Mary was forever changed.  The presence of one became the presence of two.  She who was made in the image of God suddenly carried God.  She was transformed into a walking tabernacle, a dwelling place for God made man, so that when she greeted Elizabeth, Mary was not alone. 

     In the days long before cell phones, texting, Facebook and Twitter, no social media delivered a message to Elizabeth about what had happened.  But upon the presence of the Holy Presence, she and John the Baptist knew.  They sensed the presence of God made man in the early embryo.  John the Baptist did what he could do—he leaped.  Elizabeth did what she could do—she exclaimed, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:43).  And Mary responded, “My soul magnifies the Lord" (Luke 1:46).

     All three were focused on the youngest in their midst.   Divinity had taken on humanity.  In the silence and the darkness of the womb, new life had begun, the life of Christ. 

     God, who is all-powerful, demonstrates His supremacy throughout the Scriptures.  He turned a rod into a serpent and back; He made Moses’ hand leprous and then restored it (Exodus 4:2-7).  He “formed man of dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7).  God could have chosen any number of ways to become human, but the way He chose was to take on the form of the youngest among us, the human embryo.  That was your beginning; it was my beginning; and it was also God's beginning as man.  Since abortion destroys this new life, which God Himself once was, that is why Christians should be concerned about abortion.

Three Men and a Coffee Shop, by Stephanie Gray

I didn’t go to a coffee shop today intending to give my Bible away to one patron, debate abortion with another patron, and talk with a third patron about the conversation with the second, but as it should happen, instead of my intended plan of studying Christopher Kaczor’s book The Ethics of Abortion, I found myself engaging three strangers.

It’s funny how life unfolds.  The first man, Phil, placed the coffee shop’s newspaper in front of himself at the long table I too was sitting at.  When he turned around to get his coffee, another patron grabbed the unmanned newspaper so that when Phil returned, “the case of the missing paper” became an opening for small talk.  Phil was on a break and the chatty type.  I decided that I shouldn’t be so attached to my plans that I couldn’t be flexible and spare a few moments to speak with a stranger.

“Day off?” he asked me.

“No,” I said.  “I work from home when I’m not travelling and decided to make my office a coffee shop today.  You?”

“I’m on a break from where I work at the hospital.  What work do you do?” he asked.

“Public speaking,” I said.

Public speaker isn’t the most common job around, and he was intrigued how it could be my job and what audiences I spoke to.  When I mentioned speaking at churches he said, “So, you go to church then?”

“Yes,” I said and asked back, “Do you?”

He didn’t.   So I took on the persona of Socrates and began asking questions about this, learning that although he had been sent by his parents to Sunday school as a child, that didn’t last long.  For a brief period he sent his own children to a preschool that had Christian foundations and was struck when he told his daughter, “Goodnight; I love you” to hear her respond, “And Jesus loves you, Daddy.”  But he didn’t identify as a Christian or a church-goer.  He simply believed in God in the abstract sense, and in trying to be good.  I asked him if he ever read up on different religions and explored the reasons behind the claims made; that, for example, there’s good evidence for Jesus being the God He claimed to be, and not merely a “nice guy” who roamed the earth.  We talked for about 10 minutes and by the time his work break wrapped up and he had to leave, I remembered my red, palm-sized New Testament, Psalms, & Proverbs Bible in my laptop bag.  The Holy Spirit nudged me and I said to Phil, “Hey, um, I have a Bible with me, why don’t you take it.” 

He smiled, received it, and said, “Now I have something to read tonight.”

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”-Psalm 119:105

With that, he left.  No sooner had I gotten back into work that another patron, a self-proclaimed “Hippie,” saw my spread of a book, highlighter, pen, and notepad and said, “Are you a student?”

“No,” I said.

“You look like one, with the highlighter,” John responded.

“Well,” I said, “I’m like a teacher you could say.  I give talks and I’m preparing for a presentation.”

“What do you speak on?” he asked.

“Abortion,” I said, purposefully leaving out my position in order to let him ask.  And he did.

“Do you speak in favor of it or against?”

“Against,” I said, which was taken as an invitation for him to go on a loud diatribe against pro-life.

We debated for about 10 minutes, with him making the usual arguments in favor of abortion: “I believe in a woman’s right to control her body,” he said.  “One thing I’ve learned,” he declared, “is you don’t tell a woman what to do.”

So I asked, “Would you tell a woman what to do after birth?”

“What do you mean?” he said to my intentionally vague question designed to get the wheels turning in his mind, to get him to think and process his rhetoric.

“Well,” I explained, “If a woman wanted to kill her child after birth, such as drowning her child in the bathtub like we’ve heard on the news, would you say you can’t tell a woman what to do then?”

“That’s different,” he boomed to what seemed to be the whole café.  Although he started the conversation, he showed no interest in a rational, two-sided exchange.  So I mostly asked questions to be faced with him cutting me off.

When he justified his position on the grounds that the “law says so,” I asked, “Didn’t the law once say that I as a woman couldn’t vote?”   

“Yeah,” he said.  So I responded, “Isn’t that proof the law can be wrong?”  Boom, he went off on another tangent.

And when he spoke of his son and daughter being the most important people to him, I asked him, “Since they are so important to you, when did their lives begin?  Wasn’t it their bodies in their mom’s body?  So if they’re important to you now, wouldn’t they be important to you before birth?”  Off on another tangent he went.

“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” -James Stephens

As it should happen, out of the corner of my eye another patron, down at the end of the table, was listening in.  When John and I exchanged names, shook hands, and John left, this third man, Kevin, said,

"I just have to say you were remarkably patient with that man.”  Kevin had listened with much fascination to our whole exchange.  He was tempted to jump in and point out in the third trimester the baby has brain activity, which gave me an opportunity to enlighten this kinder, more “open” man, that at six weeks, in the first trimester, brain waves have been detected in the pre-born child.  “Thanks for telling me that,” Kevin said, “I did not know that.”

“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” -Napoleon Hill

So wherever you are, and whatever comes up, my experience today has taught me to welcome interruptions, for you never know what opportunities lie in wait to share truth, goodness, justice, virtue, and Christ.

The Christmas Story Teaches Us to Celebrate New Life, by Stephanie Gray

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine who is an accountant, she lamented how this time of year is her busiest season.  In contrast, my job of being a pro-life educator means year end is my slow season: people generally don’t want to hear about a negative topic like abortion during the positive season of Christmas.  And yet, the topic of abortion and the story of Christmas have their connection.

The Christmas story involves a young, unmarried girl faced with an unplanned pregnancy.  She wonders “How can this be?”  (Luke 1:34)  Her not-yet-husband considers putting “her away secretly” (Matthew 1:19).

How many in our culture find themselves in a similar situation of an unexpected pregnancy?  How many find themselves bewildered?  But not all choose to respond as Joseph and Mary did; some choose abortion.  Which brings to mind the power of choice, which Holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl once spoke about as follows: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Our Heavenly Father, Mary and Joseph teach us to choose well when we “choose one’s attitude…choose one’s own way” in the set of circumstances we find ourselves in: 

God reminds us to choose the right attitude: Even in crisis and the unknown, we are to, as His messenger declared, “not be afraid” (Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:30).

Mary reminds us to choose to trustingly surrender to our Creator who is much wiser than His creatures: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Joseph reminds us to choose to protect the vulnerable: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ ...When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:21, 24).

And because of these choices, we have the conception and birth of the Christ child to celebrate.  And what a celebration it is: the Scriptures show through at least seven people/gatherings that an encounter with “the little Lord Jesus” is cause for praise:

Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.  For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:47-49).

Pre-born John the Baptist: “…the babe leapt in her womb…” (Luke 1:41)

Elizabeth: “…Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1:41-43).

An angel and the Heavenly host: “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14)

Shepherds: “…the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).

Simeon: “…when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God” (Luke 2:27-28).

Anna: “…coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

The Christmas story teaches us to celebrate new life.  Although a pregnant woman today does not nurture Christ in her womb like Mary did, each pregnant woman does nurture an unrepeatable and irreplaceable soul stamped with the image of the Almighty.  Regardless of the circumstances, the presence of God’s creation, which is “very good” (Genesis 1:31), should prompt us to choose as Mary and Joseph did: choose the right attitude, choose to trustingly surrender to God, and choose to protect the vulnerable.  

 

This was originally posted at the Dynamic Women of Faith blog.

Be Still, by Stephanie Gray

I got my first e-mail address in 1998.  And I have been “connected” since then.  But on October 6 that changed: For 40 days I disconnected entirely from e-mail, Facebook, texting, and phone, and went on a six-week retreat.  In the coming months I’ll be reflecting on my 40 days in the wilderness (literally—I was in a small town in the woods of Ontario), but initially I want to share this insight:

 

My time was spent with the beautiful apostolate Madonna House, situated on the Madawaska River in Combermere.  The river often moved making little ripples, but on a number of occasions, often later in the day, I noticed it would be entirely still so that the trees and sky were perfectly reflected on its glassy surface.  One day I decided to capture this profound stillness and the photo above shows how perfectly tranquil the water was.  That reminded me of a quote by one of my favorite authors, Father Jacques Philippe who wrote the following in his book Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart:

 

“Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining.  If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly it will be reflected.  If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it. 

 

“It is a little bit like this with regard to our soul in relationship with God.  The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us.”

 

There are many things my 40 days away taught me, but most certainly one was the power of peace, and the necessity that we be still.