The wood grains on the desk are still clear in my memory. Third grade, nine years old, and I already have an argument for why abortion should be legal. I was arguing (or restating what I had heard) with the kid next to me. We went at it with our kid-logic and arguments induced through parental osmosis.
Even after coming to a place of deep love for Christ, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, as a Freshman in college, I still white-knuckled the positions I had debated for 10 years.
But things changed as I began to see God at work in creation.
My change of heart began with simple things, the reading of the creation story, life unfurling like a spring seed at God’s beckoning. Then there was God blowing life into Adam. And Sarah’s cynical laughter giving way as her body filled with the beginning of a nation. Babies born through barren loins. Seeds opening up. Morning birthing new possibilities. God carrying his redemptive plot forward through births; what else are genealogies? Paul’s description of the beautiful and broken creation giving birth to something new. And then there is the Hebrew word for soul, which is not ethereal but earthy, “nephesh” meaning: “life”. Through seeing all this I saw God’s creator love for all that blooms and is born, his image-bearers at the center of this love.
God’s delight with life nudged my heart until I began to have new eyes.
So when I, two days ago, first heard about the Gosnell case, I felt pain and urgency weighing on me to the point of brokenness. The ‘snipping’ of birthed baby spines. The reports of Gosnell’s financial gain at the expense of the poor (some reports had him making 10-15k in a night). The other abysmal conditions. The oversight failure. Alleged jarred infant body parts throughout the abortion clinic. Words like “injustice” aren’t enough. Words like “satanic” are much closer.
As a pastor and student of the Bible I’m tempted to say it was God’s spirit grieving in me as I read through report after report. The feeling, thick and vague, remains in me now. Just before writing this my wife Kandice had to repeat herself multiple times as I looked off, distracted by the hellish gravity of it all.
How do we engage such a world?
I wonder that sometimes. What do we do with our anger, frustration and sadness as we sit feeling impotent to bring about change? I wonder this even as I spent two hours today teaching the interns I lead about different postures the church has historically taken towards the greater culture. Even as we discussed at length the missional impulse of the church and the need to practice restoration. When issues like Gosnell surface theory gives way to the visceral.
To offer “lists” or “steps” seems inadequate in the face of such slithering brutality and confusion but there are two things that come to mind.
1) We need, I believe, to practice redemptive mourning. There is a mourning that dwells in sickness and slouches towards despair. I have slipped towards this at times. So has my wife. So have many of my friends. Maybe you have. It is, of course, understandable in the face of the world’s terrors, the dull and the sharp.
Other times, I’ve avoided the numerous “Gosnells” that emerge each year, flipping channels, hoping they’ll vanish with a remote’s click. Ignoring the fact that there are numerous “Gosnells” that reporters never hear of, much less fail to report about. But neither the mourning that dwells in sickness nor the callous channeling flipping are redemptive.
Redemptive mourning dwells in hope and gazes unflinchingly into the barrenness of night. In the midst of this redemptive mourning, we remember that “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5).
2) When we mourn this way we are provoked to engage with redemptive creativity, because we know that God’s insistent, holy and passionate love does, in fact, win.
This creative engagement does not ‘show up’ with shocking signs and megaphones–or hate Tweets–but with nuance. An example is Gabe Lyons, founder of Q and father of a son with Downs Syndrome. Provoked by the 92% of aborted Downs Syndrome babies he chose not to picket but create something very simple – a brochure. In it, with the help of a photographer, Gabe gave an honest and beautiful picture of what it looks like to raise a child with Downs. He made appointments with doctors, presented the brochure and asked if the doctors might make it available to parents expecting a baby with Downs. The brochure, like a seed, broke open and grew–becoming something larger, something close to a movement. It is, from what I’ve heard, in a number of hospitals now. This is only one example, but I know there are others.
My thoughts, are still spinning. “What does Gosnell tell us about ourselves, if anything?” “What does it tell us about America? Our values? Our virtues?” I have ideas. But I keep zoning out, looking at my desk, the wood grains flowing in and out, moving towards the edge. There, resting on the grains, amidst the papers and half open books, is a picture of an ultrasound. It’s Zoey, our daughter who is now three. As I look at it I briefly I recall our hospital room and those hours of pain and thankfulness. Pain and thankfulness, it is not unlike what I feel now, the pangs of longing for a final restoration, this restoration that is as distant and inevitable as morning.