I am in search of a narrative following the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the subsequent diminishment of the rights of body and life autonomy for women.
Part of this is personal. As I have written elsewhere, my wife and I decided to end a pregnancy after it was found that our baby had anencephaly. He had and would have no brain.
We were offered options and chose the option to induce labor. It was heart-wrenching and right for us.
If we were in that situation today, we would have no options other than to wait until the baby was born, and if born able to breathe, wait for him to die. Those who don’t know us and exhibit little to no compassion for us would have made the decision for us.
But it’s more than personal experience that fuels my distress, although that would be enough. It’s also connected to how I think about the world. The assumptions I make, conscious or not, and the beliefs I have about people that are challenged.
Here’s one assumption: I was born in 1962, and in my lifetime there has been uneven but persistent progress in equality and justice in areas of race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
It has not been simple or easy, and we are far from a place to rest and be satisfied, but it has been significant, life-affirming and life-saving. It has also contributed to a backlash as hard-earned rights and benefits are now being taken away.
The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision is the perhaps the most audacious example. Purposely causing harm and human suffering in service to a value or principle which undermines the full humanity of those harmed.
I don’t want to live in a place of cynicism and expect nothing but the worst from others, but the assumption of progress that my lifetime had led me to expect has changed. How much remains is uncertain as I search for a reformed narrative.
For most of my life, I have tried to give others the benefit of the doubt regarding their intentions — trying to assume good intentions until proven otherwise.
However, our elected and appointed leaders seem increasingly interested in power and control. Their actions rationalize immoral behavior and devise rationales to safeguard self-righteousness on a grand scale despite the human costs.
How much “assumption of good intentions” approach can I maintain? Even if I believe in someone’s good intentions, what happens when their judgment is bad?
What does it mean to grant that someone or some group may honestly want and seek “the good” but that “good” is a human disaster for others? And little to no compassion is expressed or demonstrated for those harmed?
As a child, I was taught that the United States was the best country in the world, with more freedoms than any other. The country and religious tradition in which I was born was not in need of major reforms. The big concern was that others did not agree with us and needed to be converted to our way of thinking and living.
My adult experience has been a continual adjustment to those worldviews. I continue to learn more about how the histories of American and my faith tradition are morally complicated.
Both my country and my faith tradition have caused great harm to others with acts of self-serving rationalizations and self-righteousness. Both have also served the greater good and the greater community.
There are strengths on which to build and areas of needed repentance. What it means to be a responsible citizen and a person of good faith continues to evolve.
But today feels different. It feels like those who have resisted past reforms are saying, “Enough! We know better and we will use all the levers at our disposal to ensure that our version of morality — which serves the historic status quo and hierarchy of whose votes count most, which is mostly us — prevails.
“We will make the rules that all must follow even if we are in the minority. We will exploit the natural unfairness in our political system and change the rules, if needed, for our benefit.
“We will tell ourselves that we are saving our culture and country. We will be justified in whatever means are necessary to achieve those ends.”
Seven years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergerfell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is legal and “my side” rejoiced. Today the script is flipped.
For those agreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, there is reason to rejoice. For others, this is a moral disaster and a harbinger that the country is on a downward spiral.
Opposing sides want to “take back our country” but what this language means for each side is very different.
In my search for a new narrative amid grief and questioning, this is what I believe today, which is open for revision tomorrow:
- The present situation is heartbreaking, distressing and enraging. These emotions come from feelings of loss, disorientation and fear of losing more.
- The story is not over, even when it feels that way. The story can change and will change. We can be part of that change.
- Change may take a long time. “Tipping point” changes feel sudden but have deep roots.
- This sucks.
- People can be enormously creative and persistent when they have meaning and purpose. The vision of a more compassionate and just world provides more than adequate meaning and purpose.
- We are called to be faithful, not victorious. We have reaped the harvest of the faithfulness of those who have come before, and we can plant seeds for generations to come.
- No one gets to choose how and what I think, what I value, and how I find meaning and purpose. And this is true for you, too.
- Those who feel dismayed are not alone. In many ways, we are the majority. We are not without assets and support.
- “Grace bats last.” Thank you, Anne Lamott.