Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Defining Life

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...
|Jeremiah 1:5|

I would love a coherent definition for “life,” because I just don't get it.

The pro-life camp wants to protect the rights of the “unborn,” or, basically, to defend innocent babies – human beings who can’t defend themselves. I know there’s some discussion over what constitutes a “life,” whether it’s at the moment of conception, or nine weeks later, etc…

God says Jeremiah was known before he was “formed in the womb.” This seems to clarify the definition of the beginning of “life” a bit more, at least from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

If it comes down to a definition of what constitutes human life in general, however, then the scope broadens.

I wonder about the thousands of human beings who die every day from hunger and other preventable diseases. Are they also innocent human beings who deserve protection against harm? What about the millions of victims of genocide and bombing campaigns in places like Darfur and Iraq? Are they deserving of life as well? How about the human beings (not “aliens,” no matter how many times you say it, CNN anchor Lou Dobb) who cross over national borders, trying to survive? Did God know them before they were formed in the womb?

The Bible has things to say about life across the board. For immigrants, legal or not, we are told to “love [them] as yourself, for you were [immigrants] in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). For those who are poor, or hungry, or naked, or imprisoned, we are told that “just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

For those who are imprisoned, Jesus says. Perhaps for those on death row who are overwhelmingly men of color, whose lives are scheduled to be taken away by a government that kills people in order to say that killing is wrong.

As a man, I can never know what it means to be faced with a pregnancy or possible abortion. I can never, ever understand what that’s like, and I’m very wary of male politicians making judgment statements on women in those precarious positions.

But I do know what ‘life’ means. And if it applies to defenseless unborn babies, then it must equally apply to defenseless born babies in Rwanda and Chicago, to teenagers in the rundown and neglected inner cities across the United States, to people wasting away in places ravaged by war, genocide, and AIDS.

If we’re going to use the Bible to defend a “pro-life” stance, then let’s please ask what constitutes life. If we’re just being “pro-birth,” then let’s call it that.

Because I just don’t understand how a view can defend to the death the right for babies to be born, but care less when it comes to those same babies who grow up in the crumbling homes and schools of the forgotten America; or the wretched lives struggling to eat from day to day across this world; or the lives taken by bombs for no other reason than that they happened to live in a place overflowing with much-needed oil.

I just don’t get it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Meaning of Hope

500 years ago, you’d be called a flat-out lunatic if you had the radical notion that the earth revolved around the sun (still, however, we pretend like it doesn’t: the sun “rises” and “sets”). 100 years ago, you’d be quickly dismissed if you thought that human beings could fly. And less than a few weeks ago, you probably still couldn’t convince people that the United States of America would elect someone other than a white male to be president.

Yet, it has happened. And it happened regardless of all the (obscene) un-truths spreading around, the idea that Obama isn’t a natural-born citizen, that he’s a radical Muslim, that once he’s elected president, the U.S. will become a Marxist haven that has abortions every day on the White House lawn while pledging allegiance to France…naked.

America has chosen change, and, as John McCain said Election Night, the people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.

We’ve not just chosen change: we’ve chosen hope. And we’ve chosen to believe in Barack Obama’s own words: “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

But it’s even more than that. We’ve chosen, as a people, to stick our necks out, and dare to dream. To imagine that the world is circular, not flat; that the center of the Universe is nowhere near our piddly little planet; that we can travel to the skies, and beyond; that pompous, middle-aged white male farmers are not the only ones deserving of citizenship in this great country.

We’ve chosen to move forward, so that our children can live in a world better off than how we found it, not worse.

Barack Obama is not the Savior, he’s not the end-all-be-all. It’s not “In Obama We Trust.” But he’s always said this election wasn’t about him; it’s about us. As Gandhi said: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And we've chosen to hope.

Just as Galileo chose to hope for a world that realized its place in the Cosmos. Just as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped for a country that judged people by the content of their character, first and foremost. Just as all those innovators through the millennia hoped for a better world...somehow, someway.

500 years from now, will the notion that people drive gas-guzzlers that get 15 mpg be laughable? 100 years from now, will the extreme nationalistic divide be considered the definition of "inappropriate" in the face of global threats in the form of self-destruction and climate crisis? A few weeks from now, will there finally be a realization that it might not have been the destruction of the Grand Ole’ Party, but more of the success of a junior senator from Illinois to inspire millions, that led to this new administration?

Let’s hope so.