Grasping Thorns

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose." ― A. Brontë

Category: Adoption

Oops. Sorry, all.

So . . . I forgot to update my blog when I moved to writing for Bustle and then Daily Kos (a Dissident Voice is thrown in here, too). I imagined that everyone who read me here would read me there by following my Facebook links (like H&G’s breadcrumbs). But, some of my readers here aren’t as Facebook crazed as I am. 🙂

I’m still writing, though! Here’s a list of things I’ve penned, along with where to find me now.

April 28th: The Baltimore Riots Should Remind White People To Listen And Act — Not Judge Protestors

May 5th: Why Responding To Bigotry In Facebook Comments Matters

May 7th: On Mother’s Day, Remembering My Daughter’s Birth Mom

June 17th: God is Disappointed in You is a Book Every Evangelical Christian Should Read

June 18th: That Moment When Your Friend Finds a Bullet Hole over Her Son’s Room

June 19th: The Charleston Church Massacre and “Making It Right”

June 20th: Disturbing Conservative Commentary: A Compilation

June 21st: An Open Letter to Governor Haley

June 23rd: Dear Governor Haley, Part 2

June 24th: This is What “Discussion” Looks Like in America Today — And Why It Must Change

June 26th: Senator Pinckney, President Obama, and New Eyes for Seeing

July 14th: The Importance of Remembering “It’s Not About [Your Name Here]”

July 16th: A Mass Shooting Hits Home — Again.

July 19th: A New Southern Wedding Tradition: Yes, I Wish I Were Kidding

July 24th: It’s Our Fault People Are Dying: American Gun Culture and the Myth of Personal Responsibility

July 29th: Dr. Walter Palmer, Lion Killer: Meet Lawrence Anthony, Elephant Whisperer

July 31st: Last Night, I Watched Two Videos: Planned Parenthood’s and Sam DuBose’s

August 6th: Release Time Bible Programs Are Invading Public Schools. God Help Us.

August 15th: God Got A Dog: Another Book That Evangelical Christians Should Read

August 19th: Sacrificing Our Children’s Lives: America and Her Guns

September 4th: American Exceptionalism as Exceptionally Bad … Also: How to Make It Better

September 5th: Dear America: Stop. Painting. Bullets. Holes. On. Our Kids’. Heads.

In short, it’s been a bloody, busy summer.

If you want more fire for your rage-machine, start following my Daily Kos page.

love to all my readers. xoxo




Why the Hobby Lobby Case is NOT a “Pro-life” Victory — despite what Conservative Christians Might Claim

Since the Supreme Court struck a decisive blow against women’s reproductive rights last Monday — by granting Hobby Lobby exemption from providing emergency contraception (Plan B and Ella) and IUDs (both the hormonal and copper variety) as part of employee healthcare coverage, my Facebook Newsfeed has been awash with conservative Christians celebrating a “pro-life” victory.

When a friend and I bemoaned the ruling, one of these conservative Christians responded: “So you’re in favor of abortion?” — to which I replied, “The National Center for Health Statistics published a study that showed contraceptive use (including emergency contraception and IUDs) decreased by a third the number of abortions in two decades; so, actually, those on the side of Hobby Lobby seem to be the ones ‘in favor of abortion.'”

Not to say that I don’t believe that women should have access to legal and safe abortion. I do.

Even most conservatives admit that in some cases — incest, rape, and when the mother’s life is in danger — they do too. In those instances, most want access to a safe, legal abortion, and one without judgment, for their sisters, wives, and daughters.

What they don’t realize: the rhetoric they use when discussing abortion, rife with judgment, makes even those instances for which they’d make exceptions less likely to end well for the mother involved.

Mikki Kendall writes eloquently about her harrowing ordeal, when she experienced a placental abruption at 20 weeks and was denied a life-saving abortion by the attending doctor; thankfully a concerned nurse called in another doctor willing to perform the surgery:

“I don’t know if [the attending doctor’s] objections were religious or not; all I know is that when a bleeding woman was brought to him for treatment he refused to do the only thing that could stop the bleeding. Because he didn’t do abortions. Ever.

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway. My husband had told them exactly what my regular doctor said, and the ER doctor had already warned us what would have to happen. Yet none of this mattered when confronted by the idea that no one needs an abortion. You shouldn’t need to know the details of why a woman aborts to trust her to make the best decision for herself. I don’t regret my abortion, but I would also never use my situation to suggest that the only time another woman should have the procedure is when her life is at stake. After my family found out I’d had an abortion, I got a phone call from a cousin who felt the need to tell me I was wrong to have interfered with God’s plan. And in that moment I understood exactly what kind of people judge a woman’s reproductive choices.”

What kind of people judge a woman’s reproductive choices? The kind that value potential life over living women.

If the goal is — as it should be — to make abortions safe, legal, and rare (b/c let’s just be honest and admit that no one gets excited about having a surgical procedure, please), contraception is key. Again: contraceptive use decreased by a third the number of abortions in two decades.

So, let’s talk contraception. Every major medical institution disagrees with the claim that contraception — even emergency contraception — causes an abortion. Jill Filipovic, a feminist writer recently hired by Cosmopolitan to tackle more serious issues in the women’s magazine, explains:

“The medical definition of pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants into the uterus (more than half of all fertilized eggs naturally flush out the body, never resulting in pregnancy). Once an egg implants, Plan B and Ella cannot dislodge it or end a pregnancy.

This gets into some sticky territory, because the position taken by Hobby Lobby and many people who oppose emergency contraception is that life begins at fertilization, not implantation, and Plan B and Ella may interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg. Even if we accept that definition of pregnancy and abortion . . . there is no evidence that emergency contraception prevents implantation of a fertilized egg. Instead, it primarily works the way standard birth control does: By inhibiting ovulation and thickening cervical mucus so sperm can’t pass through. Fifth-grade sex ed was a long time ago, so a quick refresher: Pregnancy doesn’t happen immediately after ejaculation. It takes some time for the sperm to swim up into the fallopian tubes, and an egg has to be released to meet the sperm. Sperm can live in the female body for up to five days, and an unfertilized egg can sit in the tube for several days as well. That’s why emergency contraception works even a day or two after sex. Even after the sperm have been released, it can make it harder for them to get past the cervix, and then it can prevent an egg from being available for fertilization . . .

As for IUDs, the copper ones work essentially by killing off sperm before they reach the egg, and according to the latest, most reliable research, neither copper nor other IUDs affect implantation of a fertilized egg. Now, copper IUDs can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting if they’re inserted up to five days after unprotected sex, but the number of women who actually use IUD insertion as a form of emergency contraception is slim to none, given that the cost of the device and insertion can reach $1,000 and requires a doctor’s visit (which is exactly why it’s so important that IUDs be covered by insurance).”

There are those (I’m looking at you, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar) who refuse to use any contraceptive pill for fear that an egg will be fertilized and then unable to implant — although there is no way of knowing if and when that happens. Still, it’s their right to refuse birth control. The problem is when they, or other conservative Christians who believe as they do, try to limit the rights of other women to make their own reproductive choices.

The other problem? Hypocrisy. 

afternoon-visitSo often the people who fight so hard to limit women’s reproductive choices do not, themselves, offer to raise any of the unwanted or uncared for children in the world (there were 140+ children in my daughter’s Kazakhstan orphanage alone, and there’s an estimated 150,000,000+ orphans worldwide).

Most in my hometown community (proudly conservative and Christian!) reacted to our decision to adopt in one of the following three ways:

(1) my mother tells a family member, “Scott and Nicole are adopting!” and the family member replies with a gasp and “What? They can’t have their own!” (2) my grandmother tells her friend, “Scott and Nicole are adopting!” and the friend replies with a gasp and “What does her mother think?” (3) my mother tells her friend, “Scott and Nicole are adopting from overseas!” and the friend replies, “What if the baby has AIDS?”

I got a response similar to the AIDS one (but with FAS as the disease/syndrome of choice). Mom and I responded to both comments by reminding our respective naysayers that I would, in fact, become a parent with more info than most (e.g. a full medical workup and report) – to which my mother’s friend replied, “Well be careful – because they will lie to you over there.”

My mother’s friend, so critical of those people “over there,” probably couldn’t have picked out Kazakhstan on a map. At this point, though, Mom was more seasoned to such responses and said, sarcastically: “Well, then . . . if the baby has AIDS, I guess we’ll just put him on a boat and send him back.”

What do you do if  . . .? Why wasn’t the answer obvious? — especially to so-called “pro-lifers.”

And more hypocrisy. So often the people who fight so hard to limit women’s reproductive choices — especially LOW INCOME women’s reproductive choices — get royally pissed off when these same low income women have children who need to be supported through the welfare system. If they believe, as Michelle Duggar does, that “saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers,” they should jump at the chance to help any woman willing and able to bring a child/flower into the world with the caring of it afterwards.

To believe otherwise is pro-birth but not pro-life.

The final problem? A misunderstanding of both science and Christianity. 

What’s most alarming about the Hobby Lobby ruling is that it privileges religious belief over science in a way that affects the medical well-being of others. And it’s dishonest, because — even playing by their own rules (i.e. “The Bible says!”) — conservative Christians lose, because for every Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 1 (the “knitting in the womb” type passages) there is a Genesis 2 (in which man becomes “a living being” with first breath), an Exodus 21 (in which the fetus is not equal to the life of a woman), and Leviticus 27 (in which God tells Moses only to count as people those one month old and older).

Again, and again, and again — in issues of marriage equality as well as in issues of women’s reproductive rights, and more — we’re reminded of the fact that the Bible is contradictory, and rightly so: it’s a reflection of humanity’s search for and understanding of God, and reading it requires that we make interpretive choices about both God and morality. And those choices are our own, not to be imposed on others.

It’s time for a more grown up, sophisticated understanding of faith. Those who are still trying to hold on to Biblical literalism are no doubt thinking, “Mark 10! Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

So, we shall practice making interpretive choices. Maybe Jesus isn’t talking about heaven/the afterlife — because, you know, he was interested in establishing a kingdom of God not in heaven but on earth (a la the Lord’s Prayer). Maybe he’s suggesting that the way to make earth a more just, heavenly place is to accept those around you as they are, without judgment or prejudice — to have faith that most people are genuinely good and trying to do the best they can.

Or I suppose you can take “the faith like a child” thing more literally (i.e. that you should be like a child and think about complex issues simply). But, if you decide to keep a theological outlook that’s so stunted, at least do the rest of us a favor and remember that children are neither interested in nor capable of deciding political issues.


What I Want My Daughter to Learn from Les Miserables: A Top Three List

Over the weekend, my husband and I took our 8-year old daughter to see the musical Les Miserables. I debated whether she was too young, with songs like “Lovely Ladies” and “Master of the House,” not to mention [spoiler alert] . . .

. . . Gavroche’s death — which was one of many, of course, but I wondered what she’d think about witnessing the imaginary violent death of a boy her age.

Then, I remembered that I was listening to the music at 8 years old and didn’t think about it again. (My parents went to see The Phantom of the Opera when I was in 3rd grade and brought back cassette tapes of the music; an avid lover of books, I remember being entranced by the idea of story in song and started collecting the soundtracks from every musical on Broadway and piecing together the stories).

I decided that 8-years old is the perfect age for Les Mis. At eight, Arina still values our opinion. Mom and Dad are still cool. Arina was actually impressed to hear the two of us sing the soundtrack back and forth to each other the week before the show, while making dinner. So, she took the opportunity to go very seriously. She nodded solemnly when Scott told her that the experience would be magical, that afterward she’d feel more deeply [“right here,” he had said, pointing to her heart]. And, happily, she sat transfixed, mouth agape, for the entire 2 1/2 hours.

Saturday was my fifth time seeing Les Mis, but this time was special, because I thought, throughout, about what I hoped Arina was learning. Without further ado, and in no particular order, my top three list is as follows:

1) Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert represent the best and worst of religion, respectively. Sometimes, my mother bemoans the fact that we have yet to find a church we feel comfortable attending, now that we’ve moved to such a small town. Our church is currently in Springfield, Missouri, since we tune in each Sunday to CCCSpringfield’s youtube channel and have struck up a friendship with the minister there, Dr. Roger Ray. We’ve decided to attend when we can, at least twice a year; we joke with Roger that we’re like those families who only come to church at Easter and Christmas, but since we’re of the progressive Christian variety we visit instead (1) after a tragedy, in order to be part of a sympathetic community and plan acts of social justice (we decided on our first visit after the Sandy Hook massacre); and (2) whenever the academics are in town (a conference is currently in the works for August, and hopes are to bring in John Shelby Spong as keynote speaker).

Until then, I reminded Mom that taking Arina to see Les Mis is worth a month, and more, of Sundays — since Valjean represents the best religion has to offer.

It’s no coincidence, I think, that some version of “love your neighbor as yourself” appears in so many religious and philosophical traditions; see the lovely slideshow: “The Golden Rule in World Religions.”

The musical/film/story opens with Valjean. Cliff notes version: V. steals bread, is imprisoned for 19 years, is unable to obtain work b/c he was imprisoned, is apprehended by the police for stealing something worse than bread (i.e. silver) from an aging, hospitable bishop.

The Bishop covers for Valjean, telling the police that he not only gave him the silver in his possession, but silver candlesticks as well that Valjean “forgot” — a literal example of “if someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well.” Touched, Valjean becomes ridiculously good afterward: rescuing a prostitute; adopting her child; waltzing into the middle of a battle to save his daughter’s boyfriend, etc. He is, in effect, the embodiment of the Golden Rule, and is symbolic of a Christianity that is compassionate and generous, self-sacrificing and brave.

If Valjean is the embodiment of the Golden Rule, Inspector Javert is the embodiment of the Ten Commandments, all “Thou Shalt Not,” and if you do . . . well, you’ll get jail or hell, whichever comes first. And, yet, as Nathan Newman explains in “The Enduring Radicalism of Les Miserables,” Javert isn’t bad

“It is not just because the hero Jean Valjean is a good man that he saves Javert’s life, but because Javert on his own terms is a good man as well — just dedicated to protecting a very bad system.  Instead of personalizing politics in a bad guy the hero can kill, this is a movie where a Javert defending the system is instead confronted with the system’s own failings — and can’t live with having dedicated his life to defending a lie.”

Javert is, in effect, the embodiment of the Law, and is symbolic of a Christianity that is judgmental and unyielding, literal (with no room for interpretation) and sure (with no room for doubt).

I was thrilled to discover that Jean Valjean is Arina’s favorite character, even above the ones I expected her to pick (e.g. the little girl Cosette, with whom I assumed she’d most identify). When I asked her why, she said: “because he makes things right.”

2) We must both recognize and speak the fact that “she needs a doctor not a jail.”

Valjean’s empathetic imagination not only gives him insight about the plight of those around him but also inspires him to speak up for those too weak to speak up for themselves — despite the fact that, by doing so, he puts himself in jeopardy, because the Law (i.e. Javert) is always trying to capture him. This is nowhere more dramatic than when he steps out of the darkness and argues with Javert, who is in the process of carting off the prostitute Fantine to jail; Valjean uses his position as mayor to insist on mercy, saying “she needs a doctor, not a jail.”

When looking at Fantine, Javert sees someone breaking the law; when looking at Fantine, Valjean sees someone in pain. To Javert, she is worthless; to Valjean, she has value beyond measure, despite the broken state in which he finds her. I hope that Arina will see through Valjean’s eyes rather than Javert’s. I think she must, since her story has its own Fantine, a birthmother who was addicted and homeless and died young and alone.

I came across a cringe-worthy status update on Facebook this week: “A homeless man outside the grocery store asked me for a dollar. UGH! Get a JOB like the rest of us!” I thought of Fantine and Oksana and wondered what Arina will think when she’s an adult and hears such comments. I thought of Victor Hugo, who penned the novel Les Miserables in the mid 1800s and who, despite being a national hero, asked to be buried in a poor man’s hearse, to be given a pauper’s funeral — because he understood something in the mid 1800s that many fail to understand in 2012: that everything worth knowing is found among “the least of these.”

3) Families have little to nothing to do with biology, and everything to do with the loving connections we make to others.

At its core, Les Mis is one of the best portrayals of the bond between adoptive parent and adopted child that’s out there, because the little known fact it brings to light is that the bond could not be stronger if biology were involved. Valjean meets Cosette, a child in need, and provides for her; they become a family immediately, because they choose to do so and because it’s the right, the natural thing to do. The child becomes, as Valjean explains, “the best of my life.” Cosette is Valjean’s and Valjean is Cosette’s — and more. At the end of the musical, Fantine’s spirit ushers Valjean’s to the next life, because Cosette and Valjean and Fantine all belong to each other, inextricably and wonderfully bound not by biology but by love. Just like Arina and Oksana and I belong and are bound to each other.

I’ve realized, in this fifth viewing of Les Miserables, that it is a nearly perfect production. The only criticism I have, the only way it falls short of what I believe was Victor Hugo’s vision, is in its limiting view of heaven. Hugo believed in love and grace and redemption for all. So, in the last scene, when Fantine takes Valjean to join the heavenly song, and we see Gavroche and Eponine and all the young revolutionaries holding hands and singing together, we notice that Javert is missing. He shouldn’t be. I think that Valjean would expect, and even look forward, to seeing him.