I'll Come Speak

    I write and speak on all sorts of topics: ancient Christian spirituality and the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Jesus Prayer, marriage and family, the pro-life cause, cultural issues, and more. You can contact Cynthia Damaskos of the Orthodox Speakers Bureau if you’d like to bring me to an event. This Calendar will let you know when I’m in your neighborhood.

 

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Thursday
Jan222009

The Judgement of the Next Generation

[National Review Online; January 22, 2009]

Just two days after the inauguration, another crowd filled Washington streets, the pro-lifers who gather each year for the “March for Life.” This January 22 marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, and after so many years with little change or improvement, the nation has grown a bit blasé about this annual demonstration against abortion. We still say abortion is a “hot issue”— but if you think about it, it’s not as hot as it used to be. The abortion controversy used to command cover space on magazines, and TV networks showcased hour-long debates. You don’t see that anymore.

You could say that people just got tired of hearing about it. Year after year the two sides said mostly the same thing, and nothing much changed. Eventually, public attention was bound to sidle off to a newer, more exciting topic (gay marriage, anyone?). When attention drifted, it was the pro-choice side that had command of the status quo.

And you could say that that settles that; from now on there will be less and less talk about abortion, and we’ll just get used to things the way they are.

But I can imagine things going a different way. Not soon—maybe not till the baby boomers have passed from the scene—but it’s possible that a younger generation will see abortion very differently. And the reason is, as the saying goes, “Nobody knows when life begins.” With abortions now running around 1.2 million per year, the total number of abortions since Roe v Wade is about 49 million. That’s a big number—about a sixth of the US population. It’s a especially big number, if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s not a real loss of human life.

After all, if you saw a little girl hit by a car, you’re going to yell, “Get an ambulance!” not “Get a shovel!” It’s in the very fabric of humanity to be on the side of life, if there’s the faintest hope that life exists. We don’t throw children away when we’re not sure whether they’re alive or not. And, as the pro-choice side never stops saying, it’s not that they’re positive a fetus is “not alive” – it’s that they’re not sure.

When I was a young fire-breathing college feminist in the early 70’s, we didn’t see abortion as a melancholy private decision—it was an act of liberation. By choosing abortion, a woman could show that she was the only person in charge of her life, and bowed to no one else’s control. But this formulation turned sour as the grief felt by post-abortion woman began to accumulate. The flip side of autonomy is loneliness, and for many women, their abortion decision was linked to emotional abandonment.

And then there was the advent of ultrasound technology, enabling live images of a baby moving in the womb. In 1989, word went round the pro-life movement to order the tape of pollster Harrison Hickman’s presentation at that year’s NARAL convention. On it he said, “Nothing has been as damaging to our cause as the advances in technology which have allowed pictures of the developing fetus, because people now talk about that fetus in much different terms than they did 15 years ago. They talk about it as a human being, which is not something that I have an easy answer how to cure.”

So there are some reasons to think that the abortion question has not been settled, but has merely gone underground. That might be a necessary step. It has to go away so that it can be rediscovered, and seen in a fresh light.

I don’t expect that reconsideration soon: my Boomer generation will never see abortion as anything other than the wise and benevolent gift we bestowed on all future generations. We still control the media, the universities, and so forth, and it will take time for all of us to topple off the end of the conveyer belt.

But the time is coming when a younger generation will be in charge, and they may well see abortion differently. They could see it, not as “a woman’s choice” but as a form of state-sanctioned violence inflicted on their generation. It was their brothers and sisters who died; anyone under the age of 36 could have been aborted (and somewhere around a fourth or a fifth of all pregnancies, in fact, are aborted). A younger generation might feel a strange kinship with the brothers and sisters, classmates and coworkers, who are missing.

And I’m afraid that, if they do see things that way, they aren’t going to go easy on my generation. Our acceptance of abortion is not going to look like an understandable goof. The next generation can fairly say, “It’s not like they didn’t know.” They’ll say, “After all, they had sonograms.” And they may judge us to be monsters.

Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe future generations won’t think twice about abortion. But even we who have grown sick of talking about it still harbor some doubts. In particular, people who think of themselves as defenders of the weak and the oppressed must have many a quiet moment when they wonder, “How, in this one issue, did I wind up on the side that’s defending death?”

There’s a lot of ambivalence out there, and a lot of unspoken grief too, I think. So you never know. Pro-choice may have won the day—but sooner or later, that day will end. No generation can rule from the grave. When that time comes, another generation will sit in judgment of ours. And they are not obligated to be kind.

 

Wednesday
Jan072009

Surviving the Economy

[Ancient Faith Radio; January 7, 2009]

FMG: Well, I’m at home, of all things. Occasionally I am at home. It’s Sunday morning at Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland, just south of Baltimore. If you’ve ever been to Baltimore Washington International Airport, BWI, we’re just two miles from BWI. And it’s coffee hour, and I’m sitting in the basement in the parish hall, and I’m talking with somebody who’s travelled to be here with us. I’m not the one travelling this week. Deacon Tom Braun, from, is it St. Barnabas Church in San Demas?

 

Dn. Tom Braun: It’s St. Barnabas in Huntington Beach, California.

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Wednesday
Dec242008

Prayers for Our Nation

[The City; November 2008]

All the articles surrounding this one are hot off the keyboard, written in the days since the election. This one goes back a ways. When editor Ben Domenech asked me to contribute to this forum, I told him that I was utterly unqualified. I try not to follow politics.

That probably sounds unpatriotic, as well as irresponsible, for someone who is grateful to have been born an American citizen. But I find that the verbal sparring in print and on line, the “yelling shows” on TV, aren’t healthy for me.

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Monday
Dec222008

The Hypnotic Mall

[Again Magazine; December 2008]

The first thing we saw was a blinking sign warning us not to park on the interstate, and then a helicopter circling overhead. As we took the exit, signs assured us that all lanes led to parking, and every block or so a guy in security uniform was windmilling his arms, coaxing the herd of cars to creep forward. All the parking lots were full, their entrances blocked off by police cars. We followed the herd off the road to a vast field of gravel and hardened mud, and finally shut off the engine. Far in the distance we could see it, glowing like the Emerald City of Oz: Arundel Mills Mall.

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Monday
Dec222008

The Tale of Despereaux

[National Review; December 22, 2008]

There is so much to like about this film; it’s visually beguiling, it has some original characters, it’s free of crudity and pop-culture references, and it’s not screamy or exhausting. Why, then, did I find my interest evaporating within an hour of leaving the theater? I have a hunch—but let’s deal with the basics first.

Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) is a young mouse, smaller than his buddies, and sporting a pair of immense ears. “He heard more, saw more, and even smelled more,” says narrator Sigourney Weaver, than the other residents of Mouseworld (an appealing old-world town, where a mouse-sized Vermeer would feel right at home).

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Wednesday
Dec102008

Hookups and Hope

[Ancient Faith Radio; December 10, 2008]

FMG: Not too long ago, someone mailed me a copy of an article in a magazine called “US Catholic”. This is the November, 2008 issue. And it’s an interview with an author named Donna Freitas. She’s just written a book called “Sex and the Soul”. The subtitle is “Juggling sexuality, spirituality, romance, and religion on America’s college campuses”. In this interview, Freitas talks about the research that she did on college campuses- secular, Catholic, and Evangelical. She herself actually teaches at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, which I think is a Catholic college.

 

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Friday
Dec052008

Cadillac Records

[National Review Online; December 5, 2008]

A movie based on a musician’s life follows a simple pattern: up, followed by down, rinse, repeat. Remember “Ray” (2004) or “Walk the Line” (2005), or the very pointed parody, “Walk Hard” (2007)? The stereotype is that great artists are born with a blessing and a curse: originality and creative daring come with impulsiveness and insatiability. The same traits that produce their art are the ones that will cause them to wreck their families and fall into addiction. (Somehow this pattern doesn’t apply to Johann Sebastian Bach.) Musical biopics lurch from heights to depths with scant room for character, or even plot, development.

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Thursday
Dec042008

Ask the Filmmaker: The Sensation of Sight

[Christianity Today Movies; December 2, 2008]

‘Perhaps Just Out of Our Minds’

Christian filmmaker Buzz McLaughlin tries to find a niche between secular movies and preachy ones—only to find it’s an elusive market.

***

In the independent film The Sensation of Sight, Oscar nominee David Strathairn plays an introspective English teacher who feels himself complicit in a tragedy, and then begins selling encyclopedias door-to-door to the locals. But his anxieties begin to consume him as various characters and dreamlike situations increase around him, ultimately pushing him toward an unexpected awakening.

It’s sort of a strange synopsis for a “Christian” movie—which it isn’t. The filmmakers behind Sight—which played 19 festivals worldwide, had a limited theatrical release earlier this summer, and is now available on DVD—are Christians, but they didn’t want to make a distinctively Christian movie.

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Thursday
Dec042008

The Voice Beneath the Altar

[from A Faith and Culture Devotional, Zondervan, 2008]

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”( Revelation 6:9-10)

During the first centuries of Christianity, the church was battered within and without. Pseudo-Christians distorted the faith and misled the faithful, while the powerful Roman Empire persecuted Christians with torture and death. When local church members were able to gather the remains of their fellow-believers (often, this was forbidden), they lovingly interred these broken bodies beneath their altars, a reminder that the blessed departed are invisibly present to join us in worship. St. John writes that, in his vision, he heard the voice of the martyrs crying out from under the altar.

 

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Wednesday
Dec032008

Growing a Parish

[Ancient Faith Radio; December 3, 2008]

 

FMG: Today I am at St. Justin Martyr OCA Church in Jacksonville, Florida, just south of Jacksonville, in the area of Mandarin. My family has owned a small farm here since 1880 or so; it’s been in the family, or with the in-laws of the family, since then. I came down to visit my sister, Dorothy, who’s a member of this church, and to visit my mother, who’s in a nursing home here, and now I’m talking to one of my favorite priests, Fr. Ted Pisarchuk. “Ball of fire” is what they call him behind his back, because he’s always up to something. You especially have a love of missions. Were you the founding pastor of St. Justin Martyr?

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