Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, October 24, 2008

Religious Wackadoodles

The heat is on - and getting hotter.

Three things happened this week which are not unconnected to what is happening on the national level.

First: Drew University has been sponsoring "The Clothesline Project" - a very powerful display where women 'air their dirty laundry' about the 'dirty little secret' of domestic violence.

They have been encouraging women to sign their name or the name of someone they know who has been a victim of domestic violence on a T-shirt (in other places, the article of clothing has been women's underwear - bra's, undies and nightgowns). The T-shirt is then hung on a clothesline which has been strung in The Commons.

Fifteen of the T-shirts were stolen this week. A note was left which read, "Where does God fit in?"

Second and Third: I have a bumper sticker on my car which reads: "The Religous Majority in NJ is prayerfully Pro-Choice."

On Wednesday and again today, Friday, while my car was parked in front of the Shop Rite in the Chatham Township, notes were left on my car. Wednesday's note read, "Shame on you! Baby Killer!"

On Wednesday, I looked at the note and laughed out loud, crumpled up the note, threw it away, got in my car and drove off.

Today the note read, "Does God want dead babies?"

Today, after I took the note off my car, I looked around and spotted a woman coming out of the CVS with a particularly sinister smile on her face.

My body started to move before my mind clicked into gear and I approached her with the note in my hand. I looked her in the eye and said, "Does this belong to you?"

She looked at me, smirked and said with great conviction and an undeniable amount of joy, "You are going to burn in hell, you know."

I was quiet for a long time - and found myself suddenly in prayer.

That seemed to unnerve her. When I looked at her again, her face was grotesquely contorted and she said, just a decibel or two under a scream, "You don't believe me? You are going to burn in hell for killing babies, you know."

I found myself continuing to pray - for guidance and strength.

I was startled into paying attention to her as she screamed, full throat, "Are you a clergy? If you are, that doesn't protect you. If you are clergy, there is a special place in hell for you!"

At this point, I was aware that there was a 'gathering' around us - not exactly a 'crowd' but it was, after all, shortly after noon on a Friday. I was also aware that a man had joined her side - I'm assuming her husband, but it could have been her 'significant other.' It's not for me to judge.

I continued to be in silent prayer, continuing to ask God for the right words to say, and if there were none, to have the courage to be silent.

Someone in the 'gathering' said, "C'mon, lady. It's 2008. Women have the right to say what happens to their bodies."

Someone else said, "Life is not lived in black and white. It's shades of gray."

Yet another voice said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Or, words close to that effect.

At this point, the woman collapsed into tears. Her husband/significant other put his arm around her and tried to lead her away. She raised her fist at me and screamed, "You will burn in hell! You will burn in hell".

In a matter of seconds, I caught her eye and got her attention. I heard myself say, quietly, "I just want to say this." She and her man stopped dead in their tracks, attentive to every word I was about to say."

"God doesn't want dead babies. God wants babies to be wanted and loved."

She looked at me for a few long seconds, then collapsed into her man's arms as he lead her away in tears, he shooting looks of apology over his shoulder.

I report all of that to say this:

As we move closer and closer to the election of the first President of the United States to be of African-American descent, more and more of the 'Religious Wackadoodles' - at every point on the religious spectrum - will be out in force.

It's really, really, really important to not feed into the hysteria. As repugnant as some of the things they will say and as reprehensible as it is to take down T-shirts of those who have had the courage to tell the truth about their experience (even if second-hand) of domestic violence, nothing is to be gained by meeting repugnancy with repugnancy, hatred with hatred.

Nothing is to be gained by attempts to silence the truth, in whatever form it takes, from whatever end of the spectrum it comes.

Pray for the religious tolerance on which this country was founded.

Pray for the courage to say the things which will not incite anger, the silence which will allow for the variety of expressions of truth, and the wisdom to know the difference.


Fran said...

I am sitting here with tears running down my face- you are my hero.

I am so sorry that this happened to you. All these people so caught up in this abortion issue... I mean, it matters to me too! And as your bumper sticker indicates with the word prayerfully...

When I experience this sort of person, in less confrontational settings, I simply wonder, how? what? why?

Anyway, thank you for the witness you live. And that whole fecking hell thing- what kind of God is that?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hell, I'm convinced, is for people who are so convinced about things earthly that they are convinced, as well, of things heavenly and are hell-bent on convincing everyone else on earth of their perspective.

I am equally convinced that these things happen for a reason. So, don't feel sorry, Fran. Rejoice and be glad. Jesus promised that rewards await us in heaven.

Brian R said...

I am glad God answered your prayers and you were able to remain dignified and loving.

Jim said...

That was an amazing post to read.

"Courage" is one of those words we toss around much to easily. So too, 'spiritual leadership.' You, mam, have both in abundance.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Aw, Elizabeth, I am so sorry you had to endure that. You did not deserve it. (Yeah, I know, don't feel sorry. Can't help it.)

I think what bugs me the most about that whole scenario is this: Why are some people so damn gleeful about the notion of consigning you, me, or anyone who doesn't agree with them to the depths of Hell? What is it they lack that the only way they can feel justified in the eyes of God is to stick the knife in someone else?

I am sorry for her. More than I am for you, although I can't help but emphasize for a blogfriend. I am sorry that the only way people like that think they can win God's favor is by dissing someone else.

(Kirke grits teeth and repeats over and over, "Bless difficult woman in Shop-Rite parking lot; change me.")

Joan Slepian said...

As always, thank you, Elizabeth, for your voice, you courage, and your public witness.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I really don't think it was courage. I'm not saying that to demure. I mean it. I didn't even think about it - about what I would or wouldn't say or do. I admit that, at least initially, it was outrage that propelled my feet toward that woman. I just had a sense from her smile that she had left the note.

Once I got close to her, I had a clear instinct that this reaction was just that - a reaction that was someplace deep in her; that she was working off - oh, I don't know - guilt? remorse? regret? about something she had done in the past or something she couldn't do now.

At the risk of sounding like a real "granola head" I must say that her "energy" just screamed of pain which she wanted to recreate for me so that someone - ANYONE - would understand the pain she carries around.

I get that. I just don't think she has the right to put her guilt into the form of restrictive laws for other people.

So, courage? I don't know. It was more an intuitive sense is all. And, OCICB - completely, totally - W.

I'd like to think I was being compassionate and prayerful.

I found myself holding her in prayer this morning.

David@Montreal said...

what a powerful witness.

having been in similar situations during my years of AIDS activism, the power of that sister's pain/rage registered viscerally within me as I read your post.

and then the tears, as I read of your presence- turning to prayer- turing the whole situation over to the only Being who could truly address that woman's fear and pain.

only two more reasons to give thanks for the living blessing you are- that you were there- they you were your truest self and reached out to the Love and grace which never fails us.



Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, thank you so much for your witness. I have been confronted by someone on this very issue twice in the past week. They seem to have tunnel vision and nothing stops them. Your response was wonderful. Prayers of support come your way.

janinsanfran said...

That's a beautiful story. Sometimes we get the words ... small miracles.

And yes, they seem to live trapped inside terrible fears.

PseudoPiskie said...

I wonder what terrible pain that woman is holding in the dark recesses of her mind that caused her to react so emotionally. She definitely needs our prayers as she is making her own hell on earth which is where I believe it is anyhow. We have a choice and some, like her, don't seem to understand or recognize that and make their lives miserable. Not to mention those of the people around them. Perhaps killing the joy and hope of others is as great a sin as terminating a fetus which is unwanted or will otherwise lead a miserable life?

Anonymous said...

Alas, I would have handled the situation poorly I'm sure, probably just walking away. I would likely have called her nuts, or something unproductive like that. you stand as a roll model of what a true Christian response should be. Thank you Elizabeth for your strength, courage and intelligence. You convinced more people than she ever could by her ugly judgmental attack.

Nathan Empsall said...

This is perhaps the most important thing we can remember, moving forward to and through Election Day. Thank you for this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You got it, Nathan. The Religious Wackadoodles will be out in force, just before, during and after the election.

I keep hearing my grandmother say, "If it's not yours, don't pick it up."

Or, to quote Margaret, "Just leave it lay where Jesus flang it."

JCF said...

Oh, Elizabeth! Please be careful!

This is why I've been so reluctant to put anything Pro-Choice on my car: not for the notes, tears & screaming, but for the crazy rage.

Next time that woman---or someone enraged-beyond-all-sanity like her---may have more than Go-to-HELL notes with her (and not have a "trigger-guard" like the man. I shudder as a I write that term)

What so twists a person, that their entire existence becomes wrapped up into whether EVERY Homo sapiens embryo develops or not?

I just don't get it. Lord have mercy!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

jcf - you know, i put that bumper sticker on my car because there are so many in this area which represents "the other side" - you've seen them: "Abortion stops a beating heart." and "Abortion is murder."

I thought I would send out a more positive message to the many kids who read bumper stickers - especially since I have an "Episcopal Priest" shield on my front window.

I am careful, and will be increasingly so in the next 9 days.

Grace said...

JCF, or anyone here, what is your feeling concerning 2nd. trimester abortions, when the life of the mother is not at stake, or there are not serious fetal abnormalities which are incompatible with life.

Does anyone here feel that there should be any increased legal parameters on elective abortions? It seems to me that the "health of the mother" is something which can be pretty broadly defined, at this point. Does anyone see a problem with this?

Should an unborn child be provided with any protection under the law, or human rights at all, even later on in the second trimester of pregnancy? Or, is this something which should simply be left to the discretion of the woman, no matter what?


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My understanding is that the situation you describe for a 3rd trimester abortion is patently illegal.

It is, however, legal for a 2nd trimester, but stats show that this is only done when there is serious question as to the gestation of the child and serious reasons for the abortion.

There need to be Very Serious Reasons for a 2nd trimester abortion. It is not a form of birth control.

Indeed, no abortion is ever to be used as a form of birth control. That is as repulsive as the behavior of the woman I met in the parking lot.

An unborn child already has legal rights. A fetus does not. Once the 21st week of pregnancy has passed, it's a whole different story.

Grace, I'm surprised and disappointed in you. This is a Radical Right Red Herring that only gets dragged across the debate floor when the Religious Wackadoodles know they are losing the argument.

It stinks just as bad when used by someone I've always considered a moderate - a prayerful, considerate moderate.

Your questions raise insulting questions about the ability of a woman to make this decision. Just so you know, a woman never makes that decision alone. Her doctor is always involved. And, hopefully, her supportive spouse/partner/family members.

I understand your position against abortion. I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-life because I am pro-choice.

Just me. Sitting here. Shaking my head sadly. At you.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Grace---I would ask you why you think a woman and her doctor are not the best judges of those issues? What gives me--or you, or legislators--the right to make complex medical and moral decisions for other people?

And why are you so quick to distrust others when they claim that a woman's health is at stake? Have you ever had a friend or family member who has suffered through a 2nd trimester abortion in order to protect her life or her fertility?

I have---and what I learned from her is that having people you don't even know insert themselves into what is already a tragic and agonizing situation just makes it all the more painful--and leaves additional scars.


Grace said...


I know this is a sensitive issue for everyone here. And, I'm not deliberately trying to be insulting. Honestly, I'm not. (I asked this question to see if we might find common ground, at least, relating to 2nd. trimester abortions.)

But, I'm trying to also be objective, and honest. There are women who may be pressured into making a decision for abortion in subtle ways, not really given support to think deeply about an alternative.

We also have to face the truth than not every physician may be operating from purely objective, altruistic motives either. The abortion industry is also a business, afterall. Physicians are paid to perform abortions.

On top of that, as a Children and Youth social worker, I can tell you that not every woman is thinking of the best interests of her children, either, born or unborn. How I wish it were otherwise.

As I've shared, I'm not one that feels abortion, should simply be outlawed all together, but I do feel the legal parameters need to be tightened.

I think part of our difference maybe in how we view unborn children. I'm not seeing this in the sense of a pre-born child just being like an extension of a woman's body. I think this is a whole other person that's growing, and developing in there.

As a woman, I don't think I own my children born, or unborn. They belong to themselves, and to God,

So, I would not see abortion as an "right," in the way that many would take ahold of this issue here.

I realize that there are some pro-life people out there with extreme, and wacky views, and feel that everyone who disagrees with them in any measure is the enemy. They may even be misyogenists.

But, there are also many who have tried to think all of this through, and come to what we feel is a realistic, caring, and thoughtful position.

I feel TEC needs to also respect what we are saying, and take a position that is more inclusive of all concerns, and points of view in this.

And, then hopefully we can work to find common ground together.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Grace---do you even know what the official position of the Episcopal Church on abortion is? Have you read the resolution?

I think it DOES take all the issues you have raised into consideration. It acknowledges the great moral difficulties with abortion and states quite explicitly that abortion should be chosen "only in extreme situations." And then it rightly leaves the decision where it belongs--with the woman, her trained medical caregivers, and God.

As for a need to tighten legal parameters---almost 90% of abortions occur before 12 weeks gestation. Less than 5% occur after 15 weeks. I simply don't see a "need" to tighten the laws. But then I trust women and their doctors--at least more than I trust legislators and the men who run the National Right to Life Council.


Jenne said...

I work at Drew, and I wanted to clear one thing up: the missing t-shirts were actually deposited in the lost and found with the note, as opposed to 'lost,' destroyed or disposed of. Peculiarly representative of Drew culture, though still an obvious attack on the display.

You are to be congratulated on your response to the person with the issue.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Jenne,

If you read my post again, I simply said, that the T's were 'stolen'. That they were put in the "lost and found" is an interesting statement, but they were "stolen" none the less.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


The bottom line here is that we must trust the woman's decision about her own body. Historically, and presently, that has not been the case. Which is why you are hearing this theme over and over and over again: Trust the woman to make the right decision for her.

Obviously, the BEST decision would be to prevent the pregnancy in the first place, but since many women find themselves without out the "father/donor's" support - emotional, spiritual or financial - after the pregnancy is known, she must do what she must do - and be trusted in that decision.

I know more women who have decided to surrender their baby for adoption than I've known women who have had an abortion, and I can tell you that neither decision is easy.

Here's a question for you: Why is it easier to trust a woman's decision to surrender her newborn for adoption, OR to place the newborn child at risk with a mother who didn't want the child in the first place, than it is to trust her to abort a fetus?

And the answer is. . . . . misogyny - bottom line. It has less to do with "saving a life" than it has to do with judgment rendered on a woman whose "fault" is always assumed in getting pregnant "in the first place."

I still wish I had the bumper sticker that said: "If you don't want abortion, don't have one."

One more time: The decision to have an abortion is between a woman and her doctor. It is a personal, private matter, and it should stay that way.

Grace said...

But, Doxy,

Our church has affiliated with the RCRC. Does this organization tell women to seek abortion reluctantly, only in the most extreme of circumstances?

No wonder there is this uproar. Imagine how we would all feel here if those in power, and with influence in the church decided that TEC should affiliate with the ex-gay ministry Exodus? It would be devestating.

Mother Kaeton, surely there is a difference in a woman choosing to give a child up for adoption, than a choice for termination, especially later on in pregnancy. That slogan really is true, "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart."

And, trust me, if my agency gets a call from the hospital that mom is stating that she doesn't what her baby, or showing some "red flag," behavior to indicate that a newborn may be unsafe, or at risk when he leaves the hospital, we are going to be called in to investigate, and talk with mom.

Here's what I think. Please don't be offended. I'm sharing my heart.

Mother Kaeton, you and Doxy, are both wonderful, intelligent, compassionate, Christian women, my sisters in Christ. Both of you would do anything to help "the least of these." I know it.

But, you're not able to see my concerns. (There is recent research out there right now that at 18wks. gestation, an unborn child may be able to feel pain.)

There is a connection in your head with a pro-life position, and misyogony, and anti-feminism. You've alluded to this Mother Kaeton. (Perhaps at a gut-level, you would not even want to be identified with most folks you know that self-identify as pro-life.)

I can't help, but think this has clouded your perspective even at an unconcious level. Else you would at least see some of my concerns, and move toward a more consistent life ethic. There are other issues going on here. I just know it.

Ok, I'll give both of you the last word, and I very much appreciate the discussion.

Be safe, Mother Kaeton.

Love in Christ,

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Grace--I have volunteered as an escort in an abortion clinic. I have shepherded women through gauntlets of protesters, screaming at them that they were murderers.

Those women were uniformly terrified and sorrowful. Maybe you know women who had abortions and then went out and went shopping or club hopping, but I've never met one. I have sat in that waiting room and held the hands of women who were making the most difficult decisions of their lives.

I trust them, Grace.

I'll never forget the young woman I escorted through that line of screaming "Christians." She had an aneurysm in her brain. Continuing that pregnancy would have killed her, but did they care about that? No. Did they care about the heartache she was suffering over the impending termination of her pregnancy, as well as the fear for her future? No. They made what was already an awful situation worse.

My judgment is not clouded, Grace. It is informed by my frontline work with women who were pregnant and didn't want to be---or who were pregnant and facing life-threatening illnesses. The last thing those women needed was some outside person (you, me, or members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the U.S. Congress, or the National Right to Life Committee) inserting themselves into what were intensely personal and agonizing decisions.

This will sound callous to you, Grace---and yet I need to say it. It is simply not a first-order issue to me that a fetus can feel pain at 18 weeks. Whatever pain that is felt is over in seconds. It is certainly over far more quickly than the pain of being born to a woman who doesn't want you, or who cannot care for you and gives you up---a pain that even my friends who were adopted into loving homes carry with them all of their lives. At least this is what they tell me....

(I am not claiming, BTW, that my friends who were adopted would have preferred to be aborted. Just noting that pain comes in many different forms, and that some pain is life-defining and permanent.)

You identify with the fetus, Grace. I identify with the woman. And I will fight to my last breath to keep people who will never have to live with the consequences of the decision from constricting that woman's choices.

Grace, although you and I disagree about how we, as a nation (and as a church), should respond to abortion, I believe we could probably agree on some things. I believe we could agree that God weeps over abortion. I suspect that we would agree on the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If we can agree on the latter, that's an excellent first step.

I want, more than anything, to end the NEED for abortion. To give women better contraceptives, improved abilities to negotiate their sexual relationships, and the kinds of social support (economic, emotional, and practical) that will not make pregnancy seem like a death sentence---as it was to so many of the young women in the clinic where I volunteered.

Laws will NOT stop abortion. If you haven't figured that out yet, you are really living in fantasy-land.

More restrictive laws will simply result in the deaths and mutilations of desperate women--many of whom already have young children at home. They will die at the hands of unscrupulous people, or be forced to degrade themselves in order to protect their families in the way they see fit. (In the past, many women who obtained illegal abortions were raped by the men who did them...) I know you don't want that.

So let's find our common ground and work on that,can we? Let's work to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to give women the support they need when they find themselves pregnant unexpectedly.

If we do that, I can assure you that the number of abortions will fall. It will NEVER fall to zero--that is the human condition and we cannot change that until Christ comes again. But we can be compassionate and loving and make a difference together. And God, in God's infinite mercy, will surely understand both the pain involved in the choice to abort and our efforts to address the issue.


Grace said...


I just wanted to come back over, and say that I think it was a very brave, and compassionate thing you did in helping that woman with a life-threatening illness. And, shame on the so-called "Christian" protesters.

We can certainly agree about giving more loving support to women caught in poverty, or any woman facing a crisis pregancy, as well as helping kids. Definitely, common ground. No debate about that at all.

We'll have to agree to disagree about some of the rest for now.

Peace right back atcha.