Planned Parenthood: The Enemy of both Life and Choice

I’ve been waiting to comment on the recent drama surrounding Planned Parenthood until more information became available, but with the release of the fifth video this week, there’s not a lot more that can be said. The Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the group behind these videos, says it has released less than half of the videos the organization has in its possession, and in fact some of them may never see the light of day given that a LA County Superior Court Judge and a Federal Judge who bundled $230,000 for President Obama’s last campaign have both issued temporary restraining orders against releasing videos involving certain Planned Parenthood business partners, based on the time-honored legal standard of: “you can’t do that because it might make the people I support look bad.”

These orders have not, though, prevented the group from releasing footage of Planned Parenthood staff themselves. Perhaps there’s worse footage waiting in the wings, but it seems as though any additional footage can only confirm what we already know from these first five releases.

And what, precisely, is that? In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note here that I haven’t gotten through the several hours of unedited footage yet. I tend to be Boehner-esque in my lack of control over my lacrimal glands, so watching things like this make me start bawling, not to mention turning my stomach and just being flat out horrifying. I also have young kids at home, including a 9 month old baby, so my already-weak stomach is considerably more so when violence against small children is involved. What I have seen is incredibly difficult to watch, and would be even without a baby of my own at home. Watching it while thinking of her sleeping upstairs is next to impossible. So I haven’t watched everything. But what I have watched thus far is bad enough.

Here’s how bad . . .
Continue reading Planned Parenthood: The Enemy of both Life and Choice

When “Real” isn’t Good Enough

It was, for me, the best part of the Presidential inauguration two short weeks ago. The speech was decent, the poetry atrocious, but the music . . . oh, the music . . .

As a violinist myself, I have for most of my life looked up to Itzak Perlmann as the unmatched master of my craft. Yo Yo Ma enjoys similar status atop the world of the cellist. I’m not as familiar with Anthony McGill or Gabriella Montero, who joined them on clarinet and piano, respectively, for a rendition of John Williams’ “Air and Simple Gifts.”

I remember discussing the piece afterward with my wife – a professional violin teacher and freelance performer. We wondered if they were using special carbon fiber instruments that are better able to hold a pitch – or if not, how they managed to play in such bitter cold.

Well, as the world now knows, they didn’t. Or rather, they did, but that wasn’t what the rest of the world heard. We heard a prerecorded version created a week before, comfortably indoors.

To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I’ve performed in the bitter cold myself, when the wind was whipping around and trying to take the music off the stand in front of me, and when my fingers were so cold that they didn’t want to work properly. Their music, while gorgeous, wasn’t difficult at all to play – particularly for musicians who are undisputedly the best in the world at what they do.

But they faked it anyway.

Then yesterday, I watched the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals – two teams I care very little about. Though it was a pretty exciting game, I was more interested in watching the commercials and sharing the time with my wife’s family. The one highlight, for me, was Jennifer Hudson’s national anthem. Her stirring rendition was made all the more moving given the fact that it was her first time back singing in the national spotlight since the tragedy she suffered back in October with the brutal triple-murder of her mother, brother and nephew.

Except that it wasn’t. Like Perlman, Ma and their colleagues, she had recorded the anthem in advance. It was beautiful, to be sure, but the fact that it wasn’t HER . . . or rather, that it was her voice at another place and time . . . stole something from the moment.

These instances were both accompanied by breathless exclamations of: “My goodness . . . we couldn’t have had them perform live! Can you imagine? . . . something might have gone wrong!”

“Why is this such a big deal?” you might ask. “It was their instruments! It was her voice!” And you’re right. It’s not like this is Milli Vanilli, whose 1990 Grammy Award for best new artist was revoked when it was discovered that their talent was for lip-synching, rather than actual singing.

It’s not the same thing, but it’s part of the same problem.

The Wikipedia entry for Milli Vanilli says:

[Milli Vanilli producer Frank] Farian chose to feature vocals by Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and twin sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco; however, he felt that those singers lacked a marketable image. Thus, Farian recruited [Fab] Morvan and [Rob] Pilatus, two younger and more photogenic model/dancers he found in a Berlin dance club, to front the act.

Farian’s mindset, and that of the folks who produced the inauguration and the national anthem, seems to be symptomatic of a larger ailment that plagues our culture in this era of technological and philosophical advancement.

I’m as geeky as the next guy when it comes to the technological conveniences of 21st century America. I have an iPhone, a Facebook account and (obviously) a blog. I use all three of them with gusto.

But the problem arises when we allow these technologies to serve as a substitute for reality . . . a surrogate for what IS.

This mentality has permeated every area of our world. Our entertainment industry has been overrun by those who insist on having one more plastic surgery . . . on losing five more pounds . . . on looking like concentration camp victims in real life, simply because “the camera adds ten pounds.”

Reality isn’t good enough.

In the world of medicine, the reality of how our bodies feel and behave is subjugated to “the labs” . . . the all-important diagnostic tests that may or may not be accurate, may or may not be reliable, may or may not yield any valuable information about what ails us.

Then these often questionable test results are used to justify pumping us full of made-up substances designed to treat made-up problems that are more often than not mere symptoms of the very real problems that plague us. These underlying problems are largely due to the choices we make in our lifestyles and our diets . . . but a pharmaceutical company can’t make money by pressuring doctors to prescribe organic vegetables or grass-fed meat. Sit-ups don’t come in pill form.

So they give us cholesterol and blood pressure meds instead.

Reality isn’t good enough.

Speaking of food, how about that breakfast you had this morning? I’m betting that for most people across the country, it went something like this:

  • Two eggs, bought from your local supermarket and produced by pen-raised hens who have lived on genetically-modified corn their entire lives, rather than the grass, grubs and other things their stomachs are actually capable of digesting.
  • Two strips of bacon, preserved and colored by nitrates and nitrites, which form nitrosamines (a carcinogen) once they get into your body.
  • A bowl of cereal comprised of what was - at one point, perhaps - fairly healthy wheat or oats, but has been processed and manipulated so much that all the good stuff has been cooked, pressed, ground, fried or leeched out of it. Then, of course, in order to make the stuff palatable, they have to add high fructose corn syrup, or at least (if you’re lucky) sugar, which has of course been similarly processed.
  • A glass of “fruit beverage” that roughly resembles grape juice, well-laced with high fructose corn syrup, of course, because our American palates have been conditioned to think that the fructose in actual fruit isn’t sweet enough.
  • If you’re the really conscientious type, you may have had an apple, which probably found its way to your table from an orchard that was covered in toxic chemicals to keep the bugs off. Because unlike those of us who actually EAT such things, insects are smart enough to realize that poisons are very specifically and efficiently designed to make things dead.
  • Perhaps you topped all this off with a pancake or two . . . which probably came from a box, doused in syrup that alleges to be “maple,” but is actually mostly high fructose corn syrup. You may have even added a dollop of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (TM).”

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Before you think that I’ve suddenly decided to go out and join my local chapter of the Sierra Club, those folks could use a healthy dose of reality too. They are, after all, the ones who have perpetuated the myth of man-made climate change (by a variety of different names) for decades now, based on climate models that even John Theon, a former NASA executive who was responsible for all weather and climate research in the agency, says are completely unreliable.

Reality, after all, isn’t good enough.

This is true even in the way we relate to each other. I think about my coworkers, for example. I spend a minimum of 40 hours a week cooped up in a small aisle of cubicles with about half a dozen other people, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t really know most of them. We talk, certainly, about the weather, about our mortgage and rent payments, about our pets and our phones, our weekends and sports teams – all the safe topics. But just watch what happens when anyone brings up something REAL . . . even something only superficially real like politics. Oh my gosh! We can’t have that! People might, well, take it personally, or get offended, or by golly, we might not agree!

Every once in a while I’ll get a glimpse of who the people I work with really ARE . . . like the time a coworker and I travelled to Japan together on business, or the time four of us went to give a presentation in Fort Hood, Texas. On such occasions, people tend to open up a bit more . . . to reveal a bit more of themselves.

And I have to tell you . . . as it turns out, I really like the folks I work with! I wish I could see more of that side of them, more often.

But I can’t, because reality isn’t good enough.

This is often true, even in our very closest relationships.

Phones, email, text messaging, instant messages and Facebook are all great tools for keeping in touch with one another . . . but too often we use them to substitute for actual relating. I enjoy reading the status updates my friends post on Facebook, but that’s not the same as going to dinner with them and sitting down for a good conversation. Unfortunately, I happen to live in an area, Washington D.C., where most folks place a lot more value on “doing” than they do on “relating” . . . and as a result people are more often than not too busy to have dinner, or coffee, or hang out for an evening or a weekend.

So we settle for checking up on each other on Facebook.

Because reality isn’t good enough.

Alas, this has even become true of our most important relationship . . . our relationship with Father.

I am reminded of an article I read early last year, by Darrin Hufford over at Free Believers. Hufford’s provocative article calls the average “relationship with God” a “spiritual porn addiction.”

Talk about reality not being good enough! As a former porn addict myself, I can attest quite vividly to the allure of the fake reality that pornography offers. Hufford goes further, though. He points out that the spiritual “high” we get from those “mountaintop experiences” at religious conferences, worship services, etc. are much the same thing. I’ve been to those conferences. I’ve had those experiences. I’ve loved every minute of them . . . they are, after all, exhilarating. The term “spirtual high” is fitting . . . it’s one of the most moving and uplifting things I’ve ever experienced.

The problem is that we idealize those experiences . . . and we condemn ourselves for the “low patches” that we feel between them. We come up with an endless stream of ideas for bottling up that feeling . . . you know, that feeling . . . the one you get when you’ve just finished a group conversation with God, and you know, beyond all doubt, that he was an active participant in the conversation?

But those experiences are not the same as the day to day work of living in the world He placed us in. Even Peter felt the allure of the “mountain top experience” of Christ’s transfiguration, and wanted to do something to permanentize it . . . to institutionalize it . . .

Hufford extends the analogy into the average church service, saying:

The majority of our Christian lives were spent watching the Christian play at church, we have grown accustomed to sitting through the show and demanding to be entertained. Every spiritual facet of the “personal relationship with God” has been caked with makeup, airbrushed, pumped with steroids, injected with botox, sprayed with perfume and stuffed with implants. In the end, we’re left with a “Glam Shot” perception of “relationship” that is about as real as a fifty dollar blow-up doll. It’s perfect for the theater, but when it comes to a real, one-on-one relationship, it’s just impossible.

There’s nothing wrong with mountain top experiences . . . nothing wrong with the incredible spiritual experiences that come with dedicating an entire day, or an entire weekend, to seeking God. The problem, as Hufford points out, is when we come to expect that those mountaintops define what a healthy relationship with God is. The problem, he very vividly says, is this:

The addiction to these spiritually accentuated concepts is almost identical to an addiction to pornography – some people can’t get aroused without it.

Why? Because reality – the reality of a God who is just as present in the depressing, or disappointing, or boring moments of life – just isn’t good enough.

Profundity sometimes crops up in the strangest places . . .

It’s been a month now since I’ve posted here. I feel like I should apologize, but the truth is, I’m not terribly sorry for it. I only tend to write when I feel like I have something profound to say, and I haven’t felt that way much lately.

The short story I mentioned a month ago (and said I’d have ready in a couple days) is still in progress. I’m hoping to get further into it later today.

But that’s not the reason I’m writing now. I’m writing because, finally, I feel like I have something to say.

It stems from a post on one of my regular political blog reads PowerLine. The post was very short and simple, about the new action movie out in theaters this weekend, “The Kingdom.”

The post notes the Saudi Kingdom’s ties to terrorism, and the movie’s dubious assertion that the Saudis are our “partners” in combating terrorism. PowerLine’s conclusion, “skip the film.”

This is, to me, symptomatic of many conservatives’ approach to Hollywood, and more broadly, to life in general.

In attempting to differentiate from the relativism so prominent in liberal circles, conservatives, as the arbiters and protectors of absolute truth, often seem to want to protect that truth by eliminating access to anything else.

Take, for example, the movies “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Da Vinci Code” or “Brokeback Mountain,” just to name a couple examples.

Each of these movies contains themes that are anathema to the average conservative, so the conservative solution is to boycott the films, encourage others to do likewise, while simultaneously excoriating them, along with those who created them and those who go to see them.

I’ve seen all three, and for the life of me I can’t figure out what there is in any of them that fills conservatives with such fear that they refuse to engage the ideas in the films directly. The first is a pure propaganda film that anybody who regularly reads a newspaper should be able to refute. The second is a quasi-historical action film based on a thriller novel. The third is, quite simply, a tragic love story just as epic (and just as psychologically screwed up) as “Romeo and Juliet.”

Yet conservatives are afraid to engage with these cultural statements, preferring to shun them instead.

This approach is costly, on two counts. First it discredits legitimate criticism of these movies by revealing that, often, their harshest critics haven’t even seen the movies they deride. Second, it allows those who refuse to see movies because of political objection to miss out.

Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post. Last night, Heidi and I watched the movie “Knocked Up.” I was expecting a dumb, brainless comedy, but that’s not what it was. It certainly had its stupid moments, but on the whole it was, really, almost a cross between a romantic comedy and a coming of age drama. The main character is a thirty-something bachelor who lives in a house with five other guys (and sometimes with their various girlfriends of the moment, smokes pot, and wants to start a porno website. He ends up getting a girl pregnant, and the story goes on from there.

Sounds like your typical dumb comedy, right? But along the way it has a lot of great messages about really getting to know the ones you love, taking responsibility for your actions, and . . . well . . . learning how to be a grown-up. In a day when we have an awful lot of thirty-something “kids” running around our world, that’s an important message.

It reminded both of us of a similar movie (made by the same director, Judd Apatow) “The 40-year old Virgin.” It’s a story of a guy with a pretty normal life, except for the fact that he’s 40 and has never had sex. Upon finding this out, his co-workers attempt to twist a variety of situations in order to change that fact.

Again, sounds like pretty standard comedy fare, right? Hardly. The fact is that this movie has a lot to say about love, sex, relationships, marriage, and the purposes for each.

Nevertheless, you won’t find most conservative movie reviews recommending these two. In truth, they have a lot against them – both are pretty crude, and I’d hardly recommend them for anybody, but the simple fact is that just dismissing them out of hand misses something.

But isn’t that the way we are about a lot of things? (I say we, not because I self-identify as a “conservative,” any longer, but because this is not just a conservative problem, it’s a human problem).

I mean, if you think about it, how many times have you conservative readers dismissed something because “It was in the New York Times,” or you liberals because you “saw it on Fox News”?

How many times have we used the words “consider the source” to dismiss an idea, rather than engaging with it?

What are we so afraid of?

This, quite frankly, is one of the biggest things that drove me from organized church. I couldn’t stand the fact that each question I raised was one more thing nobody around me would deal with. When I asked why my church didn’t allow women in leadership, why they insisted on church attendance at least twice a week, why they believed in the universal effectiveness of accountability relationships, and why they believed that tithing had a place in worship, but special music didn’t, I had Bible verses spouted at me. When I questioned whether those verses said what was claimed of them, I was “prayed for,” “counseled,” and eventually, marginalized.

I have no doubt that each person I spoke with at that church was very sincere in what they believed. But I just wish that they would have engaged more with my questions, for I was no less sincere. Those I spoke with were happy to engage with questions of theology and eschatology. We had many frank discussions, for example, about the “five points” of Calvinism, and about the differences between dispensationalism and covenant theology.

But when it went deeper than that, the doors were shut.

Perhaps that’s the answer. Perhaps we just can’t quite engage with something scary enough to undermine our entire worldview. The question “does the Bible require that we attend, or at least attempt to attend, church each Sunday?” is just such a question. It’s scary.

But what are we afraid of? Why do churches like the one I used to attend marginalize radical thinkers like John Eldredge or Brian McLaren?

Is it truth we’re defending when we marginalize someone just because we are uncomfortable with what they say?

Can’t the truth stand on its own? If something is really true, why do we need to shield it from those we perceive to be attacking it?

And if it’s not true, why should we believe it anyway?

Is it truth we’re defending? Or is it our comfort zone?