Saturday, April 21, 2018

What Kelly Clarkson's Song 'Invincible' Really Means

Today I had two "mom" tasks: take daughter to soccer; run to grocery store for sundry items.

There is the boring way of doing these tasks… and then there is the awesome way.

I chose the awesome way, naturally.

After delivering said daughter, I pulled out my phone, plugged in my earbuds, and put one song on repeat: Kelly Clarkson's "Invincible." 

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I like Kelly Clarkston. Most songs seem like the musical rehash of what I must imagine were very fruitful therapy sessions. But the woman has a pair of pipes, and sometimes you just need some OOMPH, some Gospel POWAH funneling in your ears like a tidal wave and streaming through your veins. Make my toes vibrate, Kelly. Lift me off the ground.


So off I went through the store, volume cranked up to the highest level, living two very different experiences on simultaneous, coexisting levels: Kelly rising up like a lioness in the wild and roaring for all the savannah to hear… and my own pedestrian hunt for brown lunch bags, aluminum foil, duct tape, and garlic.

"No one hears the silent tears collecting…"You give me chills, Kelly. I know what's coming after this confession of secret pain.

Aluminum foil: got it. And the duct tape was right next to it. Score.

"Beat down on me, beat down like a waterfall, cuz I can take on so much more than I had ever dreamed. Beat down on me, beat down like a waterfall cuz baby I am READY TO BE FREEEEEE!" 

YES! I must stop and savor the moment. Here she comes, rising up like a gladiator in the ring, bloodied but not beaten, discovering a hidden core of unstoppable POWER—

But I also need to find those brown paper bags.

KAZAM! Found them. $4.99 for a 50-count bag. Next up: garlic.

"Now I am INVINCIBLE, no I ain't a scared little girl no more!" 

YAAASSS! She's Wonder Woman crossing her steel wrist bands and issuing a seismic blast. The very air convulses; her enemy rockets away. And she comes bearing down like the Vengeance of Hell…

Kelly, take me away. Tell me how you're invincible, how you rose above all your fears, how you grew into your womanhood and became AWESOME. Because this, on a more modest level, is my burgeoning story too.

I wouldn't quite say I'm invincible, though. I'm partly still scared, but mostly coming into my own, and the scared part is shrinking day by day like an island of irrelevance.

So I'm invincible and afraid— both at once, because the laws of logic do not apply to feminine psychology. Or perhaps to any psychology, if we're all really honest with ourselves.

Anyway, what I love most in this song is its striding, heavy-striking pace. This is no delicate butterfly song. It belongs to a giant who takes up space, who makes the forest shake with every step. And over it all soars a voice with bona fide horsepower, yet still lovely, with tinges of vulnerability and hints of ragged edges of brokenness.

Not everything broken in this life gets put together. We get to carry some of it to the end. I think part of what makes us extraordinary as a species is in the way we can carry unhealed holes in our hearts, yet still open our hands in hope. Secret lotus flowers still bloom in our palms; we still give love. Why?

Maybe our hearts are made to be broken, then filled. I do think all wounds are healed on the other side, even the deepest ones that seemed to scatter the pieces of self to dark places we can no longer reach. Things fall beyond the horizon of our gaze, but we do not encompass the universe. There is something beyond us that can collect and redeem everything, even the broken, senseless fragments of lost time.

Remember the story about the woman sweeping her house to find the lost coin? The coin is the part of us that never got to grow because it was buried in grief and guilt. It's the wasted years we couldn't reclaim. But not even time can escape forever. Energy is not lost, only changed… if we want to stop fleeing and let ourselves be found.

Then comes the bridge: "I was running from an empty threat… of emptiness. I was running from an empty threat… that didn't exist. I was running from an empty threat… of abandonment."

This is where I imagine her in her childhood – or any of us in our weakest, smallest moments – absorbing the lie that we are alone or abandoned, or that someone else's failings and limitations determine our worth as a human being. When the lie hits the mark, we begin to run. Fear replaces the small child's native instinct to love and expect love, although not entirely, because the yearning is unquenchable.

And the great liberation is in discovering that even if we grew up in terrible circumstances, nothing can erase the fact that there is tremendous worth in us – infinite worth, even. Our worth is not dependent on what someone else saw in us. It is dependent on what is really there, even if it's still latent and not yet fully developed. Even if it got damaged and buried.

We are jewels cast among the weeds. Diamonds incognito, easily mistaken for ordinary pebbles. In the dirt but not of the dirt. Fully worthy of love.

At bottom, we all have the potential to be heroes. But, by a strange catch-22, we rise into our true worth only when we recognize that the worth is already there, that it was there all along.
We become what we are only when we realize what we already are.

And that's what I think she means when she says, "Now I am invincible." It's not that she can win every battle singlehandedly or never get hurt. None of us can, not even Wonder Woman.

No, it means that no one can take away her newly discovered sense of innate worth– of value – ever again. It means the lie is exploded forever. Now she knows the truth: that her value is within, and it has always been there, that it is tremendous, and that she merits love just by being who she is. Discovering it is a liberation. No one can put her behind bars again. A realization has set her free.
Some realizations come bursting in like a ravishing of fire; others grow slowly and imperceptibly, like a quiet tree. But one day, whether we got there fast or slow, we'll look at ourselves and realize that part of life is about finding, and part is about being found.

And sometimes we are the ones who need to find ourselves, and let ourselves be found.

But I am still at the grocery store and there is the pressing matter of the garlic.

I have been roaming the produce section for a solid five minutes, hovering over the onions and feeling a small tingling of frustration. Why is the garlic not displayed with the onions? Wouldn't it be logical to display them together when they cook so well together?

Sing it, Kelly. Let that Gospel chorus thunder in my ears. Let it transport me right over the bananas and overpriced berries.

And a whole song later, I find her. There she is, hiding in a special section. The humble, unassuming garlic, so plain and drab compared to the vivacious oranges and gleaming apples, and yet so powerfully redolent when broken open and sizzling.

Wouldn't you know, she was there all along...

I found her in the last place I looked.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Healing My Memory

Another take on the "Healing My Faith" line of thought -- and I hope that others will write their own insights and share them somehow, even if it's just in the Facebook comments. I think we all help each other because we can all relate to each other's experiences. 

I wanted to bring up another topic, which is about the way I have changed my view on the ten years spent in Regnum Christi. For the first eight or nine years that I was out, I would have told you unhesitatingly that those years were a waste. Academically, professionally, financially, even socially, they were lost years. Not only that-- the very suggestion that those years had value was irritating to me.

I'm not at the point where I would say like Nicholas, "I'd do it again 1000 times" or "I'd support my children if they wanted to sign up." I'm actually light years away from that. Actually, I'm pretty sure I will not ever reach that point. But I can -- feeling strangely heretical to myself in the process -- quietly say "thank you" for the way those years helped me grow. To be sure, there were also some scars and some atrophy. But my sense now is that in my life the benefits outshine and outlive the scars, which are fading with time.

One of the immature aspects of my faith is that I like neat narratives where the story comes full circle and ends with a satisfying conclusion, with some tidy lesson learned or some higher stage of enlightenment achieved. Don't we all? I don't like messiness and ongoing questions and unresolved issues. I want it all wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top. Instagrammable, even.

But I think the underlying error of that perspective is that I'm operating from the paradigm of control. Understanding everything and banishing mystery is a form of seeking control. I don't like to be a character in the story that's only halfway through unfolding; I'd rather be the author of the story who is proceeding along a plot line that jives with my sense of rightness, order, and justice, and who can be confident of reaching the denouement according to plan. Control, control, control. It seems that I have a soccer mom lurking within.

One of the big messages of Pentecost, given by an excellent priest at a nearby parish that I don't usually go to, was that this overweening desire for control is actually the legacy of original sin -- in the sense that when Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, the deeper meaning of their action was that they were essentially saying, "No, God, I get to decide what's right and wrong, not you. I am in charge here. This is my life, and I'm going to live it the way I think best." He went on to say that when we do this -- and we all do it, probably multiple times a day in big and little ways -- what we are really doing is depriving ourselves of all the divine help and guidance that we could have if we would just abide in God and do things with him.

The priest said that the person who says, "Leave me alone, I can do it all by myself" is basically alone on a desert island, trying to kill a fish with a rock, feeling thirsty, hungry, and frustrated.

But the person who lets God lead him is like a child who gets into the car to go somewhere because... Mom said so. No control over the gas pedal or the steering wheel, and probably no idea of where Mom is taking him. But even though he has no control over the car, the child's needs are cared for and attended.

"Mom, I'm thirsty" (the ever present refrain in our car rides).
  -- "Here's a little water bottle" (because Mom is ALWAYS PREPARED for car-induced dehydration).

"Mom, I have to go potty" (direct consequence of the above).
  -- "Okay, just hold it till next exit and we'll stop."

"Mom, are we there yet?"
  -- "Not yet."

The priest's point was that we tend to box God out of our life because of this self-protective, mistrustful need to be in control all the time. In essence, the sin is one of mistrust: only I know how to run my life. Only I know what's good for me. Only I can provide for myself. Sometimes these attitudes are also caused by the bitter experience of having been let down before by people who should have taken care of us, or by people who promised much and delivered little. But sometimes it's also our own fault. We can be stubborn and willful because we enjoy being in control -- or, more accurately, having the illusion of control -- and that's on no one but us.

Anyway, he went on to say that the task of Pentecost is to receive the Holy Spirit, and that since God cannot be controlled -- he insists on being independent -- prayer is essentially a process of letting him steer the ship, trustfully giving him a chance to come in and help us out, and maybe turn our grim little island into a blooming oasis while he's at it.

A few more jewels from David G. Benner's Opening to God gave me a better sense of why I should trust God to steer the ship (or drive the car, or write the story). He writes:

God is present. But we must be prepared to allow God to arrange the encounter. The divine rendezvous must always be under God's control. The seeking, reaching out and communicating always begin with God. But we must be prepared for the fact that God will not be where we often might expect. 

Prayer is not a magic ritual that allows us to bring the divine under our control. It is much more like floating on the dark river of God's love. You may not be sure where the river is taking you, and it will require that you surrender your control over the journey and the relationship, but one thing you need never doubt -- the Lord of love has arranged the prayer rendezvous. [...]

Floating demands trust. Not only do you have to trust that the current is taking you in a direction that is ultimately one of blessing, but you also have to trust that you will stay afloat and won't bump into anything dangerous. That is why genuine openness to God must start with a deep assurance of God's love for you.

He goes on to talk about spiritual dryness, and he says that these are times when we learn that we can't control God, or turn his blessings "on and off like a water faucet." He also observes that John of the Cross said that "this frustrating independence of God is the best proof we have that God is God, not merely a figment of our imagination."

So how does all of this fit in with the healing of memory? I think for me, the return to faith is a return to that dark river, an acceptance that in spite of my well-defined plans and goals, I have no real idea of where I'll end up in the future, nor do I see how my past fits into the larger narrative of my life and its meaning, but I do trust -- or I want to trust -- that it is not meaningless or purposeless, and that God didn't let me shipwreck. On the contrary, I came safely to a new shore; my life is totally different from what it would have been if I had never taken that path, and... I actually like it. And even though I'm a work in progress and all that, I've noticed that my inner monologue is positive. I'm not filled with the same negative, self-critical inner voice that I used to have many years ago. It's more of a "You can do this, Trish!" voice. I'm generally enthusiastic about life and am generally buoyant, excluding early mornings when I am nailed to the sheets.

In light of the outcomes, I want to trust that for me those years were a strange gift that appears loathsome from some angles, lovely from others. I would like to "stop kicking against the goad," so to speak, arguing with God about why he allowed me to make such a stupid mistake, or wondering whether I am at all capable of listening to God and discerning his will when I was obviously so deluded about this notion of a vocation.

I'm still pending a good answer on that last issue. And I have no neat answer for the shocking tragedy of those "20 to 100" boys whose souls and bodies were violated. I can't understand that and I can't accept it. I can't make sense of it. This is where the neat narrative stumbles. How do you just move on when there are these casualties along the side of the road?

Does the moral arc of the universe bend toward justice? Not in the hands of man and much less in the designs of faceless "history," but it does in the hands of God, as Archbishop Chaput said somewhere. I hope those boys, now men, receive the special grace they need. I hope they get it in floods and torrents, like an ocean of mercy to heal their deepest wounds.


Getting back to the idea of controlling versus abiding, the final thing the priest said on Pentecost that helped me was that we have to actively receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which means asking him to come in, not just one and done, but every day and even quite frequently.

I very much like this idea -- and it is not new but it feels new to me now -- that God is so respectful of our freedom that he waits for us to ask. And even when we sin and fall, he lifts us up respectfully, with a love that lets us participate in our own healing and is eager to make our faults and indignities go away. I love the idea of a deeply respectful God, which is so different from the implacable, angry, yet "merciful" God of Islam who demands submission and who maintains a kind of jealous, almost scornful distance from man. The "mercy" of such a God would feel like a burdensome reproach; one would approach the smoldering volcano with fear and anxiety. Much better the Christian God who carries all our burdens with us in solidarity and wants to show us the best possible way to be free, as friends.

In this sense, abiding and not controlling means holding God's hand and saying over and over again, "I trust you to lead me because I know you love me better than anyone." It's not, "I'm not to be trusted with my own freedom because I'm an idiot, so here, take mine" but rather "I have these gifts and I offer them to you, and I know you can magnify them and bring them to full fruition. Help me to be free with you. I want to be with you on this great adventure."

Another tiny tidbit that I found touching, from the words of Mary to a saint: "Transform every moment of your day into a colloquy with Me: I want to hear your voice, my son!"

Respect and interest, love and eagerness for communion. I love this idea that the face of God is turned toward us, that he wants to hear our voice, and that all we have to do in return is to open up the secret space of freedom inside and say, "Yes. I'm coming home."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Healing My Faith

I've been going through a personal springtime of faith that reminds me of the days of my first conversion in college. It's not self-motivated. There are no plans, programs, or goals. I would describe it more as appetite, delight, and desire. I'm thirsty for God again, after years of feeling allergic to prayer. During all that time, I lamented that I wasn't praying and I could see that I probably should, but a sense of repugnance kept me away.

I felt repelled because I associated prayer with a life I had left behind -- life as a consecrated woman in Regnum Christi. The post-years were marked by phases: disillusionment, anger, then forgetfulness (truly, I forget for months at a time), and then a gradual acceptance of the past as part of my story. I think one factor that has helped that acceptance is love of my present life and a sense of many good opportunities on the horizon for me. But time also does its work.

A few years ago, I wrote a post on this blog (and deleted it a few days later) saying that in spite of being in a more peaceful place, I still had so many questions about my past, so much of a lingering sense of confusion about how it all fits together. At the time, the image that came to mind was one of a tangled, knotted ball of yarn. Shortly after, Rebecca Carpeaux posted something on Facebook about a novena to Mary, the Undoer of Knots. I never did the novena but the title stuck -- I had never heard it before, or at least had never associated it to my own internal questions and confusion about faith in the wake of the strange experience of those ten years and their aftermath. 

Fast forward a few years. I was talking to a friend who has recently lost her faith. We were talking about things in the Church that damage faith and I expressed some of those lingering questions again. She said, "It seems like you have faith scars from your time in Regnum Christi." The phrase stuck. Faith scars. Of course. (Another friend, speaking of herself, said, "I feel like my faith has been polluted.") Scars and pollution. Many of us still feel these effects.

There are open questions that remain unanswered. One could also say I have faith dislocations: some  fundamental concepts are probably out of alignment, or out of joint, and this affects the way that I pray and perceive God and myself. So those things need to be put in their proper place. 

So yes, there are scars... but now I also have more confidence that there is an answer for them, or that I will eventually reach some kind of deeper peace about them. I might not get those answers right away or all at once, but I think the pieces will fall into place in some way over time.

Several years ago, I said that my answer to the problem of faith knots was just to put it all aside and leave it on the back burner without dealing with it. I knew that I would eventually have to look at it more closely, possibly with the help of a therapist, but it didn't seem to be the right time. Now I think the right time has come. And I've already been getting little insights through reading that have been putting some things in a new light. My interior response to these insights has been one of relief, delight, and joy. I would say it's akin to the experience of having carried a headache for a long time, and then suddenly feeling it fade away. 

I'll share a couple of those insights today, and more as they come along (and as I get time to write about them) in case anyone else feels in any way identified. I know that each one had a different experience, and many people are way ahead of me in this process and already worked through their lingering issues years ago. I'm usually late to the party.

So I'm not presenting these as anything but what they are: personal insights drawn from reading or conversation that have shifted things around in my mind and given me a better perspective on my relationship with God. I'm not interested in rehashing the past; I'd rather look to the future and to what heals, rather than analyze what caused the wounds. If I briefly mention some of the errors of Regnum Christi, it's just by way of contrast, not to dwell on it too much.

The mistake of trying to control everything. 

The first one is from the introduction of To the Priests, Our Lady's Beloved Sons (yes, I know I'm not a priest). I'll just quote the passage that hit me like a lightning bolt: 

Secularism, at the intellectual level, becomes "rationalism" and, at the level of life, it becomes "naturalism." [...] Because of naturalism, there is a widespread habit today of giving great importance to one's own personal activity, to efficiency and to the organisation of programmes in the apostolic sector, forgetting the primary value of Divine Grace and that the interior life of union with Christ, that is of prayer, must be the soul of every apostolate.

I remember reading the classic book The Soul of the Apostolate and I never noticed at the time that apostolic life in Regnum Christi was actually organized around a naturalistic view of fruitfulness. Lip service was paid to prayer and union with God, but in practice the driving force of the apostolate was human action, plans, programs, projections, lists, strategies, and numbers. Always numbers. "Frutos, frutos, frutos." God's fruitfulness and action in souls was reduced to something man-driven and external. And it had to be fast. 

Going slow.

Lately I've been reading Carl Honoré's In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed and savoring its message. Honoré points out that modern life is all about speed. And speed is all about efficiency. But the "slow movement" in cuisine, parenting, work, city planning, medicine, and even sex is about finding a more human pace of life and resisting the constant acceleration of this frenetic world that is obsessed with productivity and external development, but blind to the inner development of the spirit. In education, in relationships -- and in spiritual life -- we want to microwave everything, pluck the fruit before it's ripe, diagnose an illness in 30 seconds, fast-track our children's academic formation in ways that damage them, and even medicate ourselves with quick fixes that only mask underlying issues.

In the face of all that insanity, the Slow Movement is about consciously and deliberately giving each task the time it requires to be completed well, even if it means we're out of sync with frenetic modern life. A friendship needs years to develop. A child needs time for play. A wound needs time to heal. Fruits need time to ripen. Prayer needs time to unfold. Grace needs time to seep into the mind and heart. Souls need time to open. You can't pry open a flower's petals to make it open faster; you'll only damage it. So slowness is really about respect for beings and their needs. It's not slowness for the sake of slowness; it's doing things at the proper pace as a way of living a more human life. 

We were told there is a rush to bear fruits because... souls! the Church! the urgency of the mission! And so on. No. Not like that. External fruits produced at an unnatural speed are useless, artificial, fragile, tasteless. And they rot quickly.

Being present to God.

What really matters, I'm realizing, is interior union with God (and in my case, also with Mary). And it's not a union that we can force or plan or program. (Remember those "programs of life"?) I pray my Rosary and have started with some very tentative, brief "lectio divina" prayer times. These are not a burden to me; I don't do anything that I feel reluctant about. I only do what I feel drawn to do by a sense of attraction. But setting those types of prayer to one side for the moment, I'm also realizing that there is another aspect to prayer that is more fluid and God-directed. 

A few months ago, I asked Ellen McCormick Mady for some good spiritual book recommendations and she pointed me to Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. It has been a major perspective changer. I'm only a third of the way through it, but so far, this section caught my attention: 

The Word and silence belong together. Their rhythm is as simple and basic as breathing. We draw in. We let go in response. [...] It should be the same with the rhythm of these two core movements of prayer. First we open ourselves in faith and draw in God's Word, and then we rest in silence, allowing that Word to become life to us. 

What caught my attention in that paragraph was the gentleness of it, the slow and easy pace, the naturalness of it. Prayer is like breathing. 

He continues further on:

The kind of attention that is essential if we are to open ourselves to God is quite different from [an] effortful focusing of our thoughts and constriction of our imagination. In many ways, it is the exact opposite. Prayerful paying attention is not scrunching up our willpower and tightening our focus, but simply opening our self to what we encounter. This makes it much more an act of release than effort. 

So prayer is not so much a cognitive exercise of "trying to pray" as it is a "being present." It's a totally different type of interior movement from what I'm used to. How could it be that simple?

The author refers to the French Jew Simone Weil as a master of this type of prayer: 

Attention for Weil is not the active mental process of concentration that is involved in what we usually refer to as "paying attention." Rather, it is suspending our thoughts and allowing our awareness to develop. It is therefore more like prayerful openness than thinking. In fact, she argues, "attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." [...] Attentiveness is prayer because attention paid to anything is a doorway to the self-transcendent. It moves us beyond our self-preoccupations and opens us to that which is beyond our self.

What strikes me most in this is the way that prayer, true prayer as contemplation, is not self-directed. It's simpler, and it gives primacy to God's grace to flood the present moment. Prayer in this sense is not me thinking things about God or even so much about conversation (although there is a place for that too) but rather listening and being open and quiet. This, I would add, requires a willingness to be slow and apparently unproductive. It's the ultimate "waste of time" -- doing nothing but waiting and listening and being present in the moment, not rushing ahead mentally to the next thing or self-evaluating or worrying about self-improvement and spiritual growth. It's not up to us. We just water the seed with attention and listening and responding... and get out of the way. 

What does that have to do with man-made fruits? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

It has everything to do with abiding in God. "Abide in me, and you will bear much fruit." But we don't have to look at the fruit or even know about it. We don't have to agonize or obsess over spiritual development. We have to learn to be present to God in slowness, peace, and silence, and let God's grace direct the unfolding of the flower, not our own effort. "Look at the flowers of the field; they neither sow nor spin. Yet not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these." I always took that to mean that we shouldn't worry about clothes. But now I think it also means that God does his own grace-spinning inside of us, in hidden ways that we can't see, and the best thing we can do is just to stop trying to control things, and let the process unfold peacefully in the way He wants.

Just some thoughts to start off -- I hope to share more later as things strike me from readings or conversations. I would also really like to get book recommendations and insights that have helped those of you who are much further along in this process than me. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When Grief Strikes

I recently stumbled across this exquisite poem by Ruth Stone. It's called "The Wound."

The shock comes slowly
as an afterthought.

First you hear the words
and they are like all other words,

ordinary, breathing out of lips,
moving toward you in a straight line.

Later they shatter
and rearrange themselves. They spell

something else hidden in the muscles
of the face, something the throat wanted to say.

Decoded, the message etches itself in acid
so every syllable becomes a sore.

The shock blooms into a carbuncle.
The body bends to accommodate it.

A special scarf has to be worn to conceal it.
It is now the size of a head.

The next time you look,
it has grown two eyes and a mouth.

It is difficult to know which to use.
Now you are seeing everything twice.

After a while it becomes an old friend.
It reminds you every day of how it came to be. 

This little poem is a masterpiece. It's so unforgettable because it expresses something so true, something we have all experienced in different ways and degrees, but in utterly arresting language.

"Later they shatter / and rearrange themselves." Words are something that appear inert at first, but then become somehow weaponized in mid-air before homing in on their target. And isn't it true that at first, the painful words seem "like all other words" -- until they deliver their cargo of pain?

I was also struck by the line "Decoded, the message etches itself in acid/ so every syllable becomes a sore." There are indelible words on each person's soul, words that you can never forget because they caused such searing anguish, or because they marked a watershed moment in which all of your future hopes died.

But the part that also strikes me is the idea that the words come to take on a life of their own, with you as the host. At first, the intrusion fills the host with shame and confusion ("a special scarf has to be worn to conceal it") but eventually the pain becomes a familiar companion ("after a while it becomes an old friend") whose presence is a continual reminder of that first cataclysmic message.

What a mystery is grief. People who have survived a great loss say that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no linear progress toward healing, but only a constant aching sorrow, a constantly present loss that you somehow learn to bear. It never leaves you, and you never get away from it. But you learn to carry it. The grief becomes part of you, as one of the rooms in your own "mansion with many rooms." And you encase it with memory and tears, like the oyster's slow labor on a grain of sand.

And this must be part of being human as well. It cannot be otherwise.

Perhaps the Zen way would be to find a place where the pain is no longer so personal, where the agonies of the darkened heart are just a shadow play on the walls of some unenlightened cave, à la Socrates. Perfect meditation seems almost like an escape hatch from being human, a way to cheat grief of its sting, to slip through the grasp of sorrow and glide above it all in superior quietude. But I don't think that's the way I want to go.

When and if grief strikes, I will take the bitter burden. I'll let myself be brought low, watch in disbelief as my green forests are burnt down to smoking stubs. And while everything seems bleak and I feel most alone, I think I will find myself in a new kind of solidarity with all the others who have walked the same path before me. And maybe that's one of the secrets that this poem does not mention: we don't have to be alone in our griefs, as isolating as they may feel.

Everyone is carrying something. Most people keep it buried down deep. But I think we are all hungry for fellow travelers who can share that solitude for a while, who understand a bit of our experience based on their own. And why shouldn't grief, that sword that exposes our inmost heart in all its brokenness, also become a gift that helps us to see and touch each other in a new way? What is there to be afraid of? What is there to be ashamed of? Others understand. This path has been walked many times before, even though it is unique each time.

We are only human. And that humanity, in all its fragile vulnerability, in all its realness, is a gift that reveals itself most when it is shared. I hope I won't be afraid to share it when and if that time comes.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Finding Your Worth

I have become something of a resident expert on Disney movies lately, having seen pretty much every Disney princess more times than I care to count. And although animated features are not really at the top of my must-see list, I find myself enjoying them *the first time* I see them in the theaters with my little ones.

Moana was a good one, in my humble Disney-expert opinion. It wasn't just that her hair was awesome and she sailed her boat like a girl boss, but there was such a beautiful message about finding your true worth and identity inside you, even when everyone else abandons you and it seems that you have failed.

This theme peeked out in three places: in Moana's response to Maui's story of abandonment by his birth mother, in her decision to continue the mission on her own even after it seemed that they had failed and Maui had abandoned her, and in her final encounter with the volcanic, lava-hurling monster who turns out to be the one they came to save and restore. In each occasion, there is a message that you are worth more than your circumstances, or what other people have done to you in life. Your worth is inside of you and there is still so much that you can become.

This message struck me because I have been mulling over an article about the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, and an unrelated article about Iraqi boys who were forced to become child soldiers for ISIS. It wasn't just that these children were abused and victimized. It's that they were forced to become victimizers; in some cases, they had to kill their own parents.

In these cases, the postwar question then becomes: how do you help these children to find their true selves after all they have seen and done? How do you help them find their true worth after their own actions seem to tell them and the rest of society that they are less than zero?

It would seem that there is no hope for such children... but interestingly, a Harvard scholar named Theresa Betancourt is finding ways to help former child soldiers in Sierra Leone navigate that internal hell and come out stronger on the other side.

Her research shows that the devastating effects on their psychology cannot be underestimated. They suffer profound guilt, shame, nightmares, and social exclusion. Girls who were conscripted as sex slaves also suffer PTSD and depression, in addition to unwanted pregnancies and the label of being "impure," even though they were forcibly raped.

But there are remedies that work. Betancourt emphasizes a community approach that teaches children their own worth in a stable social context: "Group interpersonal therapy is based on the idea that the roots of depression, and the mechanisms for healing it, lie in people’s relationships with others. Young people who have all experienced the same ordeal can share support, wisdom, and understanding," Betancourt explains.

"The key is being able to put a word to their feelings: sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, loss of energy, the sense that life is not worth living. We spend a lot of time trying to learn local terms for emotional suffering. Once intervention and problem solving begins, these young people no longer feel alone. Their symptoms start to lift.”

It is so deeply telling that the path to healing after abandonment begins with someone reaching out a hand and saying, "You are not alone" and "You have value." It seems that we cannot heal ourselves, and so much of what is most precious and valuable in us can only be drawn out by the gaze of another who truly sees us and yet still loves us.

Family and "normal" responsibilities are also crucial. "When parents openly embrace their sons and daughters and bring them back into the fold, it not only sustains the child but also sends a signal to the larger community that the boy or girl is worthy of acceptance and care. Going to school, doing homework, and graduating likewise foster a sense of normalcy and regaining lost time."

She contrasts her approach with that of the more typical Western strategy -- which some have tried to apply in postwar societies in Africa and elsewhere -- of bringing in a psychologist with no personal relationship to the children, having the victims recount their horrible experiences a few times (essentially reliving the hell), and then leaving them after a few weeks of "therapy." Betancourt says that this approach actually damages the children even more than having no therapy at all, because the effort of opening their soul to a total stranger is compounded by the fact that this stranger then leaves after a short time. It is a second abandonment.

The article about child soldiers for ISIS is even more painful, since the situation is ongoing, whereas the conflict in Sierra Leone has long died down. And the suffering of those children is just one piece in a much larger mosaic of anger, fear, atrocity, and revenge that has been poisoning so many lives. War does not end after the guns fall silent. It continues echoing in the minds and hearts of people burdened by nightmares, guilt, shame, fear, anger, mistrust, and isolation.

And then there are also the silent sufferers everywhere who have not lived through war in the strict sense, but who carry their own invisible burdens and who question the value of their own life. I think Betancourt's method also applies to them. Imagine what it would be like if people were able to find a community where they could open their hearts and be received with love.

I think that's what the Church should be today: basically a spiritual hospital where the walking wounded are the most welcome of all. The deepest healing comes from God, but it comes through people, and people of good will can be that conduit. We can't see God directly; we can only catch glimpses of him in the love of other people, and in the incredible lightness and joy of experiencing forgiveness.

But those little glimpses and experiences can be so powerful. And when the healed become healers, the vicious cycle of war and spiritual destruction is held at bay.

Betancourt, who has seen enough horror in the stories of former child soldiers, points to signs of hope. "When people think of child soldiers, they think of people who are terribly damaged in some way. But I’ve seen very much the opposite: tremendous stories of resilience, of acceptance, of love in families."

Bottom line: there is still always so much that we can become, but we will always need each other to find out who we truly are -- and who we are not.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A mis amigos mexicanos desde Trumplandia

Amigos mexicanos,

Es el 10 de noviembre, poco después del triunfo de un candidato presidencial que los ha insultado repetidamente, que ha prometido edificar un muro para dividir nuestros países y que quiere deportar a 11 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados de los Estados Unidos, entre otras maravillas.

Esto va encima de los dolores de cabeza que ya tienen: problemas de seguridad, falta de trabajo, y en Veracruz, un ex-gobernador prófugo que robó millones y millones de pesos de la gente pobre, que ahora sobreviven día tras día en situaciones de precariedad, esperando pensiones que nunca llegan.

Con las dificultades que ya tienen, y que sobrellevan con un fuerte dosis de humor mexicano, y quizás con un poco de fatalismo y resignación, se entiende perfectamente por qué este último insulto -- la elección de Donald Trump -- les da un asco profundo, dolor, y preocupación por el futuro. Muchos de nosotros nos sentimos igual... pero ustedes tienen aún más derecho de quejarse, porque esta elección puede percibirse como un rechazo no merecido de todo Mexico y de cada mexicano.

Aunque puede parecer como si todo el país (o al menos, la mitad) sufrió un brote psicótico de racismo y xenofobia, quiero decirles que no es tan sencillo. Digo, es indudable que existe un racismo real y patente entre algunos fanáticos de Trump, pero en realidad hay todo un cóctel de causas que no tiene mucho que ver con ustedes. Los explico abajo.

Pero primero, hay que contar la historia del proceso político que nos llevó a este momento. Porque eso tiene mucho que ver también.

Un proceso electoral en dos fases

Como en México, el proceso electoral se despliegue en dos fases: las primarias, en que los miembros de cada partido eligen un candidato para representarlos, y luego la batalla por la presidencia.

La elección primaria para los Republicanos fue extraordinaria. Había ni más ni menos de 17 candidatos, mientras que los Democratos tenían solo dos (Hillary Clinton y Bernie Sanders). Para los Republicanos, esta abundancia no les favoreció, porque había tantas opciones -- y varias muy buenas -- que el apoyo se diluyó entre personas moderadas y sensatas como Marco Rubio, John Kasich y Jeb Bush. Donald Trump pudo ganar tanta fuerza en esa fase del proceso porque las buenas opciones en contra de él tenían que competir entre ellos. Si el partido Republicano hubiera puesto solo dos o tres candidatos para las primarias, lo más probable es que no hubiéramos tenido el mismo resultado.

Lo cierto es que muchos Republicanos querían otro candidato que no fuera Trump, pero una vez que ganó las primarias, tuvieron que aceptarlo -- aunque con muchos recelos. Conozco a muchos que estaban profundamente incómodos, ofendidos, disgustados, y consternados por sus comentarios ignorantes, por sus propuestas tan severas en contra de los inmigrantes, y por su misma manera de ser. Esta gente no quiso a Trump. Pero después de las primarias, fue su única opción para derrotar a Hillary Clinton y para evitar que los Demócratas consolidaran el poder.

Lo cierto es que para muchos, la elección no fue por Trump, sino a pesar de Trump. Para muchos, fue un voto más en contra de Hillary que a favor de Trump.

A mi modo de ver, hay 5 razones principales que motivaron el voto para Trump a pesar de Trump. No son los únicos, pero yo las veo como los "heavy hitters" que impactaron más. Yo diría que los verdaderos fanáticos de Trump se movieron sobre todo por las primeras dos causas, detalladas abajo.

1. Los efectos de globalización en la economía

Es cierto que la globalización y el comercio libre son avances muy positivas. Pero en el plazo corto, el efecto en algunos sectores de Estados Unidos ha sido fatal. Muchas fábricas cerraron y más de 700,000 trabajos desvanecieron después de NAFTA y también por la presión de China. Comunidades enteras acabaron debilitadas, porque el desempleo siempre conlleva muchos problemas sociales y todo está interconectado.

Una calle en Detroit, antes y después.
En el plazo largo, el libre comercio estimula las economías, abre nuevas posibilidades y nos permite comprar más con menos dinero. Pero eso no ayuda mucho a la gente que ya se encuentra en desempleo permanente y cuyas comunidades empiezan a decaer porque las fuentes de ingreso desvanecieron de un día para otro. En algunos casos, llegan a ser lugares tristes, marcados por la sombra de una depresión tanto económica que moral y social.

Lo triste es que cuando la gente en esas comunidades fueron con sus representantes en el Congreso, no encontraron respuesta. Desde Washington, había una falta de propuestas y programas para ayudar a la gente. Hasta la fecha, hacen falta programas de educación y capacitación para que esa gente pueda prepararse para otros trabajos. Muchos viven de día a día.

Y no solo faltaban medios concretos sino muchos se vieron ridiculizados por los elites como gente "ignorante" que no sabía adaptar a la economía del nuevo siglo. Eso enfurece, como un comentario tipo "hijos de la prole". Una cosa es encontrarse en la miseria de día a noche, pero otra es ver que le gente que debe de ayudarte no lo hace, y que además parece tener desdén para ti y tus problemas. Y de repente, viene un multimillonario que sabe expresar ese sentimiento de un sistema económico injusto en que hay dos Americas: uno para los ganadores y otro para los perdedores.

Esta gente, que se sintió como los perdedores en la economía actual, eran los más fanáticos de Trump en las primarias. Precisamente porque se sintieron como perdedores, resonaba mucho el mensaje de "Make America great again" y de "ganar, ganar, ganar". Seguramente Trump tuvo otros seguidores antes de las primarias, pero el núcleo estaba compuesto de estas personas que se encontraron fuera de las bonanzas del libre comercio en un mundo globalizado, e invisibles para sus propios representantes. El sistema no funcionaba para ellos; ni siquiera los tomaba en cuenta.

Y esto nos lleva al segundo "motor" del triunfo de Trump, el encanto de un hombre "anti-político" que no es parte del sistema que les fallaba tanto.

2. El deseo por alguien 'de fuera', el 'outsider' 

Esta preferencia para el "outsider" también está pasando en los rangos de los Demócratas. Bernie Sanders fue toda una estrella porque denunciaba lo que llamaba los "1%", los más ricos de la población que saben manipular el sistema para su propio provecho, estafando a la gente ordinaria y a la gente pobre. Imagino que este problema es bastante conocido en México también.

Como Bernie, Trump daba voz a esa frustración de la gente que sabía que los ricos y los poderosos en el juego político sabían manipular el sistema para su propio bien. Y de verdad, claro que es así. Lobbying, horse trading, el quid pro quo, yo te doy y tú me das -- todo eso que vimos en House of Cards pasa, aunque hay una fachada bonita del ejercicio responsable y legitimo del poder. Y con la globalización, las ganancias y las pérdidas se acentúan.

Grafica mostrando las ganancias del 0.01% en los últimos 30 años, comparado con los demás.
El círculo naranja, la más grande, representa las ganancias de una fracción muy chiquita de
toda la población.
Después del colapso económico de 2008, estos sentimientos empezaron a crecer más y más, y no solo en los Estados Unidos. Yo diría que la salida de Gran Bretaña de la Unión Europea -- el Brexit -- también tuvo algo que ver con esta frustración en la clase obradora.

En Icelandia, la gente esta apoyando el Pirate Party (Partido de Piratas) que definió su plataforma por medio de crowdsharing, y que es bastante anarquista. Su primer ministro ya resignó. La ultra-derecha Marine le Pen en Francia está ganando cada vez más apoyo. Este año, Austria casi eligió un presidente neo-fascista en Norbert Hofer. Y en México, ya están diciendo que Lopez Obrador y el partido La Morenita van a seguir creciendo, nutridos de la misma frustración popular. Son reacciones de ambos lados de la gama política, y lo que tienen en común es ese grito de frustración con un sistema manipulada que los excluye. Los ricos se hacen cada vez más ricos, y los pobres no logran escapar de la pobreza.

Trump supo presentarse como alguien que sabe como juegan, pero que ya es aliado del pueblo. Se presenta como alguien que va a "limpiar a Washington" de toda esa corrupción que beneficia a los políticos y sus amigos ricos, y que estafa la gente ordinaria.

Y esto nos lleva al otro motor del éxito de Trump: el odio a Hillary Clinton como parte de una red privilegiada de elites.

3. Hillary Clinton como la personificación de privilegio basado en la corrupción 

En Estados Unidos, tenemos una larga historia con Hillary Clinton, y para muchos, ha sido bastante negativa. Yo sé que al lado de Donald Trump (por ejemplo, en los debates) se ve como toda una dama, pero para muchos, Hillary Clinton es tan corrupta como Elba Esther Gordillo, pero con menos cirugía plástico, menos Chanel, y más aires de superioridad moral.

¿Qué ha hecho Hillary Clinton para ganar el rechazo y la desconfianza de 70% de la población norteamericana? Básicamente, muchos no confían en ella porque se sabe, desde los años noventas, que ha sido involucrada con su esposo en muchos escándalos que han sido ampliamente documentados, y que sabe mentir con una fluidez y facilidad que asombra. Alguien la llamó una "mentirosa compulsiva" y hay algo de verdad en eso. Lo vimos incluso durante los debates, así que es reciente.

En cuanto a sus juegos sucios, voy a hablar nada más de uno en particular: su fundación.

Después de que Bill Clinton fue quitado de la presidencia por perjurio y obstrucción de justicia en la investigación sobre su relación ilícita con Monica Lewinsky, los Clintons empezaron a monetizar el carisma de Bill Clinton y las muchas conexiones políticas de ambos. Su fundación (The Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation) empezó a recibir millones y millones de dólares de gente de Estados Unidos, de empresas, y también de gobiernos extranjeros, por ejemplo, de Saudi Arabia. Hay muchas preguntas y conexiones sospechosas: gente y/o empresas que donaron a la Fundación cuando Hillary fue Secretaria de Estado acabaron recibiendo beneficios para su país o compañía. ¿Coincidencia? No si pasa repetidamente. Aunque nada ha sido probado definitivamente, se sabe que había un sistema de "pay for play" -- en breve, con una donación jugosa a los Clintons y a su fundación, se podría obtener acceso a ciertas ventajas del gobierno, lo que está completamente ajena de la ética para un oficial del gobierno. Muchos de estos movidos han sido documentados en el libro Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.

En fin, todos sabemos que el poder y el dinero son intercambiables. El dinero puede comprar el poder, y el poder se puede monetizar. Hillary sabe muy bien manejar ese nexo entre el poder y el dinero, haciendo palanca para ella y también para sus aliados, sean de Wall Street o de gobiernos extranjeros. Es toda una red internacional, no tan lejos de la realidad desenmascarada por los Panama Papers, aunque de forma diferente.

Pero aquí va el contraste: mientras se enriquecía, y mientras forjaba alianzas de poder y dinero con una red amplia de amigos y aliados, no le daba vergüenza hablar muy piadosamente de sus 30 años de servicio público "para el bien de los niños y de las familias", como si fuera una Madre Teresa de la política. Y eso nos lleva al cuarto problema...

4. El tema del aborto 

Hay algunos votantes en Estados Unidos que están muy enfocados en el tema del aborto, porque lo ven como prueba de fuego de nuestra integridad como una sociedad fundada en derechos humanos: la vida, la libertad y el derecho a la felicidad. Según este modo de ver las cosas, una cultura que destruye a sus propios bebés tiene un problema mucho más serio que la economía o el cambio climático. Se ve como un problema de derechos humanos que nos está destruyendo desde dentro porque mina nuestro carácter como pueblo, como sociedad.

Hillary Clinton tiene todo el apoyo de Planned Parenthood, que donó 30 millones de dólares a su campaña presidencial. Aunque todos saben que Hillary, como cada Demócrata, está a favor del derecho de elegir, un momento clave y revelador ocurrió durante el tercer debate con Trump, cuando dijo que apoya el aborto incluso en el tercer trimestre, cuando el bebé está al punto de nacer. Lo explico en términos de la salud de la mamá, etcetera, pero Trump supo capitalizar en ese momento para marcar un contraste. Mientras yo no creo personalmente que Trump será muy leal a la causa pro-vida, hay muchos que ven en él a un aliado inesperado. Así que aunque no les cae muy bien en muchos aspectos, lo ven como el mal menor porque Hillary apoya lo que es, para muchos, la infanticida: la matanza de un bebé que está al punto de nacer.

Para estos votantes -- y hay muchos -- la batalla en contra del aborto también requiere una Corte Suprema conservadora que derrocaría Roe vs. Wade, la ley que legalizó el aborto en Estados Unidos en 1973.

Y esto nos lleva al quinto punto, que es la Suprema Corte.

5. La Suprema Corte 

Los nueve ministros de la Supreme Corte con Scalia
(en frente, segundo de la izquierda).
En total, hay nueve ministros en la Suprema Corte y lo más probable es que cuatro sillas van a abrirse durante los próximo cuatro años. El juez muy conservador Anthony Scalia se murió a inicios de este año y el Senado, dominado por los Republicanos, no quiso ni debatir para aprobar el remplazo que propuso Obama. Entones, su silla queda abierto. Luego hay tres ministros que tienen la edad de 83, 80 y 78. La edad media para jubilarse de la Suprema Corte es 79. En una corte de nueve sillas, un cambia de cuatro altera todo el balance.

Dado que la Suprema Corte tiene el poder para interpretar la Constitución, hay muchos que desean asegurar que la Corte sea más en linea con la manera "originalista" de interpretar la Constitución, en lugar de la enfoque actual, que es más activista-liberal. Es un juego de poder que muchos toman muy en serio, porque si la Corte se pone más liberal de lo que ya es, puede cambiar drásticamente las leyes y la forma de vida en nuestro país. Para los conservadores, se ve como una política de seguros. Quieren asegurar que la interpretación de la Constitución sigue lo que querían decir los fundadores de la nación, y que no se cambie según las tendencias de la cultura.

Para muchos, esta preocupación también tiene mucho que ver con el derecho de llevar armas. Este derecho está protegido por el 2nd Amendment, pero hay jueces liberales que quieren reinterpretarlo para quitarlo. Al menos, así va el temor. Hay otros temas de política social también, pero no hay espacio para comentarlos todos aquí.

Una mezcla de motivaciones

Como he tratado de mostrar, la realidad es que hay mucho en esta elección que no tiene tanto que ver con México, ni con actitudes de racismo. Sí existe el racismo en algunos de sus seguidores -- no se puede negar -- pero la mayoría de la población que lo eligió fue la misma que eligió y re-eligió a Obama. No creo que brotó un racismo nuevo en los últimos cuatro años cuando Obama todavía es un presidente muy popular.

Sin embargo, yo sé que las minorías en Estados Unidos y los Latinos andan preguntándose si debajo del superficie de muchos gringos aparentemente amigables, hay algo más oscuro, quizás un odio escondido.

Yo diría que no. Yo no creo que la elección de Trump revela un océano de malevolencia dentro de los corazones de los norteamericanos. Ni veo que muchos apoyan a cada política que ha propuesto. Hay un grupo de fanáticos que lo apoyan en todo. Pero después de las primarias, la gran mayoría de la gente votó por varias razones. En fin, somos tan polarizados hoy en día que muchos votaron más en contra de Hillary que por Trump, y vice versa.

¿Y ahora qué? Pues, estamos fritos. Aunque Trump supo dar voz al dolor de la gente, lo cierto es que sus políticas no son la respuesta apta y van a intensificar su sufrimiento. Yo me estoy preparando para una economía en declive y para mucha división y descontento entre la población. Va a perder su popularidad con sus seguidores una vez que se dan cuenta de que no puede cumplir sus promesas. Mientras tanto, la presidencia ha perdido algo de su prestigio, tanto en Estado Unidos como el escenario internacional. Espero sinceramente que Trump se ponga en orden y que se rodee de gente capacitada e inteligente, pero no sé qué va a pasar. No tengo muchas esperanzas, pero también quiero ser al menos un poquito optimista. Quizás habrá un milagro y no será tan loco en el futuro. Su conferencia hoy con Obama fue muy cordial y todos estaban bien sorprendidos. Yo creo que ahora vamos a ver su lado "nice" y conciliador, porque ya ganó la batalla. Esperemos que llegue a romper sus promesas.

En resumen, lamento decir que tuvimos un fracaso electoral en nuestro país, pero tiene que ver más con nuestros problemas internos que con ustedes. Acuérdense, "it's not you, it's us." Y a ver qué nos traen estos cuatro años.

Saludos respetuosos,
Una gringa

Sunday, October 9, 2016

False Paradigms of the Abortion Battle

Like many of us, I've been watching the Trump candidacy implode after the recent revelation of his lewd comments. It's not surprising but it's still scandalous. It strips away all illusions that this man could be worthy of the Oval Office.

And yet, some people continue to insist that Trump is the only hope of the pro-life movement, because "abortion is the only issue that matters." It's the defining issue for a presidency, some say, for it sets the moral character of the nation. So they put all their hope in a pro-life candidate because they believe that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn the tide on the culture of death. These are the people who say, "Focus on the platform, not on the person." As in, don't pay attention to Trump's character or personality or anything he says, even though he will be the face of America to the whole world and also to our children. Just think about the things that the conservative movement will be able to achieve with him, whereas the pro-life movement and religion in general will be squashed under Hillary.

This is short-sighted and wrong-headed. And here's why.

There is an assumption embedded into all of this, and that assumption is that the hinge for turning abortion around is to be found in the legal system, in the exercise of power from the top. I don't deny that laws carry pedagogical weight, and that they are an important lever of power. But I think the true lever for overturning Roe vs. Wade is not going to come through the law or through the exercise of power. Legal decisions are completely sterile and impermanent if there is no change of heart, or change of mind paving the way. The real power is not to impose something on an unwilling and unconvinced population, but to persuade and to win hearts so that the law expresses something that many people already fervently believe to be right.

Case in point: we witnessed a tipping point last year with the legalization of same-sex marriage. But the Supreme Court decision was preceded by cultural sea change, a widespread acceptance of something that had been immensely unpopular just ten years before. In May 2015, a Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans supported same-sex marriage. So for most people, the court only confirmed something they already stood behind.

This is a lesson in how change happens. You can't force something on people who don't agree with it and expect to get by with no backlash. Some pro-lifers expect that an authoritarian Trump presidency and a future conservative Supreme Court will force the issue. This is an unlikely scenario for two reasons: first, how exactly would America's most unpopular president in history -- presiding over the most polarized (and probably increasingly Democratic) Congress in history -- ever get his nominees appointed? And second, the next president, guaranteed to be a Democrat, would simply reverse as much as he could. And let's not forget the grassroots backlash from an angry populace. We would end up worse off than before. Forced gains are unstable gains.

But it's a different story if a sufficient majority -- not necessarily an absolute majority -- already wants it. The law is more likely to stick if the prevailing sentiment supports it. So instead of looking for the outward victories of laws and restrictions, we should be focusing on the Kulturkampf, the culture war. Hearts and minds, baby, hearts and minds!

How? I think there is a way, but there is also an obstacle that prevents us from seeing it clearly.

The obstacle is that we are stuck inside a false paradigm. The pro-choice vs. pro-life divide is structured around two compelling values that are set into an artificial opposition. Pro-lifers uphold the value of the babies, the most innocent of us all, the little heartbeats that can be heard as early as five weeks. And pro-choicers uphold the value of women, particularly of their self-determination as a keystone of their dignity and freedom. Pro-life is about babies. Pro-choice is about women. How terribly ironic that the closest embrace in nature -- between a mother and her child -- has become such a battleground of false oppositions.

In my opinion, only the pro-life movement has the power to break this false paradigm. How? By reaching out to the positive values that have made the pro-choice movement resonate with so many people. Pro-lifers need to continue being champions for unborn babies, but they also need to be the greatest champions of women the world has ever seen. Certainly, many pro-lifers already are! But the rest of us need to follow suit.

There is a special opportunity here. Think about it: the pro-choice side cannot coopt the value of babies. It would negate its own platform to give extra value to the baby, which is already referred to in reductive language as a fetus or a ball of tissue. But the pro-life side can certainly reach out to the value of women without negating our deep concern for the baby. We can do so much if we widen our embrace to help women more, to give them a greater sense of freedom and self-determination, to give them more options than just abortion. The pro-life side has to empower women and trust women like never before.

Like it or not, it looks like Hillary Clinton will be president come November. And probably many decisions will be made over the coming years to make it easier for women to get and pay for abortions. Perhaps taxpayer funding of abortion will make us all complicit, like it or not. But aren't we already all complicit insofar as we have been complacent?

My problem is I've been waiting for someone else to do the work of changing the law... when what really needs to be changed are hearts. It seems to me that most women get abortions because they are overcome with fear and anxiety; they don't feel ready, they have no money, they can't handle a special needs baby's many time-consuming requirements, they don't have a supportive partner or family, or they just weren't planning on this happening right now. Perhaps some were victims of race or incest.

Our question should be: what can we do to help take away that fear and replace it with confidence and hope? I think it can only happen when there are enough caring people to support each woman in need that she can breathe a sigh of relief and say, "Okay, maybe I can do this after all" or "I trust that my baby will be well cared for in an adoptive family." I think most women want to love their babies. They are just so afraid. And helping them win that quiet, interior victory over fear can save a life.

And of course prayer is essential -- prayer and grace also help love and trust to overcome fear -- but it has to work in tandem with real, effective support. We can't just pray for people to be courageous and accept their baby, but then not do anything to help them. Perhaps even just a little support would be enough to tip the balance. Another point as well: I think we have to be careful to pray in places and in ways that are not going to be perceived as an attack on women. Praying outside abortion clinics might seem like the right thing to do, but I think most women -- the ones you are trying to win over, right? -- experience it as a condemnation or even sometimes as an attack. And that only reinforces the fear.

The upshot: Roe vs. Wade isn't going to change until our culture changes, and our culture isn't going to change until we roll up our sleeves and get involved. Love, not law, is the most powerful lever of change. Love for babies, and also love for women. We won't win until we widen our embrace to make room for both, and until we empower women to overcome fear with love and hope.