Review: Voiceless

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Gentle Reader,

A few months ago I was contacted and asked if I’d like to review the movie Voiceless in advance of its October release.

Battling his own inner-demons, Jesse (Rusty Joiner: Last Ounce Of CourageDodgeball, “Days of Our Lives”) encounters a young, pregnant teen overcome with grief that, after an impulsive abortion, has her family blaming Jesse for more than just her final decision. Jesse’s wife Julia (Jocelyn Cruz: Strike OneThis Is Our Time) must come to terms with her own choices and decide if she can support her husband as opposition mounts against him. Comedian Paul Rodriguez also stars as Virgil with James Russo as Pastor Gil.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that the overall tone is thoughtful and the filmmakers resisted tying up everything in a neat bow at the end. On the other, what should be an emotionally-charged story falls flat in many places.

Thoughtfulness is both the strength and weakness of Voiceless. Jesse Dean is not presented as a perfect action hero, but as a normal, flawed human being. In fact, all of the characters are relatable. Of special note is that the manager of the abortion clinic isn’t a crazed, bloodthirsty killer. She believes that she is helping women, just as Jesse believes he’s helping them. Though there is clear moral right and wrong on display, nobody is cast as a villain. A movie like this could have easily gone that direction.

Unfortunately, these good elements somehow come together and make for a plot that moves at a snail’s pace. I found myself thinking, “Come on,” more than once. I think that we, the audience, were supposed to have a sense of taking part in Jesse’s struggle, but instead we’re treated to lingering shots that cause already-slow movement to drag. I think this comes down to editing rather than a story flaw; a good 10-15 minutes could have been shaved off, making for a film that packed more punch.

Not that I wanted Voiceless to be loud or in my face. I actually liked that it was on the quieter side. There were some moments that needed to land hard, though, and didn’t quite get there. Example: Jesse’s interactions with a pregnant teen and her boyfriend needed to feel more urgent, like there was truly something on the line. Additionally, when he and his wife finally come to the moment when they discuss their shared past, instead of feeling shocked I thought, “Yeah, saw that coming.”Voiceless crawled where it shouldn’t have and sprinted where it needed to slow down.

I genuinely can’t decide what I think of the main character being male. Abortion is not a women-only issue, for sure, despite what some claim. Yet I wonder how I would have felt if a lone man stood outside Planned Parenthood the day I visited and tried to convince me not to go inside. Like many of the women in the movie, I probably would have ignored him and thought that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Now, years later, I know many men who ooze compassion for women in that position. Still, I think it would have been more powerful for me to see a woman reaching out to her sisters.

The story itself is one that is lived out in every town, big or small, each day. How should Christians respond to abortion? Is it enough to pray for the people involved in offering that service and for the people who take advantage of the offering? Should we protest, and if so, what form should that take? We see Jesse wrestle with these questions. We see him get it wrong more than once. We see the other Christians around him get it wrong.

But ultimately, they do something. That, I think, is the point of Voiceless. Sitting inside our comfortable churches, piously and hollowly praying for people doesn’t do much good, but neither does violent protest. Our hearts must move from both coldness and extreme zeal. We must love as God loves, act how He acts.

I recommend Voiceless, whatever your views on abortion, on the grounds that it is something different. It’s not a perfect movie, but the filmmakers deserve credit for avoiding a condemning, judgmental tone and for striving to contribute to national debate in a thoughtful, positive way.

My journey to faith. (15)

Laws & Hearts

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I had a good response to my thoughts on voting Libertarian this year. In that, an important question was raised: How can I, a woman who claims to be pro-life, vote for a pro-choice candidate?

It’s simple: I think we’re going about this all wrong.

Gary Johnson is pro-choice in the sense that he doesn’t intend to attempt to change existing laws (which, if he were elected, he wouldn’t have the power to do, anyway). This means that he is not in favor of removing restrictions already in place nor is he in favor of repealing the Hyde Amendment (if I am wrong on that one, correct me). While he is personally opposed to abortion, he does not think he can impose his view on the country.

Does it make me sad that this is the state of affairs in my country? Yes. Does the “safe, legal and rare” line make me roll my eyes? Yes. Do I shake my head that Planned Parenthood managed to avoid abiding by building codes that other medical entities must adhere to? Yes. Do I believe that women have bought into lies when they believe “it’s just another medical procedure” and “it’s your body” and “it’s just a fetus, a blob of tissue”? Yes.

How can I vote for someone who doesn’t see this issue in exactly the same way?

I do it all the time when I participate in presidential elections, when I vote for the person who may send people to war. Am I no longer a pacifist because of that? I don’t think so. All I can do is find the person whose positions are closest to my own. Should I not vote? I’ve considered that, but cannot escape the sense that I have some duty to contribute (in a hopefully positive way) to the direction my country takes.

But I digress.

Here’s the thing: Outlawing abortion won’t change the fact that some women will have abortions.

I believe that the pro-life movement needs to stop with laws and move to hearts. Suppose it suddenly became legal to, I don’t know, punch people over 60 in the face. Suppose the country was fairly evenly divided on whether or not this was a good thing. Would it be a good use of time for opponents of punching older folks to draft legislation? To stage protests outside government buildings? To contribute to years of gridlock while people are being punched in the face?

No. They should go out and convince people that punching older folks is wrong.

People of the pro-life movement need to win over individuals. We need to spend time with scared, angry women. We need to be the support system that they don’t have. We need to throw our weight behind the reformation of Family Court in calling for the enforcement of existing laws. We need to foster and adopt if we are able (not every Christian person is; let’s not get legalistic). We need to cheer on single dads. Instead of wasting our time trying to take down Roe v. Wade, we need to work to change hearts. People need to know that we care about more than just the nine months a baby lives inside the womb. If we would do that, if we would live out a consistent ethic of life, then perhaps our words would cease to ring so very hollow.

God never told us to to dominate society through the force of law.

He told us to serve and to witness.

I know that there are a whole lot of people who are going to disagree with me, and that’s fine. I simply think we need to admit that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Let it go and move on. Take a page from the conservative Mennonite playbook (they don’t vote but they’re very active in the pro-life movement). Try a different strategy.

Really, try a little repentance. We weep over abortion but say little about the grinding poverty that many single parentss struggle under. We cannot give with one hand and take away with the other. We, the Church, the Body of Christ, need to get busy actually living out the pretty words we spout so easily.

And maybe, just maybe, the laws will flow out of the hearts.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Hannah Morgan

 

Pro-Life, Pro-Woman, Pro-Responsibility

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lit up like a bonfire this week with #ShoutYourAbortion.

Let me be clear: Every person is free to share or not share her experience. I do not believe in censorship. Neither do I believe that women who have chosen to have abortions should be called names or threatened with violence. Waving around giant pictures of aborted babies doesn’t help anyone.

But let’s be honest: Twitter – 140 characters – is not the ideal place to have this conversation. Like it or not, the topic of abortion is a deep one, whether one is pro-life or pro-choice. It’s impossible to address the complexities in such a limited format.

Of course, the proponents of #ShoutYourAbortion say that there need be no controversy. That it need not be a delicate issue. A woman should be able to say “I did this” with neither explanation nor context, which I suppose is fair enough. Such a stance turns away from the ideas of good storytelling, but all right. If you really want to take to Twitter and share, that’s your choice.

There has been a good amount of backlash regarding the hashtag, evenly divided (from what I have seen, which is, of course, not every single tweet ever) between the pro-life and the pro-choice crowd. The basic point is that #ShoutYourAbortion comes across as combative, prideful and does nothing to actually further the conversation or foster understanding between people of opposing views. Such objections have been met with “stop policing,” “the medium doesn’t matter,” “you’re an idiot,” “concern troll,” “I hate pro-life people,” and “moron.” (Again, just what I’ve seen).

Those responses are ridiculous. One does not start or engage in a controversial “movement” and then stick one’s fingers in one’s ears and scream at people – even people who agree with the position – who say that there are better ways to go about it. That amounts to nothing more than willfully ignoring constructive criticism.

Because the medium does matter. The way a message is communicated is important. Why else do writers spend so much time laboring over sentences? Why else would history be split on the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate; those who listened on the radio believed Nixon won, those who watched on television gave the victory to Kennedy. Why else do costume designers spend hours locating just the right fabric for a dress?

So, by all means, share your story. Just don’t be so shocked when people react negatively when that story is so very limited and without any kind of context. Don’t be surprised when you’re told that you come across as celebrating what so many – pro-life and pro-choice – see as an incredibly tragic moment.

I did have two “laugh out louds” as I responded to some of what I was seeing under this hashtag. One gentleman (which I thought was odd, because aren’t men supposed to have no voice in this at all?) slammed me for tweeting to Lindy West (one of the women who orchestrated #ShoutYourAbortion) that Twitter was not the best place for the conversation. When I told him that I had my own story with Planned Parenthood, he then told me to go ahead and engage. Except that I was already engaging. He just didn’t like what I had to say.

The second came when I saw someone, I don’t remember who, compare #ShoutYourAbortion to the efforts of First Wave feminists. That is nonsensical. First Wavers were a diverse lot, to be sure, but these were the women who fought for the right to vote, equal status and protection under the law, the right to attend college, the prosecution of rapists and the perpetrators of domestic violence, prison reform, reducing the length of the workday, child labor law and the abolition of slavery, to name a few.

Things that we could and should still be advocating, for women and girls around the world. But instead #ShoutYourAbortion. (And, you know, #FreetheNip).

Priorities, right?

I am disheartened to see the focus of feminism so narrowed in on “reproductive rights.” Abortion-on-demand has nothing to do with equality. If it was about equality, then men would be allowed financial abortions for children they do not wish to support. No, I’m not a champion for deadbeat dads. They are despicable. But if we’re going to have a standard, then it should be applied across the board. A woman can literally sever all of her ties to a child. So, too, should a man be allowed.

But that will never happen (nor do I actually believe it should) because this isn’t about equality. Abortion-on-demand is about escaping responsibility. No, I am not speaking of pregnancies that endanger the life of the mother. I’m not even speaking or rape or incest. I am speaking of women who have access to more forms of contraception than ever before. I am speaking of women who attempt to hijack the philosophical concept of bodily autonomy by saying that the baby “has no right” to “live off of” her. (Ignoring that the act of sex invites the creation of a child. Ignoring that the bodily autonomy argument is never applied to women who drink or use drugs while pregnant). I am speaking of women who have attended college in greater numbers than at any other point in history, meaning that they have probably taken biology and thus know that the genetic material of the developing child is entirely unique and separate from her own and that the “it’s my body” reasoning falls short. I am speaking of women who live with the cognitive dissonance of deeming an aborted baby as “merely tissue” while going on to have children at a later point. I am speaking of women who insist that life does not begin at conception, but then have no consistent answer for when it does begin. (Why should a toddler not be “aborted?” After all, she continues to rely on her mother). I am speaking of women who passionately yell “save the trees” and “eat vegan” and then, somehow, disassociate themselves from “products of conception.”

I’m saying that women know better. We are too smart, too informed, for this.

If feminism is about acknowledging and championing the equality of women, if it is about opportunities and choices, then it must also be about responsibility. We cannot blast men for shirking their responsibility to women and children while doing the same thing ourselves. If a woman chooses to have sex, then she chooses to open herself to the possibility of a child. She does not have to parent the child, but she cannot say that the child has been deposited within her womb without consent. Sex is the consent. (I am obviously not speaking of rape or incest victims).

Abortion-on-demand is neither the exhibition of independence or power. It is sad. It is motivated by fear and selfishness. I can say that. Once more, I have my own story.  So here’s where I turn to the pro-life community:

We must do better. We must embrace and uplift women. We must refuse to name-call or judge. We must be the support system every pregnant women needs, whether she’s unmarried or not. We must be the shoulders to cry on, the arms to hold and the ears to listen. We must be available. We must provide transportation, job references, babysitting. We must adopt when possible. We must help women to shoulder the burden and celebrate their courage and tenacity in stepping up to the plate.

Let us be the true culture of life in a world promoting death.

My journey to faith. (15)

For a look at the feminist case against abortion, please check out this article. (Yes, it appeared in a Catholic magazine. You can handle it).

Addendum: I have been told that this piece comes across as condemning. Stating that pursuing abortion is motivated by the desire to escape responsibility is not any more condemning than saying that a kid commits theft if he steals candy. It is no comment on the character of the person. We all have done things in order to escape responsibility; we are all entirely equal that regard. I am not throwing stones at women, attempting to silence them or rubbing my hands together with glee and hoping that someone will feel sooooo bad after reading this.

I linked to my own story twice in this post. Though I did not have an abortion, I have been down this road. I have talked with women and read testimonies. I completely understand the thoughts and the feelings. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. Yet this does not erase the fact that, bottom line, aborting a child because you don’t want to carry it to term is a selfish act. It is the only logical conclusion that I can draw when the reasons women give for pursuing abortion are “I was in school,” “I wanted to advance my career,” and “kids would hinder me.”

Addendum #2: Over on Twitter I continue to be picked at for my “tone policing.” Let me just reiterate that I never once said women should not share their stories. I thought I was clear in saying that Twitter wasn’t the best place for the conversation due to it’s sensitive nature. That the hashtag comes across badly, regardless of original intent (attempting to give the benefit of the doubt here). Watching the hashtag explode (implode?) into name-calling and threats (from both sides) confirms this for me. But again, if you want to go that route, go ahead. Just don’t get your knickers in a twist and promptly cast yourself as a victim when you don’t get a universally positive response. (Note: That’s not me defending the awfulness of people posting photos of aborted babies or making death threats. That’s completely wrong. I’m talking only about those who share an opposing view).

Addendum #3: The charge of “tone policing” leaves me shaking my head. I’m wrong for saying that there’s a better way to do have this conversation, to share these stories – literally nothing about content, just the medium. Fast on the heels of this charge comes the accusations of “judgmental” and “controlling.” Basically, others can say what they want, how they want, where they want…but I can’t.

We’ll just let that “fairness” sit and marinate for awhile.

Planned Parenthood and Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I have kept this under wraps. I can count on one had the number of people who know.

But here goes.

I am one of the many. One of the women who anxiously hoped that if “Penny” ever called, her parents wouldn’t be the ones to pick up the phone.

I make no secret of the fact that Chris and I had sex before we were married. I’m not proud of it. It was wrong. But I am free of condemnation because of the cleansing blood of Christ. God has forgiven us both, and it was in the midst of this sin that He clearly drew both of us to Himself. Though we had both made commitments to Him as children, it was during this time that we both began to understand the reprehensible nature of sin. We both began to understand our depravity and our need for a Savior.

Of course, we didn’t discuss it in that kind of language. Just after our engagement in July 2005, we began attending church together. As we drove back to my parent’s house one afternoon, I commented, “You know, we probably shouldn’t have sex on Saturday night and go to church on Sunday morning.”

Hashtag duh.

Thus began the process of breaking old habits and learning to obey Him. It didn’t happen overnight, but by the time we were baptized together just before Christmas that year, we were committed to remaining sexually pure until our wedding day.

But there were stumbles along the way.

And so a trip to Planned Parenthood.

The chances that I was actually pregnant then are extremely low as the chances of me getting pregnant now are extremely low. We’re talking less than 1%. I didn’t know that then, however. I didn’t know that I was infertile. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind. I wasn’t on any form of contraception at the time and we hadn’t made use of a condom. What was I going to do? How would I take care of a baby? What would people think? I didn’t want this.

Nervously, I made the appointment. We drove to the plain gray building in silence. It was a beautiful fall day, bright and sunny. I wore my favorite tan corduroy jacket.

I remember feeling like this was an out-of-body experience. Less than a decade prior I was so certain that I would never have sex before I was married and that I would never darken the doors of Planned Parenthood. I even signed the “True Love Waits” card and placed it proudly in my high school scrapbook.

I had no problem with the use of birth control under a doctor’s orders and supervision (and still don’t). I had been on a couple of contraceptive pills in my teens to try and regulate my unpredictable cycle, but didn’t stick with either one as they both made me feel sick. But Planned Parenthood is more than birth control. I knew about Margaret Sanger and her complex relationship with eugenics, racism, and classism, a relationship that cannot be separated from the organization she founded. I understood that the main service Planned Parenthood provides is not low-cost health care for women (of which I am an advocate), but abortion.

Yet there I was.

The lobby was ugly and uninviting. Plain gray walls. Gray carpet. Orange plastic chairs. I scribbled my name on the sign-in sheet. Chris and I sat down together. We did not look at each other. We did not hold hands. There was a young couple sitting to my left, a pair of teenagers. She had been crying. He looked afraid, bewildered.

The room was still and quiet. The receptionist worked busily behind her bullet-proof glass window.

My name was called. I don’t remember if Chris came back to the examine room with me, but he probably did. I don’t remember what the nurse looked like. The doctor was a woman. She had brown hair styled in a bob and glasses.

I won’t demonize this woman. I have no idea if she performed abortions then or if she performs them now. I’m not saying that she was right or that the organization she chose to work for is right. But she was kind to me. I told her what had happened, what I was there for. She did not pressure me to do anything. She listened to me and gave me my options: Emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill, not the abortion pill) or wait and see.

She told me that the “morning after” pill wouldn’t stop the process if a fertilized egg had already implanted into my uterus, but it would prevent fertilization and implantation from happening if it hadn’t yet occurred. She told me that I should probably go to the store and get some motion sickness medicine as the high-dose hormone pill might make me nauseated. She instructed me how to take the pill, showed me some information about it and put everything in a brown paper bag. It was my choice whether or not to take the pill (I didn’t have to take it in the exam room, in front of her), but I did need to make my decision within a couple of hours.

We went back to the car, still in silence.

I took the pill.

We stopped at Wal-Mart for motion sickness medicine, which I also took.

I will never forget that October day. It is a moment that I have long wrestled with.

When I was in therapy, my counselor and I discussed this at length. In addition to being a very wise and godly woman, she was also a registered nurse. She knew the reproductive system backward and forward. She explained to me that, since I did not ultimately go through a pregnancy, that the “morning after” pill did its job. It functioned just like taking a birth control pill on a daily basis does. I did not have an abortion, because there was no baby.

I understand that. I accept that.

Nevertheless, I also know what my motivation was. I know the intentions of my heart. I did not want to be pregnant. I did not want a baby to “mess with” my plans. I was afraid of being judged by my family, my friends, my church. Chris and I were dealing with some other very difficult and heavy things, and I did not want to have a baby on top of that.

It was a completely selfish decision.

As I said above, I am not one who believes that using birth control is wrong. While I would much rather see people, especially young people, embrace the safe and beautiful sexual ethic laid out by God, I know that everyone is free to make their own choices. If people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage, I would rather they use contraception than have abortions or abandon more children to a broken foster care and adoption system. Within marriage, family size and the spacing of children, or choosing to not have children, is between the couple and God. Scripture says that children are a blessing, but there’s nothing there that says they are a requirement.  So the “morning after” pill itself is not the problem, and I unequivocally support its use in cases of rape or incest.

The problem arises when a woman like me uses it out of fear and selfishness.

I also have a great deal of compassion for that woman, and won’t throw stones.

I don’t have that right.

Nor do I have the right to condemn a woman who has had an abortion, because that was the intention of my heart. I determined to end the life of the baby that we might have conceived. That’s the cold, stark truth of it.

It was fear that motivated me to go to Planned Parenthood, and fear that has kept me silent. I’ve seen the reactions when women share their stories. I’ve read the comments, heard the words. I know just how nasty people can be. And there’s no need for it. No excuse.

In this highly polarizing arena, the Church needs to get better at extending grace to women like me. We need to explain and live out the fact that there is nothing that God won’t forgive if we but ask in humility and repentance. When we talk about abortion, we need to remember that there are people in the room who walk through their days with this burden on their shoulders. Yes, let’s be truthful. But let’s not forget love. Let’s not forget that we, too, are sinners, even if this not our sin.

A “pro-life” culture cannot focus on birth alone. A “pro-life” culture must be one whose members come alongside single parents. Who adamantly refuse to be nasty. Who offer rides to doctor’s appointments, provide job references, give money, throw baby showers, offer to babysit and just, you know, practice that whole kindness thing. Be the support system so desperately needed.

I am so grateful to God. More and more I understand how wretched I am. More and more I am amazed at the marvelous gift of salvation. He justifies and sanctifies me. I can do neither of my own volition.

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

“I [Jesus] say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:36-39, 47-48 (NKJV)

The grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. – 1 Timothy 1:14-15 (NKJV)

My journey to faith. (15)