Saturday, May 19, 2012

Celebrating Our Choices

I preached this sermon last Sunday, May 13, 2012 on Mother's Day.
The text for the sermon is Marge Piercy's poem "Sabbath of Mutual Respect"

“Praise our choices Sisters!”  There is not a lot of praise going on these days around the questions of women and choice.  In fact choice is pitted against life – you are either pro-choice or pro-life – one cannot be both.  Yet to live is to make choices every day, every day we choose whether to bless the world or not.
This year in particular much debate has been ranging about women and motherhood – not just about abortion but also contraception, working mothers versus stay at home mothers.  Women who have spoken up for reproductive freedom have been vilified as sluts, as selfish and unnatural.  We have seen “personhood bills” seeking to give full rights of “personhood” to fetuses while ignoring the personhood of the women whose bodies carry them.

Marge Piercy’s poem calls us into the sacredness of our choices – those lives we have chosen and those we have not.  She calls on us to remember the lineage of women who have literally put their bodies on the line so that others would not have to.  Yet generation after generation seems to have to rise up again, speak up again.

As I reflected on this sermon and what I wanted to say, I have to say I continue to be shocked that in 2012 we are still arguing about such basic things like contraception, the right of people to decide the size of their families or whether to have children at all.  As a former Roman Catholic , I continue to just be so deeply saddened that the litmus test for being a good Catholic is not about bringing a message of God’s love to the world, feeding the hungry, making the world a more just place, but rather an obsession on whether or not one is using contraception, same sex couples getting married, abortion and women’s rights.  It sadness me because that is not the best of what the Catholic church taught me – the best of what it taught me is that God longs for loving relationship with each of us, that the measure of our lives is how much of that love we manifest in the world. I was taught that there was nothing Jesus did that I could not do and that God needed my hands and feet in the world. Yet the measure of being a “good Catholic” is whether or not you agree with the Vatican’s teachings on birth control, abortion and sexuality.  No matter how much a group or an individual may embrace the Church’s social justice teachings – on war, poverty, labor, the death penalty - if a group or leader is not speaking out on these narrow issues than they are not good Catholics.

What disturbs me most deeply is that the Catholic church and other conservative Christian churches seem to have staked the moral, religious voice on these issues. Once again, those are who are pro-choice, pro LGBTQ rights, do not seem to have a religious voice in the public square.   The case is made on a rights basis – not on holy sacred ground.  Yet I want to say with Marge Piercy – our choices are sacred. She writes “To bear children or not to bear by choice is holy.” It is holy...just sit with that for a moment.

How might our public debate change if we, who support women and their choices, spoke out that our choices are sacred, are holy.  Imagine just for a moment that we saw choice making as a sacred, holy act and in our public square said that our laws, must support the holiness and sacredness of choice.

As Piercy points out that the freedom to choose is not just about laws and policies. It is also about a freedom from poverty, fear or hunger.  I wonder how many women today are truly choosing from a place of freedom and abundance.  How many cannot prevent pregnancy because they cannot afford or do not have access to contraception?  What about those who are living in fear of a partner or spouse who does not want them to use contraception – who takes away the freedom of choice as part of their power over their partner?  What about those women who choose to end a pregnancy because they know they cannot afford to bring a child into the world?  Is this truly choice?

Piercy also reminds us that our diversity choices is a good and sacred thing. She reminds us to praise the lives we did not choose.   In our public discourse it is said one is either pro-life or pro-choice.  I reject that. I am both pro-choice and pro-life.  I have been blessed in my life to be able to choose to bring an amazing daughter into this world –  Donna and I made that choice and that choice was a choice for life. Yet there are those who have said that I should not have that choice; that my beautiful daughter should not be here because her parents are two moms.  My cousin chose not to have any children and there are those that would either pity her or condemn her as selfish. Natalie shared with us this morning about the choice to have a third child.  Do any of these choices diminish the others?    Do we need everyone to make the same choices we have made in order to validate us, to assure us that we did or are doing the right thing?

This debate over choice extends then to how children should be raised.  Once again we see the debates pitting one over the other.  So either we are practicing attachment parenting or free range.  Each camp has its strident adherents – condemning those who do not practice their way of parenting.  At the heart of parenting, one might say the heart of living, is doing one’s best to make the best choices one can in the day to day.   All of us will do so imperfectly.  At our best we learn from our mistakes and begin again.  As Natalie shared parenting is hard work and messy and some days we will do it better than others.

Of course our ability to choose is not absolute.  As James Luther Adams reminds we are both fated and free.  Our ability to choose is shaped not just by our own desire and reason, it is  shaped by time, place and others around us.  We are not simply rational individuals making choices in a vacuum.  We are connected people shaped by the past and present, by our connections and relationships.  It is also true that no matter how much we may want or choose a particular thing, we may not be able to achieve it. The myth of America of course is that with enough hard work, each of us can do anything. This weekend at commencement addresses all over the country, young people will be told that they can achieve anything they set their minds too. This is simply not the case.

In talking about women and choices, we must also remember all those who women who long to be pregnant, to raise a child and cannot. They cannot for any number of reasons – they are infertile, they cannot afford it, they are not mentally or physically capable of raising a child, they are incarcerated.  We remember women who have suffered a miscarriage or still birth.  We remember women both in our own country and around the world, who die in childbirth.  In 2012 it is still the fact that 350,000 women and girls die every year as a result of preventable pregnancy and childbirth complications.  It seems to me that these lives are lost in the midst of our debates.  They are the silent victims – lost amidst the arguments.

Today we honor and celebrate our mothers, those who at their best are “the ones that love us best of all” as Max says in Where the Wild Things Are.  The ones who get mad and call their children “wild things”; who send their children to bed without dinner and then bring it in and “it is still hot.”  In the midst of our celebrating – whether we are going to brunch, video calling, or grieving our mothers and grandmothers who have passed – let us honor their choices.  Let us honor mothers today with a pledge to make create a world where “Habondia, the real abundance, the power to say yes and to say no, to open and to close, to take or to leave” exists for every person. May we work for a world where each child comes into this world to find a home filled with love – whether that home is with a mother and father, or two mothers or two fathers or a single parent; whether that child finds a home with the one who gave birth or one who adopts. Let us celebrate the women who choose not to be mothers – who nurture the next generation by being fabulous aunts, mentors, coaches and friends.  Let us honor all the ways of parenting – knowing that at the heart of the role of parent is to love – fiercely and tenderly.   May we rise up and praise our choices!