Exit 237. The first step in trying to change the world.

I’ve generally stayed away from controversial topics on this blog.  Today’s post is an exception. I might lose friends over this. I’m prepared for that.  The views herein are mine and do not reflect that of any organization that I am part of or any colleagues or associates of mine.

I recently saw the movie Unplanned.  I went by myself, because I knew a lot of my friends wouldn’t want to see this movie, and also because I felt like this was a story I needed to see by myself.  The movie is based on a true story, and the nonfiction memoir of the same title. The movie is the story of Abby Johnson, the former director of an abortion clinic in Texas who had a change of heart and became an anti-abortion pro-life activist.  Unsurprisingly, the movie has received mostly negative reviews from professional critics, effectively calling it a poorly done right-wing propaganda piece. There has also been a bit of a media blackout of this movie; several major television networks have refused to air advertisements for the movie, because of its sensitive subject matter.  The MPAA gave the movie an R rating, despite the lack of any profanity or nudity, preventing many of the scared pregnant teens who need to know that there are other options for them besides abortion from seeing the movie at all.  In many states, these same scared pregnant teens can get an abortion without parental consent or notification.

To be honest, some of the above is valid, to some extent.  You can tell that this is a low-budget film. And, although I’m not an expert on criteria for movie ratings, the R rating does seem a bit justified because of a few scenes with a lot of blood.  I suspect that, in the case of most people watching this movie, it is doing a lot of preaching to the choir. Those who do not believe that abortion is morally wrong are the ones dismissing this movie as propaganda.  But to me, it is a powerful story that needs to be told, a story of love and redemption and the consequences of our choices.

I believe that abortion is wrong.  The Bible is clear that all human life is precious to the God who created us, even before birth.   I believe that God gave us sex to create life, and as part of the intimate lifelong bond between a husband and wife, and that anyone who is not at least willing to accept the possibility of bringing a child into the world should be taking responsibility for that.  If birth control doesn’t work, the responsible thing to do is to accept the consequences and not end the life of a child for the sake of your own convenience.  Many people out there would be willing to adopt a child and give it a good home.  And I am not disqualified from having an opinion about abortion because I am a man. You can have an opinion about slavery in the USA even if you didn’t live in the South before 1860, for example.  You don’t have to be directly affected by injustice to stand up for it.  And my opposition to abortion has nothing to do with oppressing women. Women have the unique gift of being able to bear children and bring new life into the world. But this gift of creating life is not to be taken lightly. With great power comes great responsibility (Benjamin Parker was right), and both parties involved, the man and the woman, have a great responsibility to use this gift wisely.  I know that this is considered a very extreme viewpoint in this culture, but Jesus didn’t say we would exactly be popular in the world.

I also believe that one can make a secular argument against abortion.  Fertilized eggs, embryos, and feti are all distinct beings with different DNA than either parent, so these have as much value as any other human life.  It is not part of either parent’s body, it is a separate life that has value, so abortion takes a life, which can only be justified if one is willing to accept situations like slavery in which some human lives are more valuable than others.  And abortion is not essential health care. Essential health care makes the body act the way it is designed to when it is not doing so. Abortion is exactly the opposite: the bodies of a pregnant woman and a developing fetus are doing exactly what they are designed to, and abortion prevents this from happening.

Okay… now hold that thought.  The night before I saw the movie, I shared an article from the Babylon Bee (a satire site) referencing the accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his habit of smelling women’s hair without their consent.  Someone commented on my post; I knew this guy a long time ago, and he has changed quite a bit in the time since he was in my primary social circle. Pretty much all of our interactions these days are him making some kind of smug disparaging comment on anything even remotely political than I share.  This time it was something to the effect that Donald Trump has said and done much worse than this. I said that it was a straw man argument, because Trump’s misdeeds don’t make Biden’s acceptable, and that he was assuming incorrectly that I was a Trump supporter. That led to a discussion, mostly angry and defensive on my part, in which he accused me of being divisive by spreading one-sided political posts, and thus that I have no right to complain about society being so divided.

He kind of does have a point here.  Even though I didn’t vote for Trump, I haven’t shared things critical of his administration, mostly because the things the Democrats are saying are far more disagreeable and sometimes terrifying to me.  And he calls it being divisive, but I call it telling the truth, and the truth hurts sometimes.

Back to Unplanned.  (Stop reading if you don’t want any plot details spoiled.  Then come back to this post after you’ve seen the movie.) A group of pro-lifers regularly stands outside of the clinic to pray; the movie particularly focuses on one of them, Marilisa, and the man that she eventually marries, Shawn.  What struck me the most about the movie was the way that Abby was generally cordial and friendly to Marilisa and Shawn, and they were cordial and friendly to her. Shawn and Marilisa didn’t scream at Abby and call her a baby killer, and Abby didn’t scream at them and call them sexist bigots or religious nuts.  And as a result, on the day that Abby decided to get out of the abortion industry, she had someone to turn to, and she immediately reached out to them.  (I’ve read that the events of that one day in the movie happened over the course of a couple of weeks in real life, but that doesn’t take away from my point.)  Also, along those lines, Abby’s family disapproved of her work, but they did not disown her, shun her, or continually berate her for it.  They loved her despite what she was doing.

And then it hit me.

This is what not being divisive truly looks like.

I have friends who have had abortions, and there are probably many more of them who have never told me that they have had abortions.  (And I don’t know if I want to know. I don’t want to be too sheltered from opposing views and lifestyles, but I also don’t like the thought that people I know have done this, and I don’t want my feelings about the subject to get in the way of us otherwise being friends.)  It’s really hard for me not to be divisive and accept this, given what I balieve about this. But thinking of these people as heartless baby killers and making derogatory comments about their sex lives isn’t going to change the world or do anything to make the rest of the world think differently of people like me.  Real life is far too complex for such simplistic responses, and women who have had abortions most likely went through a very difficult decision process. They are genuinely doing what they believe is best for everyone involved, as are many employees of abortion clinics.

I can say I’m not divisive all I want, but if I quietly stand by while others are expressing views and lifestyles differently from mine while inwardly calling them names in my head, then I’m certainly not doing anything to help or change the situation.  So, instead of getting angry at the way the world is, what I really need to be doing is seeking to understand why people believe differently from me, acknowledging that there are reasons for this, and caring for them as human beings.  Because understanding where others come from must be the first step in trying to change the world. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t come naturally, but it is what the world needs right now.

Exit 20. California knows how to party.

My home state turned 164 years old last week.  On September 9, 1850, the United States Congress admitted the State of California as the 31st state of the Union, as part of what is now known as the Compromise of 1850.  The bills were an effort to placate the pro- and anti-slavery camps in Congress, successfully delaying the US Civil War for another decade.  During the war with Mexico, American and European settlers discovered gold in California, and thousands from all over the world rushed into the territory that had been recently added to the US, prompting the need to organize a state government.

I’ve lived in California all my life.  If you want to get really technical, I spent two months doing an internship at a university in a neighboring state, and I spent some time traveling in which I didn’t set foot in California for almost four months, but I always kept a permanent address in California, so that doesn’t really count.  And in that time, I’ve grown to develop a love-hate relationship with my home state.

I love the geographical diversity and the scenery.  We have beaches, mountains, dry heat, snow, big cities, small towns, farms, deserts, forests, and pretty much anything you could imagine within weekend trip distance at the most.  I love the cultural diversity.  You find people from all over the world who bring their cultures (and their ethnic food) to California, as well as big city liberals, small town conservatives, suburban conservatives, small town working class liberals, rednecks, hippies, and just about every type of American subculture possible.  I love the weather.  Where I am, it’s mild in the winter but never too far from snow, and hot and dry in the summer but never too far from the cool coastal climate.

I hate the way that California is so divided.  So many Californians on both sides of the political spectrum carry an elitist attitude where those who don’t see the world their way are viewed as lower life forms.  I hate the way that the government is similarly divided in a way that makes the state ungovernable.  Either no one can agree enough to get anything passed, or one side will do something that the other side sees as imposing radical unworkable ideas on the rest of the state that doesn’t want them.  I hate the way that California is so crowded.  The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with population growth, and so many parts of the state, especially the more populated areas, are full of traffic with crowded schools and subdivisions taking good farmland out of production.  I hate the way that Californians can be self-centered in thinking that the world revolves around them.  Any time I hear Californians say that they don’t have an accent, I want to cringe, then make them listen to people who actually live in places other than California (or New York or London).  (Psst: “Cot” and “caught” aren’t supposed to be homophones.  They have different vowel sounds with different spellings.  We Californians pronounce them the same.  That’s an accent.  And don’t even get me started about people who pronounce “back” almost like “bock,” which by the way isn’t me.)  I hate the way that Californians jump on emotionally charged political bandwagons without thinking of the real consequences of their policies.  And I hate the way that so many other states see us as a laughingstock.  We really do deserve that reputation, because of the rest of the reasons in this paragraph.

Sometimes I fear for the future of my home.  Will we keep paving over everything until there is no open space left?  Will we run out of water?  Will our poor political decisions result in jobs leaving the state for more business friendly environments?  Will the nanny government tendencies continue to grow until one’s every move is scrutinized with freedoms continually eroding?  As I mentioned before, California statehood was born of a compromise between two very antagonistic factions in Congress.  This art of compromise seems completely lost in today’s government, both at the federal and state levels.  I wish it would come back.  I don’t want to see this state’s problems continue to go unsolved because two sides can’t agree, nor do I want to see either side destroy the state by imposing their will on an uncooperative populace.  Bringing together so many diverse populations within one state should involve give and take rather than so many disagreements.  Recently, a petition to divide California into six states failed to qualify for the ballot.  I had mixed feelings about it.  Part of me feels like I would have liked to be in a different state from San Francisco and Los Angeles, so that politicians from there with whom I disagree  wouldn’t be able to dictate what I do.  But like I said, I love the diversity of this state, and I would hate to see us admit that it doesn’t work… not to mention that any specific plan to divide California would come with so many kinks that it would probably get worse before it got better.

Despite all this, despite everything I don’t like about California, I can’t deny that California is in my blood.  That is why I chose a California highway sign for the logo of this blog, and the Bear Flag for the cover photo of the blog’s Facebook page.  California has always been a big part of who I am.  When I spent the four months on the road, I left thinking I was only coming back to California to get my stuff.  I ended up settling back here in Sacramento County (which, interestingly enough, borders two of the other three counties in which I had lived, including the one I was moving away from) because Sacramento is California’s happy medium.  It’s not as elitist as San Francisco, not as shallow as Los Angeles, and not as rural and provincial as much of the rest of inland California.  It’s just right for a guy like me, and it’s home now.  And in addition to all the things I like about it here, I’m also never too far from most of the rest of California.  Because, as Tupac and Dre said, California knows how to party.