Jonah had a really bad attitude. God gave him a job he didn’t want to do– the people of Nineveh weren’t worth his trouble–so he took off in the opposite direction, only to find himself stuck in the belly of a fish. When he proved indigestible (how lucky for him he was spit out near shore!), he did as he was told…but he did it with bad grace. The people of Nineveh repented, and God spared them.
Jonah should have been ecstatic. Who gets that kind of chance to change the world? Instead, he pouted because he thought God had made him look stupid. So he went into the desert to die. When his shade tree died, he threw a little hissy fit, and God said, “How can you get so upset over the death of this little plant, and simultaneously be completely insensitive to the deaths of the people of an entire city?”
This is the story our associate pastor told in the homily yesterday. It reminded me of a column from our diocesan newspaper this week, addressing the story about the Marines who urinated on the bodies of dead Taliban members. I won’t share it all because I don’t have permission, but this part really stopped me in my tracks:
“The irony is so great that we don’t get it. A sterile liquid produced by the kidney and streamed onto a cadaver is morally debated, but the hail of bullets that penetrated those bodies, making inanimate what was only minutes before a breathing, sentient being, does not enter the discourse. War gets reduced to an etiquette that shows more respect for the dead than the living.”
Christian and I spent Saturday morning at a training session to learn how to talk to parents receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome–part of our local effort to start a hospital visitation program. Right now, the presenter told us, most people are being “surprised in the delivery room.” But very soon the paradigm will shift to almost exclusively prenatal diagnoses, because of the new tests. She reiterated that the Down Syndrome Guild is “pro-information,” not “pro-life,” a position I have always thought was untenable–how can you advocate for people without taking a stand that they are inherently worth taking a stand for?
But as the morning progressed, I began to see the wisdom, or at least the necessity, of such a position. If we come out all guns blazing, laying down a blanket “law” via a prolife message, we will never get the opportunity to witness at all; people will never let us near them, because they will know that we are more about our soapbox than we are about helping them. The fact is that abortion is an option, whether we like it or not. If we hope to be credible witnesses, we have to acknowledge that, and say “Look, we know what you’ve heard about Down’s is scary. Here’s the part the doctors can’t tell you”–without trying to “guilt” people into proper behavior at a time when they’re wounded and bewildered. If we can’t do that, then we can’t be trusted to have a family’s best interest at heart, and we have no right to be doing this work at all.
Sometimes we get so focused on the unborn child that we forget the wounded parents before us. And that’s why I bring it up in connection with Jonah and the dead Taliban. We must respect the dignity of every person–even when they are considering an action we find morally reprehensible–even when the dignity of another life is at stake. The risk to the baby’s life does not negate our responsibility to respect the parent as well.
I don’t have my thoughts all in order on this topic yet; I can’t help feeling there are holes in my logic that I haven’t yet identified. So I’ll be interested to see your thoughts.