Tisby on the “safe” social justice issue of abortion

Abortion is the “safe” evangelical social justice issue

There is a costliness to pursuing justice.

Number one, abortion may or may not ever personally affect you. Obviously its a possibility for any family. Its always on the table there, but if your family hasn’t gone though it or if you’re not a woman there’s only so close that this issue is going to get to you. You can speak about it abstractly. You can speak about it philosophically and never have encountered it in a personal way that affects your heart personally.

The other thing is its not even financially costly for most people. You can be staunchly pro-life in the sense of wanting to overturn Roe-v-Wade at best you donate money to a charity or cause you believe in. But seeing this change occur is not going to change your lifestyle in any significant way; certainly not in terms of material comfort. So that’s a lot easier to get behind than something like refusing to go to speaking engagements that don’t feature women or people of color, or talking about reparations and what that might look like in terms of a church or a nation and how that might cause us to sacrifice financially.

You can publicly posture about this really well. You can post on social media, you can write articles, you can preach sermons, and its really good optics to make you look righteous. But you don”t even necessarily have to really mean it.  Because you can talk about all of this stuff and it doesn’t have to—it can, but it doesn’t have to—require much personal sacrifice

Lastly, and I think this is what’s most insidious, really about any justice issue, but particularly about this is you can sort of publicly posture but secretly support abortion. Because when it comes to your family or when it’s you, you can say “ok, this is the best decision for me or my loved one” you will never know the number specifically but its not zero.

I’m talking about people who will publicly posture like they’re so pro-life and staunchly for having babies in basically any situation but then when it actually hits your family and your situation and your network then suddenly you take another tac. So that bugs me about the whole thing.

[Individual decisions and morality vs systemic situations a decision that happens in a vacuum]

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Hot Breath: One

New Poem. Not as successful as I want. I have various ideas for different takes on ‘hot breath’ but these were what I came up with. Its kinda a downer, sneaking up on you

Cold air and crisp day cavort
While hot breath hot breath hot breath
Arises as a blast of cloudy life,
A column ascends of vanishing breath
Blown bold, cavorts, dissipates as vapor into
Crisp air and cold day

Haling out, haling in, heading home

This cold night, panes rattle in wind
by the warm bed
Hot breath exhales, inhales
Throat breathes craving to throat:
On the neck hot breath,
On the shoulder hot breath,
The thigh, warm
Invisibility mingling with the glow of shining warm skin
In darkness panting rapid rapid
Hot breath

*  *  *

The dream dissipates. A CPAP blows cold damp.

My dry tongue can’t pant
With a high pressure hose
Forcing air at my face

My masked self is kept from dying a thousand petty deaths

My masked flesh lives, as it were, were it not self-strangling.
Hot breath breathes, elusively asleep, alive and masked between two faces faced away

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Out of Revolution: 1. Post-War Preface

eugen_rosenstock-huessyI began reading Out of Revolution without much awareness of its context or why Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey (after, ERH) was motivated to write it. As I realized ERH is writing soon after his leaving Nazi Germany for America, and is looking at a post-war world from the perspective of his own time, but a pre-war time from the perspective of hindsight, knowing that world conflagrations was around the corner for him, provide a sense of foreboding as well as sympathy. And it means I have to be careful when I read him say, in chapter 2, that the time of national war is over. He is specifying that no one nation will go to war with another nation. And in fact, that is the case.

Chapter one begins as I cited in my earlier post “Our passions give life to the world, our collective passions constitute the history of mankind.” That is to say, for a collective action like war or co-operation, a particular human passion must be highlighted that there is unanimity and coherence to human action. We won’t get together unless there is a collective passion impelling us. ERH goes on to say that the differing passions stimulated in different societies produce different kinds of people.

ERH says you might think that every kind of passion and belief is being tried and abandoned, if we look at history in the near and far. But his book will actually make a different claim, that the next passion of a society is a logical outflow of the passion that is waning or loosing its hold. ERH is very aphoristic in this chapter, and loves analogies to love and marriage

“The heart of man either falls in love with somebody or something, or it falls ill”

“When and were we love or fear, we are willing to pay”

ERH explains that the idea of the book  comes out of his (and others) experiences of the trenches of WWI. The experience is his motivation for founding a new future for Europe, and to “provide a new history for mankind.” The Great War, for ERH can’t just be fit into the history of man’s wars, as a sequel to the Napoleonic Wars. Instead, it changes how we understand that past history because a new future comes from it. “A new love, a new home, a new conviction” changes our regard for our past.

ERH allows that persons might quibble with some aspects of this revision of the past, but its impossible to truly find a stance from which the World War is not a new epoch. All contemporaries will agree with his stance: all who do not, reveal themselves to not even be contemporaries. ERH admits that ‘to the people at home’ the war could be a different thing than to the soldiers, but

…all these niceties of a spectacular world history have lost their meaning since the solidarity of twenty million men has nailed all the surviving soldiers to the same cross of reality. The world’s history is our own history

ERH comes then, to the subtitle of Out of Revolution: “An Autobiography of Western Man”. In reading the current moment as a central date that changes the past, he says we will center equally on the future, the present and the past (and ERH will set WWI in the context of the last 1000 years of European history. As a side note, the methodology seems reminiscent of what is called ‘whiggish history’ where ever-greater freedom naturally arises. I think ERH instead sees constant revolutions occurring that provide changes, but it may not be as if the goal is knowable)

In a typical ERH move, he puts forth the idea of a calendar and holiday as reflecting the epochal changes of a society. Marking a new holiday is a political act, always, and ERH will pay attention is his history to such holidays both secular and churchly. Rather than retreat into abstract ideas or statistics, ERH will focus on events that have marked “more than one generation,” and in the quote below, expounds on why:

Guy Fawke’s Day, the Wedding of Figaro, a holiday like All Souls’, and the sun-song of St. Francis are better illustrations of history than our reasoning. I have tried as much as I could to let them speak for themselves. Every human being is endowed with the wonderful gift of speech. He can express his own secret better than anybody else. We rarely reveal our true selves in the market place of life. Words often seem to be made to hide our thoughts. But the more we try to avoid emphasis or even truth in our speech, the more the few moments stand out in which language has the full weight of self-expression. A bride speaking her decisive “Yes” or “No” before the altar uses speech in its old sense of revelation, because her answer establishes a new identity between two separate offsprings of the race and may found a new race, a new nation. We are so dull that we rarely realize how much history lies hidden in marriage, and how the one word spoken by the bride makes all the difference between cattle-raising and a nation’s good breeding.

(I include this extended section because it exemplifies ERH’s writings and interests in speech and its relation to new beginnings for history, as the coming together through fruitful marriage)

ERH spends the rest of the preface laying out two sections of his work. He distinguishes the American revolution from the French and Russian, German and English secular revolutions made by the ‘temporal power’ He is going to cover 900 years of history as “a very short story” of “not more than twenty-seven generations”

He invites the reader to collaborate, to add what he knows of French or Italian history to “round out our draft”. He says he is slow of thought, with only one big idea, and and his slowness means that the last 20 years of time have brought changes faster than he can manage. He is aware of this crime in pointing back at the war, but he will ‘boast of his sins” nonetheless.

A last quote

My predecessors in the field of political thought have poured the strong wine of progress into the water of human traditions, lest their generation miss its opportunities. I wish to pour the water of patience into the strong wine of revolutionary excitement, so that my contemporaries may not waste their time in feverish and fruitless efforts.



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Blogging Out of Revolution

“Our passions give life to the world, our collective passions constitute the history of mankind”

out_of_revolutionThe quote above begins Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey’s mammoth “Autobiography of western man” Out of Revolution. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for about 10 years since my interest in Rosenstock-Hussey (hereafter, ERH) was piqued and I picked up a number of books. I’ve read his shorter works, “Speech and Reality” and (another one whose name escapes me). What I believed about the book, Out of Revolution, coming to it cold was that this was a book where ERH gave a historical overview of revolutionary periods of western history, including the French and Russian, coming at them as someone who doesn’t think the idea of “revolutions as such” were all necessarily bad. Since ERH was a professing Christian, and my understanding of him was mediated though conservative appreciation,  I wondered how he would possibly square that circle.

Since we now live in “interesting times” politically, I was moved to get this nearly 800 page monstrosity down from my shelf and take it and read. Were I reading it on Kindle, I’d highlight and share, and my impure thoughts and mental experiences would be transmitted—and stored—lest I die. Since starting I realize if i’m going to share this socially, I need to blog. I like blogging. As my friend Alastair has discovered, long form writing and slower thinking is an important discipline against some of the hazards of more immediate social media.

I hope to so at least one summary of each chapter, supplemented with quotations from ERH, hopefully one chapter each week. ERH writes in a very readable style, and has a tendency to generate aphoristic and quotable sections with great frequency.

Who was Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey? A Jewish convert to Christianity, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 to come to America. He was an academic professor at Harvard and Dartmouth. A man with great interest in speech, speakers, and the spoken-to, and how these categories are crucial to understanding society and the problems of society. He was friend and correspondent of Jewish theologian and philosopher Franz Rosenzweig. He gave FDR the basic idea for the Peace Corps. By opening the book I learned he served in the First World War as an officer, stationed for 18 months at Verdun. (wikipedia tells me “During this period he organized courses for the troops, replacing the limited instruction in patriotism with broader topics.” I am not really surprised)

Out of Revolution first three chapters form a general preface to the main body of the work. Here he lays out a general preface of how WWI has changed Europe, and warfare in Europe in a way that has made old war obsolete, and he describes the stakes that the world is dealing with with these changes.

The meat of the book is divided into two major parts. The first covers the history and social philosophy behind the Russian and French Revolutions, as well as revolution in England and Germany. Part II is titled “From the Roman Empire to America: The Clerical Revolutions”. Lastly is an epilogue.


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Response to Mika Edmondson

Mika Edmondson writes a well written and moving post on Black Lives Matter for TGC. Below is a response I sent to the comments.

Thank you for this. As a Presbyterian, I take to heart your exhortations from the Catechism, and agree with them. And arguing that way is sadly something that there is less of in Presbyterianism than there ought to be.

On the other hand, I can’t escape what my own ‘careful study’ brings me to. And people may arrive at different conclusions after careful study, or the results may still be disputable. I recall an argument in my OPC Sunday School over whether motorcycle driving violated the 6th commandment. Clearly they are riskier than cars. The owners of motorcycles in our congregation seemed disturbed that this was even a debate. Clearly matters of criminal and civil justice are more weighty though.

My ‘knee jerk” reaction, if I can even call it that, to my awareness of the news of Trayvon Martin’s killing were actually towards solidarity, and that this perhaps would be good evidence that a seemingly well intentioned law like Stand Your Ground was actually causing mayhem. To imagine a man killed for carrying skittles and tea, as it was framed heavily with activists for Martin displaying skittles and tea far and wide.

I stayed aware of the case, and followed discussions from both advocates for Martin and detractors. I wanted ‘solidarity’ with the oppressed to give me the right answer, as was implied by the advocates of solidarity. But I could not shake the turn, what was eventually found to be the case at the trial: that Zimmerman’s use of force was justified. Martin’s death remains tragic, and mournable, and mourned though. Is that wildly inconsistent? Have I not studied enough? Have I put aside my ‘passions’ sufficiently? Perhaps I have, particularly a passion for solidarity.

I have differing reactions to different cases: Rice and Garner are very sad and unjust cases. I want police to be held accountable. Brown? perhaps not.

I’m moved by your remarks about the risks you face going to Walmart at night. But I wonder how one might go about evaluating and deciding (what careful study) would be required to determine if your evaluation of your risk is accurate. My wife often perceives risks at a higher threshold that i do. Sometimes she’s right. sometimes she’s amazingly off-kilter. Her situation may have something to do with it: she knew a kid growing up who drowned. Her evaluation of hazards relating to water is shaped by her experiences, but even she would admit it doesn’t give her special insight into the actual level of risk she faces.

This is not to undermine or dismiss your point. I would guess your evaluation of risk is accurate. But careful study may lead to different conclusions. What then?

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POEM: Fungal Females

The mushrooms of Plath
Push out from the lath
Emerge from domestic walls
And trouble the mighty in halls
Of power

The fungi of Dickinson
Amuse and tickle some.
But the fairly odd plant
She describes in her chant
As a creature unloved and unwanted
By Nature — and nature’s God —
In whose presence she’s eerily haunted.

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POEM: Tomorrow’s Work Undone

I. Tomorrow’s Work Undone

Over Appalachian hills of devonian coal

     Spread glowing beams of dusklight,

A fading glow on the half-harvested valley,

     Westward light lingers.

Her fingers ache; her hands leave work


She returns home for the night.


Anna drifts in dreams to the sheep:

     rams, ewes, lambs long grown

past shearing days and rooing times;

     Dreams to a young son’s spring sadness

The town boys taking, cutting short

     his lamb’s life, rocks mocking

Stones of wanton wreckage.

     It was slain down by the old foundation

Behind the new school.


Awoken, alone, Anna rises in darkness,

     halts past her sleeping child’s room

And passes to the porch and outside under

     A black sky aglow with stars

Spread as bright seed in firm earth.


How long,

     How long this night?

Fast fallen now,

     or are these deeper middle hours,

     or will an unseen horizon

Promise dawn?


II. On a Day after Tomorrow.


We walk together through

Fruits strewn on the orchard floor,

Autumn flesh split open

     Revealing the seed reserved

     For days yet to come

But I see the tree with one

     Left aloft and pick it for Anna

     since it is for the present time.


Stand again

     Axe-felled trees

Lift up again,

     age-worn mountains laid low,

Sprout again,

     fruitful grains of frost-burned wheat

Rise again,

     you who lie in the dust of the death.

Rise, for your maker is risen again.

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