Shadow on the Faces

  • Posted: December 14, 2020
  • Category: Blog
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A lifetime spent building things bends the arc of one’s existence in the direction of dissension and contention, the grip of entropy on existence. As the years of life’s trajectory mount, they bring with them the realization of consequences, action and reaction, the price that must be paid. As young men, we are a cavalry charge into the ordered ranks of existing convention. We glory in our youthful pride, flouting the status quo while ignoring the warnings of elders.

As we age, we inevitably assume responsibility for others, otherwise we are breaking wind upon the earth, an unpleasant smell in the nose of our fellows and of our God. As our burdens weigh ever heavier upon us, the exuberance of our charge upon life flags. The wounds from our brushes against unyielding reality, wounds that were mere trifles in youth now ache in the night and debilitate in the day.

We are scarred, or worse, with all this thrashing about in the thickets of a life lived. But if we aspire to wisdom, these scars are not ugly, but trophies in a display case of lessons learned. And yet as the scars multiply, wisdom continues elusive. She is here, now and again, but when most needed – a faint whisper echoing in the attics of our mind.

But though concrete answers remain a chimera, we find certain pathways worth following, much like deer trails in the forest. One pathway, difficult to follow but trustworthy, is a willingness to face facts. Engaging in wishful thinking is nearly always a bad idea. Even though its comfort is much preferred to the stark landscape painted by bleak facts.

Following the trail of hard facts through the forest of uncertainty, one sometimes comes upon a clearing, an epiphany if you will. Winding my difficult and saddened way through the last two decades of treed thickets, I came upon that clearing, that epiphany, last Nov. 3.

The main event featured two old men, neither a model for any but the most dissolute scoundrel, faced off for the opportunity to lead our nation.  But it was not the main event that brought with it the sudden clarity of our times, at least for me.

Colorado is a state amenable to direct democracy. We regularly put propositions before our voters, unchaining the hoi pollo, as did the ancient Athenians. And as the Athenians, we have found direct democracy chiefly useful in inflaming the excitable among us.

This year, we had one proposition among many, Proposition 115, which would prohibit late term abortions, i.e. after 22 weeks. Doctors performing such abortions would be fined $ 500 and charged with a misdemeanor. The dismissive mother would neither be fined or charged. Exceeding the speed limit in a construction zone would seem to have carried harsher penalties than Prop 115 proposed for unlawful abortions.

All in all, Proposition 115 seemed a reasonable compromise between extreme positions. Life puts many young women in difficult circumstances, circumstances that break one’s heart.  But waiting through nearly six months of pregnancy seems more than a little irresponsible and/or feckless. Even so, the proposition specifically directed that no penalty was to accrue to the mother for her decision.

Yet 1,859,479 Colorado voters said no, this shall not be. There will be no encumbrances on the sacred Right To Choose, i.e. abortion. The vote was not even close, with nearly 60% of voters saying no limitation on abortion would be tolerated. A line was drawn in the sand, shades of William Barrett Travis.

It is very hard for me to make peace with that fact. Yet that fact must be faced if we are to face facts. The penumbras of emanations must also be taken into account. We in the Land of the Adorables vaunt our all-consuming passion for the welfare for our children, their safety a precious thing that must not yield to considerations of cost, of convenience or even of law. Yet Moloch is everywhere among us, putting the lie to our pretensions.

What do we say to ourselves about such a foul stench? Political campaigns are grown to bloom in the media, heavily manured by money. Proposition 115 was no exception. Nearly $ 600,000 was spent to support the proposition limiting late term abortions with The Catholic Church being the largest donor. Planned Parenthood spearheaded the successful campaign against the proposition, funded at $ 9.5 million.

A penumbra of an emanation. The people trying to limit the abortion of near full term babies were outspent by nearly 15 to 1. That staggers me. I have long since abandoned the idea that serious money in political campaigns is altruism, but is the business of abortion that lucrative? Does Planned Parenthood make that much money from selling fetal tissue (Revenues of $ 1.7 billion in 2019)?

One has become suspicious of statistics on abortion, among many other subjects. The craftsmen of spin, such as my State Representative Lisa Cutter, have grown rich and powerful on their artistry with facts, numbers and that most reliable of news items, statistics. But the Charlotte Lozier Institute does attempt to piece together truth from the muck. They report 171 abortions of Colorado babies at 21 weeks or later in 2019.

It is at such times Jackson Browne’s old song, “Lives in the Balance”, becomes an earworm, playing over and over and over in my head:

“There’s a shadow on the faces

Of the men who fan the flames

I want to know who the men in the shadows are

I want to hear someone asking them why

And there are lives in the balance

There are people under fire

There are children at the cannons

And there is blood on the wire”

The music, the lyrics, they feed my anger. I play it over and over down in my shop. There are the men – and the women – in the shadows, fanning the flames, there always are. As Jackson Browne notes, “they are not the ones to fight or to die”.  They are simply the ones who “sell us our clothes and our cars”. They have interests, business or political or ideological, which must be served.

But what about the point of the spear, the men and the women with red blood on their surgical gloves. What does it take to do the killing? What does it do to your soul to pull the broken body of a baby from its womb? As Neil Young, a contemporary of Jackson Browne, put it so eloquently in “Rockin’ In The Free World”:

“There’s one more kid

That will never go to school

Never get to fall in love,

Never get to be cool”

It is said that sometimes in spite of the doctor’s best efforts to kill him or her in the womb, the baby is born alive. I can remember an incident back in my hunting days, of looking into the soft brown eyes of a dying deer as I cut its throat, a memory as fresh as the day it was made. What do those doctors and nurses see at night in their dreams? No matter their reasons, my heart is heavy for them.

The vote on Proposition 115 forces me to face the fact that I can no longer pretend this to be the country I grew up in. Of course the Covid pandemic has unmistakably shown our national anthem to be a fantasy. “Home of the brave and land of the free” – indeed? Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris? Does it matter? When a society enthusiastically endorses the right of the powerful to do as they will to the weak and innocent, who or what is safe? “Ask not for who the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

To pretend the decision to abort a simple one is to live in an echo chamber of comforting fables. My lifetime has seen one guardrail after another dismantled in the name of ensuring young women’s “equality”. Life as it is lived can force cruel choices. What about the mother’s health? What about rape and incest? What about severe deformity or cruel genetic mutation?

But as difficult as the circumstances surrounding abortion are, much more difficult decisions lie ahead of us. The ability of man to slice and dice our genes, the tolerance of our citizens for the willful redrafting and reformulating of basic biology added to the money to be made catering to the fashions of the prosperous and the needs of the powerful hint at a frightening future.

Will we even be able to agree on what it means to be human? Facing the facts of Proposition 115, we must conclude that the people we live in and among, including ourselves, no longer believe that each human being is made in God’s image. And if we are not in God’s image, then we are nothing more than meat on the counter.

As the pandemic has unmistakably shown, facing facts once more, our churches have no voice in formulating public policies. Sadly, they are not only resigned to this, but appear more than comfortable with retreat from the thrust and parry of cultural conflict, seeking only pastoral quietude. As the Church has lost its voice, we are left to make judgments about these truly frightening prospects on our own. Science and Commerce will be guided by the fashionable theologies now being formulated in the faculty lounges of our progressive education establishment.

And what is to be said of our churches in Colorado? How many of those 1,859,479 people voting against Prop 115 were “good Christians”? I do not presume to know God’s thoughts on abortion, but I believe Scripture provides guidance worth listening to. I also believe it is the clear duty of those entrusted with platforms from which to publicly speak and teach to actually do so.

As individuals, we are responsible for our own decisions. But we are also called to listen to advice, to seek wise council. I believe that it is the clear duty of those entrusted with leadership of the flock, to speak and teach to provide that advice and wise council.  My experience of the churches in my area has been disheartening. With lives in the balance, we have spent our time and influence providing comfort for the anxieties of the comfortable and prosperous instead of thoughtful teaching on how we are to live in a changing world.

But that is the epiphany. The facts are – we, in Colorado at least, are what Prop 115 revealed us to be. To pretend otherwise is foolishness. My prayer is that we might follow in the footsteps of King David, who also ordered the death of an innocent. When the prophet Nathan called him to account, he repented. In his pain, David wrote Psalm 51, a guide for our own repentance.

“Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

The God of my salvation

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and contrite heart

These O God, You will not despise”



2 Responses to “Shadow on the Faces”

  1. jeff esbenshade says:

    “The body count” Living in a fraternity house in the 1960’s all of members would
    be in the TV room watching 6:00 PM news waiting for the dinner bell to ring. We
    waited for the number of Americans and Vietcong killed that day in Vietnam.

    All 50 states post how many people are killed in car accidents in a given year in each state.

    CNN posts in big yellow numbers,the number of COVID 19 cases and the number of deaths in the USA each day.

    If some media outlet would post the number of babies killed each day, maybe Prop
    115 would become law.

    • Judy Hoxworth says:

      Why has no one ever done that…even conservative radio! I’ll bet there would be a big fact check on that attempt!

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