Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mourning George Tiller

[Creative Commons photo from graciepoo]

I'm coming to realize more and more how central food is connected to ritual. Beyond birthday cakes and insisting on ham for Christmas (back when I still ate ham), food is necessary for healing (soup, chocolate, tea), celebrating change (french toast for Obama's inauguration) and mourning. People just keep dying, you know? When I found out that my friend Brittney committed suicide I felt compelled to do something life-affirming, and nourishing my friends and and myself with pancakes fit the bill. And today, when the murder of Dr. George Tiller took on a new weight for me, I went to work whisking up hot cocoa on the stove.

The horror of Dr. Tiller's death grew throughout the day. When I first read about it here (CNN report), I was struck by the vulnerability of being shot while serving as an usher in a church. Then the anger started to simmer, anger towards people who turn to violence in word and deed instead of dialogue-- because shooting someone is somehow better than civil discourse, individuals conversations, and arguing in a court of law. A classmate commented on my facebook status that there were protesters outside of that church every Sunday. What? Did they ever attempt dialogue? And I was reminded of a shooting last summer in which two people were killed at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist congregation, which had just put up a sign inviting LGBTQ people to worship. This is not a good trend...

Following a link that a friend had posted deepened my anger and sadness. Both the language of some of the commenters and of Dr. Leroy Carhart, a friend and colleague of Dr. Tiller, echoed with violence and extremism. For instance, one commenter wrote:

"When he stood before God at his death, he soon learned that he had made the wrong choice with his life. Now [he] is in the lake of fire for eternity with the devil and his demons. Tortured for all of eternity for the murders of innocent babies."
And, according to the article, Dr. Carhart

"calls the murder of his beloved colleague a 'terrorist' saying his friend's death is 'a declaration of war' on the part of radical anti-abortion activists whom he calls 'fundamentalist terrorists... no different from al-Qaida, the Taliban or any of them.'"
It isn't that I can't understand that there are very strong emotions attached to losing a dear friend or to those who perform partial birth abortions [correction: late term abortions]. But what rocks me is the implicit violence in their words, and how they don't seem to realize that this violence is the same. I mean, when I read their words, both say basically the same thing: that this Other person is evil, beyond any sort of redemption.

What drove me to hot cocoa, though, was when I looked at the website for Reformation Lutherans Church. I clicked around and when I wound up on the staff page, I saw that their senior pastor, Lowell Michelson, had been a student intern at the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the Ohio State University. Both of the Busses were active in LCM at OSU, so not really thinking I turned to Kriss Buss and asked her if she knew him. And then it sank in. "Lowell? Lowell Michelson?" She not only knew him from campus ministry, but she had met his family, she had held his kids. B-Buss had five of his CDs from his days with the band Echelon. Yeah, they knew him.

I'm re-reading Sara Miles' book Take This Bread, and last night--after sharing hot cocoa with Kriss, discussing a whole range of topics around violence and justice and sin and grace, and a couple rounds of MarioKart--I stumbled on one of many sparks of insight while reading before bed. Relaying the words of a bishop, Miles wrote:

"There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding
is always a kind of miracle."
So, I hope that the Tiller family and Lowell Michelson and the people of Reformation Lutheran Church have been surrounded by food full of love; maybe they've even been feeding each other. And I hope that the suspect, Scott Roeder, also has something to eat, maybe even offered in more parts grace than resentment or obligation. Because in lieu of everything being better, in lieu of a world where people aren't shot and where people's passion and anger can be channelled constructively and nonviolently, food is first thing I can think of that might begin to be a symbol, or even a sacrament, of healing. At least, that's what hot cocoa was for me.

If you're a person who prays, with words or meditations or cooking utensils, etc., please pray for all those caught up in this violence-- Dr. Tiller's family, the church, Scott Roeder, and anyone else who comes to mind.

1 comment:

  1. The connection between food and ritual is an interesting one to make. For us the obvious example is Holy Communion, where we eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of Our Lord. In light of the talk of food and ritual, food and contemplation, I now give you some food for thought.
    While walking the Via Dolorosa, women came before Jesus and wept for Him. Jesus told them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” There is something to note for this tragic episode. Fetal viability, traditionally seen as when a fetus can survive outside the womb and is therefore considered living, can be as early as 24 weeks gestation. As attested to by Dr. Jean Wright in 1998, “Many infants considered nonviable in 1973 are viable in today's world of advanced neonatal care.” Research by Dr. Nicholas Fisk, a fetal medicine specialist and current director of the University of Queensland Center for Clinical Research in Australia says a fetus can feel pain at 18 weeks. During his career, Dr. George Tiller aborted about 60,000 fetuses, many of whom according to the doctors above were viable and felt the pain of being killed.
    Mourn for Tiller? Yes, because murder is wrong. Yet why not mourn for Tiller’s 60,000 victims? Since 1993, four abortion providers have been killed. In 1993 alone approximately 1,500,000 abortions have occurred. So here’s the ratio: 4 to 1,500,000. And yet how many of those killed in 1993, or for that matter since 1973, have been mourned? Maybe we should mourn for them, least of all with a greater degree of sadness. As I heard someone remark, “May God show greater mercy to Dr. Tiller than he showed to those fetuses he aborted.” If abortion is murder then Dr. Tiller killed more Americans than Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh combined.
    Dr. George Tiller’s murder was wrong not because Tiller was doing something benevolent for the community. His murder was wrong because he was killed extra-legally. Given his crimes, Tiller should have been brought to trial and given either life in prison or the death penalty provided he was found guilty of performing these 60,000 abortions and depending on the punishment suggested by the jury of his peers.
    You pose a valid question when you ask, regarding the protestors, the accused, and others involved in the heated debate: did they ever think of dialoguing? There is no benefit to what the murderer did. Some may argue that the shooter stopped Tiller from killing again, but the shooter is not a prophet. For all we know, the 60,000th abortion Tiller performed was his last. Maybe on that Sunday, in his church, Tiller was going to experience a deep religious epiphany and turn away from his malpractice. After all, the Roe of Roe v Wade herself eventually became a Christian and fervent campaigner against abortion. What if this shooter had lived back in the 1970s and decided to kill Roe? Well then, the pro-life movement would never have this passionate modern day proponent.
    Regarding dialogue, I always want people to look introspectively. After all, as you rightly condemn what some of these protestors have done don’t you forget what you did to me: http://letusbebread.blogspot.com/2009/01/beat.html#comments. These actions showcase an unwillingness to engage in civil discourse and they fall on the continuum of behavior you find in those who protested that church you mentioned. My personal belief is that ideological extremism, this hostility to dialogue as you have observed, derives not from assurance of accuracy but a lack of assurance. Extremists can’t adequately defend much less explain their views. If they could, then they would not shun ideological opponents to such an extent that they demand their censorship, their silence, or in some instances their death.
    May God have compassion and love for all victims of ideological extremism. May He comfort the Tiller family in this time of sadness, and may He, as others have said, show greater mercy for Tiller than Tiller ever showed for the unborn.