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Testimony Opposing LB626

Testimony Opposing LB626

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Senior Minister, First Central Congregational United Church of Christ of Omaha

A few years ago a family came to me for pastoral care.  The young mother, who had for a long time been hoping to become pregnant, finally had gotten pregnant, but her prenatal care had revealed that the child had severe deformities and defects.  Doctors told her that if the child was alive when born, then it would only live a short time unless a number of major surgeries were performed, and even if the surgeries were performed, the child would have likely live a very short time and with very little quality of life.

The family made the loving, parental decision that the most caring thing they could do was to terminate the pregnancy.  They were grieved about that decision, but felt it was right and good and loving.

What brought them into my pastoral office was their anger at what happened next.  When they made this parenting, health care decision, they were told by their physicians that they couldn’t provide the needed abortion, that they would have to seek abortion services from a different provider, and that they had a very short time in which to do so, otherwise Nebraska law would compel them to leave the state for this medical procedure. 

That’s why they were upset and angry.  What should have been their decision, weighing their moral values and parental care, and then making a health care choice, was instead a fraught, politicized controversy that added to their grief and pain.  That was a worse trauma.

So, I come to you today as a pastor, who has walked with families making these sorts of decisions, to ask you not to further burden good people with unnecessary obstacles and political controversy, but to instead trust and respect the dignity of the human person.  To grant parents the freedom to make moral, loving decisions, and not impose your political will upon them.  Violating their freedoms of conscience and religion.  Please oppose LB626.

The Wisdom of Your Body

The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied LivingThe Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection Through Embodied Living by Hillary L. McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent discussion of embodiment. McBride explores pain, disability, trauma, oppression, emotions, sex, etc. in well-written chapters that are insightful, moving, informative, and helpful. I've been recommending it to lots of people.

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Doing Theology in Pandemics

Doing Theology in PandemicsDoing Theology in Pandemics by Zachary Moon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a profound essay that opens this volume, Rita Nakashima Brock contends that the pandemic "created the conditions for an apocalypse, an unveiling of moral truth in the midst of the collapse of powerful malevolent systems."

She goes on to write about how we have all experienced moral injury during the pandemic and confrontations against racial injustice and police brutality. Her essay is the best theological reflection I've read yet on the pandemic.

The other excellent essay in this collection is Cody Sanders's "Feeling Our Way through an Apocalypse." He grapples with the emotions elicited from the end of the world as we know it. We care for our anger, fear, and sadness by cultivating wonder, gratitude, and grief, in community.

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What 'pro-life' really means

Today I was looking for something else and came across this old column I wrote for the Oklahoma Gazette when I was a newspaper columnist.  Seems rather relevant still in 2022.  Maybe even more relevant?  

This was the draft I submitted, but not the final published draft.  Sadly, my columns don't appear anymore on the Gazette website.  I do know that the editor didn't let me publish the phrase "state sponsored rape bill."


What “Pro-Life” Really Means

By Scott Jones


What we should really be afraid of is those who support governmental control of our bodies.  Don’t be fooled, because that’s what many of the falsely called “pro-life” members of our legislature are after.  It is their ideology that government can dictate to a person what they can and cannot do in matters of their own health.  

Last year’s Senate Bill 1878 made the ideology abundantly clear.  It is affectionately called the “state sponsored rape bill” by many because it forces women to undergo a medically unnecessary, invasive procedure where a vaginal instrument is inserted in order to perform an ultrasound, even it is against her wish and not recommended by her physician.

I’m sure many of you are tired of the demagoguery on this issue, which has now lasted for decades.  Particularly when the language used diverts from the real issue of creating a healthy civil society.

A healthy civil society is one in which people are free to make their own health decisions, not have them dictated by the government.  Genuine freedom also includes access to health care and the education to make healthy decisions.  These are areas in which central Oklahoma is seriously lacking.

The 2007 Vital Signs published by the United Way of Central Oklahoma highlights in its “trends to watch” the poor educational achievements of new mothers in Oklahoma County, measured by the percentage with a high school diploma.  26.7% of new mothers in the county do not have a high school diploma, which is over nine percentage points worse than the national average.  Vital Signs calls this measurement “one of the most important predictors of positive outcomes for children.”

Oklahoma ranks 44th in the nation for health care and 21% of Oklahoma County residents are uninsured.  In a wide array of measurements on health and access to health care, we rank low and trends are not improving.  Nor do most of our public schools offer comprehensive sex education.

The report states that 50.39% of live births in Oklahoma were the result of unintended pregnancies.  It is reasonable to conclude that the incredibly high incidence of unintended pregnancies partially results from the combination of poor access to both health care and comprehensive health and sex education?  

As even The Christian Century reported in 2005, the societies with the lowest abortion rates are precisely those with wider access to health care, comprehensive health and sex education, and greater resources for child care.  The societies with the highest actual abortion rates are those with the most legal restrictions.  In other words, you are either for legal or illegal abortion, there is no such thing as a society with no abortion.

If our legislature really valued life as anything more than an empty political slogan, then they would work diligently to improve access to health care, provide comprehensive sex education, and improve various social services.

The evidence is clear – a society that empowers individuals to make their own health decisions is a society which values life.  What we so often have here in Oklahoma is the exact opposite – an ideology of governmental control of our bodies which would rob us of our freedoms and our health.  That’s truly frightening.

Jones, who holds a Ph. D. in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma, is pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.


Reconciling Ourselves: On Consolation, Part 7

"The Good Death" is the title of Ignatieff's final chapter, focusing on the hospice pioneer Cicely Saunders.  Ignatieff argues that in her creation of hospice care, Saunders "helped create a new secular practice of consolation, crafted from nursing, psychology, pain management, and therapy."  One might also had chaplaincy.

Her key insight was "What the dying needed was to talk about their lives, to make sense of them, to forgive themselves and others, to reconcile themselves to the ending of it all."

In the Epilogue he writes about dealing with his own parent's deaths.  This was when he first learned consolation.  And what he learned is that it is "both a conscious process by which we seek meaning for our losses and at the same time a deeply unconscious undertaking, in the recesses of our souls, in which we recover hope.  It is the most arduous but also the most rewarding work we do, and we cannot escape it."

He wrote the book because he drew consolation from people who had themselves wrestled with suffering.  The examples of others reveal ways for us to keep going.

He closes with a meditation on Czeslaw Milosz from whom he experienced that "to feel consoled, to be reconciled to one's losses, to have come to terms with one's shame and regrets, and to feel, despite everything, alive to the beauty of life."  And this is not work we do once and are done.  It is "the work of a lifetime."

I hope after these dark years we've all experienced, you've found some consolation in my detailed exploration of this book, which I intentionally read here at the beginning of my sabbatical.  There is much to heal, learn, and grow from in what we've all experienced, and in what I've experienced in my personal life.  I hope to use this sacred time away as a chance to really focus on the future and the possibilities ahead, to be alive to what comes next.

The Weariness of the Self

The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary AgeThe Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age by Alain Ehrenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why in the last fifty years has depression become such a widespread illness? Ehrenberg explores that question. While much of the book details changing understandings in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, particularly with the advent of anti-depressants, his question is much broader. He determines that the rise of depression is a result in a changed understanding of the self. We have emerged from traditional societies where our roles were often defined for us. Now we have almost complete freedom to create our own lives. He argues this has caused the rise in depression, as many struggle with that freedom and the social impulse to keep up. Depression results from feeling of inadequacy and leads to an inability to function.

This book was referenced in a book I read in December, and I was so intrigued by these ideas that I ordered this to read for myself. I found it illuminating and thought provoking. I feel it advanced my understanding of some of the people in my life and myself.

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The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In one week back in January three different people in three different settings referenced this book. So I decided I needed to read it as part of my Season of Grieving, Healing, and Growth. It did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded expectations.

There is much wisdom and much to learn in the book. Enough that I'll need to use it as a resource to return to. I can see it being helpful both personally and professionally for me. And I know I will recommend it to many people.

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Deaths of Despair

Deaths of Despair and the Future of CapitalismDeaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Case & Deaton were alarmed by numbers related to the opioid epidemic and further researched showed a rise in white middle class mortality in the United States after a century of decline and with no corresponding rise in comparable nations. What to explain this?

They conclude a loss of a way-of-life that brought meaning and economic stability.

And for them the primary cause is neither globalization or inequality, though those are both part of the narrative, but the American health care system.

The book concludes with their ideas on what we need to do.

The analysis is interesting and persuasive. I scored the book lower because it's not really an enjoyable read. It also seemed longer than necessary.

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Apollo's Arrow

Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We LiveApollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In one volume Christakis helps to make sense of the year we have all just endured, approaching from many angles. Here is a review of the medical science and our quickly developing understanding of the virus. He also presents the history of the outbreak beginning last fall in Wuhan and spreading around the world. He sets this virus within the broader historical setting of other plagues and pandemics. He reviews the various kinds of public health measures, evaluating their use this year and their justifications. And he also discusses the wider social and moral impacts, how the virus has impacted mental health, economics, education, racial disparities, etc. He shows how plagues are accompanied by epidemics of grief, fear, and lies. He also shows how our species has evolved critical tools to respond to plagues and how we have marshalled these tools this year in ways that will bring the pandemic to an end. In the final chapter he discusses the difference between the medical and social ends of the pandemic.

I found this an important read for drawing together in one place so much of the disparate information and impacts of this pandemic.

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