Rejecting those Earthly Dignities: Irish Women Saints by Harry Clarke

Roaringwater Journal

I’ve been struck by the absence of sacred women in the iconography of stained glass windows in Irish Protestant churches. Sure, there’s the odd window devoted to or including Mary (such as Nativity scenes) or Bridget, or images of women as Charity or Hope, but for windows depicting women who are venerated for their piety or leadership or courage you have to visit Catholic churches in Ireland. 

The top picture is St Dympna, depicted with a sword – it is a tradition to depict martyrs with the instrument of their death. She looks wide-eyed and innocent – she was only 15 when she died. Above is St Fanchea, bearing a rose and with a kindly expression

We’ve written already about Bridget here and here and about Gobnait: Bridget is considered the female equivalent of Patrick in being the most widely known and celebrated of the Irish women saints…

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Whose rights? A submission on the 8th amendment

Like suicide, abortion is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, not one that we can honestly recommend, if we care about women or children.

There is a tremendous sadness and loneliness in the cry ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg. Frederica Mathewes-Green

We all know that no one leaves the abortion clinic skipping. Equally, I’ve never heard someone say they regretted having a child, no matter how tragic and desperate the circumstances. An abortion is always a tragedy- a tiny life is snuffed out, a woman, temporarily relieved perhaps, but left with wounds, be they physical or psychological, whether consciously or unconsciously, acknowledged or suppressed.

Rights of the Child

We all know from biology class, that a fetus, no matter how small, has its own DNA from the moment of conception, and as such, is a separate person from its mother. By making abortion, i.e. the intentional killing of a baby, legally available, we would pit women’s rights against their children’s in denying the basic human right to life the underpins all others.

We have recently strengthened children’s rights in Ireland, Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Act 2012 in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1992), so how can we take away this most fundamental of rights?

Think about these four general principles that underpin all children’s rights in relation to abortion:
Non-discrimination means that all children have the same right to develop their potential in all situations and at all times. For example, every child should have equal access to education regardless of the child’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, parentage, sexual orientation or other status
The best interests of the child must be “a primary consideration” in all actions and decisions concerning a child, and must be used to resolve conflicts between different rights. For example, when making national budgetary decisions affecting children, Government must consider how cuts will impact on the best interests of the child
The right to survival and development underscores the vital importance of ensuring access to basic services and to equality of opportunity for children to achieve their full development. For example, a child with a disability should have effective access to education and health care to achieve their full potential
The views of the child mean that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights. For example, those in power should consult with children before making decisions that will affect them.

Rights of Women

Women’s right have come a long way in the last century in Ireland – I am very glad of the right to vote, and to own property, and to equal pay for equal work. However, at some point, it seems the desire for equal treatment as women became confused with the desire to become the same as men. While feminists in the 1960’s believed that legal access to abortion was a necessary evil to allow women to compete equally in a male-dominated world, in fact legalizing this evil can also be seen as profoundly anti-woman. Look at the reasons women opt for abortion, as one typical longitudinal study in the US found:
• financial reasons (40%),
• timing (36%),
• partner related reasons (31%), and
• the need to focus on other children (29%).

Note that all of these issues are social, with health issues down the list, and extreme cases at the very end. These are issues which can be resolved in much more caring and life-affirming ways than a quick fix abortion. Legal abortion actually supports anti-motherhood social attitudes and policies and limits respect for women’s citizenship; it perpetuates uncaring male-dominated society. Women come to think of pregnancy and parenting as obstacles to full participation in education and the workplace.

These attitudes translate into simplistic slogans such as ‘My body, my choice’, attempting to posit a right to abortion on a fundamentally flawed premise – that the baby is not a person. (If anything, that slogan actually suggests the right to suicide.) Each baby is a wholly separate person from its mother: with different DNA, different fingerprints, with possibly a different blood type or the opposite sex. The baby is a person living within a person and not “the mother’s body”. I find it so ironic that we fight against the violence of female genital mutilation (FGM), while at the same time fight for the violence of abortion as a right??

I believe that a woman should have the right to protection in pregnancy; she should have the right to every support necessary to give the child its life, and every support to ensure the child’s survival is she is unable to care for him/her. This includes supports such as peri-hospice care and open adoption. No woman should be left with the ‘choice’ of abortion.

Impact on society

In Ireland, we are discussing the repeal of the 8th Amendment, which by protecting the unborn child, has prevented abortion from becoming widespread here. A study has shown that it has probably protected more than 100,000 people from being killed since 1983, and that is a conservative estimate.  In all likelihood, each of us know someone whom the 8th Amendment protected.
In the same period, abortion, legalised in many countries with the understanding that it would be safe and rare, has in fact resulted in millions of deaths in England and throughout Europe. While the estimated abortion rate for Ireland is 1 in 20 pregnancies, the abortion rate in England is 1 abortion in every 5 pregnancies; i.e. 20% of pregnancies end in abortion.

http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/mapeuropeabrate.html

Access tends to be steadily expanded as abortion becomes increasing accepted and then available on demand, and then becomes seen as a ‘right’ with growing numbers of abortions as a result. In France, the number of abortions in 2013 increased by 4,7 % over 2012, from 207 000 to 217 0006, following a government decision to allow 100% reimbursement of abortions. As it stands, the average abortion rate among the 47 members of the council of Europe is 1 in 3, i.e. one pregnancy out of every three is ended by abortion; last year that meant that 4.5 million babies never saw the light of day – that is about the population of Ireland.

As a result of its policies on abortion, much of Europe is facing what is called a demographic winter.. European nations simply do not have enough children to sustain ourselves. It seems we have succeeded in raising generations of men and women who fear pregnancy and parenting rather welcoming them, despite our growing prosperity. Only Ireland is at replacement level in Europe. And once a nation falls below replacement level, efforts to reverse that trend have not yet proven successful. This parallels what is happening in China and Japan – where adult nappies outsold baby nappies for the first time in 2012.

Much media attention is directed at the ‘injustice’ of Irish women being ‘forced’ to travel abroad to access abortion. In the face of the enormous human crisis caused by abortion, this is really a ridiculous quibble. Abortion tourism happens wherever one jurisdiction is more liberal than its neighbours. Norway has recently legalised pregnancy reduction- where one child can be killed in the womb leaving the other to survive. As a result, there are fears of abortion tourism from Sweden and Denmark.
And by the way, sex tourism happens for the same reason. Airports in the Netherlands were carrying notices urging people to report underage sex tourists in Asia. Should we legalise underage sex in Europe just to prevent this?

Conclusion

Like suicide, abortion is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, not one that we can honestly recommend, if we care about women or children.

The 8th amendment is a good a law as can be imagined for protecting both women and children in crisis pregnancies. If we add to it sufficient supports for women in difficult circumstances, then it would be for the good of all.

No-one really WANTS abortion, ever.

#100days100years

100 years is a long time! The twists of our history have given us all social and spiritual amnesia, leading us to a somewhat mythical view of our Irish history. I sense many of us look back with rose-tinted glasses, whilst at the same time many focus forward with cynical hearts. Both rob us of faith. Both rob us of His presence. Jasper Rutherford  24/7 Prayer Ireland

Nailed! Yep, I’ve been the one with the rose-tinted glasses, the one with the cynical heart. Looking back to Patrick and Brigid heart aglow for that golden age of Irish history as it became Christian, but looking ahead with fear and doubt as the winds of secularism blow.

When we discussed some kind of celebration of 1916 as a church leadership, the response was – well – MIXED. Our beloved American pastor was so up for it! But of all the Irish in the room, from both North and South, there was only one who was enthusiastic. The rest of us were reticent, unsure, dubious. What exactly would we celebrate?

I found I could not even articulate what I thought of 1916 personally. Brought up as a Catholic in a family that had been divided by the Civil War which followed, I had heard very differing stories.

My Granny, who lived with us, said no-one in her village in County Limerick had been all that impressed initially as news of the 1916 Easter Rising filtered through, although the mood changed after the executions.  She had never been in favour of the Free State herself, and she had found it difficult going back to learn the Irish language in the 1920’s so she could keep her job as a national school teacher. From Julia, she went to Síle overnight, as Gaelic names become politically correct in the new regime.

My other Grandmother, who was also a national school teacher, was apparently a true Republican, a gaelgóir who loved the Irish language, and gloried in the revival of Irish culture.  She died when I was only two, so I never knew her personally. But on the wall of the sitting room in Templemore, County Tipperary, there were only three photos:  Pope John 23rd, John F. Kennedy and Pádraig Pearse.  My mother laughingly referred to them as my Grandmother’s Holy Trinity.

And then I encountered Jesus through the Charismatic Renewal and joined a radical New Church movement, far from the Catholic fold.  Suddenly all my cultural assumptions, where I was a comfortable part of the native majority, fell apart with this new found faith and cultural identity.  To be Irish meant to be Catholic. All the rest ‘dug with the left foot’. To my mother, I had joined an American ‘born-again’religion! The only other person we had ever heard use the term ‘born-again’ was Ian Paisley -usually shouting on the TV, and he was certainly NOT a member of anyone’s Holy Trinity in the Republic back then.

In the 2000’s, we became part of a local charismatic Church of Ireland – which led to some more shifts in cultural perspective. Our Rector and his wife were from the wee North so I made my first acquaintance with Poppy Day in November, which commemorates those who have died in war – particularly soldiers in the British army.  It was strange to hear them spoken of as heroes to be honest; but stories of the loss of neighbours and friend in the Troubles were very moving.  I did lots repenting and forgiving.

Then, visits to Northern Ireland for Summer Madness started as our teenagers’ youth group went up to Belfast and then Castle Shane annually.  I had never been in the North since the 1970’s when our bus passed through Northern Ireland going to the Gaeltacht in County Donegal. I remember thinking the faces of the young British soldiers were so, so young. Just teenagers, like me.

And I bring all this baggage to the discussion of 1916 to our independent, charismatic, evangelical church today in 2016. We have at least 15 nationalities in the church, so clearly reflecting modern, multicultural Ireland.

What would the men and women of 1916 – many deeply religious Catholics- make of us, make of Ireland in 2016?  They deliberately timed the Rising to occur at Easter to symbolise a resurrection of our nation.  What would they think of a ‘nation once again’, perhaps, but one deeply and bitterly divided for so long as a result of their sacrifice?

Even though I struggle to make an overarching narrative of this mishmash of conflicting thoughts and impressions from the past, laying aside all rose-tinted glasses and and faith quenching cynicism, I have to ‘press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:14)

Despite all our past failures, in Christ,  I believe there is hope for this country; in Christ, we have a future. In the #100days100years movement of prayer, are we seeing the smouldering wicks of faith re-igniting, starting from the North, as, it is claimed, St. Patrick foresaw?

ireland by night

On refugees: a question for faith

Alyan Kurdi 3 years old: drowned escaping from Syria
Alyan Kurdi (3) drowned escaping from Syria

Triggered by the heart rending image of this small drowned boy,   it seems that the slumbering conscience of Europe has awakened in the last week, even if responses to the waves of refugees camping at Central Station Budapest varied vastly on the love/hate spectrum.

At grass roots level, there have been heartfelt reactions both for and against: from those who turned up at Munich Hauptbahnhof to welcome weary refugees from Hungary with water, food and sweeties for the kids, to those who claim that refugees rejected Red Cross aid packages because they were not ‘halal’; from those who offered  beds to refugees (over 19,000 in Ireland) to those who wondered why those beds were not offered to the homeless here. Reactions veered from compassion to fear, from empathy to revulsion.  But no one remained indifferent: that response was no longer an option.

European politicians also responded in various ways to public pressure: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany boldly announced that they would receive up 800,000 refugees.  In Ireland, Enda Kenny raised our current quote of 600 to 8,000 over two years in response to public outcry.

Meanwh134516180_14395294459511nile, Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, questioned the policy of “Christian” Europe taking in so many Muslims, and continued to build a barbed wire fence to keep them out.  In response,  European Council President Donald Tusk suggested “For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.”

But fear of being swamped remains – how will our social welfare systems cope, how well will these migrants assimilate into our culture, what about the real needs of the homeless in our own country?  What about Muslim extremists, like the Jihadis? There are so many questions.

‘Let them in, and let them work’ says the Economist. ‘A more open Europe with more flexible labour markets could turn the refugee crisis into an opportunity, just as America did 11924964_10153200897821275_1118916683368837632_nwith successive waves of refugees in the  20th century, including plenty from Europe.’ Not to mention the Irish fleeing famine in the coffin ships of the 19th century,  so movingly commemorated on the Quays in Dublin, seen here with the addition of fellow refugees from the 21st century. One of us.

‘Christian politicians won’t say it, but the Bible is clear: let the refugees in, every last one…’  Canon Giles Fraser challenged in the Guardian. Many European politicians like to claim our Christian heritage, except when it might cost them something.  Most Europeans are nominal Christians at best.

What is the true ChrisJohn.5.19tian response, I wonder. What  would Jesus do? More to the point, since He always does what He sees the Father doing, what is He doing right now in this situation?

For me, that is the real question.