In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marching to Zion

Perhaps it's time to step away from weighty issues for a bit and indulge in something happy and uplifting. It's March, gateway to spring--and few things are more happy and uplifting than a good "march." Maybe that's one reason you're so fond of Marching On! And among the happiest marches I know is the rousing hymn Marching to Zion. This delightful piece was written and first published in 1707 by the great English hymnodist Isaac Watts; it was later put to music by the American gospel composer Robert Lowry (1826 -- 1899) (who composed another of my favorite hymns, How Can I Keep from Singing?). I was introduced to this hymn several years ago while practicing with the Fear Not Choir before the annual Civil War reenactment at the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, NY. To me, it unashamedly proclaims the joy of faith and our confidence in eternal life with God--and declares our right, even our duty, to "speak our joys abroad," something the atheistic elites are trying hard to discourage or prevent us from doing.

The original composition had several more verses, but these are the most widely sung today:

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known,
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We're marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We're marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God,
But children of the heav'nly King,
But children of the heav'nly King,
May speak their joys abroad,
May speak their joys abroad.


The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heav'nly fields,
Before we reach the heav'nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets,
Or walk the golden streets.


Then let our songs abound
And every tear be dry;
We're marching through Immanuel's ground,
We're marching through Immanuel's ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.


If you're wondering just what the second verse is all about, the following explanation from the Scrpture and Music web site may be helpful:
Should we sing psalms or hymns in our church services? This was the controversy stirring many congregations during the 17th and 18th centuries. Isaac Watts was the life-long champion of the “humanly composed” hymn, while the majority of the English-speaking churches insisted on the traditional psalm settings. Tempers frequently flared, and some churches actually split in the heat of this decidedly inharmonious musical conflict. In some churches a compromise was reached. The psalm setting would be sung in the early part of the service with a hymn used at the close, during which time the parishioners could leave or simply refuse to sing.

Isaac Watts may have written this hymn to refute his critics, who termed his hymns “Watts’ Whims.” This hymn first appeared in Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707 and was titled “Heavenly Joy on Earth.”
Below is a very enjoyable rendition of this sweet hymn, apparently sung by a real congregation in a real church:

Try singing Marching to Zion whenever you're discouraged or have a bad case of the blahs--it will lift your spirits high!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Life and "Choice"--A Vital Debate

I'm starting to look like a "one-trick pony"--only three posts in five weeks, and they're all about abortion. It turns out that work and home demands keep my from posting much more often than that, but my ongoing discussion of the abortion issue with my son Colin is as important and engaging as anything else in my life right now. I could be wrong, but it seems like the distance between us on this issue is narrowing, and that's a wonderful thing. Maybe we've never been as far apart as either of us thought, since our basic values and principles are much the same even if our fundamental beliefs and approaches to social policy differ. I can't put into words how happy I am that we're able to explore such a difficult subject and still respect, admire, and love each other. If a civil discourse like this could be replicated in society generally, we might find a solution to this knotty problem that satisfied most people. Nevertheless, I think we're kept apart largely by divergent assumptions about why abortions are sought and the effect of limitations on the procedure.

I was encouraged by Colin's statement that abortion "should always be used as an absolute last resort, something to pursue only after all other avenues have been exhausted." Sadly, that's not how things typically happen between pregnancy and abortion. If adoption is regarded as one of these "other avenues," far more more women are opting for the "last resort" of abortion: according to, only four percent of non-marital births are placed for adoption, or about 50,000 non-related adoptions a year as compared to over a million babies aborted annually.

Indeed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization, nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. From 1973 through 2008, nearly 50 million legal abortions occurred. Clearly, since Roe v. Wade, abortion has not been treated by most women who have had one (or, by almost half, more than one) as a "last resort."

There is also a widespread misconception (if not a knowing deception) among abortion-on-demand proponents that a large portion of, if not most, unintended pregnancies don't result from a deliberate choice on a woman's part to have sexual relations. For example, Colin states that "I think most health and law enforcement officials would wholeheartedly disagree with you that rape-induced pregnancy is rare. Unfortunately, especially in big cities, it is quite common, and that fact alone should be strong enough to keep abortion legalized." However, multiple studies by law enforcement and medical researchers have calculated that, on the average, at most 8 per 1,000 women who are raped or the victims of incest become pregnant in the United States. This is equivalent to 0.8 percent, or less than one percent. Even the most "liberal" estimates place the adult pregnancy rate associated with rape at about 4.7 percent.

Additional information provided by the Guttmacher Institute is revealing. Among the reasons surveyed women gave for having an abortion, three-fourths cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths said they couldn't afford a child; three-fourths said that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with a husband or partner. This data suggests that most women seeking abortion are doing so to avoid the expense, burdens, and complexities of bearing and caring for a child.

"Pregnancy often poses a massive threat to the health of the mother, and if abortion were illegal then that mother would have no choice but to risk her own life to carry out the pregnancy, which would surely be a violation of human rights." Pregnancy itself always poses some risk to the mother, but the danger is "massive" only in cases of ectopic or other "defective" pregnancies, or when the mother suffers from an unusual medical condition that is or could become life-threatening due to the increased physical and mental stresses of carrying a child to term (some doctors have observed that abortion is almost never a medical necessity to save a woman's life). As I noted in my earlier posts, relatively few people who consider themselves pro-life would oppose abortion in the very rare cases when it is truly, and professionally certified as, necessary to save the mother from death or life-long physical or mental disability.

As noted in an article by the University of Toronto Students for Life:
Pro-choice advocates tend to appeal to hard cases, which are rare, and then extrapolate to all abortions. “What if a woman was raped? What if a woman’s life is in danger?” These are serious and complex issues — but they account for a small percentage of all abortions. These are bad arguments for all abortions being legal, ethical, or “medically necessary,” and honest pro-choicers know it.
The hard cases are a red herring. The real issue, and what most concerns "pro-choice" advocates, is whether and how to confine abortion to those hard cases--that is, whether access to abortion should be restricted or denied in the overwhelmingly typical case of a woman (or parents; it takes two to tango) who seeks to avoid the unintended (if entirely natural and foreseeable) consequence of a free and deliberate (or careless) act because she (or they) deem it too difficult, painful, burdensome, expensive, or embarrassing to endure. To be sure, some of these situations, as where the mother is a young teenager entirely unprepared to raise a child, might even approach the "hard case" category. In any event, what the pro-life movement seeks is a legal process by which abortion is limited to those situations in which it is a true medical "necessity" or the only reasonable answer under the circumstances, with the burden of proof and justification on the person who seeks to terminate the unborn child's life. Colin and others favoring unrestricted abortion object that "such a process could take weeks or even months to complete, and by that time the baby could be only weeks away from birth." But judicial systems in many states and localities already provide specialized courts for juvenile and other family matters, including expedited hearings and relaxed rules of evidence. Such procedures need not take weeks and months to complete, and the judges who typically preside tend to be highly experienced in domestic matters and know how urgently some matters need to be resolved.

Changing the rules on abortion certainly won't solve all social problems associated with unwanted children, nor would it come without a price. Such a change could put serious strains on court systems, medical resources, adoption and public assistance agencies, and child protective services--and ultimately, taxpayers. And yes, despite all the prenatal support and postnatal adoption resources available, many women will resort to black-market abortion providers rather than follow the law and endure the burdens of childbearing. Ending abortion-on-demand would save many children's lives, but merely changing the law isn't enough to avert a potential host of new problems. Clearly a much greater investment in maternal, child support, and adoption services would be necessary. But a change more fundamental even than this is necessary: a new--or renewed--culture of personal responsibility, sacrifice, commitment, and love; a culture of marriage, and of life. As much as abortion-on-demand has undermined the moral fabric of society, I think it's also a symptom of a breakdown that began years before Roe vs. Wade, as moral relativism, hedonism, materialism, and the state came to replace common decency, religious faith, and the family in American life. Only when we embrace these ideals anew, individually and as a society, can we hope to replace today's culture of selfishness, depravity, and death with one that encourages and supports life. Mothers and children deserve nothing less.