Just 77 years elapsed between one of the America’s foremost literary publications on race and the birth of the nation’s greatest Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today, a day after I finished reading the former and a day before we nationally celebrate the latter, is Sanctity of Life Sunday. With overflowing thoughts, I humbly offer some words.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a fictitious, but accurate, accounting of slavery in pre-Civil War America. Each character a type of individual found throughout the nation wrestling with the construct of enslavement whether in it, perpetrating it, working to dismantle it or observing it from afar.
I happened upon it one day around Christmas while scrolling the free books in my iPhone. I did not know there were free books, but there they are. A history buff, I decided that it seemed more prudent to read than War and Peace, which I also considered, so I dove in. I didn’t expect words penned in the mid-1850s to simultaneously affect and resonate with one so far removed from such an awfully dark portion of our nation’s history.
One night, while my son was snuggling by my side, I read the chapter that described the treatment of a biracial person. I wept. If now were then, he wouldn’t be my son. The thought made the distant very near. It caused the work of those from the Quakers to Dr. King’s work to be so very closely linked to my own family.
As I read, I couldn’t help but view the story through the lens of foster care and adoption. I’m recommending this book hands down to any parent who may bring a child into their home not of the same race. The themes of attachment, grief and loss and racial injustice will strike closely to lingering echoes of the past still pervading our society today. But there is something beyond race that is equally striking.
The bravery of mothers to choose life in the first place. In those unimaginable conditions. Where a child, like the mother on the steamship being “sold south” had her nursing infant taken while she was sleeping. Or the mothers separated from their children on the auction block, never to be seen again. What courage it took to be a mother in the first place.
Becoming a foster/adoptive parent has sparked a passion in me for the sanctity of life, not just for the unborn, but from birth to death and all stages and challenges therein. I can’t presume to understand all the challenges that mothers face when making decisions about their pregnancies- and I won’t try because I’ve not walked a moment in anyone’s shoes. And, life is too messy and complicated to pass summary judgement.
This statement will surely make me too liberal for some and too fundamentalist for others. I’m not academic enough to argue the points on either side. Nor do I need anyone’s approval. Walking the journey of foster care/adoption has taught me every aspect of life is far more complicated than it may seem on the surface.
Just like the mothers in the book, the mothers of my children were brave to choose life. I’m thankful though, that they chose life. In each of their circumstances, they would have more than enough reasons as defined by culture to terminate early. But God, allowed them to make the decision to bear life and several beautiful and valued children of God were born into this world because of that brave decision.
And then I think about life and that more abundant. More abundant than the characters in this book and that more than our collective children who’ve experienced foster care and adoption. The life that we really can’t achieve on this side of heaven, but wouldn’t be tasted at all if the children hadn’t even had the opportunity to experience a first breath.
Over time, brave men and women led the charge for racial equality in this country. Just 13 years after this book hit the shelves, the Civil War legally ended slavery in the U.S. One century later, through the work of men like Dr. King, racial divides would begin to crumble. While much work remains, we’re much further down the road than 170 years ago.
While the American church at large has lumbered along in fits and starts in this work of racial justice, I’d like to see another shift in the coming years. It’s one thing to rightly advocate with fervor for allowing a baby to experience the start of life, it’s another to advocate for a baby, child, teen, mother, father, neighbor in all stages of life and with all manner of challenges before them. That’s what I see when I read the Bible and look at life and that more abundantly.