Walking the Walk

One of the reasons why many of us engage in social media is the fact that human beings like to share their opinions with others; we enjoy debating and arguing, whether down at the local watering hole, over the back fence, in the supermarket parking lot, or in our legislatures.  Yet debate alone does not solve practical problems related to someone making the kind of fundamental change which a philosophical or religious conversion may bring.  To use a somewhat more basic turn of phrase, we need to applaud and follow the example of those who put their money where their mouth is, particularly when they identify a practical need that might not seem obvious at first.

These were my thoughts last evening watching Jon Marc Grodi interview Pro-Life activist Abby Johnson on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” program.  Jon Marc was substitute hosting – great job, guy – for his Dad on the show, as Abby described her journey from being the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas, to becoming a well-known Pro-Life advocate.   Abby details her harrowing story about the realities of the corporate abortion industry, and what happens when you try to escape its tentacles, in her best-selling book, “Unplanned”.

I had heard Abby speak previously, both in person and on television, and knew many of the details of her story. However what particularly struck me about last evening’s conversation was the example both she and Jon Marc provided about how to “walk the walk” with their respective organizations.  There are practical and often very difficult implications to making fundamental changes in one’s moral, philosophical, and religious views.

Abby Johnson for example is not someone who simply walked away from the culture of death, as laudable a decision as that was. In fact the method she has chosen of walking away is to keep on walking the walk and getting others to walk with her, through her organization And Then There Were None, which seeks to help abortion workers who want to get out of that industry.  As Abby pointed out on the program last evening, while a number of Americans may say they are Pro-Abortion [N.B. I do not use the term “Pro-Choice”, since the child has no choice in the matter], having Planned Parenthood on your resume is considered a huge negative by many potential employers, and many abortion workers who want to leave are browbeaten into staying. So far, the outreach program has helped nearly 100 people to leave the abortion mills, by providing emotional and spiritual support, access to legal counsel, and even financial assistance.

Similarly, though obviously on a different topic altogether, there is the question of what to do with the religious convert who swims the Tiber but just so happens to be a minister in another faith or denomination. “The Journey Home” is a show produced by The Coming Home Network, an organization founded by Jon Marc’s father Marcus Grodi to aid and encourage converts coming into the Catholic Church.  While it helps all kinds of people with many types of resources, it is particularly well-placed on a practical level for those who are going to be leaving religious ministry in order to become Catholic.  How will a religious minister support himself and his family, once he is no longer receiving a salary for leading a congregation?  The Coming Home Network attempts to help support those seeking to answer this question.

Both of these organizations are terrific examples of thinking about the needs of others, and realizing that if someone is going to make a fundamental change in their way of life, there will be practical, often difficult and painful, implications arising from that choice.  These two groups fill a gap not being met by anyone else, because they understand that human beings are not completely intellectual or spiritual creatures; people have real, temporal needs that need to be addressed.  That perceptiveness is something which more of us ought to try to take as an example, whether by coming up with ways to provide such support ourselves, or by attaching ourselves to those who already do, and offering them our own assistance.  This is how a culture of life, in all its iterations, can be built up in our society, as we all walk together to try to be better brethren to one another.

Detail of "An Easter Procession" by Illarion Pryanishnikov (1893) Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg

Detail of “An Easter Procession” by Illarion Pryanishnikov (1893)
Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg

The Shock of the Newborn

British contemporary artist Damien Hirst, he of the sheep or sharks displayed in tanks filled with formaldehyde, is certainly no stranger to controversy.  The type of public outcry normally associated with Hirst, such as the infamous “Sensation” exhibition, often causes those of us with a more traditional set of sensibilities to recoil in horror.  However with his latest effort, Hirst may find himself being embraced by those with conservative values, placing himself at least temporarily in danger of alienating many of those who fell all over themselves to praise him in the first place.

Hirst’s newest work, an installation entitled “The Miraculous Journey”, consists of 14 large bronze sculptures of a child, portrayed at various stages of development from conception to birth.  It was commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority, and placed outside of the Sidra Medical and Research Center in Doha, the capital of Qatar.  The largest single sculpture, that of the newly born child himself, stands 45 feet tall.

Tellingly, in reporting on this massive work of art, the New York Times fails to explore the inescapable pro-life message which it sends.  Being the Times, the article focuses instead on the portrayal of sex and nudity in the Muslim world, reminding the reader – as if the reader was so stupid not to already be aware of it –  that women in Qatar live in a very conservative, traditional Islamic environment.  The piece spends far more time celebrating the fact that a woman commissioned the sculpture, and talking about Hirst’s checkerboard career to date, than it does examining the message of the art itself.

For example, the article quotes Mr. Hirst as explaining that once he himself became a father, be became interested in the miracle of childbirth.  “Everyone talks about our life’s journey,” he commented to the Times, “but we have a whole journey before you’re born.”  A more reputable publication would have pressed the artist on this point, since the obvious implication of this statement is a perhaps unexplored belief in the personhood of the unborn child.  Instead, the Times simply lets the quote, without any further exploration.

We can all imagine what would have happened if, rather than in the Middle East, Mr. Hirst had been asked to create this work for a hospital in a major American city.  In this country, where one may advertise for all sorts of contraceptives on television, but discussions of the realities of abortion and its aftermath are relegated almost exclusively to religious programming outlets, such a daring art installation would almost certainly be questioned and criticized openly by the media.  It is interesting to reflect on the fact that this piece was created for a country whose culture is supposedly possessed of far less freedom of expression that that which we enjoy, yet no hospital in America would dare to install a massive piece of life-affirming art on its front lawn.

Whatever his personal intentions here may have been, or for that matter whatever he himself may think of policies such as abortion on demand, Mr. Hirst has shown us the power, and indeed the danger, of art which seeks to portray the truth.  Here is a depiction of human life from its very beginnings which is not a simple illustration, but rather something absolutely monumental in scale, weighing well over 200 tons.  The potential danger here, to those who do not want us to view human life as such in all of its stages, is what the impact of this art may be.  And here we must consider not only those who are on the fence about the issue, but those who thought they understood what an individual human being’s development looks like.  A reasonable viewer of this piece may very well find themselves asking, at what stage in a child’s development they would feel comfortable in bringing about its death.

This not-so-little person portrayed in bronze is clearly designed to make us think, not only about anatomy and science, two subjects which have fascinated Mr. Hirst throughout his career to date, but about even more fundamental issues of life and death.  The size itself ought to tell us how large the stakes are, particularly when the person portrayed is shown as being as large as an automobile, rather than something which could be easily hidden away within the pages of a book, cropped out of a photograph, or buried within a blog post such as this.  For many therefore, this new installation must be a very disturbing work of art, indeed.


Part of “The Miraculous Journey” by Damien Hirst (2013)
Sidra Medical and Research Center, Doha, Qatar

March For Life Meet-Up

March for Life Meet-Up
Friday, January 25, 2013
11:00 am – 1:00 pm
National Gallery of Art
Cascade Cafe

As we announced on the most recent episode of SQPN’s Catholic Weekend show, I am organizing an informal meet-up – or in Twitter parlance, a tweet-up – for SQPN fans, my blog readers and Twitter followers, and those just looking to meet other pro-life supporters who will be attending the annual March for Life here in Washington, D.C.

As SQPN’s founder and CEO Father Roderick always tries to arrange informal meetings with fans of the network when he travels, it seems appropriate to follow his example given that many SQPN listeners will be attending the March for Life this year.  I have already heard from several SQPN listeners/podcasters that they will be making an effort to stop by and hang out before the March begins, and one of our SQPN supporters hopes to take a few group photos for us.  It will be terrific to meet some of the people committed to the good work that SQPN does, and who until now I have not had the pleasure of meeting in person.

Equally, I hope that those who read these pages will consider coming by to say hello if you will be attending the March for Life.  So many of you over the years have been kind enough to both read and to share what I write with others.  It will be good to shake your hand and thank you for your readership.

I’ve selected the Cascade Cafe of the National Gallery of Art for the meet-up point.  It was chosen primarily because the Rally for Life and the starting point for the March for Life is the area of the National Mall located between 7th and 9th Streets NW, and the National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall at 7th Street NW.  The Rally begins about 12 noon and will continue until around 1:30 pm, before it steps off and heads around the National Gallery itself, before heading up Capitol Hill.  You can read more about the route and other information on the March for Life website.

The Cascade Cafe is the underground food court at the National Gallery of Art.  It is a large space with flexible seating and table arrangements.  Because it is an informal food court space, you will be able to relax and get something to eat or drink, warm up from the cold, visit the facilities, and rest your feet before the March begins.  (Though keep in mind that no doubt a number of marchers will have the same idea.)

And please note: there is NO admission charge for the National Gallery of Art.  Entrance is free, since it is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.  Though because it is a Federal building, you will have to pass through metal detectors or inspection.  There is a free coat and bag check as well.

Here is an illustration of the section of the National Mall where the Rally and starting point for the March for Life are located, and its relationship to the National Gallery, Capitol, and other buildings:


Here is a photograph of the entrance to the National Gallery of Art which faces the National Mall:


Once you are inside the museum, you will want to follow the signs or ask to be directed to the Cascade Cafe.  Because there are several different restaurants and cafes inside the National Gallery, make sure that you are headed toward the “Cascade Cafe” specifically. The cafe offers everything from coffee and soda, wine and beer, to pizza and burgers, salads and chef’s specials, pastries and desserts, etc.  Here are some photographs of part of the space, so that you know what you are looking for.  It takes its name from the underground waterfall that you can see from the windows in the third photo:




Should you have any questions please feel free to use the contact form to get in touch, or just tweet me at @wbdnewton as I plan to do my best to live-tweet from the meet-up, depending on cell phone reception.  You can also visit the National Gallery of Art’s website for maps, hours, and facilities information.  I look forward to meeting many of you!