Monday, February 28, 2011

Children's Book Spotlight: A Great Graphic Novel by Ben Hatke

As I've written before, no one is more surprised than me that graphic novels have become one of my favorite genres of children's books.  The quality and freshness of quite a few (but not all) recent titles makes me really happy for the future of book publishing.

So, last weekend, browsing through the new books section of our very small but wonderful local library, I spied a newer graphic novel, Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke, the illustrator of one of my all-time favorite picture books, Angel in the Waters, by Regina Doman.  And if you've never read Angel in the Waters, which I give as a new baby gift, you are truly missing out on one of the classics of all time.

First in a series, Zita the Spacegirl: Far from Home, is essentially an space adventure about a girl who makes a bad decision and works hard to set it right.  A favorite part?  How cool it is that a graphic novel begins with a quote from GK Chesterton: "There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place."

The book to me has elements of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, and even a few plot lines (note to Mr. Hatke--I didn't like the giant spiders in The Hobbit, and I don't like the giant spider-like space creatures here--couldya consider leaving them out of future books?), in that it portrays a flawed character on a "mission" of sorts and how that person can choose the good and become better for it.  There's no explicit religious message, just great good fun and adventure.

I can't wait for the upcoming volumes in this terrific new series!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Abortion and Ethics in the News

I apologize that it's been quite here on the blog, especially with all the news about abortion this week, especially since this month's book, Unplanned, is about the journey of abortion clinic director Abby Johnson to become pro-life.

But I've had a print deadline, and other things preparing for next month.  Mostly I am planning to live blog (here and on Twitter) the Behold Conference next weekend, and synchronizing and getting it all to work together is making my head hurt! I am a digital immigrant, not a digital native, but I will get this to work.  I  think.  (laughing here)  Stay tuned!

Still, abortion been in the news a lot these past weeks and we have some big issues to discuss, from the defunding of Planned Parenthood being considered in Congress to the death of abortionist-turned-life-activist Bernard Nathanson to the ethics of tactics.

Nathanson died this week, and it's hard to measure his long-term impact on the pro-life movement.  He was a famous abortionist and early abortion supporter who helped to found NARAL, one of the top abortion groups in the country, and when he became pro-life, and eventually, Catholic, it made big news.   He's really a hero to much of the pro-life movement because of his willingness to be honest and open about his abortion work and his conversion process made him real to millions, much like Abby Johnson's story in UnPlanned is doing for a new generation.

Jennifer Fulwiler has a post up at the National Catholic Register at when is it okay to use graphic pictures of aborted babies in the fight against abortion.  As Abby Johnson writes in UnPlanned, our Catholic Post Book Group book this month, these kinds of tactics did not help her convert; in fact, they got her to "dig in her heels" and harden herself.

I so agree with Jen about the idea that one must absolutely be prepared to see the photos or images, otherwise there is a kind of abuse of the person involved.    I can still vividly recall seeing Bernard Nathanson's film graphically showing a second-trimester abortion, Eclipse of Reason, and my reaction to it.   I had already been working for several years in the pro-life movement, but I had to really work up the courage to witness it.  I can't imagine being compelled to watch this film, or even Silent Scream, the film depicting an ultrasound abortion that Nathanson screened at the Reagan White House.

On another topic, I also have been thinking over my views (and talking with others) about the tactics of Live Action the group that went undercover to expose the bad behavior of Planned Parenthood staff.  Among others, I had a chance to talk with my brother (it's handy having a brother who is a law school professor) about this very topic--under what conditions is is permissible to lie in the service of the good.    There's a lot of philosophical discussion about this on the Internet these days--most prominent is probably the Public Discourse discussion.  Here's a very brief round-up of the mostly civil debate, as well as appropriate links, but be warned--the links represent a lot of reading!  Worthwhile, but long.

Reading through much of this debate makes me remember why I am not a philosopher, theologian or lawyer, as many of those close to me are.  The issues are just so complex.

Also remember that while I do have issues with the deception aspect of the Live Action tactics, my main concern is that I don't consider any of this very effective (in fact, the opposite of that) in softening hearts and minds.

When I asked Abby Johnson about this in my interview with her last week, she had a very good answer.  I appreciate her view, but I don't share it.   As I asked, on the one hand, the revelations are shocking and important to know; on the other hand, this sort of deception seems opposite to the approach that persuaded her to leave the abortion industry.

What are your thoughts on these various issues?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exclusive Q&A with "UnPlanned" Author Abby Johnson

I was privileged to have the chance to e-interview Abby Johnson this month about her new book, UnPlanned, that I reviewed in this month's book page.  Thanks, Abby, for being willing to share your heart in this interview and answer my questions.

Q.  Thank you for UnPlanned.  I truly feel it is a great work, mature and sensitive.  Well done.  

First, let me get a couple of "harder" questions out of the way.  Was it difficult to share about your own personal story in UnPlanned?

It brought out a lot of my story that I was hesitant to share, including my own abortions that I had kept a secret from my parents. Parts like that were hard to write about knowing that I was revealing a truth that would hurt those I love the most. With that said, I knew if I was going to reveal my story, I had to reveal everything; the good parts and the bad. That is the only way to touch people’s lives and better relate people to my story. After much prayer and “arguing” with God over what to include in the book, I knew that the hardest parts to tell were the most important.

Q.  You write of how your RU 486 (chemical) abortion was one of the worst things you have experienced.  And yet chemical abortions are becoming increasingly common.  How do you see that affecting women now and in the future?

I see many more women coming forward with their complications with this particular abortion and possibly these complications leading to a decrease to this type of abortion and possibly an illegalization. If the RU 486 does what it did to me and even worse to other women, the risks and the complications could affect this early type of abortion’s success which will in turn effect the success of abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

Q.  In recent weeks, there have been the stomach-turning revelations from Philadelphia abortion mill, where low-income women were maimed and killed, among other horrors. Supporters of abortion might say that that is why we need a place like your well-run abortion clinic in Texas, where you did help women with various health problems unrelated to abortion.  How would you respond to this, and what alternative would you promote?

No abortion clinic is “safe.”  Abortion harms women every year.  They have infections, hemorrhage, lose their fertility, and sometimes even lose their life.  If the pro-choice movement really cares about women and their healthcare, they would never want them to walk into ANY abortion center.  Abortion clinics maim women and then pay them for their silence.  They will do whatever they can to keep their “adverse reactions” a secret.  These are the clinics that are supposed to be safe.  Not to mention that every time an abortion is performed, a child dies.  Whether they die the horrific death like in Gosnell’s clinic, or in the womb by a suction machine…a child dies.  

Q.  Even more recently, revelations have come out about Planned Parenthood clinics in New Jersey & Richmond advising people posing as sex workers on how to avoid to reporting requirements for underage “workers.”   Personally, I was shocked to see the PP staffers so complicit in terrible things, yet at the same time I am repelled by the deceptive tactics used to make the videos.   On the one hand, the revelations are shocking and important to know; on the other hand, this sort of deception seems opposite to the approach that persuaded you to leave the abortion industry.    Do you have any reflections or thoughts on this?

I am in full support of the efforts of Live Action.  While I understand the concern, it is not a real concern for me.  We are talking about the taking of children’s lives and sex trafficking of children…not looking for slime in the ice machine.  Deceptive tactic are used to find the deceitful mechanic, the child predator and these things are glorified on television.  Then we use these same sorts of tactics in the pro-life movement and all of a sudden, we are unethical?  People talk about the “ends justifying the means.”  If catching the largest abortion chain in the country on film in illegal activity is the end, then I will support Live Action and their stings indefinitely.  I have seen this type of footage put doubt into the minds of pro-choicers.  Did it work for me?  No.  I needed to see the ultrasound among other things.  But there is no one way of changing people’s minds on abortion and Planned Parenthood. 

Q.  I haven’t seen much in the news about reaction from Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates to your book.  Have you had any reaction from your former co-workers?

I haven’t had a reaction from my former co-workers but I have had reactions from other clinic workers throughout the country. Many have left after hearing my story or reading my book and have communicated with me about it.
Q.  You were asked to leave a Protestant church when your abortion work became known.  You write of how that wounded you and closed off a chance to dialogue.  How do we as Christians speak the truth about life while still remaining open to those with opposing views?

Christ calls us to speak truth, seek the truth and live out that same truth; one of those truths being protecting His most precious creations, life. I think we sometimes get confused as to who the enemy is in this movement.  Our enemy is not the abortion worker or the abortionist…it is evil…it is the sin of abortion.  We must keep that at the forefront of our minds.  We must always be open to ministry, no matter who we speak to.  God said “remember, in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome it.” We can speak the truth and pray that one day the other side will seek it; but in order for them to desire the truth we must love them.

Q.  I was so intrigued by how your idealism and desire to help others brought you into work with Planned Parenthood. How do we who promote the culture of life attract young people, with their sense of idealism and boundless energy?  How can we prevent other Abby Johnsons from going the wrong way?

I believe that we have to be practical.  We have to start talking about this with our kids at an early age.  We have to do things that appeal to our kids.  We can’t keep the “sex talk” all bottled up.  We have to be transparent with our kids and be honest…and we have to be relevant.  Planned Parenthood is very relevant.  They use colors that are appealing to our kids.  They use language that is attractive.  We have to do the same thing, but do it in a life affirming way. 

Q.  You and your family are becoming Catholic this year.  Tell me about that part of your spiritual journey.

My husband Doug and I were no longer welcome in our church anymore once I left Planned Parenthood. I grew up Southern Baptist and never considered becoming Catholic; however, I always preferred a liturgical service over and contemporary one. When I made the decision to leave Planned Parenthood, I was welcomed into the loving arms of the Pro-Lifers, many of whom were Catholic. I grew to love and appreciate what these significant people in my life stood for and began to learn more about their faith and spiritual journey. It didn’t take long to know that I wanted that for myself, which is why we have joined the Catholic church.

Q.  Probably my favorite line from the book is when you say you were “loved from one side to the other.”  How do you think the average pro-life person can be that kind of love in his or her own community?

By following the example of the founders of 40 Days for Life who lived out each day as a loving, caring friend, not only to the clients entering into the clinics but also to the workers, including me. If you read my book, read the descriptions of those who stood beside me when I made the leap of faith to leave Planned Parenthood and practice that same peaceful, loving, compassionate and prayerfully devoted spirit.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A "Memory" Resource for Sacramental Preparation

In our family this year, we'll be celebrating two sacraments--our youngest receives his first Holy Communion, and later this month our oldest will receive her Confirmation.

In the last few weeks, my daughter was writing her required "letter to the Bishop" asking for Confirmation, and she wondered the actual date of her First Communion.  I couldn't remember the exact date, so I pulled out her personal copy of Today I Made My First Communion.

I know we’re not the only family to take out scrapbooks and old photos from time to time to remember great trips—didn’t we have fun in Maine three summers ago?-- and “olden times”—hey, Mom & Dad were once kids, even babies.   It’s a great way to connect as a family and remember fun times.

Dianne Ahern, founder of Aunt Dee's Attic, ingeniously applies this memory-sharing to the sacraments.      Today I Made My First Communion is, on its face, a nicely illustrated storybook of two friends who learn as they prepare for their first Communion.  But worth the price of the book are the half-dozen memory pages to personalize the book.    That's just the right amount--not too few, but not too many as to seem overwhelming to complete.

At our house, we've used this book as a read-aloud and, after the sacrament, worked with the first Communicant to paste in photos, cards and special memories of the day.  It didn’t take us long to complete, prompted by the simple yet helpful questions, but it’s a scrapbook we love to get out and peruse from time to time.  We also have used and "made" for each member of our family Today I Made My First Reconciliation.  I'm just a little disappointed to see that Today I Was Confirmed is yet to be released, as I know my oldest would love it.  I'm sure we'll get it once it is released.  

There’s a lovely new edition of this book available from Aunt Dee’s Attic; it’s also widely available at Catholic and Christian bookstores.  More books are also in the series, including Today I Was Baptized and Today I Made My First Reconciliation.  

What neat resources do you use for sacramental preparation?  Do you do any special "memory books" of  your family's sacraments?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Have You Given to the "Delivering Unity 2011" Campaign?

For those of you who live in the diocese of Peoria, you received a print copy of the Catholic Post this past snowy weekend whether or not you actually subscribe to the Catholic Post.    I knew this was the case when I heard from a lot more people than I usually do about my featured review this month of UnPlanned.  

So what is that all about?   Well, the Catholic Post is no longer subscription based, as you can read here.  Instead, Peoria Bishop Jenky approved that "the print and digital efforts of the diocesan newspaper are now supported by contributions...   The campaign’s goal is to better inform, inspire, and unite the diocese’s 65,000 households by sharing the newspaper’s information and inspiration in print and digitally as often as campaign revenue permits."

What this means is that people are encouraged to contribute to the ministry of The Catholic Post.   This is much the way things work for our local Christian radio station, as well as public radio and television.  It provides people an opportunity to support this vital work of the Church, and also provides the paper for those who might otherwise not be able to receive it.

The other day I signed up our family and donated to the campaign online.  It couldn't be an easier process--it only took a few minutes-- much like online bill-paying or giving anywhere.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider joining me in supporting this campaign--there are a variety of levels of giving.   If you have contributed so far, did you do so online or by mail (or in the collection basket at your church)?  What do you think of the process?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Briefly Noted: Books About Love & Marriage

Here's my short roundup of relationship books that appeared in the Catholic Post this week.  What are some of your favorites in this area?

In February, talk about marriage, relationships and love is in the air.  Here are some suggestions among newer book releases:

Set Free to Love:  Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body by Marcel LeJeune.  A jacket blurb says it all:  “The stories of everyday Catholics whose lives were transformed by the theology of the body.”  Nicely done; a wide range of experiences of TOB for general readership.

The Bible’s Best Love Stories by Allan F. Wright.  This slim volume packs in short reflection-style chapters on great “love stories” in Scripture, from Adam & Eve through Jesus & Peter.  There are wonderful reflection questions and “love connection” action items at the end of each chapter.

Blessings & Prayers for Married Couples: A Faith Full Love by Isabel Anders offers a fresh mix of prayers and selected quotes on love and marriage from spiritual sources.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Meet a Reader: Sue Wozniak, R.N.

How you know me:  I retired this month as COO of OSF St. Francis Medical Center, after a long career in nursing and hospital administration.  My husband, Ken, and I are members of St. Vincent parish in Peoria, and we have five children and four grandchildren.

Why I love reading:  Reading reduces stress and can take you away to fantasy land.  For me, reading, especially biographies of famous leaders, helps me to understand how other people make decisions.  Reading history helps me learn about living in the past.  I just love to read.

What I’m reading now:  I just finished reading Decision Points by George H.W. Bush, and I’m currently working my way through The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

My favorite book: My all-time favorite book is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I also loved all the Cherry Ames mystery books (Cherry is a nurse) when I was a girl because I wanted to become a nurse, and I did!

Friday, February 4, 2011

UnPlanned a Must-Read About Life, Prayer, Friendship & Conversion

Back in the day, I worked in public relations in the pro-life movement in Washington, DC. I wrote too many press releases to count (when we used the latest technology of faxing them to reporters), ate expense-account lunches with columnists, and did countless interviews.

When people would tell me that prayer was their primary way of serving the pro-life cause, part of me thought, “Amen.” But can I make a confession here?  Part of me didn’t really think so.  The 20something media hotshot me felt all my busy “inside the Beltway” activities were more effective.

Today, I laugh at my poor younger self.  Yes, press releases and legislation are important, but prayer and friendship are even more powerful in establishing a culture of life.

Prayer, friendship and conversion are at the heart of a new must-read: UnPlanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.

UnPlanned is the story of Abby Johnson, an abortion clinic director who leaves her job after the first time assisting an ultrasound-guided abortion, and seeing with her own eyes a baby struggling away from the abortion instrument.   This is more than just pro-life apologetics; Johnson writes a well-paced and sensitive memoir of her spiritual journey.

In UnPlanned, Johnson shares the impulses that brought her into the abortion industry, and the many decent people motivated by compassion who worked alongside her inside the clinic.  But she shows how that compassion is misdirected and used by some (including leadership at Planned Parenthood) to make money by pushing abortion regardless of what’s best for women and their children.

Two issues Johnson raises make UnPlanned especially worth reading and discussing:

*How do we as Christians speak the truth about life while still remaining open to those with opposing views?  Johnson was asked to leave a Protestant church when her abortion work became known, understandable but a move that drove Johnson away from people who might have reached her.   It’s actually the confession from the Book of Common Prayer at the  self-described “pro-choice” Episcopal parish Johnson attended that becomes a factor moving her towards repentance. God does the work of conversion; how can we be channels of this grace?

*How do we attract young people to the culture of life?  Johnson writes how she was drafted as a college student to volunteer for Planned Parenthood by an appeal to her sense of idealism and desire to help women.  Young people are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Johnson’s conversion happened in a moment, but UnPlanned makes clear it was the sustained effort of many people praying, fasting and acts of friendship for and to her that made that moment possible.

This fine book speaks volumes about the power of love and prayer to overcome darkness and despair. Johnson writes that she was “loved from one side to the other.”  Reading Unplanned  will make readers want to be that kind of love and prayer in their own communities.  I can say now, with no division, “Amen” to that.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First, What are You Reading? (Snow Day Edition) Volume 6, February 2011

Wow, February in the Midwest is here with a wallop--with a blizzard predicted for later today in Illinois.

It's perfect weather for staying inside and curling up with a good book.

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list/pile to read?

I hope you'll consider sharing yours on your blog and/or sharing yours here in the comments or on Facebook.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?

I just finished the young adult novel Scrawl, by Mark Shulman, a first-person narrative told from the bully's point of view. 

I also finished the book 168 Hours:  You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, a time management book.

What do you like best about them?

I really expected NOT to like Scrawl, subtitled, "What Does This Bully Have to Say for Himself?" because I find over-realistic young adult fiction too graphic for me, but this book was fantastic.  First of all, the narrator is instantly recognizable as an individual, and eventually, likeable.  Second, the book does not tell every.gory.detail of the events, but the impact and emotional intensity is just as dramatic.  See, YA authors, you can tell a hard-to-put-down, well-crafted story without sharing TMI.

168 Hours was really eye-opening for me.  Instead of just offering tips and tricks for saving time or maximizing efficiency, Vanderkam suggests people keep a long of how they spend each of the 168 hours in the week, and then work from their to become more efficient.  Then, she suggests people find a way to spend more time on their "core competencies," things they can do well, and less time on things that take them longer than someone else to do.  An example, Vanderkam suggests most people have a core competency of spending quality time with our children (something we obviously do better than anyone else), but failure to plan for it, or getting caught up in the busyness of life, prevents us from maximizing this time.  She writes of a busy working mom who reads Hardy Boys mysteries to her kids in the few minutes before school, and suggests parents look for little and big chunks of time for connecting in a mindful way as families.

Here's one anecdote from the book that had me thinking "outside the box" in trying to maximize limited time and resources best:  A young man, without a large income, realized after doing his time survey that he spent way too much of his time shopping for and preparing food.  So he hired a private chef to come to his house once a week and prepare meals.  It turns out that in addition to saving him hours of time, he actually ended up saving money by hiring the private chef.  He actually had been buying a lot more groceries and eating out a lot more than the chef (food included) cost.  Who knew?

This started me thinking, not about a private chef.  Surprise!  Both my husband and I enjoy cooking, so that would be a core competency for us.  Still, the book points out there are a lot of ways to save money that are not always doing things "the cheapest" way.  I've always read in the "frugal" books, that making one's own food from scratch is better from every angle, but this has me rethinking.  Penny-wise and pound foolish is not best.

I started a time survey last week but gave up pretty quickly, so I'm sure it will take me a few tries to be consistent in writing down my activities for an entire week.  After that, I'll have a good sense of how much what I do aligns with my values and goals.

What do you like least about them?

 is very good; there's not much there not to like.  Now that we have a snow day (probably a few), I will encourage my older children to read the book.  

One of the criticisms of 168 Hours is that Vanderkam is writing for a chiefly affluent audience, and she suggests things like personal shoppers and private chefs, that many single-income families would not afford.  I don't really agree with this, because the book helped me to think in a different way about so many ways I spend my time.

What are you reading next?

Other than my general resolve to read more classics on my Kindle App, I need to consider some good books for bedtime reading time with my 7-year-old.  We are approaching the end of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, and I want to find something equally as good to pick up.  I'm open to suggestions!

I'm also previewing a lot of books for March and April columns, chiefly books with a Lenten theme.  Any suggestions from you?  What are you reading?