This morning I preached for the Pro-Life MS sidewalk counselors in front of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, or as the folks who work there call themselves “The Last Abortion Clinic.” I have done this a few times in my life, and while I know that street preaching and sidewalk counseling and protesting is not everyone’s style, I believe that this is something that I need to do from time to time. I think it is important. It is important for me to make a sort of witness, but I think what is even more important (for me at least) is for me to know what the reality of the abortion crisis is like. Obviously, the sidewalks outside the JWHO are only a small part of this reality, and they are extreme, to be sure, but they are still real. Real people go in and out of that clinic, and real decisions are made about real lives. It is important to know what the people are like who engage in pro-life activities, and it is important to know what the pro-abortion advocates are like. This morning had a particularly harrowing effect upon me.
As I was leading the morning liturgy, a service that included the singing of psalms and hymns, the reading of scripture, a confession of our sins, a homily, and praying for the clinic and world, the escorts (that is what the security guards and supporters of the JWHO call themselves) began to play the radio loudly. I understand why they do this. It’s within their rights and has its own sort of logic, but the song they played cut me to the heart. It was “Hey Joe.”
Now, I have to confess that I have always enjoyed this song. I’m a fan of Jim Hendrix, and I have listened to a lot of rock music, classic or otherwise. I’m hardly the kind to condemn the genre. But those lyrics. Man. Take a look:
Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?
Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?
I’m goin down to shoot my old lady,
You know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man.
Yeah, I’m goin’ down to shoot my old lady,
you know I caught her messin’ ’round with another man.
And that ain’t too cool.
Hey Joe, I heard you shot your woman down,
you shot her down.
Hey Joe, I heard you shot you old lady down,
you shot her down to the ground. Yeah!
Yes, I did, I shot her,
you know I caught her messin’ ’round,
messin’ ’round town.
Uh, yes I did, I shot her
you know I caught my old lady messin’ ’round town.
And I gave her the gun and I shot her!
Shoot her one more time again, baby!
Ah, dig it!
Joe where you gonna go?
Hey Joe, said now,
uh, where you gonna run to now, where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna go?
Hey Joe, I said,
where you goin’ to run
to now, where you, where you gonna go?
Well, dig it!
I’m goin’ way down south, way down south,
way down south to Mexico way! Alright!
I’m goin’ way down south,
way down where I can be free!
Ain’t no one gonna find me babe!
Ain’t no hangman gonna,
he ain’t gonna put a rope around me!
You better believe it right now!
I gotta go now!
Hey, hey, hey Joe,
you better run on down.
Goodbye everybody. Ow!
Hey, hey Joe, what’d I say,
run on down.
Where you gonna go?
Hey Joe, where you goin’ with the gun in your hand? I’m going down to shoot my old lady, You know I caught her messin’ around with another man.
This was playing as young women were walking into a clinic to contemplate terminating the life of their children. The lack of self-awareness was striking. Of course, the surface level is bad enough. It displays a fairly incredible lack of tact to play a song like this at a place like this. But as we get more reflective, we can see just how tragic the irony is. The judgment of man brings down wrath upon those who betray love. Desperation sets in, and we make horrible choices.
When I got home, I looked up some of the various commentary and history of “Hey Joe.” It’s a storied song which has made the rounds of performers and interpretations. The basic interpretation is that of a story of love, betrayal, and vengeance. Other interpretations are that it is symbolic of the larger human condition, warfare, and violence. And the point is that violence begets more violence.
Why was the old lady messin’ around with another man in the first place? We can imagine all sorts of factors which could prompt this, some of them simple, like lust and excitement, and others more complex, like fear, alienation, insecurity, and helplessness. But when the lover betrays the beloved, this prompts a violent response. And then that violent response invites more violence, whether it be the violence of the law or the violence of escape and pursuit.
This is our condition. We are all of us in medias res. We do not start from scratch but instead inherit disadvantage, guilt, and a propensity to sin. We are also born into a world that is already populated with other people who also have disadvantage, guilt, and a propensity to sin. No one is exempt from this. And so we struggle, we make choices– some good and some bad– and then we have to deal with the consequences of those choices. We have to react to the reaction. The question of justice and virtue is posed to us in such moments. What will we do? How will we choose?
This is real life. We choose good or evil, life or death, and we do it based upon our motivations or desires. To put it more simply, we do it based upon our heart. Whatever we love and prize most is what “wins out” in the end. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
And so when real life hits us, when we have to make decisions in the midst of crisis, the question is this: Where is our heart? What do we love? Who do we love?
If we choose ourselves, we need to understand what this means. It does not mean that we have a healthy self-esteem or are trusting in the good of potential. It means that we are choosing against others. Putting our “self” first, means putting others second. And in the case of abortion that means one life for another. For me to increase, you must decrease.
The way of the Cross is exactly opposite of this. It means choosing others, not our self, and it means choosing others by choosing Christ. He calls us to love, to suffer, and to give up our lives, and he promises that in doing so we will be like him in being for the life of the world.
Make no mistake, this means giving up your stuff. This means giving up your potential. This means telling your “self” to take a secondary seat. It means suffering, persecution, and dishonor. Do we believe this? Is this something we are really prepared for? Do we mean it?
But the good news is that he who loses his life will find it. Giving up on your “self” for the sake of Jesus means salvation, both for yourself and for others.
And if you can’t do that, then you have to understand that you remain in the cycle. You are continuing to react and deal with a broken situation with broken means. You will continue to have to choose some over others. And that brings me back to “Hey Joe.”
When you choose for yourself, even in times of great trial, heartbreak, and hopelessness, when you choose for yourself over others, you need to hear the question:
“Where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?