Friday, January 22, 2010

Trust Women

We were standing out on the sidewalk, the cold air from the Susquehanna blasting into us as we looked out over the water, trying not to listen to the shouting beside us. I looked over at my friend and shrugged apologetically when they began to pray over us, then gripped my sign--- Who Would Jesus Harass?--- tighter and straightened my back ready to withstand whatever they threw at us, just hoping to make ourselves some kind of barrier between them and the women entering the clinic.

A bunch of us went every Saturday morning before the 2008 election to counter-protest outside of a women's health clinic in Harrisburg that provided abortions to women every other Saturday morning. The health care workers came outside to thank us every time, saying that no one had ever supported them like this before. One of our professors who lived in Harrisburg brought us coffee one morning. Another woman walked past us, read our signs, and then, after telling the protesters what she was doing and why, she went into the clinic to make a donation. For me, though, it was just about drawing the violence of the protesters away from the women going into the clinic.

One week, a woman had gotten into the wrong lane and had to cross over a lane last minute to make the driveway. Another car hit her, but luckily there was not much damage. Still, both cars pulled into the driveway and the woman got out of her car to exchange information. There was a younger woman who waited in the passenger's seat. As soon as the older woman got out of her car, the protesters started talking to her, telling her what a mistake she was making. She was shaking as she turned around to face them. "You have no idea how hard of a decision this was for us!" she shouted with such emotion that it shut them up. I choked up because of the force of her emotion,the force of her pain.

While not every woman's decision to have an abortion is a painful one, this woman's answer will be imprinted in my mind forever. Her face, the tone of her voice, her clenched fists will always be in my mind whenever I think of what reproductive freedom means to me.

Today marks thirty-seven years that Roe v. Wade has been in effect. Yet, control over their own bodies has always been a struggle for women in this country. Abortion providers face violence daily. Dr. George Tiller, a gentle man of faith who said at a conference I was at in 2008 that he continued providing late-term abortions for women because of he would never want his own daughter to suffer an unwanted pregnancy, was brutally murdered in his church. His killer claims it was in self defense to save the "unborn." Sick.

And in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Abortion Ban (the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003) to protect women from decisions they may regret later: as Justice Kennedy said,"It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form." Despite the medically inaccurate statement, the most frightening thing here is that fact that still in the second millennium old men are finding it necessary to curtail women's control over their own bodies "for their own good."

If we are so concerned with the dignity of human life, why is it that women are continually denied the dignity of making decisions for themselves? "Trust Women" to me means allow us the dignity to make our own decisions because I know what is best for my body better than Justice Kennedy or those protesters outside of the clinic in Harrisburg. Trust women.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Stone dripping into the green river below. On November 9, 1993, a bridge that had stood for almost half a century finally disintegrated under artillery fire during the Bosnian war. It was a bridge for foot traffic in the touristy part of town, targeted because it symbolized unity. It was a representation of the beauty of living in a multicultural, diverse community. And it fell.

The first time I went to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a volunteer in mission with UMCOR, I stood on cobblestone in the old city, watching as men in speedos dove the almost 79 feet into the river below. The river Neretva is a beautiful river, green and clear. The bridge, newly built, was more beautiful. Stones washed clean as though they were the originals bathed for a decade safe from the violence above. As though the bridge was baptized and made new. Yet, on the mountain above, three huge crosses dominate, throwing a violent shadow over the city. A reminder that some are sorry the genocide was not completed.

Despite my own anger as a Christian against those who used Christ as a weapon, against those who were not creative enough to resist the impulse to violence as a means of solving their lack of ability to deal with changing communities, I find this place hauntingly beautiful. I want to place my hands in the holes left from bullets like Thomas placed his hands in the wounds left on Jesus's body.

And so I find myself returning again and again. First with UMCOR. UMCOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a neutral organization, one who did not leave the bad taste that the blue helmets of the UN left in the mouths of Sarajevans during the seige. Even more than a decade after the war, UMCOR was resettling folks back in their homes, helping them survive. I could see even from 2004 to 2006 a huge difference in the country as more and more people were able to get to their feet. And the beautiful people. The deep resonance of women's voices. The warmth of people's laughter (even as they laugh at you for your sorry attempt at speaking Bosnian).

This January was my fifth time to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aaron, my partner, brought me as a Christmas present. It was his first time to Bosnia. It is like going home. We go and have coffee with people, learn Turkish and Arabic words to impress our hosts and to make younger Bosnians laugh. I love to see new places, but these are the people and this is the land to which I will always return. You have not seen beauty until you drive from Mostar to Sarajevo. Until you have been held between the gray stone of the mountains. Until you stand on the cobblestone pathway of Old Town in Mostar, the stone imploring you to "Never Forget" on your left and that beautiful Ottoman bridge out in front of you, pleading for us to build bridges between our communities. Not to let those bridges crumble into the river below.

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