(image via Pixabay)
He used to stand by the driveway to the abortion clinic, in the city I grew up in.
He stood there in his button-down and dress pants, short light hair nicely combed, face just slightly tan, a picture of American respectability. He usually wore a baseball cap, as well; a navy blue cap with an insignia marking him as part of a Conservative organization that both picketed abortion clinics and patrolled the Southern border of Texas. He had a Bible in one hand– one of those floppy Protestant Bibles in a nifty Protestant waterproof leather zipper case. I had never seen a Bible in a leather zipper case before. I was Catholic.
He stood at the driveway from early morning until they closed at noon, every Saturday. The summer sun beat down; the winter snow pelted him and the rain soaked him, but he stayed, carefully shielding his Bible with that Protestant waterproof leather zipper case.
Even at the time, when I thought that shouting at people outside abortion clinics was an effective way to change the culture, I thought he was bad at preaching. He would scream at cars as they entered the drive, and scream again as they left.
“When ya wake up CRYING, you can TURN to JESUS,” the Preacher shouted in his stilted, syncopated Protestant staccato. The post abortive women to whom he was shouting were already crying, but he didn’t seem to notice their tears. Or maybe he honestly thought that the only form of comfort he could give was Jesus, but had never opened that nifty floppy Protestant Bible to the passage where Christ says “neither do I condemn you,” or the passage where the Messiah declines to break bruised reeds. He wasn’t interested in providing comfort and help, he wanted to preach.
I misunderstood Jesus just as much, in those days, of course. The Preacher’s wasn’t a Protestant form of brutality; it was a human form. I had it. The abortion clinic security guard who grimly stared at the crying women had it. The clinic escorts who limply walked crying women back and forth, providing no warmth or consolation, had it. Boyfriends with clenched jaws, family members pushing crying girls by the shoulder and not looking at them, people shouting both pro-life and pro-choice slogans at clinic– all were brutal. We were automata, playing our parts like clockwork. Lack of empathy was a plague, and we all had it.
I make an exception for two people: there was one Catholic man who knelt in front of the clinic, not blocking the sidewalk, not even seeming to acknowledge the evils he could not change, only praying five sets of mysteries of the Rosary and not stopping even when pedestrians threw water over him. And another, a Protestant, who walked around the clinic with his Bible, praying softly, speaking to nearly no one. One day I saw him go to the Catholic on his knees, and offer that if someone tried to attack him again, he would stand in front of him to shield him from the blows, but he wouldn’t fight back. “I have nothing against your church,” he said. “It’s just that the Holy Spirit hasn’t called me there yet.”
Those two men weren’t far from the kingdom, as I’ve come to understand the kingdom. I think the rest of us were in hell.