Deck the Walls with Boughs of Holly…

People love walls.

This “Christmas card,” believed to be the work of British street artist Banksy, makes an uncomfortable point about life in the Holy Land today. The burst of conversations about Syrian refugees in recent months, and the obnoxious wall-building promises of politicians in the US, echoes that point. Our human fixation with physical barriers as a solution isn’t isolated to the Holy Land.

We’ll have our security, damn the consequences.

People have always put up walls. These walls aren’t always physical but they always have a cost. It’s not worth denying their popularity and utility; we live in a world that needs some walls. No one is served by a Pollyanna-ish denial of the world we live in.

Still, we should always consider the cost of the wall itself. Every wall demands something of the builder just as it impacts those on the outside.

"The lost sunset - A view to peace" by Ian Burt via Flickr CC BY 2.0.
“The lost sunset – A view to peace” by Ian Burt via Flickr CC BY 2.0.

Physical walls are easier to understand. If a President Trump (God forbid) were successful in getting Mexico to build a wall for our southern border, as unlikely as that prospect is, we would still pay much for its presence. We would have to defend it against inevitable incursions, develop skills to ignore the humanitarian crisis that would inevitably pile up on the other side, and pretend at being a “land of the free” behind walls, under regular state-surveillance, placated by streaming entertainment.

The walls we put up to define our social selves aren’t hard to see once you look for them. For example, there is very little, on a genetic level, that separates the family living in its car at the far end of that Walmart parking lot and the Kardashians, yet we see them as so very far apart. One has wealth, the benefits of cosmetic surgery, and the attention of millions; the other has their car, meager possessions, and perhaps some integrity. Between them, and between us all, lie walls that allow us to ignore, judge, and align ourselves in ways that feed our desires for identity and security at the expense of our shared humanity.

Finally, there are those spiritual walls we put up called beliefs. My church is better than your church. My religion is always truer than yours. My understanding of God/spirituality/philosophy is more developed than yours.

Again, it’s not that beliefs (walls) are without their utility, but their spiritual value is deeply suspect when they deny us of our ability to recognize the image of God present in the other.

For Christians, walls that divide should always always be suspect. We believe in a savior who “did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.”

Instead, he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.  – Philippians 2:5-11

This isn’t the behavior of a wall-lovin’ deity intent on protecting what rightfully belonged to him. Instead, love is always looking for a door to open or a window to look through. Love is wandering the aisles of Home Depot to find the tallest ladder and shovels to dig the best tunnels.

May we be people who build walls carefully, always in hope for a day when they will no longer be needed.

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