Why does America love walls? Perhaps a prior question needs to be asked: What are walls supposed to do? Common answers are given: “Keep one safe.” “Protect one’s possessions.” “Keep out undesirable people.” Walls, walls, walls – how we love them. They are built into our national DNA as supposedly foolproof. We know deep down they aren’t. When we were kids we built wood block walls to keep out the enemy, but they never worked.
History is strewn with stories of walls. In the Old Testament of the Bible, the walls of the city of Jericho “came tumbling down.” In AD 120 Emperor Hadrian of Rome constructed a long defensive wall in the northwest province of Britain from barbarian invaders. A later Roman Emperor built a second wall further north. Before World War II, the French built the impregnable Maginot Line to keep out Nazi Germany. German troops parachuted over the wall or went around the ends. Years later, the Berlin Wall could not hold people back. Now our country is planning to build one of the Eight Architectural Wonders of the World, The Great Unpaid Wall of Mexico.
The strongest and most hurtful walls today are not built from wood, steel and stone but shaped by racial attitudes, and prejudices of people. We humans are always afraid someone or something will threaten us. For example, years ago Urban Planners in the Twin Cities of Minnesota routed Interstate roads through minority neighborhoods turning them into isolated enclaves. The Philips neighborhood in Minneapolis and the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul come to mind. Splitting up local neighborhoods made it difficult for all God’s people to share in housing, health, education, and job opportunities.
Each generation in America produces a new list of people we should be afraid of. When I was a child growing up in St. Louis, the people on the watch list were Irish Catholics. Afro-Americans and Native Americans were always on these hate lists. Today we go modern by adding Muslims and Somalis to be wary of. Before you know it the names of mother-in-law’s, uncles and grandparents will appear and then our names. No one is immune. If people want to make fools of them - let them. Please don’t blame God for these vitriolic homegrown hate lists.
Walls serve two purposes. One purpose says walls keep us safe and protect our way of life. It is never made clear: What is the threat to our lives? I have been told by some Christians for years that gay commitments are a threat to my nearly sixty years of marriage. I could never figure out why? The same question is raised about walls: “Why am I afraid to look into the face of my neighbor?” Do I see myself?
The second purpose of a wall is more dangerous than the first reason. If I buy into these false claims how walls can keep me safe, I commit myself to a prison with no windows. I have condemned myself to solitary confinement and fearful isolation. Do I really want to be sentenced to a living hell?
Sadly, I see examples today where the Good News of God’s Love is turned around into the Bad News of Jesus. Jesus said: “Forgive seventy times seven” now becomes forgive when you see someone who deserves it. Jesus said: “Love your enemies” now becomes try once and if unsuccessful, find more enemies. Jesus said: “Love your neighbor” now becomes love only those who believe in white privilege. Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers” now becomes peace makes us weak and war makes us strong. Jesus said: “Blessed are the merciful” now becomes let’s not get too soft.
When some people talk like this, I don’t recognize the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I only see a Judgmental, Firebrand Savior who is a bounty hunter going after the undeserving. Why let these vitriolic voices of discord hijack the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ?
All these frightful reasons for building walls fly in the face of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus tells us to “welcome the stranger” and “love your neighbor.” Jesus talked about hardened hearts” and not being able to “see” and “obey” the neighborly life of the Good News. Surely life is more than building walls. There is a new path to walk giving hope to those who lost hope and sharing love with the unlovable.
“He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in: - Edwin Markham, English Poet
-Daniel R. Schmiechen
Dan is married to Barbara, has four children, and five grandchildren. He reads books on nature, history and Nordic murder mysteries. He enjoys community service, classical music and writing. He guided wilderness canoe trips and is a retired clergy.