Tearing Down Walls

I recently met a black man who lamented the fact that humans are good at “building fences.” He should know. He is from South Africa and saw apartheid (from the Afrikaans word for “apartness”) up close and personal. I think he is right. It is often our nature to build unnecessary “fences” or “walls” between ourselves and people who are “different” than we are – people who look differently than we do, talk with a different accent, eat different foods, have different family and social customs, and worship differently – so we foolishly and unkindly separate ourselves from them.

Around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, I have seen “the wall” which keeps people apart. Many have painted pictures or written words of angst on it.

In and of itself, the wall is huge, ugly, and menacing. While it may have served a purpose in preventing a certain amount of violence, it has also served to further divide people from each other. It has kept Palestinian friends and relatives from seeing each other in times of weddings, childbirth, and death – they can’t get into Jerusalem without special permission that is often impossible to get! This has built “walls” of simmering resentment or deep anger. (Most of us have no idea what it is like to be stopped at a checkpoint and be treated as a sub-human. It doesn’t happen to every Palestinian by the Jewish soldiers, and it certainly doesn’t happen all the time, but it has happened and it is unjust and unconscionable).

As a “Christian” (although I much prefer to be called and known as a “follower of Jesus”), I have seen a great deal of fear and anger toward Muslims by Christians also. It breaks my heart. So much suspicion of each other. Walls, walls, and more walls. Having said that, I sincerely believe that there is a time and a place for legitimate suspicion, don’t you? For example, I believe there is a time and place for suspicion of those who call themselves “Muslims” but cite the Qur’an to justify their efforts to destroy and kill innocent people in the name of Allah – whether Christians or other Muslims (by the way, all of my Muslim friends detest these acts of violence). And. . .if I was a Muslim, I would certainly be justified in being suspicious of “Pastor” (I use the term very, very loosely) Terry Jones and people like him who call themselves Christians but speak with hateful words and commit hateful acts toward the people of Islam. If I was a Muslim, I would certainly be justified in being suspicious of people like Anders Behring Breivik, the murderer who stated that the purpose of his attack last summer was to save Norway and Western Europe from a Muslim takeover, and that the Labour Party had to “pay the price” for “letting down Norway and the Norwegian people.”

But most walls of suspicion between Muslims and Christians are not justified. They are simply a result of harmful stereotypes. They happen because people do not take the time and effort to get to know each other – to sit down and talk about life and feelings and faith. This blog exists to tear down unnecessary walls.

The question for all of us – Muslims and Christians alike – is this: How do we tear down the unnecessary walls of suspicion, fear, anger, and prejudice that so often come between us?

6 thoughts on “Tearing Down Walls

  1. Great post, Pastor Mark! It’s this kind of insight that really makes you a man of peace. I hope your travels are going well!

  2. Pete, I am honored that you would leave a reply. A big thanks to you for helping make it possible to get this blog from my heart and mind to the internet. I appreciate all your help and support!

  3. Hey Mark. Good word! I like the use of the pictures, the examples of proper suspicion and the over all balance of your blog. May God help us break down those walls! You da man! Rick

    • Rick, I am honored that you would respond and I hold your opinions in high esteem. Together may we be “peace catalysts” for God in this world!

  4. If only we would care to know and understand …persons – individuals.

    Unfortunately, we let too many soundbites and ‘authorities’ (be they tv commentators, priests, pastors, imams or rabbis) tell us what think, what to fear and what to believe… rather, let’s take the time to know one another so that we can better love one another.

    Unfortunately, too many of us let our perceptions of a group cloud our understanding of people and persons. I find it ironic and distressing that so many of us crave and claim individuality but think categorically. (Especially us Christians who believe that Jesus died to reconcile EACH of us PERSONALLY with God.)

    Of course – I am guilty myself. It’s natural. It’s easier to stick with what I know and WHO I KNOW to stay in my comfort zone – with people I like, customs I’m familiar with, thought I agree with. Us and We above most definately includes me – but I do have hope that it will be less and less each time I get to know another person with a perspective, a culture, or a personality different from mine – whether I like it or not!

    I saw your post after I was doing some other searching that had led me to Thomas Merton quotes. It seems to me that Merton understood that love is impossible in a bubble of ignorance or behind walls of misconception.

    “Unfortunately the love that is to be born out of hate will never be born. Hatred is sterile; it breeds nothing but the image of its own empty fury, its own nothingness. Love cannot come of emptiness. It is full of reality. Hatred destroys the real being of man in fighting the fiction which it calls “the enemy.” For man is concrete and alive, but “the enemy” is a subjective abstraction. A society that kills real men in order to deliver itself from the phantasm of a paranoid delusion is already possessed by the demon of destructiveness because it has made itself incapable of love. It refuses, a priori, to love. It is dedicated not to concrete relations of man with man, but only to abstractions about politics, economics, psychology, and even, sometimes, religion..” Thomas Merton – from Seeds of Contemplation


    “The dread of being open to the ideas of others generally comes from our hidden insecurity about our own convictions. We fear that we may be “converted” – or perverted – by a pernicious doctrine. On the other hand, if we are mature and objective in our open-mindedness, we may find that viewing things from a basically different perspective – that of our adversary – we discover our own truth in a new light and are able to understand our own ideal more realistically.

    Our willingness to take an alternative approach to a problem will perhaps relax the obsessive fixation of the adversary on his view, which he believes is the only reasonable possibility and which he is determined to impose on everyone else by coercion…This mission of Christian humility in social life is not merely to edify, but to keep minds open to many alternatives. The rigidity of a certain type of Christian thought has seriously impaired this capacity, which nonviolence must recover. ” – Thomas Merton from “Passion For Peace”
    “But where there is no love of man, no love of life, then make all the laws you want, all the edicts and treaties, issue all the anathemas; SET UP ALL THE SAFEGUARDS AND INSPECTIONS, fill the air with spying satellites, and hang cameras on the moon. As long as you see your fellow man being essentially to be feared, mistrusted, hated, and destroyed, there cannot be peace on earth.” … Thomas Merton, “Seeds of Destruction”

    (P.S. I found these quotes on website: http://www.octanecreative.com/merton/quotes.html
    I don’t know it’s origin and can’t vouce for it’s validity. )

    • Jill, thanks for all your comments and quotes. I especially appreciate your honesty regarding what we all fall into: letting authority figures tell us what to believe about other ethnic groups, nationalities, etc. without taking the time and effort to get to know individuals. What a difference that makes.

      When we speak in churches, we encourage Christians to get to know Muslims. Learn about their backgrounds, families, culture, and faith. Again, what a difference it makes!

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