American poet Robert Frost once wrote:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast...
(“Mending Wall” excerpt)
Recently I visited Germany for the meeting of the Council of Bishops. The words of that poem were ringing in my head, along with the many cathedral bells we heard clamoring on every corner.
We gathered in the city of Berlin, where we visited many of the historical sites of this diverse city during our break times. Most notable to me was viewing the remains of the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 and torn down in 1989. It separated the east (communist) and west (democratic) people of the same country. The governmental control that was established in the aftermath of World War II gave Russia control of East Berlin and the United States, England and France control of the West.
During the era of the Berlin Wall there was much sadness and separation. Whole families were unable to be together. Many attempted to climb over the wall but were felled by fatal gunfire. Tragically, even children were killed. Hearing stories of daring escapes and the digging of ingenious tunnel systems were part of the tour of the Berlin Wall that we experienced.
As the German tour guide led us past the many memorial sites of the wall on that sunny spring day I was struck by two contrasting sensations. There was the stark horror of this wall’s dark history, but also the pleasant idyllic scene of the grassy lawn where we witnessed children playing and vendors selling souvenirs. The wall made all the difference. When there was a wall life was bitter with alienation and death. When the wall came down life and community sprang forth. But not totally so.
During a potluck lunch at the German-speaking church where I preached I sat around the table with Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor at the University of Applied Sciences, located in the former East Berlin area. She said there is a “wall in our heads” that still exists even though the physical wall has been removed. The towering wall that remains now is one of economic disparity, prejudice, and distrust. Those who lived under the communist regime are less able to get good jobs and affordable housing.
The professor hopes for a day when the two sides could actually work together more for the benefit of all. The church in West Germany is engaged in this ministry of wall-removal from heads and hearts, and I thank God for their witness.
One such ministry is happening at a UM church that has an outreach to Muslim children in an area of East Germany. The church provides food, activities, homework help and recreation for low-income families. This ministry is a way of breaking down interfaith walls as well as providing economic support. The director of the program quoted a young Muslin child who said, “If I am ever in trouble I know that the church will help me.”
Another UM Church that is dismantling inner “walls” is building a ministry with refugees. Members welcome people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, while offering them food, housing and friendship. When asked about their ability to speak other languages at the church, the faithful Berlin Methodists say they speak the “language of love” and everyone understands.
Still another church has a ministry with people who are recovering alcoholics. They are helping restore these often homeless people to sobriety and also restoring them to a sense of community through support groups and AA meetings.
Jesus came to break down the walls of separation between people and God. To paraphrase Robert Frost, there is someone who does not love a wall. And that someone is God.
God desires to be in communion with us, and for us to be in communion with one another. As Christians we are called to share the Good News of salvation so that people can be restored to God and can then work toward knocking down the social and economic walls of separation between people.
Here in the United States we live within many walls. We have walls of race and ethnicity, gender, economic disparity, theological stand-offs around our social issues, and interpersonal strife. Walls create nothing but pain. Walls create unhealthy havens where we can hold on to our prejudices and preferences and not learn from the “other,” nor grow mutually from the interaction and sharing that wall-removal can bring.
Think about walls that you, with God's help, can separate, weaken, pull apart and maybe even knock down. How can God use you to “spill the upper boulders in the sun and make gaps even two can pass abreast.”
This is the wall-removal work that Christ did for us through his sacrifice for grace, "for he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." (Ephesians 2:14, NRSV). And it is the work he calls and equips us to continue doing in his name, both at home and around the world.