Last week we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This week we worry about building a wall along our southern border high enough and in time enough to stop the flood of illegal immigrants. And we worry about a president who disregards our laws.
Walls wall people out, and they wall people in. The Berlin Wall, a part of the “iron curtain” separating the Communist East from the free West, walled people in, imprisoning them. The purpose of the border is key. The quality of freedom and the degree of tyranny on either side is key.
America, as a free society, allows freedom of travel, albeit with the legal documents to do so, documents that protect not only the traveler, but the citizenry at home and abroad. We cross borders and checkpoints, and walls seem to disappear for legal American citizens. Those of us fortunate enough to be born here must never take this for granted. Those of us who have come here legally will, to be sure, never take it for granted. Those who crossed our borders illegally however have harmed both themselves and us, for the rule of law, our justice system, is integral to America’s very definition. Illegals would not be coming to America if it were otherwise. But their breaking of our law has also harmed those legal immigrants who have waited in line patiently. Their breaking of our law has harmed the millions of law-abiding workers whose wages are challenged by an influx of a low-cost and illegal labor force.
I have found in my sixty-seven years on this earth, that personal walls are useful parameters in my life. We call such walls self-discipline. I build walls around my time, boxing in an hour to write this blog post on a Sunday afternoon, imprisoning an occasional day to write a another scene in The Fire Trail, my novel-in-progress, or fencing in a morning to worship God in church.
I don’t always feel like going to church. I confess there are often other things I would rather be doing. But my time wall tells me it’s time, it’s Sunday, and since this wall is one of the Ten Commandments, I had better have a good reason for breaking this commandment. I don’t always feel like writing this blog, but see it as a good discipline, an exercise in words, rather like my stretching exercises each morning. Who wants to exercise? We do it because we know we will feel better, that we will prevent injury by strengthening muscles and pumping the heart. If we ignore this time wall, we hurt ourselves.
Likewise, when I skip Sunday worship I don’t feel as happy as when I honor the Sabbath. A friend once said to me that there are no mentions of happiness in the Bible. I wondered about that. It turns out that each time the word blessed is used, it can be translated as happy. The difference seems to be that blessed means that the happiness is a gift from God, rather than happiness self-induced through drugs or a good dinner or any of the short-term highs we laud today.
So building that wall around Sunday morning, i.e. reserving that time for worship of God with his people, the Body of Christ, makes me blessedly happy all week. I’ve also found that morning prayers bless each day, and evening prayers bless me with a good sleep. I often tell insomniacs to try reciting the psalms… the rhythm, the worship, the letting go of oneself in the pool of God’s love is very relaxing. The best way to sleep is to let go of your self.
When I ignore those daily and weekly boundaries of time, I find a curious unease settling around my heart, as though I have starved my spirit. Studies have recently shown that church-goers are less likely to be depressed. How true.
Since the sixties, our culture has torn down boundaries and mocked moral discipline, has destroyed all kinds of walls. Deviancy has been defined down; crime has risen. Standards of dress, behavior, academics, work, and many other areas of social interaction have sought to be inclusive so that no one be offended by beauty, truth, goodness, excellence or wealth. Our culture has mainstreamed variation, including everyone in one main stream. When this happens, when walls no longer define excellence, when borders no longer define truth, goodness, and beauty, their edges smudge and we find ourselves living in a tepid gray area along with everyone else… wearing the uniform of sexless comrades in a steely city, a dystopia growing more familiar each day.
It is as though we have mistaken inclusivity and warm-heartedness for love. But God’s love, true love, loves the uniqueness of each created being, warts and all. He sees into the dark corners of our hearts; he wants to teach us how to love as he has loved and will always love; he wants us to clean out those dark places and let his light in. And so he arranged for each one of us to be created through an act of love, a union of two unique persons, complementary in gender and unique in genes, and thus we are wondrously born to be only ourselves. We can be no other. Love rejoices in these differences, doesn’t deny and merge them, hoping they will disappear in a gray land without borders.
And as we rejoice in our human differences, whether they be race, gender, beauty, or talent, let us also rejoice in the borders defining our nation, a land that is just and free, boundaries that celebrate legal crossings and prosecute illegal ones. This is the America that immigrants desire. This is the America we are proud of. This is the America we are honored to fight for in a world of shadows and merging grays.
In Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” the narrator repairs a common-border wall with his neighbor, who states, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The poet considers what this means, asking,Why do they make good neighbors… Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out And to whom I was like to give offense.
His neighbor doesn’t consider why, just repeats his slogan. But Mr. Frost is right, it is good to answer where and why we build walls, consider who’s outside and who’s inside and possible offenses caused by our defenses, for there are good reasons.
Let us build a just wall along the borders of our nation that will no longer invite illegal entry. Let us encourage those already here illegally to become legal through due process and to stand in line like everyone else. And let us keep the wall repaired to protect us all. Let us be good neighbors.