Many of us who were aware of world events in the 1980's will remember the epic words of Ronald Reagan as he stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and challenged the leadership of the USSR and especially Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!"
The wall that then separated West Berlin and East Berlin had became a symbol of oppression and bondage. It was a reminder of the acrimony and mistrust between the east and the west after the fall of Germany at the close of World War Two. It divided a community that had needed one another to heal from the blight of the Nazis and the war that nearly destroyed them. When the wall was torn down not long after Reagan's now famous speech, Berliners were once again united and eventually Germany was brought together again as an independent nation now proud and strong.
We may not have large block and mortar walls dividing friends, families and communities these days but there are many walls among us. These walls are made in the clash of opposing world views, polarizing ideologies, and inflexible beliefs. They are coated on both sides with sharp rhetoric and the tops are lined with barbs of blame and vitriol. When on one side of the wall it is easy to hate those on the other side and define them by their most extreme words and behavior. It is a simple thing to dehumanize people we don't know or care to know. From those we dehumanize we feel justified to withhold any and all forms of human love and compassion. The walls weaken our schools and neighborhoods. They divide our cities and communities. They polarize political parties and blur a national identity.
These walls are strangling our society at every level diluting us from a hardy melting pot of cultures and world views bound by a common vision and purpose to a thin fractured society too blinded by the structure of our own world view to see the beauty in that of others. From the halls of congress to city hall we witness acrimony and asperity spread across the airwaves and the internet from various sides of the walls that exist. Whether the topic is taxes or pipelines, abortion or drugs, marriage or sexual identity, people are most comfortable speaking with those within their walls while taking shots at those on the other side. In so doing they hope to bring change by inflicting injury, a proposition that seems destined to ultimate failure. Meanwhile our communities pay the price. Systemic relationships at the community level are being held together by used chewing gum and cheap masking tape. Political correctness and pretense take the place of genuine human emotion and protests take the place of real efforts to bring people together.
Having been a member of the clergy for many years now I am no stranger to navigating these walls. Recently, members of the church where I minister had what has become a very high profile tragedy occur in their family. The tragedy triggered a visceral response from many around the world on issues of sexual and gender identity. As the rhetoric swirled, a giant spotlight landed on the ugly wall between conservative Christianity and the LGBTQ community. Commentary from both sides of the wall was harsh, filled with blame and bashing. One side chanted, "Your beliefs kill children!" While the other side responded, "Your glorification of suicide as martyrdom kills children!" Both sides have their say, score their points, and celebrate with the like minded while the wall grows larger and larger.
I wonder if anybody on either side (besides me obviously) has ever stopped to ask, "What if the greatest problem is not in the beliefs, rhetoric or behavior of others but rather might actually be the wall itself. I can't help but wonder what would happen if people on both sides of the wall would stop thinking up ways to vent their anger toward the other side but instead just reach over the wall and grab a hand on the other side. Just holding it, not grabbing a hand with the hopes of pulling someone over but taking time to feel the warm flesh of the other, to get to know them and their story, to try to understand where their hearts are, to accept them even if they don't agree with them. I believe that kind of behavior would begin to melt walls in our communities. We could see walls of racial differences, religious differences, cultural differences and others begin to crumble and fall. In our time we could see real healing begin in our communities. Political correctness would be replaced with real human compassion and caring. It would make a real difference in how people relate to each other. We could see each other not as a Christian people or Jewish people, gay people or straight people, black people or white people but just as people.
I don't expect those on the extremes to care much about what I am saying here. They're too busy lighting up social media, planning their rallies and devising schemes to destroy the other side. But I hope those of us in the middle of the extremes, those of us who are tired of the walls, those of us who want to love people despite our differences will see it differently. I am hoping those are the people who will approach the wall and reach over, grab a hand and start the process.
Lets tear down these walls!