What Kind of Walls Have You Built?

The Great Wall of China

My neighbors have built a wall in their front yard.

One of the reasons involves the moisture we’ve had in California. With record amounts of the wet stuff, there have been problems everywhere. From flooding to raging rivers, it’s been dangerous and destructive. More trivial, suburban landscapes have been impacted. In our yard, we removed a tree, worried because a major limb had become hollow, weakening with each rainy day. Sturdy in appearance, it was one storm away from a damaging fall.

Our neighbor’s yard sloped toward the base of their house. Decisions made by prior homeowners had been “sunny day” choices. When rain fell (lots of rain), it accumulated around the foundation rather than flowing outward toward the lawn, street, and city drainage systems.

Not good!

It was time for new ideas. Along with being realistic about California’s drought and deluge cycles, they also added a unique touch to their efforts: a wall.

I suspect my smart neighbors know they won’t get much “bang for the buck” from their wall. Unlike a kitchen or bathroom remodel, money spent on outdoor improvements rarely translate into a higher re-sale values. But, hey, some decisions are about what feels right. An addition may not be a good investment, but what if it adds pleasure, security, or whimsy?

But is a wall whimsical?

A wall is a barrier.

Wasn’t the Great Wall of China built to keep the Mongols out?

Didn’t the ancient Romans erect Hadrian’s Wall in what became Great Britain to control the marauding hoards attacking the far edge of the empire?

Walls are strong.

Walls are bold.

Walls are statements of power.

Like other cities born and built several millennia ago, Jerusalem had a wall. Within my Judeo-Christian tradition, and my awareness of history, I understand the ancient reasons for walls around cities and palaces. Walls kept out the attackers and the riffraff. Walls protected citizens from arrows and spears.

2013’s “World War Z”

And yet, do walls ever work? At least they never work to keep people out. I recall the scene from Brad Pitt’s 2013 film “World War Z” where a newly built wall—bigger, better, and stronger—around Jerusalem seemed to be blunting the onslaught of the global threat from (wait, wait) zombies. One or two human mistakes and the mighty wall was breached in seconds. There goes Jerusalem . . . again!

It’s only a movie. It’s not literal.

Speaking of not literal, firewalls are created to safeguard elaborate computer systems. How’d all those firewalls work in May 2017 during a ransomware cyber-attack? Sadly, hospitals (and other businesses) in Europe were under threat. For every secure wall, a better physical or digital ladder will soon be constructed.

Tell me one place where walls work . . . where they bring lasting peace or enduring stability.

Tell me about the walls—again, not literal—that you position around your own life. How many overwork, with “walls” of busy-ness that prevent any lasting, healthy relationships? How many use drugs or alcohol to “wall out” or “medicate” pain and fear and disappointment?

Since leaving full-time ministry, I have created “walls” between myself and my denomination. In this month of June, there’s an annual conference where my regionally-based colleagues gather for work and worship. I have now avoided attending for a decade. I have excuses, some petty, others difficult to explain. One of the silly reasons involved a sabbatical I requested ten years ago. United Methodist clergy are officially encouraged to have “renewal time” every seven years. While ministers were on their own to pay for the sabbatical, pension credit was covered by the denomination. After making my request, I discovered the benefit had been quietly eliminated that year by the national church. No announcements. No explanations. Worst of all, no one seemed to care about the handful of ministers it abruptly impacted. Poor Larry? Oh, not really . . . but it still hurt when it happened. And so, every spring for a decade, I’ve sent flimsy excuses for not attending the “required” gathering. I’ve sent it to the right people, at the right time. It’s my private, pathetic, and insignificant version of a wall. The church “hurt” me; I protect me. Will anyone respond to ask why or how I’m doing? So far, no one has.

Stupid, isn’t it? And yet I love my church, and my God, and try to follow Jesus, even with all of my selfish, dreary, trite faults. Pope Francis has said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.” He’s right. I’m wrong . . .

Yes, I despise walls. (Though I build them.) I cringe when our current President blathers on about building walls. They’ll fail. They will cost billions and someone with a borrowed ladder will climb over them. Not a good bang for the buck.

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A few evenings ago, taking a brief stroll ‘round the block with Kynzi before darkness settled, we spotted our neighbor at her new wall.

She was sitting on it.

You see, the wall our neighbors built is barely two-feet high. Our lovely, thoughtful neighbors constructed a wall designed to be welcoming, to invite any and all to linger a moment.

Their wall won’t stop any flung spears. It won’t prevent ransom-ware. It won’t repel or trap anyone. Kynzi and I—as day became night, as a cool breeze flattered the leaves, as insects buzzed, as birds swooped overhead—sat for a few moments with our neighbor.

We chatted.

About nothing.

About everything.

We settled on the wall, face-to-face, and solved not one problem.

Didn’t create one either.

My neighbor’s wall. Come, sit, and linger . . .
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