I crossed our northern border into Canada often in the mid-2000s. As an American student at a Canadian seminary, I remember the border patrol finding that idea confusing.
“Why would you go to school there?”
Growing up in a border state, going to Canada was simple and easy. We’d flash a driver’s license and go across.
My parents grew up in western Detroit. Picnics in Windsor and youth group trips by train to Toronto were easier than driving to Chicago.
But I started school at Huron in 2004. By that time, the sense of the border was changing. Not for the millions who crossed daily for work or recreation. But for Washington, where borders need to be protected.
Every year of my three years, I was welcomed by increasing hostility. More guards. Stops. Questions.
On our side.
The Canadian side was sleek and professional. The American side, however, was loose and ragged.
One day, late October of ’04, the guard noticed the Kerry/Edwards sticker in my back window as he walked around my car with my license and visa in hand.
He looked in my window
“Do you really think he’d keep us safer?”
I knew the space before my response was a chasm. As I knew there was no good response. That this man could detain me as a citizen and not let me call a lawyer. He had incredible power to hurt me and ruin my life. And that question was too loaded.
And completely unprofessional.
“It’s a lot of things…” I stammered.
He looked at me, handed back my identity, and said I could go. He didn’t strip my car on that time through.
We’ve already built a wall.
Not the best wall. Not a wall another country has paid for. We haven’t built a literal wall.
We’ve built our wall of isolation. Entrenched ourselves, and dug in for perpetual war.
We took a moment of terror and became the bull in a china shop stung by a bee. And we take the wrath of God to the rest of the world as we see fit.
We’ve built a wall.
We’ve walled off our hearts and our minds. And broken our treaties with indigenous nations and riddled our safety net with holes like the Emmett Till sign.
Our country isn’t divided because we have different ideologies or because of immigration. That stuff’s always been with us. We are a nation of immigrants, after all. Conquerers who massacred the people of the soverign nations which were here.
Division is nothing new.
We’ve built a wall.
And we’ve empowered the guards to abuse and belittle. We’ve given our enforcers freedom to kill and terrorize. Our own communities are allowed to be war zones because we’ve walled off the wealthy from the poor and the protectors from their people.
We’ve built a wall.
To divide and insulate the powerful from the people; through our sense of reason from our compassion; our emotions from our judgment; or our sense of hope from an era thriving on terror and fear.
We’ve built our wall.
Welcome the Immigrant as an Immigrant
It seems ironic these days that the American dream was founded on one of the bedrock Judeo-Christian principles. That we are to welcome the immigrant into our lands, for we were once immigrants.
A teaching as challenging for the Hebrew people in history as it has been for the American people. Our hatred of the Irish and Italian, Chinese and Japanese, East Asian and African, Latin American and Eastern European. All have had their turns getting the royal welcome from fearful Americans.
Some we allow to assimilate. Some are still having a go of it centuries later.
And yet, over and over Scripture drives us to see the immigrant’s humanity, their Godliness, their common character with our own.
To not only empathize with the outsider, but to welcome them and show hospitality.
Over and over.
And God punishes the people for their lack of hospitality.
The walls we’ve built aren’t built by faith. They are a direct affront to faith.
If you want to build a wall, you can go ahead. Make it a great big Temple to the glory of God and how much God loves us. And how much God wants to protect us from all those other people. Go ahead.
Just know that God is in the business of tearing walls down.
* * *
This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!