by Christine Sine
Lent is less than a week away and we invite you to join us on a journey of creativity and transformation this year. Think a little outside the box as you get ready for Easter. It’s time to prepare, not for the cross but the kingdom, not for death but for life. It’s time to get ready to be God’s resurrection people of love and compassion in our needy world.
To do that we need to break down the walls that separate us from clearly seeing the image of God within us and within others. We need to break down the walls that prevent us from loving God with our whole heart and our neighbors as ourselves. We need to break down the walls that prevent us from being the effect stewards of God creation that we are called to be. Lent is a good time to do some of that work.
What If We Gave Up Walls For Lent?
Last year, I initiated a Facebook discussion that much to my horror became a rather vicious argument about the wall between the U.S and Mexico. By the end of the discussion, I think that we had all added new layers to the walls that divided us and made rational thought and discussion almost impossible.
As I reflected on this, I was reminded of another wall – the Berlin wall that once separated people from each other. I was actually in Germany when the wall came down and still have this piece that was taken from it by a German friend, who together with others had prayed for years for the breaking down of the wall. I pulled out my piece of the wall and have added it to my Lenten Garden as a reminder that God is faithfully in the business of breaking down walls through love.
Breaking Down Walls Means Listening Carefully and Respectfully.
Walls are so often designed to keep out those we see as a threat, without really understanding who those people are. To listen carefully and respectfully, we must be secure enough in who we are to not be threatened by another person’s opinion. What are the fears that make us feel walls are necessary, not just on the border, but in other parts of our lives too? Listening does not mean we agree with each other, but hopefully it does mean that we can accept and love each other in the midst of our disagreements.
What if we decided to break down these walls for Lent and truly listened to each other? Here are some suggestions on how to do this.
1. Let’s preach a theology of inclusion. So often we create walls between us and those who look or practice faith differently than we do because we focus on difference rather than similarity. We are all created in the image of Christ and Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:28 that, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What does that look like in our world today? How could we use Lent to break down walls that exclude other ethnicities, other denominations and other sexual orientations?
Why not visit a church of a different denomination during Lent – an African American church, a Catholic Church an Orthodox Church, a LBGTQ affirming church or a very conservative church. If there is a church with mainly refugees in your area, it would be good to include that as well. You might even like to add a mosque and a Jewish synagogue to the mix. Invite your friends to join you. Have a discussion afterwards asking: What did you learn about God? And what did you learn about faith?
2. Encourage practices that help you get to know your neighbors. Random acts of kindness in the neighborhood are great ways to break down walls that isolate us from those around us. My friends, Trevor and Hilary of Kardia church in Seattle, researched their neighborhood to find out who had moved in over the last few months. They visited each of the new people and gave them a small gift to welcome them. For many, it was the first form of welcome into their new environment they had experienced. More recently, during our heavy snow, they went around the neighborhood shoveling sidewalks and driveways for those who were unable to do it themselves.
3. Be open to change. When we interact with people who are very different from us, we need to be willing to learn and be receptive to the change God may demand of us. I am still impacted by the words of African American preacher Leroy Barber who once told me, “white people want us to show up but they don’t want us to change how we do things.” We need to encourage flexibility and a willingness to both see things differently and do things differently.
4. Share in the pain of the excluded. When we listen to the stories of other people’s pain, we have the possibilities of strengthening the walls that divide us by turning away from or ignoring the suffering that overwhelm us. Alternatively, we can take the pain we hear expressed into ourselves in the same way that Jesus took on the pain and suffering of the world. Then, we must allow God to comfort us in the midst of that pain and share that comfort and compassion with others. Teaching our congregations to listen to the pain of others and respond in compassionate and caring ways could be one of the most powerful things we could teach during Lent. Listen, pray, respond is a great mantra to teach our members to use during Lent.
Lent is meant to be a season that prepares us to live more effectively as followers of Christ. And that is all about breaking down walls that exclude and isolate us. What will you do to break down the walls within yourself and your congregation during this season?