Unveiling the Walls that Divide Us | Sojourners

Unveiling the Walls that Divide Us

I find it discomforting that the Lord instructs someone to wage war and therefore reasoning that God-sanctioned war is justifiable even though as Christians we are called to be peacemakers in the world, such as in Bible passages like this one, which always strike me as perplexing:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in." (Joshua 6.2-5)

It is especially troublesome to see the violent nature in which these tasks are carried out often leaving the women and the children as victims -- "They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it -- men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys." (Joshua 6.21)

What is further striking about this passage is the way Joshua led his army into the city of Jericho. One would think, given the violence that ensued after the wall of Jericho fell, that equal amounts of violence would have been used to take down the wall. But in complete contrast, the Lord instructs Joshua to perform a seven day ritual that involved trumpet blowing, troops marching, and the army shouting. With one loud shout, the wall collapsed just like that.

In May, I had the opportunity to be one of the Presbyterian Church (USA) delegates to the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica that culminated the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010). (You can view pictures here.) Close to a thousand participants from more than 100 nations gathered together for a seven day convocation focused on a variety of ways Christians are called to promote peace: in the community, with the earth, in the marketplace, and among the peoples. At the end of our time, a final convocation message was drafted that was gleaned from discussions and conversations throughout our time together.

When I first arrived at the University of the West Indies (UWI) where we were staying, the first thing I noticed was the amount of barbed wire fencing that surrounded the campus and each of the dormitory buildings. Sharing my observation and surprise with a participant, he said it is the cheaper means of security, which I had not thought about before. With the barbed wire fencing so obviously visible, I was constantly faced with my own need to feel safe and protected, making the assumption that this must not be a safe place. I guess I prefer the invisible barbed wire of hidden cameras, security alarms, and people I would never meet providing 24 hour surveillance supplying me with a false sense of security that gives me the luxury to not face any fears I have that I may be vulnerable to danger. This got me thinking about other things in my life and my surroundings that I have easily overlooked because they aren't obviously visible.

During my time at the convocation, we talked a lot about walls. Whether it is remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall that divided a country; the wall built by Israel that divides the lives and homeland of Palestinian people; the Korean demilitarized zone that divides what once used to be one country and one people, walls provide security or division depending on who built the wall. Even the place we stayed at, UWI, showed remnants of the walls that were constructed in the time when the campus was a sugar plantation, and men and women were forced to work as slaves. However, unless you were paying close attention, one would never notice these remnants as you walked across the campus. What once used to be a place of black enslavement has been transformed into a place that now educates and equips young people. I can only imagine what events took place for that transformation to happen.

And these are just the barbed wire walls that we see. There are many invisible walls of poverty, injustice, and violence that happen around us and separate us into categories based on religion, race, gender, sexuality, nationality, class, and ethnicity. These kinds of walls have the force to ignite civil wars, ethnic cleansings, mass brutality, and a display of power that often strips the powerless of everything that defines them. Unfortunately, these walls don't come down easily with the blow of a trumpet or a loud shout. Any attempt to tear down these walls can be a painful experience like an encounter with barbed wire, also nicknamed "The Devil's Rope" for the damage it would cause.

These kinds of walls are also easy to mask, disguise, and ignore. Depending on where you live and one's socioeconomic class, poverty and injustice is either in your face and all around you or tucked away and divided between gated communities. My congregation sits in a prevalent neighborhood. Everyday, you see people in suits going to work, nannies strollering babies, or people jogging and walking their dogs. Only on Saturday mornings when my church serves about 300 families by providing fresh groceries for those in need, do you see the true diversity of the neighborhood. We only serve families that live in the same zip code of the church. It is on these mornings that we are reminded to pay attention and see the walls that often divide us.

Walls -- barbed wired or not -- don't ensure security. Lisa Schirch, professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University and one of the speakers at the convocation, says that security can only be ensured when all are guaranteed safety and well-being. This kind of security can only happen from the ground up, through relationships -- not politics, not policies, and interest groups.

I have a personal dream that one day the country of my ancestors will unveil the barbed wire that surrounds the demilitarized zone on the North and South Korean border. It is that barbed wire divider that has separated many Korean families. It is that barbed wire divider that has separated my aunt from her husband. She will probably not live to see her dream of reunification realized. And I fear that as time ticks on and more families pass on, today's young people in both those countries will have no real connection towards one another as one people. And as time ticks on, we won't have to worry about visible barbed wire dividers separating the Korean people. Already invisible walls of nationality and class are building. My hope is that we sound the trumpets to unveil the barbed wire divider before it's too late. And when the trumpet sounds, my hope is not war -- my hope is that as a human race we can find other means to bring justice and peace to a country that has already experienced so much war. I'm hopeful. Events in the Middle East and creative use of social media to organize have been hopeful reminders that change can happen.

What are you being called to pay attention to? What do you see when you unveil the barriers, dividers, and walls that separate us? What are your hopes when the trumpet sounds?

portrait-theresa-choTheresa Cho is a Reno, Nevada native who graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago with awards in preaching and theology. She blogs at Still Waters.

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