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Walls fall as we step outside of our ‘comfort zones’ to intersect with people

By Editor Mary Stamp

During the 20 year celebrations in November about the Berlin Wall falling, exchanges with several friends I met in pre-wall-fall visits to East and West Germany have given insights about walls and walls falling.  We still have walls—one being built on our southern border, another on the West Bank and many that we erect in our personal, church, social and political lives.

The Berlin Wall was built and fell in my lifetime.  Today, borders have become less able to divide and control in this age of cyberspace, virtual realities, online communities and internet social networks. 

Today’s media make it possible for people to be in community, keep connected and build identities beyond walls set up by the powerful to keep power.  Physical borders, walls and checkpoints, they say, are for security—perhaps more for government or corporate power brokers. 

While the power forces of today—multi-national corporations—like borders to evade taxes, labor laws and “regulations” that would make them accountable, they flourish beyond boundaries and rely on the borderless means of communication.

With the Berlin Wall, not only did a wall fall between capitalism and communism—a wall that reinforced enemy images—but also Europe now experiences a new, borderless unity with common currency and policies.  Today it weighs how to keep languages and cultures once defined by borders, as people of the world cross former boundaries and create diverse societies.

As borders fall, ground is fertile for universal humanitarianism, acts of charity that lead to encounters with people struggling for survival.  Generosity that involves human contact often leads people to question why some people suffer and what more they can do to change the circumstances that leave people out in the cold.  What are the personal, political, social and economic causes for injustice?  What can we do?

When I visited in East and West Germany before the wall fell, I was moved by the power of personal connection, a ministry of presence, an enemy-image breaking encounter to forge peace.  In those exchanges with me along with others from local, regional and national churches, seeds for the wall to fall apart grew. 

I remember seeing some places on walls where plants grew in cracks, gradually increasing the size of those cracks over the years.

“It’s one less wall,” wrote a pastor who now lives in Essen, noting that while its fall symbolized freedom for one side, it represented for the other side the victory of capitalism, which he added is “responsible for so many other walls in the world.”

A pastor in Potsdam reminded me that for the younger generation, the Berlin Wall is like distant history.  There’s no memory of the positive aspects of the East German church, which encouraged seeds of the movement that broke through the wall.  Once crowded East German churches now lack members, as do their former Western counterparts, he said.  Churches are losing money and closing.

A former church executive reminds us to remember:  “As usual, there is much forgetfulness.”

A former synod executive recalled me that when I visited, we could not cross the Glienicke Bridge near his home, but now he crosses it regularly by car.

It took just a few steps, a car and a few simple gifts for one Spokane church to go outside its walls and comfort zone to open a new ministry.  Other churches open their lives to refugees who crossed borders to find new lives and opportunities.  Online classes bring seminary insights to ministry in the community.  Mentors help youth transition from incarceration to community.  A drama connects women today with the struggles and injustices biblical women faced.  Common fund raising addresses needs for education, income and health care.  Borders fall as we act together.

In reflections I wrote in 1989, I commented that when walls fall, people from the East, West, North, South, are freed from idols of war, images ensnaring imaginations, fetters that chain minds and worn-out ideologies that blind.  When walls fall, we face a new dawn of life as we pass through the pain and fear of birth, pass through holes in walls that crack ever more with each plant and person.

When we crack through unholy walls, we need to hold onto the miracle of the moment, so we are not swept behind new walls to dissuade us from possibilities for life beyond borders, walls or divisions.å