Why We Build The Wall
Speaker: Rev. Taryn Strauss
Service Times: 9:30 am & 11:00 am
We need some walls to protect ourselves, to heal, to regain security. As a covenanted community, we commit to maintaining certain boundaries. What is your relationship to covenant? How can a commitment to covenant improve your relationships, and the health of the collective?
What do you do when you are faced with a wall?
My earliest memory of a wall coming tumbling down was November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall fell, and the way my family gathered around our small television, just like families gathered around their tv sets across the neighborhood, across the country,
and across the world to see young people scaling the wall, which had become a concrete graffiti canvas, designed to control immigration patterns.
This has always been the history of walls, to control immigration patterns, keeping some people out, and others in. Yet, humans are migratory, and they have always immigrated. It is part of human history and human behavior, like flocks of birds, flamboyance of flamingos, like a pandemonium of parrots, like a committee of vultures, we too, migrate, for reasons of weather, prospecting, escaping violence, family, hope, and food. Always have, and always will.
Some of you sent me pictures of yourselves standing on or in front of famous walls, including the Berlin Wall. Some of us, I’ll wager, have a piece of the Berlin Wall somewhere in our homes, to hold in our memories, and in our collective reality that some walls really do come tumbling down.
What do you do when you are faced with a wall? What does a wall do to you, to your psyche, your body?
One of my favorite Biblical characters appears in the Book of Joshua.
Her name is Rahab, a prostitute living in the city of Jericho. When the Israelites, now under Joshua’s leadership, decided to take the walled city as their first strategic move to conquer Canaan, they first sent two spies ahead to investigate the military strength of Jericho. These two spies found hospitality in the home of Rahab, because her home was literally built into the city wall.
I love that Rahab lives in the wall. She is a sexworker: savvy, scrappy, she is a survivor. If the people within the walled city represent the civilized, the workers, the slaves and masters to each other and to the Empire, and those unwalled nomads submit to a higher principle and purpose, then Rahab inhabits both worlds. Rahab hides the Israelite spies from the officers of Jericho, and she strikes a deal with them. She agrees to help them survive and spy on the town, and she shares crucial information with them.
But in return, they must spare her life and the life of her family and ancestors. In this way, Rahab charts a new course for herself and her lineage. She tells the spies that all the people of Jericho’s hearts melt in fear against Joshua’s Israelite army.
They agree to protect her as she has protected them, and that if there is bloodshed, she should throw down a red chord from her window and the Israelites will skip her and her family’s home in their massacre. So the Israelite spies sleep on her roof until they depart Jericho a few nights later, still unseen.
The spies inform Joshua the entire city is afraid of them, so Joshua orders his army march around the city once a day for six straight days. While marching, the soldiers played their trumpets as the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant around the city of Jericho, in six-day battle cry.
On the seventh day, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho seven times. Joshua assured them that by God’s order, everyone in the city must be slain, except Rahab and her family.
At Joshua’s order, the men produced a powerful roar, and Jericho’s walls miraculously fall down. The Israelite army raced in quickly conquering the city and, as promised, only Rahab and her family were spared.
In this story, Rahab the wall-dweller, her parents, siblings and all their children survive.
When a woman such as Rahab prevails, survives, and goes on to ensure the survival of others, she reveals a different reality in which sex workers are at the center of the story, no longer banished to the edges of the society.
This theme of survival and subversion can help us chart our course for this decade. If we are neither the war general nor the political leader, what power do we have? Quite a lot of power, as it turns out.
In these days of rage, and chaos, when entire continents appear to be burning, when our political leaders bring us to the brink of sudden war as a diversion tactic, no matter the loss of life, when the fabric of Western ways of life are pulling at the seams and ripping apart, there are walls we must face.
In God’s story, it is important to note that some walls can be conquered not with bombs, excavators, nor political decrees, but with a collective roar.
Also remember, the people of Jericho lost the battle because they succumbed to their own fear of those unwalled travelers. Do not be tempted by a campaign to make you afraid of people on the other side of a wall. Not just a real wall, and not a wall of ideas.
How can we preserve our spirits, our sanity and our collective resilience when we reach a wall, whether it be a facebook wall, a wall at our southern border, a wall of misunderstanding and pain, or all the walls we erect to protect ourselves, to hold each other in place.
The nurikabe is a spirit, from Japanese folklore. Its name translates to “plaster wall,” and it is said to manifest as an invisible wall that impedes or misdirects travelers walking at night. The nurikabe takes form as a wall—usually invisible—that blocks the path of travelers as they’re walking. Some iterations of the legend say that trying to go around the wall is futile as it extends forever. It has been suggested that the legend of the nurikabe was created to explain travelers losing their bearings on long journeys.
As we journey into this next decade, we will face this trickster spirit. We will face walls that appear to go on forever. If we find ourselves among the walled, then we must not fall prey to the battle cry march going on all around us. Let us not be like the people of Jericho, whose hearts melt in fear of those outside of our walls, let us learn from the subversive brilliance of Rahab, a sex worker, a woman whose negotiation skills and self-preservation skills sustained her family’s resilience and lineage while others perished in fear for their own comfort.
It’s 2020, and it is we who must roar into these twenties, and not quake in fear of some inevitable doom. Walls are designed to insight fear, to be formidable, but the poet reminds us
Where there’s a wall there are
words to whisper by loose bricks,
wailing prayers to utter, birds
to carry messages taped to their feet.
There are letters to be written —
If you are thinking, who am I to scale a wall, for I have never been that kind of person. These times call for deep courage, we can carry each other out of fear. If you are thinking, who am I to carry messages to those who are walled off from me, if you are willing, there is a way.
I have been speaking metaphorically, allegorically, and now I will speak practically, what I mean. If we can take our Unitarian Universalist commitment to seek truth and encourage each other to seek their truth, then this is what it means:
Communicate in person whenever possible. What someone shares on social media or anywhere online is the beginning of the conversation, and not the end. This is not a time to rest in our assumptions, projections, or our tendency to assume the worst of people. This is the time to pick up the phone, knock on the door, reach out, and learn more of the story.
Do not participate in spreading misinformation, even if it benefits your side of the story. Make a commitment right now to read past the headline, and to seek the truth to the best of your ability.
Practice deep listening, and know thyself. This will be rigorous work, and it will require deep self-compassion coupled with humility. We will work on this together, in worship, and beyond.
Participate in your democracy, be a leader and help people vote and contribute. Our future is not written, and our outcome is not known. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Pray for people who would declare themselves your enemy. If you have no enemies, then you are staying safer than these times allow. Prayer is like flexing your empathy muscle.
Ground yourself. Respond, don’t react. Response requires sitting with discomfort, moving slower, and it probably requires prayer.
This is how we will stay subversive and how we will survive, how we can be wall dwellers instead of falling into the false duality of those who are walled in, and those who are being kept out.
These are complex times. If we are to be wall-dwellers, like Rahab making a way for ourselves and others to thrive, then must be able to hold dialectical thinking, meaning complex truths. More than anything, this is what is called for in these times.
Behavioral therapist Robin Chancer reminds us, that in this moment, we must stay clear to the reality that
People are rarely fully good nor fully evil.
Most of us are complex webs of goodness, love, selfishness, and aggression.
Individuals are not selfless or selfish; they are selfless and selfish. Our political terrain includes progression and regression. Embracing ambivalence, paradox, and shades of gray promotes a sense of wholeness and flexibility. We become less outraged when circumstances don’t fit within our rigid expectations.
We do good things because they are good, but results are not guaranteed. Sometimes circumstances work out as we hope, sometimes they do not; most often they are too complicated to understand fully.
We are responsible for our world. Believing in some mysterious force called “progress” absolves individuals of responsibility.
Similarly, faith that “God has a plan” can promote complacency. Compassion, love, and affirming values exist because people intentionally work toward them. Claiming responsibility focuses our attention on what we can do to improve our world.
Stay grounded in radical love for people who have long felt like outsiders. One simple way to tear down a wall is to create spaces where outsiders feel more loved, more welcomed, and more free.
Welcome to the roaring twenties, where our commitments and our resolve is fresh and renewed.
Faint as in a dream
is the voice that calls
from the belly
of the wall.