Walls – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Pass through the San Ysidro border crossing outside of Tijuana, turn west and follow Mexican Route 1D towards Rosarito. Look out the passenger window. A wall runs along the border; actually, two walls exist, one old and a newer, more formidable structure.

Crossing into Mexico proves ridiculously easy, so obviously, the purpose of the wall is to keep people out of the U.S.

Intellectually I grasp the concept. Emotionally, because I am privileged to carry a Canadian passport and a Nexus card, I do not feel the full weight of the border. Crossing back to San Diego, the Sentri (Global Entry) line may take 15-30 minutes; the non-expedited line can crawl for hours.

For all the years of my youth, I lived less than 20 km from the American border. We used to whip across “the line” to buy gas. A 2.5-hour drive south to Spokane constituted many holidays and shopping extravaganzas. After 48 hours, we were each allowed to bring back $25!

Confusion still niggles in part of me when I need to show my passport crossing the American border. I’m just going “over there.” 

But as I quiz the workers in such Rosarito establishments as Betty’s Authentic American Burgers and Rosarito Beach Pizza it becomes abundantly clear that some can cross weekly into San Diego to retrieve specialized supplies; others can not. Some have lived and worked in San Diego, Los Angeles and Anchorage; the big move for others may have been from central Mexico to the coast in pursuit of opportunity.

foto via info@sendamessage.nl van de muur in bezet Palestijns gebied door Israël

The barrier outside San Ysidro is not the first time I have encountered walls. I remember well the shock I felt, sitting in a bus on a hill overlooking Jerusalem when I learned that not all Palestinians were allowed to enter Jerusalem. Our guide could only access the Holy City because of his credentials; our bus driver because he was born there.

And, of course, one can hardly escape the presence and impact of “The Wall” when visiting Bethlehem, Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land. 

Separation in the name of security becomes intoxicating to the powerful when mixed with fear and the threat of loss.

In listening to the stories, in both Mexico and the Holy Land, of those not allowed to cross over or pass through the checkpoints, I feel not only my privilege but also the radicalness of God’s vision as articulated through the Christian gospel.

 “In that renewal (of mind and heart) there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (Colossians 3:11)

Stanley Hauerwas, the radical Christian ethicist and committed pacifist, continually lifts up the priority of identity in Christ over any other descriptor. In a conversation, I remember him remarking that, for him, the question was not how Germans and Americans could kill each other in war but how could Christians, who were German and American, kill one another.

The Christian sense of freedom and community goes beyond national identity, fast passes and a diluted mythology of inclusiveness. 

Most walls, whether cinder block topped with razor wire around a home, the Separation Wall in Israel or the proposed US/Mexican wall, are constructed with the rationale of preserving security and safety even though the consequences of each wall differ greatly depending upon which side of the wall we find ourselves.

From a moral point of view, I wonder to what extent walls serve to preserve difference and the extent to which those “differences”are just. Those walls may be constructed of different "material" including gender, sexual orientation, race, economic and social status, and ethnic background, among others. Are many walls not primarily about power and privilege? In such cases, does the language of safety and security really mean not only physical safety but protection of what we envision to be our rightful power and privilege? And is this always wrong?

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