Walls, Barriers and Living Stones
Based on Mark 13:1-8
On Nov. 2nd I wrote a tiny prayer on a tiny scrap of paper and handed it to my daughter. `Take it to the Wall, please.’ was my request. We were in the Kelowna airport awaiting the first leg of her journey to Palestine and Israel. The western wall, is the last remaining bit of structure left of the temple that the disciples and Jesus talked about in this passage from Mark’s gospel. The gospel itself was written likely just after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
The Temple would have been impressive indeed. What and where are our symbols of success, achievement, and strength in our world? Are they archeological sites, architectural structures? Are they art galleries, museums, company headquarters? Jesus’ words about the destruction of this magnificent building must have been confusing and frightening. Nothing finer had been built as far as these working folk had seen. Now all that remains from Jesus’ day is that western wall of the Temple. I’ve touched it, I’ve prayed there – so I know the power of something physical to draw respect, emotion, a sense of strength.
But I move back to the words about destruction. Here in this post-Remembrance time, after the names of those who died in battle have been read out, (but we neglect to read out those who have come back so emotionally wounded that they take their own lives), we wonder how we can stop the carnage, the endless conflicts. Personally I feel woefully under-qualified to preach on these things. But here I go anyway touching the tip of the iceberg.
What Walls should come down?
The disciples were understandably distressed with the idea that something as strong as the Temple, the jewel of Jerusalem, could be destroyed. But there is no lasting safety in fortresses, forts, and walls. They so often mark boundaries about who is in and who is out. We have this remnant of the Temple Wall in Jerusalem, but we also have the terrible `security fence’ – a thirty foot high concrete prison wall chopping up bits of Palestine, and essentially relegating the Gaza strip to a concentration camp, a target practice dump. That wall should come down.
We have a would-be presidential candidate to the south of us who thinks there should be a wall between the US and Mexico – us and them, or more to the point `him and them.’ We have the Berlin Wall which did come down, and I think we can agree that that was good news for the world.
What walls should go up?
When Jesus talks with the disciples about the chaos and struggle to come, he cautions them, `Guard your hearts and minds.’ There will be those who come to mislead you. Those false prophets and Messiahs, those “recruiters” as one commentator calls them, who would draw us onto false trails “guaranteed” to lead us to salvation.
On Friday morning, on CBC, I caught a bit a program about the power of those who recruit for extremism. We know too well the danger of reading or reading into scripture what we want to hear, or taking small selections to make it fit our point of view. This is true in all religions. This is what fuels ISIL. A certain reading of the Koran leads some groups to think that in order to please God, Allah, in order to get in Allah’s good books before the end of the world, we must rid ourselves of the `other.’ They have turned this into a dehumanizing and terrifying attack on all others, including moderate Muslims.
The interviewer asked how this compared to `end of the world’ literature, say, in the Bible. The guest didn’t see much comparison but if we care to look at what `Christians’ did to Jews and Muslims during the Spanish inquisition, or the burning, drowning, and torturing of thousands of woman, accused of witchcraft, for hundreds of years, the similarities are far too great.
On my way to Vancouver last Sunday, I heard Michael Enright talking about Canada’s foreign policy, and how comfortable it was making trade deals with Saudi Arabia despite that country’s terrible human rights abuses. Enright suggested that Canada should apply its own charter of Rights and Freedoms to other countries to guide us in making decisions about trade and aid. I think that would be a very good start.
It would certainly change our relationship with the state of Israel which continues unabated to violate international laws in their treatment of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes and farms, the imprisonment and abuse of their children, etc. This is not because Israel is the worst offender; it is not. Rather we have a relationship with the state of Israel, and can thus influence it if we so choose.
We really need to change Canadian foreign policy. It’s a very messy world, and we are much more caught up in systems of oppression here, turning a blind eye there, than we should be comfortable with.
What barriers do we put up to making peace a reality?
When relationships lack respect and understanding, we set the stage for conflict. Arun Gandhi – grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, tells of his grandfather teaching him the practice of self-introspection. Every night he was to reflect on the extent and depth of violence he was committing consciously and unconsciously. In the forward to the book `Enough Blood Shed’ he writes:
My exercise in introspection reveals to me the mind-blowing extent to which we practice “passive” or non-physical violence every day. This, my grandfather explained, drives the victim to anger and, since justice in a culture of violence has come to mean revenge, the victim resorts to violence to destroy the perceived exploiter. Since all of us contribute the fuel that ignites the fire of discontent and dissention, Gandhi said, “We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” Peace begins in our hearts and only then can pervade all aspects of human society.
“We must become the change we wish to see in the world.” I have that little poster on my office door. It’s always more tempting to make someone else be the change we wish to see in the world! But amidst the rubble and ruin, there are these words found in a letter to the early church, in 1Peter 2: 4-5
“Come to Jesus, to that living stone, rejected by people but in God’s sight chosen and precious, and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.”
How can we be living stones?
What might we offer to a world caught in fear and violence? That is such a huge challenge. We can’t fix it all today. But in light of Arun Gandhi’s comment, just a wee example…
As you may know, we recently bought an electric car – trying to save the world! Despite assurances by the salesman, it did not make it all the way home from Kelowna to Salmon Arm – at least not in one trip. In relating the adventure on Facebook, one person said, `And of course car salesmen never lie.’ Wanting to restore this relationship which had recently become a little icy over anti -Muslim comments, I played along and said something not very flattering about car salesmen.
Alas, someone else reading the comment, reminded me that her partner had been a car salesmen and she took offence at my comment. I didn’t respond, but my initial thought was `Oh, get over yourself, I was just being flippant, to ease this other relationship – this is not about you!’
But it illustrates how easily, and almost innocently, we perpetuate non-physical violence, or at least vilification. How, even if we disagree with something or someone, it’s so important not to stereotype, or `demonize’ them.
In our striving for peace in our world, we need to be aware of when we are not at peace in our own hearts, and begin there to find healing and wholeness. Then we can offer that to others. Welcome to the challenge! Amen.