My colleague, Julianne Wallace, reminded me that yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. When I was in college the wall fell and it was a huge surprise. Nobody expected the border to open and people flooded to the scene entering back and forth without any issue. My Physics professor even took a special trip and brought back a large chunk of the wall with him. The destruction of the wall was a major blow to all regimes who think that they can keep people out.
And yet…we’re still building walls. Amazingly the same people who rejoiced at Ronald Reagan’s proclamation to tear down the wall are also in favor of putting one up to keep Mexico and other immigrants from Central America and beyond out.
More than the obvious physical structures though, what other walls do we put up? Do we shut someone out after they’ve annoyed us one too many times so that we exile them to the land of Ne’er Do Well? Do we put walls between people who are different from us always maintaining a “them” vs. “us” mentality? For those of us in positions of power and authority, do we build a wall that keeps others subservient to us and keeps them dependent on us as well?
Recently, a student did something to annoy me. I shared my experience with a friend. She cautioned me. “Mike, stay open to her. Try to find a way to work more closely with her. I know she’s made you annoyed, but shutting her out isn’t going to make working with her any easier and not working with her just continues to divide you as well.”
She was right. I was able to salvage an agreement with the student in question and we’ve been good ever since. In fact, she’s even sought my assistance from time to time.
Do we have hearts that are actually gated communities where it’s fine to let some people in but not others? Or can we challenge ourselves today to open those gates of exclusion?
Our gospel today refers to the dogs that long to eat the scraps from the table. As a crazy dog lover I never miss a chance to talk about my dog, Haze and how he often reminds me of how I fail to be a good Christian. For you see, Haze knows no boundaries when it comes to love. He’s always open and never even remembers the times that I’ve forgotten to feed him or made him wait a long time for a walk or the times I’ve yelled at him for having an accident in the house. Imagine if someone did that to any one of us? Or yelled at a five year old for having an accident? We’d immediately cry injustice!
But Haze’s gate is always open. We actually have a little gate by our back door. The gate’s a safety measure because often Haze is so excited when I get home that if the door were open and he was not prevented from running out he just might run out into the middle of the street to greet me! Once he hears anyone at the door, but especially me, I find him right at that gate, “Cmon! Open the gate! Open the gate! I can’t wait to see you! Come pet me and let me lick your face and let’s play for a bit!”
How many of us are able to have that much enthusiasm even for those we love, much less a perfect stranger?
This woman whom everyone excludes in our gospel today has great persistence. Even the dogs, Lord, eat from the scraps. Just a scrap of Jesus is more than enough for her. Jesus applauds her efforts and I even think it changes his heart a bit, for he was even excluding her himself for some reason.
Universities have a way of excluding people as well. The educated and the non-educated. The academics and the students learning. The staff and the faculty. The religious and the atheistic. But perhaps we all need to have the wisdom to stay open to each other and to call one another friend. As semesters begin in a few weeks perhaps we can form new partnerships in open communities of learning and service?
Let us pray today that we are able to remain open. To unlock our hearts when they would rather be bound up with our own protectiveness. Can we be vulnerable enough to tear down the walls of division that alienate us from those who we fear most?
I think we can. One piece at a time. Who or what will you be able to open yourself to today?