“Community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them – unknown and undiscovered brothers.”
– Howard Thurman
BEDROOMS AND BORDERS
The sound of slamming doors, followed by the loud cry of “Get out of my room!” is becoming a semi-regular occurrence in our home.
Our two boys have the luxury of separate bedrooms. Something I never had as a child. Most of the time they’re both more than happy to operate an “open-door” policy, but on occasion a brother will get shoved out, a door gets slammed (and then wedged shut via body weight), and a siege commences.
Now and then, we intervene.
Sometimes we’ll take up the cause of the room’s occupant; especially when the invader ruins his sibling’s peace and quiet through irritatingly leaping on their unsuspecting back.
More often than not though, it’s the door slammer who gets it.
“Open that door and let your brother in, now!” is the typical way that we commence the “negotiations” and they usually come to an end with something like, “it’s not your room, it’s our room, in our house!”
I’ll defend our kid’s rights to privacy, that’s OK. But for some reason, instead of seeing their rooms as a place of welcome, they only see territory. It’s never just a bedroom to them; it’s their land, their own little kingdom. Their door frames, at the point where the colour of the carpet changes from hallway-brown to bedroom-blue, have become borders.
Two extra borders, in a world that is already overstocked with borders.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live in a world without any borders. Do you?
The thing is the majority of the world’s real borders don’t exist on a map. They’re more numerous and etched with a more permanent ink within human memories and human hearts.
Borders on a map are nothing more than lines, and with the exception of an odd natural feature — such as a sea, a river, or a mountain range — nearly all of these lines have no real tangible presence. A map’s lines are nothing more than a virtual representation of when one country’s jurisdiction and governance ends and another one begins. Lines of this kind don’t really hurt or separate people.
However, this changes dramatically depending on when and how we adopt lines as attitudes and identities; when what were once only lines start to be expressed through inhumanity and prejudice and inequality.
Things start to get dangerous when we take those lines, those geographical divisions, as merely a kind of starting point and then begin to add our own smaller divisions to them. And in the place of using ink, we instead begin to draw them in with xenophobia, and racism, and sexism, and ageism, and elitism, and so on.
Often, these are hardest borders in our world to cross. And there’s no passport that exists which will help you.
Lines made up of ink, don’t hurt. But when we take distinctions like Gender, or Colour, or Social Status, or Ethnicity, or Film tastes, or Fashion sense, or hair colour, or our favourite football team, or accent, or the town area we grew up in etc. and begin to use them as borders, that’s where the real pain begins.
These kinds of lines start wars. These man-drawn lines cause oppression and poverty and abuse. These lines make or break human relationships, forming the basis of deciding who our neighbour is and who our enemy is.
I can’t help but think that the key difference between a neighbour or an enemy is the kind of line that is drawn. There’s still a line. But our neighbour’s line is faint and broken and drawn in pencil, whereas an enemy’s line is usually dark, thick, solid and permanent.
And our world is full of enemy lines; lines we refuse to be crossed.
The thing is, when you view our planet from space, it doesn’t look like an atlas. This world isn’t actually split into countries, so to speak. And yet somehow, humanity has managed to take this vast, beautiful, open world and split it into a million pieces. It should never cease to amaze us at the scale we can go to in achieving this; that even in a small room full of people there potentially exist more lines than an ordinance survey map of a large town. We’ve populated creation with everybody’s own micro-kingdom; the world — God’s world — has become a place full of human bedrooms.
THE CREATION OF BORDERS AND THE BRINGING DOWN OF WALLS
In the story of the book of Genesis, a consequence of humanity falling out of sync with their Creator is that human life becomes extremely territorial.
The story says that it starts as a division between Adam and Eve, a power struggle for dominance will develop between male and female, and then it quickly ascends into brother versus brother (or maybe a better way to think of this story would be as the stronger overpowering and oppressing the weaker), after which, the divisions continue to rapidly multiply and spin out of control.
The world begins to be cut into slices. Micro-kingdoms, some bigger than others, start to emerge and grow. Some dominate; enslaving others and consuming resources. Soon, what should have been a peaceful home to both humanity and God begins to resemble more of a monopoly playing board. It becomes divided; with those divisions often being drawn with oppression and blood.
But God has a plan to fix this. He calls a man from out of a human civilisation — a human micro-kingdom — and into a life of wandering; a life without borders as he searches for a “heavenly land”, a city with eternal foundations (to use the writer of Hebrews description). And God does this with the sole purpose that somehow this human would be a vehicle of God’s blessing to this broken and fractured world; a blessing that would undo the consequences of the fall and tear down the barriers that have been drawn between God and Mankind, and between Mankind and Mankind.
Over the course of the Bible’s narrative, this one man eventually develops into a people, a nation. But in time these people too, become obsessed with keeping the borders and not about dismantling them. In fact, at the time of the New Testament, this nation finds itself being oppressed at the hands of a stronger nation — Rome — and some of its citizens are desperate to do anything it takes to re-draw their own borders back in; even if that means drawing them with the blood of their own enemies. For some, the lines can only be drawn in this way.
But this doesn’t stop God in his plan. God himself comes—as a human into this nation. He begins to announce that His Kingdom has arrived, a kingdom that will continually expand and increase. In other words, this is a kingdom without limitations or boundaries or borders or lines: edges and fringes are not part of its description.
On one occasion, at the start of this Kingdom’s proclamation, God the man – Jesus — enters into a synagogue and announces the liberating words of a prophet called Isaiah;
“ He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of the lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the lord’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. ”
To paraphrase, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … I’ve come to dismantle the lines that humanity has drawn with its greed, its oppression and its ignorance.”
At this point, the writer of this account states that every eye was fixed upon Jesus as takes a seat. Why? It wasn’t because He was super attractive, or because he’s sat in some special reserved seat (as some commentators might add).
They’re fixated because Jesus stopped short!
Jesus placed a full stop in Isaiah’s words where there wasn’t one and purposely misses out the end of his sentence. And these people would have spotted that and been intrigued by that, wondering when he’s going to carry on. And when Jesus does finally speak, he says, “This scripture has come true today before your very eyes” (v21).
Those aren’t the missing words.
What is the bit Jesus missed?
Well, Isaiah’s version concludes with, “… Lord’s favor has come, (comma – pause for effect, take a breath, and then…) and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies”.
That’s some omission!
The people are gazing intently at Jesus because they want to know why he didn’t say this, “surely,” some of them believe, “if God’s Kingdom has come, why haven’t the lines been re-drawn?”
But for God, it’s these very “enemy” lines that are the problem in the first place.
God’s “favour” has come to erase the human lines of oppression, and greed, and ignorance etc. not merely draw them back in with a different colour ink.
You see, the way in which this Kingdom operates is unusual; it’s upside down compared to the dividing ways of the world. Because this Kingdom’s manifesto—its constitution, its cultural foundation—is centred on enemy love. And loving with the intent to remove these dark, thick, solid borders; not perpetuate them.
They want lines. We want lines. God doesn’t.
In another place, a few scenes after the above, Jesus says something startling;
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”
This passage is terrifying. And it’s as much of a challenge now as it was then. In a world that is often seeking to divide and conquer, this way of thinking just doesn’t fit.
If I’m honest, I find this the most difficult thing to do.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. After this passage, Jesus then starts talking about, “Stop judging others… Stop condemning others … Start forgiving … be generous” (see Luke 6:36-38)
I’ve often heard it said, and I’ve often read, that what Jesus is talking about in this “Stop Judging” passage is about the correlation of the relationship between us, others and God; I.e: that if I forgive others, God will forgive me; if I don’t judge others, God wont judge me… etc. But you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t mention God in connection with any of the things listed between verses thirty-six to thirty-eight?
Jesus, between verses twenty-seven and thirty-seven, hasn’t changed topic. It’s easy to think that way because of how bible translators have inserted titles between sections. It’s easy, if you pull these two passages apart from one another, to think that Jesus is the kind of person who can never stay on point; he’s always all over the place, talking about this and then talking about that, going off on tangents and jumping all over the place. But within the “Stop Judging” paragraph, Jesus is still talking about loving our enemies.
Could it be then, that this “forgiving, judging, condemning” is not about our relationship with God at all, but solely about our relationship with others? (After all, hasn’t God already forgiven us?)
“Love your enemies,” Jesus tells us. “Well, how do we do that?” is our cynical response.
“Stop making them!” is His reply; In other words, through the passage about judging and forgiving, Jesus is saying, “Stop drawing enemy lines!”
The truth is, we’re often found drawing borders with our prejudices, our condemning self-righteous attitudes, our grudges, and our greed.
Of course, we could all sit back and say, “I’ll stop being an enemy when they do, too.”
But Jesus says we’re not to wait for those who live on the other side of the lines that have been drawn, our example is God’s way, God’s initiative;
“…for [God]”, Jesus tells us, “is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassion” (v35b-36).
Now, if you thought what Jesus did to Isaiah’s sentence was grammatically shocking, what Jesus has just done in this verse is radical!
If you’ve ever read the book of Psalms you’ll notice that what Jesus says in this verse totally contradicts some of things the Psalmists say! The Psalms are full of references to “God destroying the wicked” and requests for God to avenge his people by spilling their enemy’s blood [See Psalms 145:20, 58:6-11, 55:23, 11:5-7 as examples].
But like what He does with Isaiah, Jesus challenges/edits this perception and says that these things are not God’s way.
I know this messes with how some of us understand scripture and how it should be read, but Jesus – God’s ultimate revelation of himself – tells us in this short verse, and shows us through his life and ministry, a God who doesn’t hate the wicked, and who doesn’t want to see enemies slaughtered.
God is kind to the unthankful and the wicked.
God is compassionate to everyone.
Jesus’ advice when we come against enemy lines, or are tempted to draw them, is to do what God does (not what we think that God does/should do); Act like the lines don’t exist.
Unlike the micro-kingdoms of the world, God’s Kingdom doesn’t, and hasn’t, come through drawing its borders with the blood of its enemies. It has come through the sacrifice of its own blood. It hasn’t extended its grip on the world through hate, and vengeance, and inhumanity – but through the forgiveness of sins, and grace and mercy and love.
You see, there’s something about the Kingdom of God that is about erasing the lines and opening up the borders; even the darkest, thickest and most permanent ones.
God is not into lines. He’s into welcomes.
A WORLD WITHOUT LINES
I long for a world without borders; and I firmly believe that God does, too. I believe that when the Kingdom of God has fully manifested itself, when the world has reached its destination, it will be a world without divisions.
It’s will still be world a full of distinction and difference; things that should be celebrated, not incarcerated. But humanity’s micro-kingdoms will no longer exist because they will engulfed by one eternal everlasting Kingdom of justice and peace and love – God’s Kingdom!
So to follow Jesus is not easy thing, because it requires us to also display and be the very welcome of God in a world full of doorways and human bedrooms. We are called to be a new kind humanity – one without borders. Somehow, through being the people of God, we can be a blessing to the nations through dismantling borders and by not drawing new ones. We become Peacemakers, in the proper sense of what that means, because we live a life of love that refuses to see, and refuses to be confined by the enemies’ lines.
Sadly, this hasn’t always been true of the church. We’ve drawn our fair share of the lines that have existed and still exist today; we’ve colluded with human powers in seeking to divide and conqueror. But the Jesus way calls us to repentance and change.
We are more than conquerors, precisely because we are not conquerors. We are not to reduce ourselves by getting caught up in the world’s way of creating micro-kingdoms. We are called to be lovers. People who have been won by a divine love, who are being transformed by this divine love, redeemed by this love and commissioned by this divine love to announce and manifest the Good News to the Nations—regardless of whether those nations are those defined by the lines on a map or by our human misunderstandings.
This is the Good News we announce; God is King, and his gracious favour welcomes you into his Kingdom.
As we enter the season of Lent – a forty-day period of fasting that begins with a re-embrace of our human mortality, and repentance – maybe we can look and seek to give up the lines. And as with Jesus, after his forty-days in the wilderness, we can emerge with the same God-given mandate; that through the empowering of God’s Spirit we will seek to dismantle the lines that have been drawn through greed, oppression and ignorance.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth, goodwill among all mankind” — Luke 2:14
The header image is entitled, “Raining Blood” by Abgrundlich, at deviantart.com
Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed – available now.