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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Walls Walls Walls

I'm thinking a lot about walls recently. They're appearing in my news feed, my entertainment and my sermon preparation. Walls, walls, walls - and not many of them are as endearing as the one portrayed by Snout,one of Shakespeare's noble fools, in  A Midsummer Night's Dream.

In this same interlude it doth befall
That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;
And such a wall, as I would have you think,
That had in it a crannied hole or chink,
Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisby,
Did whisper often very secretly.
This loam, this rough-cast and this stone doth show
That I am that same wall; the truth is so:
And this the cranny is, right and sinister,
Through which the fearful lovers are to whisper.
(A Midsummer Night's Dream V.i.)

In the news we have a less noble fool raving about building a wall between the United States and Mexico so that we can keep out all those undesirable rapists and thieves. Sounding like a candidate from the 1840s Know Nothing Party, presidential hopeful, Donald Trump has promised to build a wall between us and them - and to make them pay for it.

It wouldn't surprise me at all if Trump's wall were built with the following warning displayed prominently every 100 yards:
"No man of another race is to proceed within the partition and enclosing wall about the United States and anyone arrested there will have himself to blame for the penalty of death that will be imposed as consequence." 

If you replace "United States" with "the Sanctuary"what you have there is actually the warning inscribed on the wall around the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Gentiles (foreigners) were forbidden to enter the sacred courts of the temple.  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described this warning:"When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone, all round; whose height was three cubits, its construction was very elegant. Upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another; declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters; that no foreigner should go within that sanctuary." (The Jewish War 5. 5. 2)

Examples of this Temple Warning were discovered by archaeologist Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau in 1871. And this prohibition of is at the heart of the ruckus raised by Paul's opponents, described in Acts 21: When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”  For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. (Acts 21: 27 - 30 NRSV)

But this sort of divisive wall building - rooted in hostility, anger, and pride - should not be part of the Christian program.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2: 13 - 14 NRSV)

A hostile and divisive, us-vs-them attitude is not Christlike. But, even so, many American Christians seem keen to embrace this sort of alienating demeanor. Muslims? Don't like 'em. Mexicans? Don't like 'em. Gays? Don't like 'em. Immigrants? Don't like 'em. Let's get rid of them, build up that great, great wall and put everyone in their proper place... Except that, according to the Apostle Paul, the appropriate place is all together. Or else we'll be singing this song that I wrote a few years back:

Let’s build a wall to keep them out
all those folks we could just do without.

The abortionist doctor with blood on his hands,
drug abusing guitarists and their hard rock bands,
inarticulate plumbers whose pants don’t fit,
and pit-bull hockey moms with their bright red lipstick.

Migrant workers who don’t speak American,
the clumsy and oafish appliance repairman,
the angry punk rocker with a tattooed lip,
the single mother with a baby on each hip.

Opera devotees who support PBS,
expensive German Freudian psychiatrists,
coalminers and their beautiful young daughters,
and all crooked slime-ball Illinois governors.

all those folks we could just do without.

(There are several more verses. Click through to read the rest.)

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