“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
- Sunday, July 18 2004
SOMETHING THERE IS THAT DOESN’T LOVE A WALL,
THAT SENDS THE FROZEN GROUND SWELL UNDER IT,
AND SPILLS THE UPPER BOULDERS IN THE SUN;
AND MAKES GAPS EVEN TWO CAN PASS ABREAST. ...
NO ONE HAS SEEN THEM MADE OR HEARD THEM MADE,
BUT AT SPRING MENDING TIME WE FIND THEM THERE.
The poet is making a word play here on his own name, “Frost,” which works as an unseen power in the dead of winter to push stone boulders apart, opening up gaps revealed in the spring. But Frost and his neighbor are used to this wall and spring is not their time to celebrate its opening, but to work on mending it.
I LET MY NEIGHBOR KNOW BEYOND THE HILL;
AND ON A DAY WE MEET TO WALK THE LINE
AND SET THE WALL BETWEEN US ONCE AGAIN.
WE KEEP THE WALL BETWEEN US AS WE GO,
TO EACH THE BOULDERS THAT HAVE FALLEN TO EACH. ...
WE WEAR OUR FINGERS ROUGH WITH HANDLING THEM
OH JUST ANOTHER KIND OF OUTDOOR GAME,
ONE ON A SIDE, IT COMES TO LITTLE MORE:
But then, the poet begins to consider, perhaps this routine work of building walls does come to more than another kind of outdoor game. Perhaps it isn’t needed. Perhaps it isn’t good.
THERE WHERE IT IS WE DO NOT NEED THE WALL:
HE IS ALL PINE AND I AM APPLE ORCHARD.
MY APPLE TREES WILL NEVER GET ACROSS
AND EAT THE CONES UNDER HIS PINES, I TELL HIM
HE ONLY SAYS, ‘GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.’
This seems to be our policy as a nation, as in many nations ...., good fences make good neighbors, good fences create security. Thus the rational for the construction of the Security Fence or Separation Wall the State of Israel is building, cutting off Palestinians from ready access to jobs, health care and family.And for a wall closer to home, a wall being built on the border between the U.S. and Mexico near Tijuana and San Diego.
Do good fences make good neighbors? Or would it be economic and political policies that seek the wellbeing of those on both sides of the fences we continue building?
As Frost’s poem continues:
SPRING IS THE MISCHIEF IN ME, AND I WONDER
IF I COULD PUT A NOTION IN HIS HEAD:
‘WHY DO THEY MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS? ISN’T IT
WHERE THERE ARE COWS? BUT HERE THERE ARE NO COWS.
BEFORE I BUILT A WALL, I’D ASK TO KNOW
WHAT I WAS WALLING IN OR WALLING OUT,
AND TO WHOM I WAS LIKE TO GIVE OFFENSE.
SOMETHING THERE IS THAT DOESN’T LOVE A WALL
THAT WANTS IT DOWN.’
Today we gather to remember another something that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down, Someone actually, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Robert Frost wrote of his own identity as wall-breaking “frost,” but he could have been speaking of our identity as children of God, born of the Spirit of Jesus, a Spirit which like spring makes mischief in us, pushing boulders aside, undoing the projects and plans we use to wall some in and others out.
Frost recognizes a godless, sinister side to these projects.
... I SEE HIM THERE
BRINGING A STONE GRASPED FIRMLY BY THE TOP
IN EACH HAND, LIKE AN OLD STONE SAVAGE ARMED.
HE MOVES IN DARKNESS AS IT SEEMS TO ME,
NOT OF WOODS ONLY AND THE SHADE OF TREES.
HE WILL NOT GO BEHIND HIS FATHER’S SAYING,
AND HE LIKES HAVING THOUGHT OF IT SO WELL
HE SAYS IT AGAIN, ‘GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.’
He says it again, the one who moves in darkness, the father of darkness, the father of lies. He says it in the Middle East. He says it along our Southern border. He says it on candidacy committees when they reject gays and lesbians for ministry. He says it whenever we turn away from those who are different from us. Good fences make good neighbors. The hell they do. Such fences cause Palestinians to die before ambulances can reach them in time.
Such fences send families of Mexicans and Central American refugees to freeze or heat to death in the desert. Such fences bring international tensions to the boiling point. A world of increasing walls is a world of increasing terror. Good fences do not make good neighbors. They create strangers. Hatred. Enemies.
I remember a wedding anniversary I attended at a large catering place, a catering palace, so grand that it could host multiple parties at once. The party I attended was a 50th wedding anniversary. Almost everyone but me was singing along to the music, hit love songs from the 40’s. Before my time. When I went to the rest room, I heard different music coming from another room when that door was opened. It was loud, pulsing Salsa. I peeked in and everyone in the room was dancing to their music. Then I passed another party. Everyone at that party was doing the electric slide. I mentioned to one of the staff that it was interesting how the rooms were so close, but when you were inside you couldn’t hear the other parties. “Oh” she said, “that’s because the rooms are all especially soundproofed to keep the parties separate.”
Oh...well that’s how parties often are. Separate. One party was basically all White and most of the people there had white hair too. One party was basically all Latino and one party was basically Black. I’m not saying there were negative feelings or behavior between these groups. There was no contact at all, negative or positive. Everyone was simply enjoying their celebration with their friends and family. In fact, the only place people came together was when they had to use the bathroom, because all the parties were using the same rest rooms. Maybe the real party was in there...
Now ironically, the scene I saw at the catering hall is being played out in many churches this very Pentecost Sunday. If you look inside them you’ll see celebrations that are basically White, basically Latino and basically African American. And they don’t even share the same rest room. Now this isn’t all bad. It’s not bad that people enjoy being with people with whom they share things in common. It’s natural. it’s hard to feel comfortable with someone when you can’t understand their language. It’s also true that we need to celebrate what is unique and special in our own cultures created by a God who obviously enjoys a world of rich diversity. God doesn't want us to act as if we are all exactly the same. We’re not. But on the other hand, I don’t think we honor God by soundproofing our churches so that we can only hear people that know the same old songs and think the same old thoughts. Especially when we’ve had our own trip to the bath(room), where we are washed and welcomed into the community of one Baptism, Spirit, one faith, and one Lord.
Building fences and soundproofing our parties may be natural, but the event we celebrate today, Pentecost, was not natural. That was clear right from the start! On Pentecost, God wanted the people to know something different was about to happen, something not at all natural, something supernatural. So the first thing God did was to send a powerful wind a wind whipping around a room with all the windows shut tight. And then as if that weren’t clue enough that this was not business as usual, God send flames of fire that kind of floated over their heads, but nothing burned up. Holy mischief. Something out of this world, a new situation, a new reality, a new creation.
And then there was more...the assembly began to speak different languages and you know... for the people watching that was the most amazing thing of all. There were people from all over the world who spoke all kinds of different languages and everybody heard the group of Jesus’ disciples speaking in their own native language...there were no communication problems. What fell apart at Babel when the languages were divided has now been reversed. People once scattered are now gathered into a community through the power of the Spirit of Jesus. And the name of the community gathered together through the power of the Spirit of Jesus is THE CHURCH which is why we say Pentecost is the birthday of the church. Something new was born that day.
Some people didn’t understand it. They were probably folks who liked going to soundproof parties and took it for granted that good fences made good neighbors. Maybe they worked for the 1st century INS. So when Peter talks about the new community, the beloved community, the church...they think it’s crazy talk, they think he’s drunk. This is the world we find ourselves in, when if you try to love your neighbor and cross communication boundaries with new understanding, people think you must be drunk...
I don’t know about you, but recently, what is considered to be common sense sounds more and more crazy to me. We are told that if we want to protect ourselves against terrorists, we should watch out for suspicious people, raising mental walls. But I’m not convinced that heightening our suspicions of each other and focusing in on our differences is going make us any safer. In fact, it just seems to create more craziness. Did you hear about the group of clergy on a plane, praying for traveling mercies? Because they were praying, some assumed they must be on a suicidal mission to hijack the plane, which had to be grounded. I don’t know about you, but these things don’t make me feel any safer!
Pentecost suggests a different approach to terror. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid, said Jesus to his followers. Wait for my Spirit, my power from on high. Pentecost suggests that we follow in the footsteps of our sisters and brothers gathered on that first Pentecost who went forth empowered by the Spirit to do the work of sharing God’s love across all kinds of boundaries of language and race and class. They went forth, in Frost’s words, doing all sorts of Spring mischief, as befits a people conceived in the spring of Easter on a day when boulders fell away, a people born on Pentecost, through the Spirit that blows open the limits we raise, the fences we build, to create a global neighborhood, a world of neighbors.
A world of neighbors. It sounds like an impossible dream. But look around you. We are the sign of an impossible dream this morning. Several impossible dreams. Who would have thought that a dozen uneducated, often confused and bickering bunch of disciples would have found the wisdom and wearwithall to go out and build a church that has endured for 2 thousand years and embraced billions? Billions!!! Including us. How could it happen? Only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are the sign of another impossible dream too. When I came to this church almost a year ago, I had been told that one of big problems here had been communication. And that was when everyone spoke English!!! So why would a church that had communication issues and challenges in one language, move on to two languages? Were we crazy? Drunk? And why would we not always separate ourselves into our several soundproof celebrations, instead of coming together like today? Doesn’t this just create more communication difficulties? Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Here we are! Together! Juntos! Only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are a witness that the world needs desperately. We are a witness that the Spirit is creating and that the Spirit will help us to grow in fulfilling.
To paraphrase Frost:
SPRING IS THE MISCHIEF IN US, AND I WONDER
IF WE COULD PUT A NOTION IN THE MINDS AROUND US,
‘WHY DO FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS?’
BEFORE WE BUILD MORE WALLS, WE’D LIKE TO KNOW
WHAT WE ARE WALLING IN OR WALLING OUT
AND TO WHOM WE ARE LIKE TO GIVE OFFENSE.
SOMETHING THERE IS THAT DOESN’T LOVE A WALL
THAT WANTS IT DOWN.
So let’s get down and celebrate today! Happy Birthday Church! ¡Feliz Cumpleaños!