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.
from: Mending Wall by Robert Frost
The walls around every church have grown taller and wider in recent years. From within the walls, the change is mostly invisible. From outside, the walls have made the churches themselves invisible.
The wall I’m talking about is the hard edge that separates those who are aware of the church and its mission and the growing majority of people for whom the church does not even appear as a mist in their memory. The wall was not built by the churches, but the churches have not cooperated with the forces that tear the wall down.
So day by day, the wall gets higher and sturdier.
This troubling wall encloses the increasingly narrow and steep niches of attention in which we live. The internet promises access to everyone and everything, but the hyper-text linking, markups, and invisible algorithms that moderate access drive each person into her or his own unique canyon of awareness. In that canyon, the things they are interested in and attentive to get reinforced and those that are novel and challenging are filtered: all to keep cash flowing through the corporate systems that seek to own and manipulate the boundaries of our individual attention.
Churches also compete for attention, but weakly, as if this very effective wall building system didn’t exist all around us.
The glorious thing that swells beneath and cracks these nefarious walls is the very thing that the church points to as the reason for its being.
It is love that tumbles these walls, an expansive love that our churches are perfectly capable of demonstrating. This wall crumbling love can only be effective when people move out of the confines of “church.” It isn’t a program to implement, it is a person to be loved.
When the church, the body of Christ, moves past the love of family and pew to loving the people in their community, walls come tumbling down. This kind of love begins with listening; listening begins with stopping and looking at the people we encounter, stopping and looking begins with turning off our screens, and turning off our screens is a form of small rebellion necessary for the sake of God.
When you turn off your screen, look at the person in front of you and allow their humanity to penetrate your soul, the ground swells beneath you and walls begin to fall.