And the walls came tumbling down…
Chris McDonnell CT January 11th2019
One of Mahalia Jackson’s most well-known songs tells the story of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho – “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down”.There is considerable doubt regarding the accuracy of the event. It is however a story that goes beyond the necessity of historical accuracy; it is a story of faith in the power of God to achieve what was beyond the power of men.
The Great Wall of China is certainly factual with its fabrication begun over two and a half thousand years ago. A significant Wall remains, snaking its way across the landscape, a formidable and imposing structure. Its construction was an amazing achievement in a hostile countryside.
Walls were built primarily for security, to maintain the safety of a city by keeping would-be invaders at bay. Walled cities were common place in Medieval times and remnants of their construction remain to this day, both here in our own country and in various European cities. With their closely-guarded gates and Watch Towers, they ringed the populace and offered security. The final verse of one of Dylan’s songs ‘All along the watch tower’ highlights the story of outer threat and inner security.
All along the Watchtower
Princes kept the view
while all the women came and went
barefoot servants, too
outside in the cold distance
a wildcat did growl
two riders were approaching
and the wind began to howl
In the last century the construction of the Maginot Line was intended to give France a secure defence against German invasion. It proved to be of little value, for when the Second World War broke out, Belgium provided a gateway round the northern end that was indefensible.
A more significant wall divided the city of Berlin in post-war Europe. Begun in August of 1961, it was to stand for nearly thirty years, its purpose being to restrict the movement of East Berliners seeking access to the West. Many lives were lost during those Cold War years as desperate attempts were made to scale the Wall, often after crossing open land protected by barbed wire.
When President Regan visited Berlin in June 1987 he gave this challenge to the Soviet leader “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It was not until the November of 1989 that it finally fell, its graffiti-covered concrete blocks taken apart by Berliners themselves, reuniting the city, the first stage towards German unification.
Pink Floyd sung the songs of their album ‘The Wall’ at an open air concert on vacant terrain between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg gate a few months later, in July 1990, before an audience estimated at 350,00 people. A symbol of division and repression was broken after years of pain and anguish.
And why all this talk about walls? Well, because we don’t seem to have learnt the lesson of history. In the Middle East, the Israeli West Bank wall was built during the Second Intifada in 2000, a barrier to prevent Palestinian incursion into the State of Israel. It remains in place to this day. In 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that stated ‘The wall contradicts international law and should be removed’. The vote was 144–4 with 12 abstentions. That was 15 years ago.
Now in our own time, the US President seeks to build a wall along the Southern U.S. border with Mexico, an issue that deadlocked Congress in recent days. The uncontrolled movement of peoples, whether driven by political threat, lack of work or hunger, will not be easily solved in our troubled world. The forceful exclusion of migrants might be a short term response; in the long term a more reasonable solution has to be found to meet their need.
Speaking in Bari in July last year, Pope Francis made reference to walls when he said “Truces maintained by walls and displays of power will not lead to peace, but only the concrete desire to listen and to engage in dialogue.” Seeking an imposed solution that lacks the substance of honest and sincere intention ultimately fails.
Wherever walls are built, they can only be a temporary measure, after conversation has failed and exasperation wins the day. We shouldn’t just consider the physical walls between nations as a problem, for within friendships and families we erect barriers that divide and frustrate. Grudges are held, often over a long time, after perceived wrong-doing and the anguished story continues with no apparent solution. The simple yet profound injunction of Jesus that we should ‘love God and our neighbor as ourselves’, is too easily forgotten. Pause awhile and tear down those walls.