Sunday, 16 September 2012

Building bridges not walls

Below is the most beautiful of meditations written by Rev Margaret Kirk, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall. (inspired by the poem of the same name by Robert Frost no doubt). It speaks powerfully to me. I first heard it during the anniversary service where Margaret preached the address at the British Unitarian General Assembly meetings a few years back. I seem to remember that David Dawson set some music to it. I’d love to get a hold of it and perhaps learn to sing it sometime. We shall see...

Here are those beautiful words...

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” by Rev Margaret Kirk

We see barriers erected between people of different lands,
We see sheets of steel and towers of concrete called Protection.
We see boundaries policed, 
watch men, women and children running from hunger and persecution,
looking for a gap in the wall………

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see walls of fear –
Fear of the young, fear of the stranger,
Fear of sexuality that is different, fear of the educated, fear of the poor,
Fear of the Muslim, fear of the Jew – 
Fear upon fear, endless and perpetuating,
And we offer our silent prayer that solid walls of fear will crumble to dust.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We hear the language of separation,
The jingoistic chant, the racial slur,
words of indifference and dismissal,
words arranged for the purpose of exclusion,
words that sting and taunt, 
words that lie.
Let us find words that ring with love and truthfulness,
that reach out through the emptiness of separation.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall…………

We see the deluded barriers of the mind protecting self,
We see relationships stripped of affection
as one person becomes closed to another.
We see people trapped in misunderstanding,
old hurts re-ignited,
bricks placed higher on the wall,
goodwill and trust suspended.
and we ask for boundaries that are not impenetrable, 
through which light can shine and distance be dissolved.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall………….

And when we need these boundaries for our own well being,
Let us know them for what they are,
Use them wisely and kindly,
Recognising our own vulnerability and that of others – 
So each of us can find the space for retreat and succour,
find that peace that passes all understanding
and be renewed with strength and love
for the task of living life joyfully in communion with all others.

Rev Margaret Kirk

So often in life we hear of the need for healthy boundaries in order to live happily and successfully. I do not disagree with this, boundaries are important. My only concern is that so often these boundaries quickly become barriers, nay walls; walls that can quickly separate us from one another. And as Margaret has so beautifully described these walls can be created in so many other ways too. There are many walls that separate one from another...

There is an ancient Persian tale known as,  “learning to write in the sand” The story depicts two men crossing a river. One gets into trouble and is saved by his friend. As a way of thanks the rescued man has the account carved in a nearby stone. Sometime later the two men again reach the same stretch of river only this time they get into a silly argument and one strikes the other. When the argument calms down the very same man who wrote in the stone gets up and once again writes about the incident, only this time he carves it in sand. He says "I hope to forget this argument before the wind and water erase my words from the sand."

It is important to know what should be written in stone and what should be written in stand.

It brings to mind an account from John’s Gospel ( John Ch8 vv 1-11) of the “woman caught in adultery” The woman is about to be stoned to death, in accordance with the law. The Pharasee’s test Jesus and ask him what should be done. He does not answer immediately and simply sits down and begins to write in the sand. They continue to press him and after a short while he stands up and utters the immortal words “Let those amongst you who is without sin, cast the first stone” and then bends down and continues to write in the sand. One by one the crowd disperses, beginning with the elders and after they have all gone, Jesus rises and asks the woman where they are? And if anyone has condemned her? She tells him that no one has. To which he replies “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

I have often wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand. Maybe he wrote the misdeed, maybe he wrote his own misdeeds. Who knows?

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Can any one truly say that at some point in their life they have not caused harm to another? I think it is safe to say that to this extent we are all sinners, I am. Now do not get me wrong I do not believe, to quote ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ “there is no health in us”. I am not talking of original sin. I do not believe that anyone is born into this world tainted in any sense. I believe that we are all born with a clean slate and with the potential for so many things.

This afternoon I am conducting a blessing of a child. I will use water in the ceremony, but not to cleanse him of sin. No instead I will use water, the most basic element of life, to bless the child. I will touch his brow, his lips and hands, to bless his thoughts, words and deeds. 

Each week at the close of worship I offer similar words of Benediction. I ask that we receive the blessings of God, the blessings of love in all that we feel, all that we think, all that we say and all that we do; that we carry this vision into all of our lives. The hope is that we go out into the world and live the best life that we can. As I have said before I believe that we can change the world, just one smile at a time.

I was chatting with Carolyn Jones (a member of the Altrincham congregation) about sin the other day. Now Carolyn is a lover of the etymology of words. She said that Unitarians don’t do sin. “Don’t we”, I thought.  Now I believe that she was actually talking about “Original Sin”. I explained to her that I’m quite happy talking about sin, because I know that I sin. I sin in the sense that I fall short of the mark. Who doesn't?

Now what do I mean when I speak of sin? Well first of all it is important to understand that in the original Hebrew and Greek sin meant falling short of the mark.
The Unitarian Universalist minister Frank Muir, in an attempt to explain sin's etymology says that:

“The Garden story was all about cheyt, the Hebrew word meaning “to miss the mark,” which was their definition of sin-like shooting an arrow at the target and missing. After you miss, of course it’s a disappointment, but you try again, you try to hit the mark. In other words, sinning is a part of life, no different than breathing, eating, or sleeping. So we sin-what else is new! anything that I do that isolates, ostracizes, or separates me or others from the human community (and by extension, from the web of life) which results in robbing or denying human uniqueness and potential. Call it evil or flawed behaviour; call it missing the mark; call it brokenness; call it denial, repression, or reaction formation-it’s all sin if it separates, ostracizes, or isolates us from the ground of our being, from that which defines us as human beings. Sin is behaviour that prevents a person from living out their potential for human being-ness."

The great twentieth century liberal theologian Paul Tillich defined sin as anything than leads to estrangement from ourselves, from one another and from God. I see it as a state of brokenness, alienation and division. I am certain that we have all experienced this; we have all experienced division within ourselves, estrangement from our neighbours and those we love and from whatever we believe is at the core of all this.

Forrest Church says that “the opposite of sin is salvation, a word that means health or wholeness. Not only is this clear from the Latin root, but the parallel Teutonic etymology suggests the same meaning: hale, health, whole, and holy spring from the same root.”

This brings me back to those walls that Margaret talked of in her meditation. It also gets me thinking of a poster that is hanging in the school room at Dunham Road that reads “Unitarians building bridges not walls”.

This I believe is the key to living religiously. True religion is about building bridges between what separates us from one another, from ourselves and from God. It's all about wholeness.

When we build these bridges we are atoning, we are becoming whole again. Atonement literally means at-one-ment. It is about bringing back together that which was once separate. I believe that to atone is to begin to build those bridges between our true selves, between one another and between God. This is true religion, building bridges that can begin to heal the troubles within ourselves and within our world.

So let’s not build walls that separate us from one another, let’s instead build bridges of reconciliation between one another and all life. If we do we have already begun to build the Commonwealth of Love right here, right now.

We can make ourselves and all life whole again.


  1. Hi Danny i am puzzled by your writing "I have often wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand. Maybe he wrote the misdeed, maybe he wrote his own misdeeds. Who knows?"
    Are you suggesting that not only was Jesus capable of misdeeds but that he also made some ?

    "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" 2 Corinthians 5:21

  2. Just thinking out loud Paul...I wonder what he wrote...I wonder if it's a significant part of the story or not...might mean nothing...who knows, certainly not I...