Sunday, August 13, 1961, the city of Berlin awoke to discover that a barbed wire fence was strung up during the night, dividing East Berlin from West Berlin. First, only barbed wire and guards prevented people from entering or leaving Soviet-controlled East Berlin. Next came cement walls with guard towers, razor wire, dogs, and guns. Slowly, bit by bit the separation completed. A city, once united was separated.
What began as one city became two distinct and different cultures, as those walled into East Berlin had their rights taken away, one by one, with the threat of death always there to keep them in line.
When I was a child, I was friends with everyone. As an outgoing, overly talkative child, I chattered to anyone who would listen, and anyone who listened became, in my mind, my new best friend. After all, if we’re talking together, then you must like me and I know I like you, so now we’re friends, right?
In first grade, I learned that boys were DIFFERENT than girls. Boys have cooties. Boys are gross. Suddenly, all of my friends were girls and girls only.
In fifth grade, I learned that all girls were not my friends. Some girls liked to sit and talk about boys and clothes. These girls did not like me because I liked to run and chatter non-stop and run some more. I learned that I was different. I was a “tom boy” … which also meant I was no longer welcomed among my own kind.
Although the boys would let me run and play soccer with them, I was not really a boy, just a pretend boy. Luckily, there were enough of us that didn’t quite fit one group or another, so I didn’t feel lonely.
Middle school and high school, the years that no one ever feels a sense of belonging. Even those in the popular group spend most of their waking hours trying to fit in, worrying constantly about being ‘out’ of the group.
As an adult, I have learned to be discerning about who I allow to know the ‘real’ me. Deep down, I am still the little girl who thinks everyone is my friend. No matter how many times it happens, there is still a sense of wronged hurt when someone is unkind to me just because they can be. I’m still a little surprised that not everyone wants to be my friend.
Through life’s experiences, I know that 9 times out of 10, when someone is unkind, it’s because of their own issues; however, the hurt is still there. I still have to mentally talk myself through the pain that some people seem to feel no guilt about throwing divisive unkindness at everyone they see as different.
We are adults. Why are so many of us not mature enough to accept differences among us?
In East Berlin, the people were constantly bombarded with the threat of death if they did not conform. In our time, we are threatened with being left out of the group. We are social creatures and we want the protection of belonging and acceptance.
In East Berlin, the people were constantly bombarded with messages that those who are different are threats. Turn on the television. Look at any form of media. EVERY single message we receive tells us that we need to conform to a group.
Are you a rugged outdoorsman? Then you should dress a certain way, shop at certain stores, follow certain social media outlets, and eat a certain diet. Only by doing these things can you proclaim your individual choice to belong to this group!
Are you a black man or woman? Then you should dress a certain way, shop at certain stores, follow certain social media outlets, and eat a certain diet. Only by doing these things can you proclaim your individual choice to belong to this group!
Are you a white suburban, stay-at-home mother? Then you should dress a certain way, shop at certain stores, follow certain social media outlets, and eat a certain diet. Only by doing these things can you proclaim your individual choice to belong to this group!
Pick your group, there are many choices, but you must pick a group to belong. Hip Millennial? Overworked executive? Blue-collar cowboy? Wannabe vlogger star? Once you pick, you have to conform to that group’s image: including how you dress, where you shop, what you eat, and what media you put into your own mind.
Those in power in East Berlin controlled by a very visible wall and by very visible methods. However, we are just as controlled and divided if we allow someone else to dictate to us how we should act and choose and even think.
If everyone in East Berlin had cast aside fear and stood up to those dominating their lives, there would have been a high price to pay, but, in the end, they would have won.
And, eventually, as the people of East Berlin came to realize this for themselves, they did tear down the dividing wall. It took help from those on the other side, but that wall was torn down.
November 9, 1989, I watched as the people of East Berlin tore chunks of the wall out by hand and joyously climbed to the top of the crumbling wall to wave flags with tears of joy running down their cheeks. It took almost 3 decades, but that wall did come down.
How many decades will it take us to tear down the invisible walls dividing us from one another? How many of generations of our children crying tears of pain, pain inflicted by someone who couldn’t accept something different than themselves?
This is not just about race or religion. Let me share some observations.
I have watched individuals of other races be left to themselves and not fully embraced within my religion my whole life. Remember, I grew up living all over the world and experiencing many different flavors of my Church.
Those who are black are friends with and hang out with those who are black. Those of Indian descent do the same. I have seen this in Europe. I have seen this in America. I see exceptions as well, where individuals do reach across the invisible divisions, but they are the exception, not the rule.
I have watched individuals of different economic status be left to themselves and not fully embraced within my religion my whole life. True, individuals will help someone in need, as a service project to make themselves feel better, not because they see the poorer person as an equal, as a friend. Again, there are exceptions, but they are the exception.
I have watched individuals with special needs be sidelined in this same way.
Now I am seeing greater wedges driven between our children in primary, as parents set up private playdates only with children who they believe can socially help their child. If we, as parents, don’t teach our children to invite EVERYONE into their circle of friends, who will?
If we, disciples of Christ, don’t call out these terribly divisive, invisible walls for what they are, who will tear them down for our children?
Satan is separating us, just as though he had built a wall down the center of our city. We must not allow fear to hold us back from tearing it down … if we do not, our children will pay the price of our silence.