When Building Walls, Make Sure They're Good Ones


A fence along the Mexico-Arizona border. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

In his poem, "Mending Wall," published in 1914, Robert Frost stated the proverb, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Frost recognized that "where there are cows," fences make good sense. However, he questioned the necessity of fences where they are not needed.

He suggested that there is something within us that "doesn't love a wall." He writes that before he would build a wall, he would "ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence."

With the U.S. in an uproar over walls and fences, perhaps Frost's poem can offer some guidance and insight.

Walls and fences make good sense in their proper place. They offer privacy and security in and around our homes, businesses or properties.

They provide safe places for children to play, students to learn and adults to work. They establish healthy parameters and boundaries for life and relationships. After all, "good fences make good neighbors."

But, Frost also recognized the offense that some walls or fences bring. Therefore, he exhorts us to make sure we understand who our fences are walling in or walling out.

Are we building "good fences?" Or are we building "bad fences" that ultimately defeat their intended purpose?

If good fences make good neighbors, then surely the opposite is true: "bad fences make bad neighbors."

As the debate rages on in our nation, may we have the courage to listen to each other and commit to the building of only good fences.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn't say anything about walls or fences, but calls himself the "Door" or "Gate" in John 10:9.

For those who go in and out of his "Gate," there is salvation, abundant life and green pastures. Jesus warns that thieves, robbers and wolves are always trying to get through or around his gate. While his gate is closed to these, it is always open to anyone seeking salvation and abundant life.

I wonder what would happen if our national conversation turned from walls to doors?

Yes, there are always "thieves, robbers and wolves" looking to enter to "steal and kill." A good door is designed to keep these out.

But, in the spirit of Jesus, this same door should be open to those looking to find the salvation of new freedoms and opportunities.

The U.S. has been this kind of door from the beginning. The plaque at the base of the Statute of Liberty reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The Statue of Liberty serves as a light to the hurting and hopeless of the world to find new beginnings. In a sense, she offers "salvation" to all who enter.

The brilliance of America has been an open door to those seeking refuge and opportunities for new life. America is filled with families who have passed through this door.

The dangers in our world are more lethal than ever before and for this reason good doors and good fences are necessary.

Yet, one truth remains amid these dangers, the tired are still tired, the poor are still poor, and the huddled masses still yearn for the breath of freedom.

Yes, there is a time to mend and build good fences, but what about our doors?

May the doors of our lives, our communities and our nation be open to the tired, the poor and those yearning for new life and freedom.

Wade Smith is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma. A version of this article first appeared on FBC's blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PastorWadeSmith.

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