They call it a Peace Wall – this barrier that separates the Unionist/Loyalist/Protestant part of West Belfast from the Nationalist/Republican/Catholic part. It runs about half a mile long and stretches about 25 feet high, with sections added over time. Though it’s been over 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, officially ending the violent era known as The Troubles, the walls have only gotten taller, and the gates on either end are still locked every night.
As we stood in front of this colorful display of division, our tour guide told us that most people in Northern Ireland believe that peace will come, but they don’t want the walls to come down. The barriers give them a sense of safety from those on the other side. It left me wondering what people mean when they speak of peace and what it would take for true peace to emerge.
My learning only scratches the surface of the conflict that has developed over hundreds of years in Ireland, and I don’t seek to offer commentary on a struggle that is not my own. Yet, somehow this wall that stands tall on the other side of the world felt familiar. It brought up memories of standing before another wall along the border of Tijuana and San Diego. It reminded me of the invisible walls that exist between the left and the right, the church and the LGBTQ community, my neighborhood and the one a few blocks away.
We all build walls or bolster the ones that others have constructed because they make us feel safe. We think that if we just keep them out, we can live in peace and comfort. But true peace doesn’t come through avoidance. True peace is cultivated as we begin to excavate the wounds and the fears within ourselves in order to make space to see the wounds and the fears of our enemies. True peace is fostered when we begin to tear down the walls within our hearts so that we may have courage to tear down the walls on our streets. True peace is found in the example of a Savior who crossed the divide between heaven and earth to live among us and restore us to life.
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. – Ephesians 2:13-16
Why do we continue to build up the walls of hostility that Jesus tore down? I recognize that we live in the tension between the work of restoration that has already been fulfilled in our Savior and the work of reconciliation that is still to be done. I understand that the walls that have been built up over generations won’t come down overnight. But if we want to see this new humanity that Christ is creating, we must be willing to start by interrogating our own hostilities.
What are the walls that have been constructed in your heart?