J: Sometimes, reading this passage is just discouraging. All this talk about "dividing walls of hostility." It feels like a lot of us are over here taking down the dividing wall that keeps LGBTQ people out of the church. We take down the bricks and set them aside only to turn around and see that other people have used those bricks to build a new dividing wall of hostility.
R: I know. We’ve talked about this at Madison Mennonite. By being open and inclusive of LGBTQ people, we have to realize that we are automatically excluding a lot of other people who find our openness offensive. It feels like the dividing walls are everywhere. And, to be honest, I like some of those walls. I like the ones that keep me feeling safe and cozy in a space where everyone thinks and believes the way I do.
J: I call that my happy bubble. My little liberal college town in a conservative state. My little open and affirming church and Pink Mennos in a denomination that still holds a so-called "teaching position" against gay marriage. My little Facebook and blog world where everyone--or at least most people--know that I’m right. I do like my happy bubble. You’re right. Those dividing walls can be pretty cozy.
R: But when I am at my best, I know even those walls need to come down.
J: I know. They do. But the walls seem to be reproducing at an astonishing rate. What are we supposed to do? How do we tear them down? I don’t know if I’m strong enough--or patient enough--to deal with all of these walls of hostility.
R: Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve had Greek, so I can’t be sure about the verb tenses here--from my English translation it seems that this is all past tense. That the walls have already been torn down.
J: "He has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. . . . You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God." . . . You’re right. I’ve been talking about all of the work we have to do--I have to do--to break down the walls. But that’s not what this scripture passage is about. There is nothing here that says I have to do anything. Christ has already destroyed the dividing walls of hostility.
R: Maybe it’s an already/not yet thing. That’s one of those spiffy theological bits I learned in seminary. We say that the death and resurrection of Jesus destroyed the power of sin and death. That’s already happened. But it is not yet fully realized. There’s still plenty of sin and death in our world. But that doesn’t change the fact of what Christ did. We live in this awkward and uncomfortable space between the already and the not yet. We experience conflict and division within the church, but ultimately, Christ has destroyed those divisions.
J: You know, I think that is a really important truth for me to hear at the beginning of conference week. I tend to see a lot of walls around here--a lot of people who disagree with my theology and my politics, a lot of people who question my worthiness as a pastor and even a Christian. What if some of those walls aren’t actually there? Or what if they are there only because I’m acting as if they are there?
R: I tend to do that too--assume differences and disagreements. Imagine the walls into being. That’s probably not the most helpful approach. But it is so easy to fall into. In my previous congregation there was an older couple who were very conservative theologically and otherwise. And they didn’t hesitate to tell me where they stood. I don’t think they ever told me directly that they were right and I was wrong. But that didn’t stop me from thinking that that was what they were thinking. In my head, and maybe even in my heart, I imagined that we were separated by our disagreements, that there were walls between us that I couldn’t get past. But the funny thing is, by the time I left that congregation I had fallen in love with those conservative folks. Their theology hadn’t changed, and neither had mine. But my love for them had made those walls disappear. Or maybe they were never there to begin with.
J: The last convention, in Pittsburgh, was not too long after Western District Conference had made their ruling that I could keep my ordination credentials despite "the wedding." Several times that week, I would be talking to someone I didn’t know well, and suddenly they would stop and look at me. And I could tell by their faces that they recognized me from my glamor shot in The Mennonite magazine or Mennonite Weekly Review. That’s always when I braced myself. They would say, "Aren’t you that pastor . . ." and I would imagine the wall going up. Except it rarely did. Many people were supportive. And others were sincerely curious. And others were processing for themselves. And even those who disapproved of my actions weren’t mean or hateful about it. I had imagined a lot of walls--and it turned out that they didn’t exist.
R: The temptation we face is to come to this event with our emotional dukes up. And with good reason. Many of us have suffered discrimination. We have been hurt and excluded. Our own people have built walls to keep us over here while they gather over there. It’s not hard to imagine walls when others keep telling us they are there. But you know what warms my heart?
J: Randy Spaulding, who continued to share his amazing musical and pastoral gifts with a hostile conference and denomination--until they kicked him out. Germantown Mennonite, who continues to claim their Mennonite identity and seek community with a denomination and conference that are trying to push them out.
R: Yes. [shifting from addressing me to addressing congregation] And people like you. You warm our hearts. People in pink. People who have refused to accept the walls, and have gently, sweetly and with great strength behaved as if there were no walls at all.
J: Your participation in this convention proclaims more clearly than any preacher could that the dividing walls have already been torn down by Christ. Your witness is a gift to the church. And some day we will all realize it.
R: I told Joanna that when I began thinking about Ephesians 2 and our time together, an old song popped into my head. It goes like this: “Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, I’d say it’s alright.” The lyrics seem so fitting. They describe what it’s like living in between the already and the not yet. “Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. It feels like years since it’s been here.” Isn’t that the truth.? But then there’s this: “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting.” Can you feel it? Is it the walls coming down or hearts being warmed with the coming of the son?
J: “For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
R: Dear sisters and brothers, beloved of God, the dividing walls are gone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And the time is coming when they’ll be a faint memory. “Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. It’s alright.”