The Lines We Draw: Pressing Borders and Respecting Boundaries

I have a bit of a confession to make: I, Kristen, a United Methodist pastor, dyed-in-the-wool Christian, millennial, am a racist.

There. I said it.

What a weird thing to kick off the first TTC post of Advent, but here we are.

It started in elementary school. There were two Hispanic boys in one of my homerooms, one was a kid named Lorenzo who was very good at drawing and was obsessed with lizards. The other was named Alfredo and wore his hair in a gelled pompadour and frequently dawned a black leather jacket. I’m not joking. It was a straight-up Elvis Presley pompadour on a 9 year-old. He looked like the Fonz’s son got into his closet and went wild.

I didn’t like either of them. I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t like them. Alfredo smelled strangely and Lorenzo was always getting in trouble for drawing iguanas in class. That was pretty much it, sadly. But somehow, my 9 year-old mind colored them as less intelligent, as “trouble makers,” as annoying and irresponsible. 

Why am I bringing this up right now, you ask?

Well, I have been thinking, which is dangerous, but this is a website entitled “Thinking Through Christianity,” so you get what you pay for, I suppose. I have been thinking quite a bit recently about borders, about the visible and invisible lines we draw to separate ourselves from the rest of the human herd.

It seems that borders are all the rage in recent (and not-so-recent) news reporting. Want a story of attempted asylum? Look no further than Samuel Oliver Bruno. Want a story of a migrant caravan? Well, we have that too. But perhaps what no mission–minded Christian wanted was the story of John Allen Chau, a 26 year-old American missionary who not once, not twice, but three times attempted contact with the highly protected Sentinelese people and was eventually killed and buried by the tribe on the island.

If I had read this headline perhaps 20 years ago, I would have been filled with pride. There’s something odd that those of us who came of age at the time of Columbine and Cassie Bernall understand well- the cause of the Christian martyr. I have journalistic proof of prayers prayed through tears that if I couldn’t be a wife or a mother, that God would take my life for his glory, so that I would not have to live in vain.

Seventh grade pathos is unrivaled, friends.

Today, I feel a sense of sadness and rage. It’s not that I don’t love the church or feel that the Gospel is not worth sharing; it’s the hubris with which I am struggling. But, what has emerged from these two emotions is the reality that we, the human beings living upon the earth, might have a line problem.

While Jesus himself was never all that keen on “borders” in the sense of the things that divide us one from another: Samaritans, Nazarenes, adulterers, sick, poor, etc., the man was an expert at setting healthy boundaries, and for good reason. The work he was doing was far too important to get side-swept by exhaustion or illness, so he learned to leave places, to set appropriate distance, and to trust a handful of people with the holy work he was doing.

But back to why it’s important that I share that I am a racist: as a white woman of privilege, it’s too easy for me to smack a value judgement on my Facebook feed. “Samuel Oliver Bruno should have come to the country legally. Done. None of this would have happened.” “John Allen Chau was just trying to do what he felt was right and holy. After all, God warns us that this journey will be dangerous.”

As I look at those two statements, I have to be honest, while they drip of smugness, I don’t really see Christ incarnate in either of them, because neither of them take into account the totality of the issue at hand: we have a problem with lines.

Lines are a problem when they, by their very nature, cause harm. When the people who live within them are suffering and have no way to escape, lines become borders, boundaries, colonies, states, nations, what have you. We are so proficient at dividing ourselves based on a variety of factors that it’s a wonder any of us can live in the same neighborhood anymore.

But, when the lines exist to create health, when the people who are living within the lines are prospering according to their own measure of joy and fulfillment, then what are we to do?

I have perhaps tipped my hat to some of what I feel about John Allen Chau, but I invite you to join me this Advent and ponder the lines we draw. Perhaps take the figures of the Christmas story and start there:

  • Mary, the unwed teenage mother
  • Joseph, the gentle skeptic
  • Elizabeth, the barren and menopausal
  • Zechariah, the mute
  • Herod, the jealous king
  • And Jesus, perhaps the most feared infant ever born
  • The Holy Family as refugees
  • Jesus escaping into the wilderness
  • Any time Jesus gets on a boat
  • Jesus leaving his disciples to pray

What do you see? What do you hear? Where are the lines? What do you discern is healthy? What do you discern is obscuring the image of God?

May you have a blessed Advent! And recognize the humanity and the divinity in incredibly talented kids who like drawing lizards.