Saturday, April 25, 2009

if these walls could talk

While walking back from my Saturday ritual visit to St. George's Market, I passed by a large metal "peace" wall that had been adorned with puzzle-piece-shaped art with pictures of children on it, making the huge metal fence look like there was a playground inside it. I got to thinking about these "peace" walls (I use "" because I find peace and walls held together a possible contradiction in terms). I thought about an article I read in the local community paper the other day that described an exciting art project to give the Shankill "peace" walls a new design, with images of history and unity. There are over 40 barriers in Northern Ireland, and many have been decorated with images of peace and unity, but they are still walls intended to seperate different cultural groups, not matter how pretty they are. The question begs to be asked: Why disguise these walls as peaceful instead of just take them down?

I asked my friend Chris about this and he said that there was talk of taking down the walls, but it's believed that the communities behind them are not ready for this yet, and so it would be a very slow process. He says that new murals pave the way for gradual change, and that people have even talked about putting windows in them! He concluded by noting the financial benefit of the peace walls: thousands of people visit these walls every year and they serve as big tourist attractions here. I should also note that the "peace" walls were intended to be temporary--and some have been up for more than 30 years.

Initially I felt really frustrated with the continued presence of "peace" walls and no apparent push to remove them, but just efforts to beautify these barriers or even worse, accept them as a permanent fixture of the Northern Irish landscape. I felt frustrated that there was a profit being made by dividing people from one another and that money often speaks louder than Truth.

Just when I was getting all riled up into a place of judgment and anger, I took a step back. These walls aren't only here. We're constantly maintaining our walls of division in other ways. Outwardly, it's so easy to beautify racism and sexism with flowery politically correct language, but inside, the walls of inferiority and predjudice remain. We can beautify conflict in our relationships with glossing-over and "moving on", but inside, the walls of hurt or anger remain. We can beautify how we spend our money with puffed-up arrogance about fair trade or sale shopping, but inside we are driven by the lust for money, making our walls as profitable as walls in Belfast. We can beautify our relationship with those who are poor with one-off mission trips or occasional donations, but inside we cower away from homeless people on the street and deeply fear "lower-class" neighborhoods. We can talk big about peace and justice, but inside we complicitly profit from war in ways we would like to ignore.

So, when I see these walls in Belfast, I am convicted. What walls do I maintain, undergoing any amount of dressing-up just to avoid taking them down? Where am I called to holy deconstruction, holy demolition of the walls that divide? I long for the One who is our peace: "He 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." (Ephesians 2:14)

1 comment:

Mavis said...

Thanks for this reflection Whitney.