Tearing Down the Walls

On my home altar, among other objects of special meaning to me, is a small chunk of the Berlin Wall. Twenty-seven years ago today, Germans streamed from all over their country with hammers and picks to tear down the oppressive barrier that separated East from West in their capital city. Exuberance and hope demolished that 79-mile, double, reinforced-concrete-and-barbed-wire structure with almost 300 watchtowers.


On this day in 2005, I made a pilgrimage to a crumbling remnant of that wall. Candles still burned there in honor of the almost one hundred Germans who had lost their lives trying to climb or tunnel to freedom on the other side. Placed inside cracks in the wall were dozens of individual roses, symbolizing reconciliation and unity.

November 9 also has more ominous significance for Germans. On this night in 1938, Nazis torched synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes and shops. They murdered almost a hundred Jews and imprisoned 30,000 in concentration camps. The event known as Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” was the horror that launched the Holocaust.

In this troubling moment in our own nation, when divisions are deep and wounds are gaping, we have a choice. We can entrench ourselves further in our own individual versions of truth, exhibiting the kind of close-mindedness and intolerance that can spin off into unspeakable violence and tragedy. Or we can begin to listen to one another.

We can build walls to keep others out. Or we can tear walls down—especially those barriers that separate us from people who see the world differently, and the ones that run through our hearts. For the sake of our future, I pray that we choose well.

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