Bridges and Walls

Hello my friends,
When I began thinking about this 05-05-05 message and the number five, I made an instant connection between five and family. I am one of five children. Rosemary and I have a total of five children and grandchildren. I have five special friends who are my chosen family.

And I have more families: the extended versions of the three families above, the thousands of people I have worked with, the five million Scots here in Scotland, and on and on to the family of everyone on earth.

Each of these families is precious to me. And each family defines itself by excluding some other families. Each family has an invisible boundary around it. And each family constantly chooses to reach out to other families. Or not.

Sometimes I have an argument with someone in one of my families. Or I feel threatened by someone in one of my families. When that happens I am tempted to put up a wall to keep that other person out of my life.

Sometimes I am delighted by someone in one of my families. Or I am intrigued by someone in one of my families. When that happens I am eager to build a bridge to that person.

This beautiful land of Scotland that I live in is a land of many walls and many bridges. Some of the walls are very old and some of the bridges are very long. Perhaps the older the walls the longer the bridges need to be.

This is the land my ancestors came from and the land to which I have returned. I will be voting today to preserve this land from the nuclear submarines gathered in a beautiful loch less than 40 miles away and to protect this land from the G8 leaders who are gathering just over the hill in July to decide what will happen to the rest of us.

I think of this country as my country—even though I don’t own it. My friend Peter speaks of his centuries-old house (into which he has poured years of sweat equity) as a building he is living in temporarily until the next generation comes along.

That is how I like to think of this garden and this country and this planet.

And yet. How would I feel if someone built a wall across our garden so that I couldn’t just step out into the fields and walk into the hills? How would I feel if someone threatened me with violence if I crossed the wall? How would I feel if my life were at such risk that I thought it necessary to build a wall?

Nearly two thousand years ago, this country was on the edge of the Roman Empire and the Romans built several walls to protect themselves and to keep my dangerous ancestors out.

Last month I went to a gathering of Scots living near the Antonine Wall (one of those ancient Roman walls) and we all signed a message in English and Arabic expressing our solidarity with the Palestinians who currently find themselves behind a wall that separates them from their fields, from their jobs, from their families.

The Antonine Wall lasted less than 40 years; the Berlin Wall lasted less than 30 years. As Robert Frost says: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

When I see a wall, I want to know where the gate is. I’m quite willing to keep a fence between me and the sheep on the other side—as long as I can go through a gate and walk toward those beautiful hills, secure in the knowledge that there is no law of trespass in Scotland. That is because we trust each other not to leave a gate open or take a dog into a field full of spring lambs.

What if we all had enough wisdom and trust and tolerance to walk each other’s fields? What if we kept the low fences with open gates but tore down the high walls with no gates?

What if we did not treat the land as ours but imitated the tradition of many indigenous cultures that say: “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

The tradition in Scotland is that the Queen or the King is not the owner of the land but the leader of the people. So it is not Mary, Queen of Scotland; it is Mary, Queen of Scots.

What if we really did NOT own the land? What if we borrowed the land from the future and shared it in the present?

With those thoughts in mind, I will now walk down the road and vote for the Scottish National Party. I will be voting for a policy of regaining our land so that we can share it with others (rather than keeping out refugees), so that we can preserve its peace (rather than setting up another fleet of nuclear subs at Faslane), and so that we can preserve its beauty (for all of you to share with all of us).

Over the past few months I have been learning about Peace Building from my colleague Louise Diamond. I have learned that we each approach peace building from different perspectives and with different skills.

My own approach is to imagine the possibilities. I imagine more bridges and fewer walls. I ask you to imagine a world in which we have abolished war and a world in which we build bridges instead of walls.

Whether I am terrified of you because you drop bombs from helicopters or because you carry bombs wrapped around you, I am still terrified. And building a wall between us will not stop me feeling terrified.

The only way to stop feeling terrified is to build a bridge across the gap between us and to move toward each other across that bridge.

Between here and Edinburgh is a long suspension bridge called the Forth Road Bridge. Building such a bridge is a slow process: we must build deep foundations of trust; we must risk stretching out thin lines of interaction; we must hold the other’s line as carefully and firmly as the other holds our line; we must patiently weave solid cables of communication; and we must maintain the strength of the bridge forever.

We have our choices: build and maintain the walls or build and maintain the bridges.

That is our choice on this special day when people in the United Kingdom of Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are voting for a new central government, when people in the Occupied Territories of Palestine are voting for new local governments, when people all over the world are making their daily decisions about building walls or building bridges.

As I write this, I’m looking across our garden to green fields and dark hills beyond. A few minutes ago the sky turned dark with rainclouds and then a brilliant rainbow appeared. The wall of cloud was bridged by a rainbow of light.

I look forward to hearing from you as we reach out to each other, building bridges above the walls.

Take care,