A Society of Fences

The following post was written by Nathan Albert, Director of Pastoral Care at The Marin Foundation.

I took a walk through my hometown the other day. It’s enjoyable as an adult to relive childhood memories. As I walked, I realized fences are everywhere. Our family didn’t have a fence around our yard. We lived on a corner lot and had a huge backyard. It became the neighborhood sports field for us kids. Depending on the sports season, we’d play football, baseball, soccer, or kick the can.

But as I walked around the town, I saw so many fences. Eventually, I decided I would be a bit nosey and peek over the fences. One home had a nasty pool, completely polluted, brown water, with ducks swimming in it. Others had no grass at all, just piles of dirt. Some were covered with kid toys and swing sets. Yet, other yards were incredibly clean, grass beautifully green, but no one could see it. Almost every home was nicely landscaped in the front, but that wasn’t always the case behind the fences.

It seems we put up fences for numerous reasons. We don’t want strangers wandering through our yards; we know those bratty neighborhood kids will make it a mess. Other times fences show our neighbors our possessions; this is our land not yours. Sometimes, fences do a great job at hiding the messiness of our yards; the grass really is greener in someone else’s yard.

Do you think we do this in our personal lives? Do you think there is a similarity in our churches? I think so. I think we put up fences. A lot of them. Some times fences made of steel that are stories high. We don’t want certain people to come into our yards. Certain people won’t appreciate how much work went into the yard and they might mess it up. We want people to say in their own yards; they don’t own our yard so why should they be allowed to enjoy it? If we’re honest, we may not want others to see how bad the grass is in our yard. We may not want people to see the dog crap that covers our yard. So rather than exposing the flaws to others, we simply mask it with a tall fence. We landscape the front yard as well as we can, but we do not even dare to invite people past that. We do that in our own lives, don’t we? I know I do. I put up fences. I make sure the outside is presentable yet hide what’s in the back yard.

What if we took down the fences? What if we were vulnerable enough to let others see the holes in our yard, the mess that it is, or all the crap? Or what if we had a green yard and invited others to share in it? If we took down our fences, all people would be invited to the backyard barbeque. Others could see our needs. Those of us with nice yards could help others. Those of us with a lot of fertilizer could spread it out on someone else’s yard. Those who need some fertilizer could get some from others.

It reminds me of the slums of Bangkok. Mind you, there are no yards there. But people’s front doors were always opened. Actually, at times, people did not have a front door, or even a front wall. It was open for all to share. You could get fresh water from one house while use the bathroom in another. The one with a working tv would invite all over to watch it while the house with a big kitchen would be the community kitchen. And in sharing there was so much joy. What are we missing out on by keeping up our fences?

Here’s my paraphrase of Acts 2:44-47:

Because there were no fences, backyard barbeques were endless. Everyone showed up, everyone ate, and the yard was huge.

Much love.


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