Last week, someone called me an “Effing Yank!” This is particularly funny to a Southerner from Virginia, where we grew up thinking Yankees were people born north of the Mason-Dixon line. So, for me to be called a Yank makes me chuckle. But, coming from a non-American, it was meant to be hurtful. It got me thinking about borders.
I’m drafting this article while sitting in line at the border between the United States and Canada. I live north of the border and work south of the border. I have legal status in both countries. The territory of my day-to-day life involves these two nations. It amazes me when I sit at the border and watch birds fly over. They don’t have to stop and show their passports. Nobody searches them or questions them about their purposes. Canadian geese don’t stand guard on one side while bald eagles guard the other. The birds realize that there is no difference and that they are all one.
Meeting at the Border
Before I had permanent residency in Canada, my wife and I used to meet at a ditch between parallel roads at the border. Because of COVID, we weren’t allowed to cross. I would sit on one side, and she would sit on the other. Cameras and roaming border guards enforced that nobody crossed the line. It was all so ridiculous—spouses were allowed to hug and kiss at the border, as long as our feet didn’t cross.
Then we discovered Peace Arch Park. British Columbia and Washington jointly administer this piece of land, where Americans and Canadians can cross at will—as long as they remain in the park. It was established to commemorate a treaty of peace between the two countries after the War of 1812. The war was so long ago that many don’t even know our two countries were once at war. Now, Peace Arch represents the perpetual friendship between erstwhile enemy nations.
As COVID restrictions were still on, we began meeting at that park, until my permanent residency was finalized. Once I had a piece of paper in hand, I could move 30 minutes away, from my trailer in the US to our home in Canada. The difference was essentially nonexistent—except now that I could live with my wife, it was the most meaningful move in the world. But I’m still not a citizen yet. It’s almost a year since my move—and I still get called an “effing Yank.”
Borders are Stupid
The more I think about it, the more I realize how stupid our borders are. The boundary between the United States and Canada is meaningless. It does nothing but proclaim we are us and you are them. The people are the same on both sides. Similarly, doors and walls separate the “sacred” from the “secular” world, but people are the same inside and out.
If thresholds, barriers, and boundaries mean nothing, why do we have them? Perhaps for the joy of Crossing them. Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But the best thing about a fence is the gate—the ability to cross through and visit with your neighbor. The day I gained permanent residency and could cross back and forth at will was one of the most exciting of my life. That day, I became like the bird flying across unhindered. Yes, the best thing about a threshold is the crossing.
I Am Standing at the Door, Knocking
Jesus said in Revelation 3:20 NRSVUE, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me.” The best thing about a threshold is the crossing. It’s realizing that you are no different from the guest at your door, or the foreigner at your border. The most amazing thing about walls is tearing them down—ripping the gates off the hinges and living a life that realizes we are all one.
The only sin is forgetting that we are one. All our misdeeds spring from this one misconception. We steal from our neighbor because we forget he is us. We curse and demean each other, building walls higher to protect what is ours, unaware that God has already breached our walls. He has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility and called us to be one.
Whether national borders, class divisions, racial and ethnic tensions, socio-economic disparities, or anything else that keeps people apart, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. As you peer fearfully through your security camera the image gets distorted. All you can see is a scary foreigner, or person with a different colored skin, or someone with different gender identity or sexual orientation. But it’s all Jesus, standing at the door at knocking. The question is whether we will open the door and invite the Other in.