Don’t let the barbed wire fool you.
This criss-crossed boundary maker is a mean fence.
I’ve tangled with them many times and felt the initial scrape, then the sting of its puncture. I’ve watched the thin red line as it bloomed where metal razor-ed my skin, a dot dot dot of blood clotting fat and round.
In the summer, laziness and daring married into a perfect storm as I attempted to climb over the bending wires instead of going through the gate in my effort to get to Mr. Howard’s barn before my sisters. It cost me a twisted fall and red-faced embarrassment.
In the winter after packing snow for a trail all morning to get it “slicker’n a bean” as my dad would say, and in my zeal to go airborne over the road on my sled, I often missed the rusted thorns protruding from the snowbanks. It cost me a shredded coat and a ripped wrist. A sort of jagged justice for not watching where I was going.
They tell where the boundaries are. They announce what needs to be kept in or kept out. Some fences even declare a belonging. Most of us want to be on the right side.
The trouble is, trouble comes when we think we’re on the right side of a fence but we’re not. The trouble is, trouble comes when we think we own our own lives.
When deny our own remarkable creation.
With a hammer in hand, or our finger plucking strings; with our paint-stained canvases or our eye pressed into a telescope, we believe we are the creators, the music-makers, the color splash-ers, and the universe finders. It’s a lie. But it isn’t the first lie, it’s the second.
The first lie happened in a garden a very long time ago when the first and most noble of all creation were told they could be like God. In those days there was no need for fences or walls. It was all very good living there. Nothing needed to be kept in or out. Nothing needed protection. With the exception of one tree, it was all there for the enjoyment and well-being of the first man and the first woman.
Belonging was a way of life.
Communion was as natural as breathing.
It’s when we believed the first lie that we can be like God, having all knowledge of good and evil, that humanity slid into the second lie: God does not exist.
All there is us.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.”
“I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.” -Stephen Hawking
So God built a fence.
Not a tangible fence made of split wood, or twisted metal, but a word fence.
God’s words, His fences are ones of provision and care, of blessing and peace. His fences hold communion and belonging. They are about living within sacred parameters because of one thing: Love.
God’s fences are gracious boundaries for the safety of our souls.
They should never be moved.
Don’t remove an ancient boundary stone that was set up by your ancestors.- Proverbs 22:28
The Burren, or Boireann, meaning rocky place in West Ireland, is so named for its limestone landscape that goes on for miles. Despite the amount of moon-like rock everywhere, the Burren flourishes with foxgloves and rock roses. Butterflies abound.
The dry-stacked stone wall, so common in this part of Ireland, zigzags along the road and throughout the tufted fields. Put up with little security and no mortar, these walls are easily knocked down. However, it is this very thing, the fear of injury from their collapse, that keep livestock safe within the confines of their pasture.
Throughout County Clare and up through Galway thread famine walls built during the Great Potato Famine for the sole purpose of providing work and not just charity for the starving Irishman and his family. The stony landscape needed clearing and the Irishman needed feeding.
These walls speak bread.
These walls speak honor and dignity.
Fences and walls, the sacred ones, are good for us.
Sometimes we don’t pay attention. Sometimes we ignore the warning signs. And sometimes we just don’t believe. We think our life will always be like a warm summer day and if winter does come, it’s a such long way off, so what does it matter?
Some would call God’s fences rules and when fences become rules then often the fence becomes an offense, and heaven knows we’ve enough of that already.
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” -1 Peter 2:7-8
Some say rules are meant to be broken, that “rules” is a bad word. The truth is, rules, these fences and walls that come from a good, good Father, are surely not meant to be broken.
Something happens when I break down my neighbor’s fence and take what I want. Something happens when I let my own walls break down and something is taken from me.
Besides, the One who was broken for us all did all the breaking that needed to be done.
God’s fences are meant to embrace us because what is beyond His fences is a whole lot of hurt. But some deny, some forget, and some don’t know.
I ran for my life once after coming face to face with a black bull that I hadn’t seen until it was too late. I am terrified of bulls. This one was at the far end of a field I wasn’t supposed to be in because it was too close to the slaughterhouse down the road. The field was for animals awaiting their fate,and therefore were skittish and not to be trusted. Ignoring my mother’s admonition, I hauled myself and my little brother over the forbidden fence… just because.
The field, full of black-eyed Susan’s and Indian paintbrushes, was a wildflower’s paradise. Queen Anne’s lace swayed in the tall grass. Grasshoppers jumped and bees buzzed. Because of the beauty, it seemed right at the time.
I didn’t see the bull until my brother and I were about thirty feet from him. He wasn’t tethered. Hearing us he turned his head, his eyes a sharp white against the blue black of his hide. I froze. With his eyes zeroed in on us, he put his head down and began a slow trot in our direction. Then, faster. I screamed, “Run!” and turned toward home.
I didn’t pick my brother up to help him. I just kept yelling for him to run and hoped his five year old legs would keep up with my ten year old ones.
See, when you’re on the wrong side of the fence and things go terribly wrong, it’s every man for himself. It becomes all about self-preservation.
That day in the field it was all about me. Of course, I kept looking back and yelling for my brother to keep running. I kept looking back hoping he wouldn’t fall yet doing nothing to help him. We made it over the fence safely, the bull stopping short about ten feet from us.
I hoped for the best for my brother, but in my fear, I didn’t do much about it except a whole lot of yelling. There is no peace, no safety, no provision, no care on the wrong side of things. For the thirty seconds or so that it took to get back over the fence my brother did not belong to me. When it’s every man for himself there is no communion.
Sacred fences, God’s sacred words about everything in the whole wide world, His words about marriage and sexuality, the poor and the rich, the refugee and the immigrant; our identity, our womanhood and our manhood; being young, being old, giving and receiving, living and dying; all of them spoken to preserve communion with God and his most noble of creatures, us.
Sacred fences declare a holy belonging.
Holy walls speak of provision and blessing.
Within their boundaries are mercy and grace.
Inside, a communion as natural as breathing.