If you’ve been to China you have probably noticed that it is a society of walls. There are walls around schools, factories, and housing estates. Sometimes the entities within these walls are huge, covering many city blocks. In an attempt to alleviate congestion and open up more through ways through the cities, the Chinese government in February issued a new regulation calling for walled communities to open up their roads and streets to through passage. In other words, they want the walls to come down. In this article, originally published in the mainland online journal Territory, the writer uses this new regulation as a starting point for a discussion of the walls that we build in our hearts and how only through the cross can we tear them down.
It's Easy to Tear down Physical Walls, but Who Will Break down the Walls of the Heart?
On February 21, the State Council issued new regulations for urban planning and construction, including one article that stated, "New residential neighborhoods are to promote regulation of street blocks; in principle, to end construction of closed residential complexes." And especially, "Completed residential areas and work unit compounds should gradually open up and implement internal public roads." This article caused a furious argument to break out online.
Then the next day in a Sina News survey that asked, "Are you in favor of no longer gated, but open-access residential complexes?" more than 70% of Internet respondents replied, "not in favor." They cited "safety concerns such as personal security and property safety" as their most pressing concerns. Also, more than eighty percent of Internet respondents believe that after gated complexes open up "landlords should assume liability."
The idea of demolishing walls became a hot topic of discussion.
Easy to Demolish Physical Walls, Walls of the Heart Are Difficult
Whether or not they should be demolished, I'm afraid physical walls cannot escape their fate, at least in the short term.
In fact, it is easy to destroy physical walls. But we should be more concerned with the walls of the human heart.
I remember living in a rural area as a child. The relationships among neighbors were even closer and contact was more frequent than with family members. The walls of the heart between people were very thin. We didn't need to lock our doors. We just jury-rigged a piece of wood in place to close the doors. If any family in our neighborhood ran into a problem, everyone came together: whoever had money gave money, and whoever had energy gave energy. Still today, whenever I think of that I am moved beyond words.
However, not so long ago, that piece of wood jury-rigged to close doors turned into a giant metal lock, and the giant metal lock turned into a big fence. If you come to the city the situation is even worse. People are growing further and further apart from each other. It's not uncommon to go ten years without getting to know people in the apartment next door.
Today, we are only left with the unexpected, not the impossible. The elderly don't get a helping hand, they aren't deferred to, and they are subjected to all kinds of scams and swindlers. These kinds of things press in upon and challenge everyone's nerves. They strengthen the lines of defense in people’s hearts. Every time a person is hurt they strengthen the walls of their heart. As a result, over time no one is able to access those inner emotions. It may seem as though there is safety behind those walls, but in fact there is self-imprisonment, solitary exile, and withering detachment.
With the birth of the Internet and the increase in the wealth of information and chat tools, the problem has not only not been effectively resolved, but a new class of empty, interpersonal relationships has formed.
British author and director Gary Turk made a film called, Look Up that was all over the Internet. In the film there is a line that goes, "I have 422 friends, but I still feel lonely. Every day I talk with them, but no one really understands me." Even while people are talking all the time on QQ and Wechat, in their hearts they are still filled with loneliness.
Their number of "friends" has increased, but the quality has decreased. A close, intimate friend is a luxury. In the movie If You Are the One, Ge You's line, "Money isn't the problem; it's the lack of friends!" gives voice to the haunting loneliness of people who live in a materialistic society.
Honore de Balzac, the "father of the modern French novel," had this profound insight regarding loneliness as a Christian. "The spiritual life and the physical life are the same. There is inhaling and there is exhaling. The spirit will inhale another spirit's emotion to appease itself. Then it will return an even richer emotion back to people. If this kind of wonderful relationship does not exist between people, the heart has no life force; it lacks air, it suffers, and withers." Clearly, the Internet has no way to help simulate this kind of breath between people's spirits. Rather it must be rooted in reality, creating a symbiosis through real interaction, contact, and communication between people. However, the cornerstone of all of this must be trust.
Sadly, in reality trust is a very high-risk adventure. If trust is handed over to the wrong person and is betrayed, the betrayer inflicts serious spiritual damage and deep suffering. Sometimes this suffering cuts to the heart like a monster that devours a person's soul, only leaving a severely wounded and bloodied person behind. That type of hurt is difficult to share with someone. Often a person can only sigh in helplessness. No one wants to suffer this kind of torment. Thus, the walls of the heart have become the thickest and most resolute walls in the world.
Everyone Is a Failed King
Every man is a king who rules the territory behind the walls of his or her heart. It doesn’t matter if you are a monarch, a high official, a military general, or a government minister, and no matter how indescribable your beauty; no one can walk half a step into our territory because we are the masters of our souls! However, behind the carefree talk there lies a spiritually depressed barrenness.
When people forsake God and appoint themselves as their own master, they turn themselves into their own god. Their actions are based on their own feelings and they behave according to their loves. This sort of deviation from the truth is what's referred to in the Bible as "sin" (the original Hebrew means "to deviate"). Sin brought death into the whole world.
This sort of self-centered way of life will bring all kinds of pain. Because of this egotism, "I" has become the most important “one” (in the world). The only motivation is the self and personal benefit; these trump everything and everyone else. This creates selfishness. If a person thinks they are better than everyone else, that they are superior and a step above others, then either they're prideful, or they're self-abased.
Pride, coupled with the insistence that, "I am right, so people should listen to me," produces a controlling person. A controlling person also exhibits anger and contention. They think they should be better than everyone else; however, when they encounter people who are actually better than they are, then it's inconceivable and nothing is ok unless they are the best. Thus, envy is born. All that matters then is that “I'm” loved and cared for. This kind of self-expression will first present itself in the form of grumbling and complaining, but will progress into resentment and hate. They will pity themselves and say that no one loves them or understands them, and that the only person who loves and understands them is himself or herself. When self-pity and resentment are intertwined then they become bitter and poisonous.
All of this is the old nature and habits that originate with Adam. In other words, this is self-centeredness. The dark side of human nature can be found in self-centeredness. Without exception self-centeredness gives birth to sin, which then creates all kinds of suffering: cold interpersonal relationships, problems in marriages, parent-child conflict, and stressful work relationships.
We persist in sticking to our own positions and fighting it out in our respective territories simply because we let our egos lead us on our separate paths. Sadly, everyone's path is different because everyone is selfish. Thus, we can only retreat into our own castles, preserve our own "faultlessness," and remain with our loneliness.
As time goes by, life may bring us some enjoyable moments, but they are often mixed with disappointment, suffering, and loneliness. We try so hard to experience life outside the walls, then discover that no matter how great things may seem, in the end we can share with no one. In the midst of disappointment and frustration, we often end up falling back into a mundane existence. Life seems to fall into a vicious cycle of loneliness, passion, disappointment, and back to loneliness. Reality makes us sigh. A human-centered kingdom is in reality a sin-filled wilderness of darkness, pain, and despair.
He Is Our Peace; the Cross Extinguishes Hostility
Self-centered humanity is the root of loneliness, yet we still long to be embraced, supported, and comforted. In loneliness, we learn what it means to long for something. However, it is very difficult to find someone who can meet those expectations.
Henri Nouwen, who acknowledged his own loneliness, and who himself had felt the disappointing and deflating experience of seeking companionship, spoke for many generations by saying, "Our society is full of fear, worry, loneliness, depression. Everyone is constantly looking for direction. We yearn for someone—leaders, spiritual teachers, or spiritual friends—who can help us find meaning, to no longer feel confused, and to guide us to find complete freedom and peace inside of us. Many times we will seek out someone who is well known, wise, insightful, spiritually sensitive, and who has practical experience. However, the problem is that maybe we expect too much, or, our mentors want to offer too much. So, we become dependent and they become manipulative. “
When faced with invisible walls between people, we simply cannot find an answer to the problem, even when differences are minor. We look for answers on the horizontal plane. But, the answers can only be found on the vertical plane: Christ and his cross provide a solution to this problem.
The Bible says, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility" (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Jesus sacrificed himself for you and me, totally demolishing the obstructing walls to relationships between people, and between God and people. Christ's work has completely removed the breeding ground of cold detachment and loneliness, and filled our vacant and empty hearts with love, making it possible to reconcile relationships again. Christ's selfless example and cross have become our secret to harmonious relationships.
When facing others who are different from us, we can, through our self-sacrifice (the most direct and effective way to counter selfishness) resolve conflicts; we can use repentance to break through the limitations to growth; love and acceptance to embrace differences; action to give witness to the truth of faith. So, what we are talking about is not just theory or idle talk. Rather, this is a witness that shakes people's lives and that becomes the glory and light of Jesus.
At the bloody battle of Fredericksburg, hundreds of Union soldiers lay wounded on the battlefield. Overnight and the whole next day the two armies' shells passed over the battlefield. No one dared venture out to rescue the wounded. During this time, cries and moans came from the wounded troops on the battlefield, begging for water. But, aside from the sound of whistling shells, no response came. Finally, in the fort a brave soldier from the South felt he could no longer stand to hear their mournful cries. A compassion ignited that surpassed his regard for his own life.
This brave soldier ran to his commander and said, "General, I can't stand here anymore. Over there on the battlefield those poor wounded cry out day and night for a drink of water. I can't take it anymore. Please allow me to bring them some water."
The commander urged him to think carefully about this dangerous act, reminding him that as soon as he stepped out onto the battlefield he would be killed. Because of the soldier's fervent request the commander could not refuse; finally, the commander agreed to his request and gave him what was needed to provide water.
This brave soldier strode past the fortress walls, carrying out his Christ-like mission. Warring soldiers on both sides watched him in amazement as he crawled towards the wounded soldiers. He gently used his hand to prop up a soldier's head, raising a cup of cool water to moisten his parched lips. Union soldiers immediately understood what this calm soldier was doing for their wounded buddies. Not one shot was fired at him. He continued his work for about an hour and a half, giving water to the parched, injured soldiers. He helped wounded soldiers lying in crooked heaps to lie back more comfortably. He set broken limbs back into place. He helped rest their heads on backpacks. He covered them with blankets and uniforms, just like a considerate mother taking care of her own children. He went on with his angelic duties until they were complete, and through it all no enemy guns made a sound; all was silent.
In order to show sympathy to his enemies, this cool-headed soldier completely disregarded his own safety. This kind of noble self-sacrifice only takes a few minutes, yet it is more valuable than those selfish people who, for a lifetime, only think about themselves. This is the life of Christ; this is the act of tearing down walls.
When the Yugoslav civil war broke out in Kosovo, Mother Teresa found the commander in charge and told him that the women and children inside the war zone were unable to escape. The commander said to her, "Sister, I want a cease-fire, but the enemy won't stop; there's nothing I can do!"
Mother Theresa said, "Well, I have no choice but to go!"
Mother Theresa went to the war zone, and as soon as both warring parties heard that she was in the war zone they immediately ceased fire.
The news of Mother Theresa in the war zone later spread to the United Nations. When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan heard this he praised her saying, "Even I can't accomplish something like this!" The United Nations had previously tried to mediate several times, but couldn’t achieve a ceasefire in the Yugoslav. After Mother Theresa walked into the war zone the two sides were able automatically to come to a cease fire, evidently from Mother Teresa's charisma."
This admittedly is Mother Teresa's charisma, but this charm is a reflection of the result of the radiance of Christ's love on the cross. When Pope John Paul held a memorial mass for Mother Teresa he said, "This world-renowned mother of the poor gave a powerful example for all people—Christians and non-Christians alike, namely that we have witnessed the Lord's love.
Original article: 小区拆墙易，心墙谁来拆? (Territory)
Image credit: Demolish, by Nemetz33, via Flickr.
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