Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Borders, Boundaries and Barriers

A day of prayerful reflection on the beautiful Holy Island of Lindisfarne the other day threw up a number of very significant and interesting observations and thoughts.

Indeed, my reflecting actually began in the car, many miles before crossing the causeway.

A couple of miles north of Berwick, on the ScotlandEngland border – the flags of both nations fluttered in the strong breeze. It seemed as if the line of the border was being guarded and maintained by the blue and white of Scotland on the one side and the red and white of England on the other. Yet crossing the border did not feel at all momentous or significant, nor did the landscape south of the border appear any different.

But then, perhaps that line is not really the border at all! There are those who think that the River Tweed (which forms the border for so many miles) should continue so to do right up to the sea thus ‘returning’ Berwick upon Tweed to Scotland.

I stopped briefly in Berwick and was struck by the mix of accents I heard some that were clearly Scottish, others which sounded Northumbrian and a few sounding like a mixture of both.

But back at the border, I had also noticed that a third flag was fluttering in the wind… the Northumbrian flag in yellow and red. I was reminded that at one time in history the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria stretched as far north as the shores of the Forth, thus embracing the present Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

So where exactly is the real border? Does it matter? What difference do borders make, and is it a good or a bad difference?

I am not attempting to make any strong political point here. This is not about the constitutional future of the nations of this island regarding which I have (on the one hand) some fairly strong views and (on the other hand) occasional uncertainty!

But that is not my point. It is more a question of why we humans are so keen to make boundaries, borders and barriers in the first place.

Why are we so keen to emphasise borders that are always human constructs, often arbitrary and sometimes dubious?

And what about the church?

Like all of humanity we keep drawing lines and regarding some folks as ‘in’ and others as ‘out’. We seem unable to help ourselves. We are Protestant or Catholic, Presbyterian or Episcopal, Evangelical or Liberal, traditionalist or revisionist, and so on (and too bad for those of us who might regard ourselves as none or all of the above!)

I suspect that like geo-political borders, these ecclesiastical constructs are also to do with the likes of definition, control, fear, defence and tribal identity.

And perhaps that is all very natural, even inevitable.

I am just not sure that it has much to do with Jesus…