Calais: A reflection on walls

Guest blog by Kathleen O’Brien, a parishioner of Faversham

Lakeland walls

Last week, walking in the Lake District, I was again struck by its beautiful dry stone walls. They are both works of art and living structures, clothed in mosses and lichens, inhabited by tiny plants and insects. They keep the sheep from straying onto a road, but allow the wind to blow through them, and have stiles built in for walkers to pass through easily from one field to another.

How different from the wall going up in Calais: four metres tall and stretching a kilometre on both sides of the dual carriageway into the port, built of smooth concrete so that it will be harder to climb. A wall intended to keep refugees out of the UK.

At the same time, across the Atlantic, Donald Trump promises to build a “beautiful” wall between the United States and Mexico.

Historical walls

Perhaps all this wall-building is not so surprising. After all, it has been going on for centuries: Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall… It seems that whenever we are afraid, our first instinct is to build a wall to hide behind. Block out the problem. Don’t let it get to us.

But are walls the answer? Have they worked in the past?

Biblical walls

It would appear not! I took Biblical Studies at university, so any talk of walls brings to mind the walls of Jericho (which fell down under the pressure of trumpets and shouts of faith) and the walls of Jerusalem (which were built, destroyed, rebuilt and – seventy years after Jesus – destroyed again).

However much the people of Judah saw Jerusalem’s walls as protecting them, ultimately, they didn’t. Walls are not the solution.

Calais wall

And that was much the feeling of Steve Symonds from Amnesty International, quoted in The Guardian (20.09.16). He said: “This wall will simply push desperate people further into the hands of smugglers and into taking far greater risks to get to the UK, and more will die in the attempt.”

A challenge to live outside the walls

So how can we make our country, and our world, more secure?

How easy it would be for Christians to answer that question if Jesus had been a wall-builder!

Instead, Jesus reached out to foreigners, spent his time with outcasts and became ritually unclean by touching lepers and dead bodies. He chose to live his ministry beyond the limiting walls of expectation and convention, culminating in dying “near the city”, in other words outside the walls. He didn’t build walls, but lived and died beyond them and broke them down. St Paul wrote, “He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

No easy answer for Christians. But a life-promising challenge, if we choose to accept it.


The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.