A time to tear down and a time to build…
Genesis teaches God creates beings, each of them equal, equally innocent and worthy of His name. From there, He gives us the reins and a second creative process begins. His objectives focus on the eternal; ours fixate on the temporal—on values that promote longevity. We create personalities, survival strategies that reject equality, spoil innocence, and deny those unlike us any claim to God’s promise. We forge coalitions of personalities based on similar survival strategies. Together, we build walls to stymie the progress of any who contradict or threaten our way of life. Instead of relying on our beings’ willpower to demonstrate God's love and mercy, we reinforce our personalities’ wall power to protect us from irrational fears.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10.4-5: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Paul addresses our conflicts rather than the War on Evil that should unite us. He arms us with divine power to tear down walls constructed by anyone’s audacity to claim knowing what God knows. He identifies our power in Ephesians 2.14: “[Christ] is our peace… and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” When bulldozing time comes, we lay aside our personal preference for battering rams and wrecking balls and take on the peaceful nature of Jesus. With no confrontation needed, the engagement seems unexciting and non-dramatic. But its results are always spectacular.
Divine power to demolish walls of injustice and ignorance has great appeal—particularly for those of us with subversive streaks. But if we devote all of our time undoing others’ work, none is left for work we must do. While we destroy divisions created by some, God authorizes us to build faith in others. As with peaceful demolition, it’s counterintuitive. We build their strength by owning our weakness. “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13.9, conceding his readers may be more sophisticated, better versed than he. Yet in the next verse, he stands firm, citing “the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.” This is constructive subversion at its highest.
Absolutely, we must speak divine power to walls. “Shout it aloud, do not hold back,” Isaiah 58.1 says. “Declare to my people their rebellion.” But times also come to inspire others to follow Jesus through our humble example, building their courage to demolish their own walls of fear and arrogance. “There are times for bulldozing,” Solomon writes, “and times for building.” One without the other is a job half-done.
(Tomorrow: Lamenting and Laughing)
Postscript: The Milk of Human Kindness
In the coming weeks, we’ll hear a lot about the late, irrepressibly great Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors—or any office in California—in 1977. His public service was tragically cut short when Dan White, a staunchly conservative former Supervisor, assassinated him. Milk’s victory granted him iconic status in the gay and liberal communities; his murder elevated him to that of a civil rights martyr. And while he’s never faded from public memory, a new film biography with a reportedly outstanding portrayal of Milk by Sean Penn no doubt will create a resurgence of discussion about Milk’s message, in life and death.
My nephew’s husband sent this youtube link to me in response to the passage of California’s Proposition 8, the initiative that nullified his marriage by restricting legal unions to heterosexual couples. His note said, “A great speech by Harvey Milk … very inspiring, especially given the recent passage of Prop 8.”
What Milk said over 30 years ago is all the more moving today, given how far we’ve come and yet how little we’ve changed. But my main purpose for including it here is how beautifully it exemplifies the power we achieve when we balance tearing down walls with building up people. I think one can safely say Harvey Milk understood better than most anyone that breaking through barriers means nothing unless human kindness flows behind it.
Don’t cheat yourself by not spending two extra minutes with this.