On fences, Christ and a D.P.
Speaking Outby L. Lamar Nisly
In Robert Frost’s famous poem “Mending Wall,” the narrator’s neighbor finds remarkably clever his assertion that “good fences make good neighbors.” The neighbor would make an excellent candidate for the U.S. Congress, for our government has approved and is constructing a 700-mile dividing fence along the border with Mexico. But Frost’s narrator is the person I would like to see in Congress, for he asserts:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to
Whenever I teach Bluffton (Ohio) University’s Humanities 2 course, a sprawling romp through the last 500 years of history and literature, I emphasize to my students the importance of learning from the past, of placing our current hot topics in a larger context. In that light, I continue to be disturbed by the United States’ construction of an enormous fence on our southern border.
The historical connotations of walls and fences are not promising. Have these separation barriers exemplified the essence of American values? Are the historical models of building walls and fences the ones we seek to emulate? Walls and fences were hallmarks of Nazi rule, as the Nazis separated Jews in reconstructed ghettos and fenced them inside concentration camps. One of the darkest episodes in our nation’s history occurred during World War II, when 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were detained behind barbed war because of America’s war hysteria. A key memory I have from college is the unbridled euphoria we all felt as the icon of Cold War hostility, the Berlin Wall, came crashing down in 1989. When has a wall between nations or peoples been a positive step?
And yet we Americans, who claim to love freedom and opportunity, sit meekly as our government constructs a fence. The public, it seems, has little stomach for nuanced discussions concerning why Mexicans may be drawn to the United States, how the lure of the U.S. per capita income of $35,000 may seem an overwhelmingly tantalizing lure to a family struggling with an average Mexican income of $7,000. We seem uninterested in considering the possibilities of supporting real development in Mexico so that residents do not feel compelled to head north to earn enough to feed their families. Instead of debating methods to make legal immigration actually accessible in a timely manner, we build a wall.
As is true on so many subjects, Catholic author Flannery O’Connor’s pungent writing provides a voice of sanity on this question. In her story “The Displaced Person,” O’Connor portrays a farm woman, Mrs. McIntyre, who is persuaded by a priest to invite a World War II refugee to work on her farm. This Displaced Person, or D.P., is initially a welcomed worker for Mrs. McIntyre because of his work ethic and his quick learning. Eventually, though, Mrs. McIntyre sours on Mr. Guizac, just as she tires of hearing the priest speak to her about following Christ. In a wonderful line that continues to resonate in my mind, Mrs. McIntyre exclaims to the priest, “As far as I’m concerned, … Christ was just another D.P.”
In this comment we are brought out of the welter of confusion and hysteria about illegal immigration and come to the core of the issue. We begin to get an answer to Frost’s narrator’s inquiry about who is being walled in or out. The one we fear so intensely that we are building a 700-mile fence is the stranger, the Displaced Person, Christ. As we remember Mary and Joseph’s wandering search for lodging for their soon-to-be-born baby, may we refocus our conversation on immigration with the knowledge that Christ was just another D.P.
- Young adults want peace, family in church
- A seat at the table
- An evangelical peace and justice church
- A young pastor’s perspective
- Uncluttering the call
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- Complaint about no national anthem sparks 400 calls, e-mails at Goshen
- Web exclusive: Five reasons to stay in church
- MCC launches major appeal for Sudan
- Enrollment down at colleges, universities
- Young men bike to Paraguay 2009, raise funds
- Task force formed for The Mennonite
- Persecution in India affects meetings
- Argentine Mennonites expand missions
- Young adults set own agenda at retreat
- CPT Hebron project closes after 13 years
- Speaker on Heart to Heart dies at age 93
- MHS Alliance receives $30,000 grant
- Retiro anual de estudiantes de IBA, costa oeste
- Reflexión Pastoral - 9ª Parte
- Change is coming to The Mennonite
- Books on the church, Jesus and spirituality
- My congregation has shaped me
- On fences, Christ and a D.P.
- Spanish language
- Ron Rempel responds
- Peacemaking and Iran’s Ahmadinejad
- Peacemaking and Iran’s Ahmadinejad II
- Expand Christian Peacemaker Teams
- Expand Christian Peacemaker Teams II
- A contrarian view of consumption
- Good fiction teaches us to be empathetic
- Home Sunday schooling for those who miss
L. Lamar Nisly is professor of English at Bluffton (Ohio) University and a member of Grace Mennonite Church, Pandora, Ohio.