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Crossing Internal Borders

by Doug Donley


July 20, 2015

Crossing Internal Borders

Rev. Doug Donley

Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!

I serve a church surrounded by the University of Minnesota. So when I was contacted by a faculty member to offer a prayer service alongside grieving students, I crossed the sometimes porous border between church and a state University. Sometimes those things don’t matter so much. The vigil was to remember the 147 victims of the killing at Garissa University in Kenya on April 2nd. It was organized by several student groups, most of whom were international and African-based. There was a Muslim Imam, an African Political Science professor, students from Black Lives Matter, and a reading of the names of the dead. I offered a Christian prayer on behalf of our church and the Interfaith Campus Coalition. It was a solemn and somber event. We lit candles at the end and gave voice to the grief and remembered the dead. As I looked at the pictures of the students, I thought of my own daughter finishing up her first year in college. I tried and failed to imagine myself as a grieving father of my daughter. Some things are just too vivid to imagine.

The microphone and podium were on the steps of the Student Union and the 100 or so vigilers sat on the grass respectfully listening to the speakers and reflecting on the names and the killing. Now, there was a sidewalk between the podium and the grass. As people walked by the Union, most noticed that a vigil was going on and walked around the small group of students. But there were more than a few people who walked right on through. Off in their own worlds, riding bikes, with earbuds, or just plain oblivious—as if nothing was happening, as if the students hadn’t been killed, as if they couldn’t be bothered to show respect to their fellow students. All of the speakers at the vigil, besides me, were of African descent. All of the people who walked through the vigil were white. As people kept walking through the vigil, I got increasingly angry. I didn’t do anything about it, mind you. But I felt good and righteous to have noticed another’s disrespect. I could have stood up and blocked the sidewalk and directed traffic. But I was stuck on the grass trying to listen to the names and thinking about what I would say in my prayer. For their part, the organizers did not seem bothered by some members of the white community. Maybe they were just used to it. They just kept on speaking with dignity and power.

But then it dawned on me to wonder how many times I have been oblivious to another’s pain, ignored something I should not have ignored, when I had my own blinders on which are a part of my privilege. And I turned my righteous indignation from the oblivious strangers to my own tendency to ignore what is right in front of me.

The borders that we cross need not be another country, maybe they ought to be the borders that we impose on each other, judging them because of their race, their gender, their identity, their religion, their class. And while we might feel good about traveling to a foreign country to learn from another culture, we have even more responsibility to examine our own blinders even within our own community. Maybe the border we need to cross is the border between fear and hope, between courage and grace, between being right and being curious. I hope and pray that the next time I am comforted by being on my side of the border, that I will imagine with wonder what it’s like to be on the other side. And maybe that will spur me to truly cross the border.

Doug Donley is pastor of University Baptist Church in Minneapolis, a partner congregation of the BPFNA. He has served two terms on the BPFNA Board and is chair of the Interfaith Campus Coalition at the University of Minnesota. He is husband to Kim and dad to Amanda and Becca, all of whom are a constant presence at Peace Camp. In his spare time, he runs marathons and makes maple syrup in his backyard.

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