Don't Move the Fence, Knock It Down
By Jack Bloomfield / April 1, 2014
This column usually focuses on prejudice and division between people. Today's column will ask us to look at all the ways we separate ourselves from those who are in some ways different than we are and to do what we can to root out this kind of thinking. The idea came to me through a profound story that I read a while back that spoke to me very deeply and challenged me to see where I put up fences in my own life that divide me from my fellow human beings.
In World War II, a group of American soldiers was fighting in the rural countryside of France. During an intense battle, one was killed. His comrades did not want to leave his body on the battlefield and decided to give him a Christian burial. They remembered a church, a few miles behind the front lines, with grounds including a small cemetery surrounded by a white fence. After receiving permission to take their friend's body to the cemetery, they set out for the church, arriving just before sunset.
A pastor, his bent-over back and frail body betraying his many years, responded to their knocking at the church door. His face, deeply wrinkled and tan, was the home of two fierce eyes that fl ashed with wisdom, passion, and grace. "Our friend was killed in battle," the soldiers blurted out, "and we wanted to give him a church burial."
The pastor understood what they were asking, although he spoke very broken English. "I'm sorry," he said, "but we can bury only those of the same faith here."
Weary after many months of war, the soldiers simply turned and walked away. As they were just about out of earshot, the pastor yelled back, "It is okay, only if you can bury him outside the fence."
Cynical and exhausted, the soldiers dug a grave and buried their friend just outside the white fence. They finished after nightfall. The next morning, the entire unit was ordered to move on, and the group raced back to the little church for one final goodby to their friend.
When they arrived, they couldn't find the gravesite. Tired and confused, they knocked on the door of the church. They asked the old pastor if he knew where they had buried their friend. "It was dark last night and we were exhausted," the soldiers told him. "We must have been disoriented."
A smile flashed across the old pastor's face as he said, "After you left last night, I was saying my night prayers and I began to feel very troubled and full of shame. I could not sleep, so I went outside early this morning and I moved the fence."
From this story, we can ask ourselves, "Where do we have fences built to keep those who are not our kind out?"
Of course, most of these fences are not physical structures, but fences in our minds and our hearts. We have built them over the years; some were built for us when we were children, which keep us believing that somehow we are different and perhaps better than so many other people. Th is is the type of thinking that One Planet United is trying to change, because it is in this form of divisive thinking that so many of our chances for unity with our fellow brothers and sisters become lost.
The story of the pastor and the soldiers asks us to move the fence, so that we can begin to include people who might, be in some ways, different than we are in areas such as religious beliefs, skin color, sexual orientation, financial and class status, political views, and more. One Planet United says let's take it even further. Instead of moving the fence.
Let's tear the fence down! Peace out.
One Planet United's mission statement is: "To be a channel helping to create world peace, breaking down barriers that focus on differences, as well as promoting visionary ways to unite all people."
Jack Bloomfield is the co-founder and executive director of One Planet United, a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization, dedicated to bringing unity and understanding to all people. You can email Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.opunited.org.
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