So I’ve been thinking about borders, or should I say, I’ve had thoughts about borders thrust at me. I am currently attending the January convocation and The Meadville Lombard Theological School and the theme is borders. For those UU’s who attended General Assembly in Phoenix this past year, your mind (like mine) will immediately turn to thoughts of immigration and undocumented citizens and their rights.
That’s awesome, but those aren’t the borders I’m talking about.
We all have our own borders. Some are small and very personal, like not breeching the topic of religion with certain people at work. Some are set by the social circles we frequent, like how a woman’s group doesn’t allow men. Most of them provide us with a sense of comfort and safety that can be healthy in some situations (a teacher’s professional borders with her students) but often times the borders separate us from what is uncomfortably not us. Borders realize “Us versus Them”.
When I was in college, I was a theatre major (note the “RE” spelling of theatre). My work study job junior and senior year was helping to build the sets for the shows I was in. For those of you unfamiliar with theatre people, there is a rivalry between actors and techies. Actors think themselves more talented than techies because they are “out there doing it!” Technicians think of the actors as narcissistic children who are so dumb and clumsy, they trip over light. In the scene shop where I worked, I was the only one who was ever (regularly) in a show and among the actors, I was the only one who did any tech work. The two sides, for the most part, never spoke to each other. If an actor had a problem with a piece of set, the stage manager let the set designer know, who then told someone to fix it. That someone would then fix the set piece, grumbling about stupid actors. If a piece was on stage, but not yet ready to be handled (“actor proof” as the techies would say), the technicians told the stage manager who told the actors who then complained that the technicians needed to work faster. Looking back on it, I’m amazed that any of the shows went up without the technicians and the actors coming to blows.
Both actors and techies love theatre. Both of them will regale you with great stories of shows that they saw and worked on and loved. Yet, if you were to ask an actor if there is a border between them and the techies, I’m willing to bet they’d say, “I never thought about it.”
As Unitarian Universalists, we pride ourselves on breaking down borders. We accounce to visitors that we are a welcoming congregation, we place rainbow stickers on our front doors and equality bumper stickers on our sedans. We fight to change the injustices we see all around us. We love to break down borders that society has put up around the marginalized. But as someone who grew up poor in a trailer park, whose mother had to drop out of college to raise not only her son, but to raise her two youngest siblings, as someone who fell asleep to police sirens until age ten, I can tell you that there are so many more borders our congregations need to cross, so many more borders that we “never thought about.”
Actors and technicians don’t realize that they are living bordered. The only way I knew about it was because I lived on both sides, I got to feel the distain that the one side didn’t even know they had for the other and was reminded of it EVERYDAY. If we don’t reach out to everyone, if we don’t consistently attempt to understand the path that others have taken, we will keep ourselves penned up in our own borders.
The next time you find yourself confronted by someone whose political beliefs are different than yours, the next time someone knocks on your door with a copy of Watchtower, the next time you see an NRA bumper sticker, ask yourself if your first reaction is helping to breakdown a border, or if it is building one up.