Boundary Questions

Breaking down boundaries that separate us one from another is an important teaching of Jesus and an essential ministry of the Church. But it’s a very complicated matter, or perhaps I should say that we have made it a complicated matter. And I think that our complications come in two primary forms.

On the one hand, we build up boundaries that separate us from unbelievers and believers who have not yet attained the truth and wisdom that we have attained. We are very proud of these boundary fences. Fence building is something we do best. Robert Frost wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” We are not among that ‘something’; we love those fences. The more the better. Of course that is not what we preach, but it is what we tend to practice with considerable skill.

On the other hand, we tend to fumble quite a bit when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries. The recent exposure of Roman Catholic sexual abuses is simply the most public face of abuse and betrayal issues that have infected a multitude of congregations and denominations in many ways throughout the world. We are obsessed with skin color, ethnicity, race and sexual identity. We have tolerated the oppression of women and children. We have salivated over the sexualization of contemporary American lifestyles that dehumanize women and men as mere objects of desire.

There are appropriate boundaries that protect the integrity of human relationships. But what those proper boundaries are and how to teach them has been an elusive target. Appropriate boundaries between parents and children, teachers and students, husbands and wives, bosses and subordinates are important but indistinct. We tend to deal with them on a case-by-case basis because we don’t have an adequate shared set of standards generally acceptable to society as a whole. Zero tolerance policies have been tried and found wanting. They don’t stop predators, but they do stop appropriate expressions of Christ like love for one another, and everyone is left more confused than ever.

However, we are not without trustworthy guidance. God has actually had quite a lot to say about these matters. For instance, I’m inclined to think that the last half of the Ten Commandments points us in the right direction. I suggest that they might be read this way:

  • Our relationships with one another are to honor the legacy of repenting, reforming faith bequeathed to us by the generations that preceded us.
  • We have no right to kill, whether through word or deed, any part of another person whether in body, mind or spirit.
  • We have no right to introduce any word or matter into the life of another that jeopardizes that life’s integrity and wholeness.
  • We have no right to appropriate to our use, whether by word or deed, anything that is not ours to appropriate.
  • We have an obligation to respect the privacy of others and to refrain from bearing unsubstantiated or hurtful tales.
  • We have no right to become angry or envious of another’s good fortune, or to assume a right to our own good fortune at the expense of another.

Or, to paraphrase scripture even more: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and might; love your neighbor as yourself; quit making it harder than it is and get on with life.

What do you think?