“So, Charlie, when are we going fix that wall that’s falling down?”
Charlie heard the voice from the yard next door. Frankly, he hadn’t noticed that the wall was falling down. Charlie is not the kind of guy who notices these things. But, Jim, the next door neighbor most definitely does.
They’d lived next door to each other for seven years. But until the wall fell down they didn’t know each other.
When Charlie saw that indeed the wall was in need of serious repair, he assumed that meant that he and Jim would split the cost to pay someone to fix. You know, be neighborly and cooperative. Jim had other ideas.
The next week he was out digging up the foundation of the wall and soon, if nothing else besides guilt, Charlie joined in. Together they replaced that wall with a fence. Once that fence was finished, Jim noted that the rest of Charlie’s walls and fences were even worse than the one that had crumbled, and he offered to help him put up a new fence all the way around his property. Charlie, who as a pastor and musician is not exactly skilled at this particular kind of labor, readily agreed.
So Charlie and Jim built some fences together. And a friendship was born. As they worked together to make good fences, they found out all kinds of things about each other. Jim is a retired park ranger and former Vietnam vet. He can cook as good a paella as he is handy with tools. He knows a thing or two about good wine and classical music and great literature. He grew up near the Mokulmne Wilderness in California and loves to backpack. Jim and Charlie started going on hiking trips together. Jim’s not particularly religious at all, but when his wife died, he asked Charlie to conduct the funeral.
Now when Jim is on vacation, Charlie watches his house. When Jim mows his lawn he also mows Charlie’s. For seven years they were just neighbors who didn’t know each other. Then the wall fell down and they built a fence. In building the fence, they built a friendship.
Recently, Jim suggested that they put a gate in the fence. Which of course, you couldn’t do with a wall. And they wouldn’t have even considered before they built that fence together.
Wendell Berry wrote, “Community will start again when people begin to do necessary things for each other again.”
As I think about all that is happening around the Presbyterian Church these days and look through the lens of my position on the Middle Governing Body Commission, I have a hunch that there is something for us in this story of wall, fences, gates and friendship and necessary things.