By Rev. Glen Eagle
I start with an old story that is probably politically incorrect in today’s world, but makes a point. It’s about a boy who phones home from college and says he has found the perfect girl. He explains to his parents that they may be upset when they meet her because she is a prostitute. His parents are distressed and very concerned over this state of affairs. Finally the boy and his girlfriend arrive home. As they walk through the door his father notices that the girl has on a very short skirt. He asks his son about this. His son says “Dad, I told you she was a prostitute.” His father obviously relieved says, “Oh thank goodness, I thought you said she was a Protestant”!
There isn’t much tension between Roman Catholics and Protestants anymore, but there is still a lot of tension between religions, cultures, and lifestyles. Our likes and dislikes, our heritage, and even where we grew up determines how we look and think and how we regard others. Often when we meet someone who is “different” there is an air of caution. That air of caution leads to fear and that fear leads to barriers. Barriers limit life.
There are different types of barriers. There is a racial barrier that exists because we don’t understand the culture, the habits, or even the language. There are religious barriers because someone has a particular view of “God” or they are agnostic or atheistic. There are barriers due to sexual orientation, and unique lifestyles, be they urban, rural, punk, zoomer, etc. Finally, there are emotional barriers. You may meet someone and for some reason they bring back negative memories or reactions.
Being subject to barriers limits life. The question then remains: What breaks down barriers? The answer: Personal interaction.
Sometimes that interaction can be humourous. You might be on a trip to a distant destination and you are feeling alone in a roomful of strangers. Suddenly another person with a Canadian flag appears and right away you are best friends, even though they may live 4000km away.
Another way you may break down barriers is by finding something in common. Have you ever noticed that all the VW Bus drivers wave at each other? Do you think they really know each other? The same happens when you have a common interest.
Still another way is during a crisis. You may find yourself working alongside someone who you would normally never even speak to.
Finally, the most powerful is when you fall in love with someone from “the wrong side”. You may have been prejudiced against that social or racial group, but no more. Your parents or siblings or children may not understand, but it doesn’t matter. Love conquers those barriers. Barriers not only lock others away, they lock you up as well.
I ride a motorcycle, and with my beard, I look very much like a “biker”. The other day I was at the hospital and saw two Sikhs in orange turbans. I was curious to know what the colour orange represented. I walked over to their table and in order to contextualize my question, I introduced myself as a Christian minister. They laughed and said, “The way you look we weren’t sure who you were or why you were coming over”. After that, we comically compared the length of our beards.
Sometimes, we need to go outside our comfort zone to break down barriers and create harmony in our lives, in our communities, and on our planet.
Glen Eagle has been a United Church minister since 1979. His writing includes articles, poetry and songs, and his inspiration includes riding horses and motorcycles.