Do we like fences and walls?

The May 2007 National Geographic Magazine issue also features an article by Charles Bowden on “Our Wall: A wall along the U.S.-Mexico border prompts divided feelings: it offends people, it comforts people, and it keeps expanding”. Although understandably in this complex matter, the article itself only indicates issues without probing their depth, the photographs by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel are very helpful to provide oneself an idea of what such a dividing wall means and one can only hope that a similar illustrated article will be offered on the wall that is on construction in Israël.

This article suggests to me two reflections.

(1) I think of the work done by Daniel G. Groody, CSC, at the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture at Notre Dame University, where he closely collaborates with Virgilio Elizondo. In a wonderful theological book, with a very original methodology in which reference is made to the concrete faith experiences of those who cross the border from Mexico to the USA and in which theology is elaborated using precisely these spiritual experiences, Dan elaborates a theology of hope in the midst of despair. Border of Death, Valley of Life: An Immigrant Journey of Heart and Spirit (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Press, 2002) has been translated into Spanish and Portugese, and represents a key resource for those who want to reflect on narrative theologies, on the link between spirituality and theology, and on the preferential option for the poor. In the coming academic year (2007-2008) Dan will be a research fellow at the Oxford Refugee Centre, Oxford University, UK. He has been a guest at the Leuven Centre for Liberation Theologies.

(2) In line with ideas from restorative justice practices and with Virgilio Elizondo’s and Jacques Audinet’s mestizo theology, together with Elias Lopez, a fellow Jesuit, I developed some ideas with regard to the expressions “frontierspace” and “borderline”, particularly in the context of conflict transformation and sustainable peace building. Conflicts are constituted by borderlines that separate the antagonists and create separate and exclusive communities that oppose each other. Conflict transformation towards sustainable peace relies on transforming the borderlines into frontierspaces (frontier comes from the Latin word frons and, therefore, means the space were people meet face to face) by creating a new sense of community out of the antagonistic communities, using common experiences. The most common experience within the frontier spaces, is constituted by the suffering, shared by all parties and that can be communicated between the antagonists. Theologically speaking, we deal here with an interpretation of the preferential option for the poor at the service of the constitution of the body of Christ.

Of course, a frontierspace still continues some of the characteristics of  a borderline. There is, indeed, a complex interaction between the community and the individual subjects that constitute it, but it is vital that one cannot unlink them from one another. Individual subjects are “defined” by the communities out of which they originate and by the communities which they build up in a common effort. At the same time, the communities are built up as something new – they “emerge” – out of the interactions between the individual subjects, whose interactions rely on the intergame between their separateness (defined by their borders). In Leuven, in the MaCSP programme (Advanced Master Programme in Conflict and Sustainable Peace, that has now been cancelled by the university authorities) we deepened these insights using relational constructionism and multiparty collaboration, as developed by Prof. René Bouwen in the Centre for Organisational and Personnel Psychology (COPP).

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