When we brought home our dog, Curry, we knew we could not just throw the goats in there with him and expect him to know what to do. He is a big, energetic puppy who had obviously not had any training, so we had a lot of work to do to make sure he saw the goats as friends and not chew toys.
Their pen is divided into two paddocks, so we put Curry on one side and the goats on the other. They could safely sniff, observe, and walk beside each other along the fence, but the goats were safe from Curry’s enthusiastic games of chase. Meanwhile, Curry could observe them and how I handled them in order to learn proper behavior and, eventually, live alongside them.
Curry is doing well, and has graduated to getting to spend hours with his ruminating friends. But, every once in a while, he forgets and herds them into a pile behind their shelter, then pulls on their tails with his wagging away while they yell to me for help. I shoo him back to his side, separating them once again until he calms down, and the goats creep back out into the open with a look of disdain for this furry beast who doesn’t know the finer points of social distancing.
What I am trying to teach my animals felt so familiar. As I pondered that feeling, I remembered a verse from Ephesians:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…Ephesians 2:13-14 (ESV)
We live in a world where walls are being erected almost constantly. Ethnocentrism, racism, classism, political idolatry and the like have a way of putting up walls between people that should not exist. Tearing them down seems appropriate, right? Maybe. But, it’s possible that some of those walls would serve us better if they were replaced with fences.
And here is why.
Curry, as far as we know, may have never seen a goat before he came to us. He is genetically wired to be a Livestock Guardian Dog, but he had never been trained to live with and understand the animals he is supposed to protect. If I had built a high brick wall between their pens, he would still know nothing about the goats. They would be strangers, and expecting them to live together would result in disaster. But the fence gave them a boundary through which they could adapt to sharing space on the farm and learn to live together. The fence allowed them to safely exist in the same space and get to know one another through many hours of observation. The fence connected them even while preventing the ignorance of an exuberant puppy from causing the goats harm.
I know this may feel like a stretch but bear with me. I think the following analogy holds if you will give it a chance!
Consider the gospel of Jesus Christ your fence.
You see, there are many people whose life experiences are so vastly removed from yours that they see things like culture, politics, parenting, and the Bible through a completely different lens. They don’t talk like you, vote like you, or (in some ways) think like you. Because of limited exposure to one another, people from these extreme different backgrounds often have difficulty living together and being in relationship with one another. They simply do not understand one another.
But Jesus built a house and told us to live in it.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,Ephesians 2:19 (ESV)
Those of us who have placed our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ have been brought together as co-citizens of a common Kingdom. He stands between us who would otherwise not get along and acts as a bridge, a common boundary through which we are able to see, truly see, one another and learn to live and love as a family.
He draws us close to Himself, me on one side with His arm draped across my shoulders and you on the other, with His arm draped across yours. He holds us there gently but firmly, allowing us to wrestle with the discomfort of the sudden proximity until our breathing slows and we realize we are sharing the same air, leaning on the same Savior, loved into a sacred, family relationship by the same Father. We begin to look at one another, study each other’s features and habits. We start to talk, to ask questions, to seek understanding and common ground rooted in this God-Man who drew us near because we realize we share something…holy. Fear dissipates. Familiarity sets in. Familial warmth fills our hearts.
Then He steps back and smiles as we finally learn to live together as family–perfectly imperfect in our human state yet filled with His grace that binds us as one. Overflowing with a love that becomes protective. Safe. Trusted.
Yeah, I learned a lot from teaching Curry to protect the goats instead of chasing them. May we be a people who draw close to the Fence with the goal of living together in unity and love despite our differences, who foster trust and safety within our Father’s house.
If they can do it, so can we.