Boundaries…Some first thoughts!

Lots of people know the place I’m homesick for.  The house we lived in for 35 years or so.  Three or four blocks from St. Alban’s.  It’s where our kids had their teens and youth years when they were home, and where our grandchildren landed more recently.

We had a wonderful old fence.  Hand made maybe 75 years ago or so.  When we moved in it was the fence everybody leaned against when neighbors were around.  Until it started its unhappy habit of collapsing.  Dropping one of the top rails, pitching the incumbent leaner into our yard.  We had to fix it, patch it – and it was a mess. We got it done, however, and it lasted maybe another 5 or 10 years before we found out it was full of termites.  I mean FULL.

(A bishop of Panama once told me about a mission church he had that was similarly full of termites.  He said, “It was SO full of termites, that if the termites ever unclasped their hands…”  He left it to our imaginations.)  Back to fences.

We did, finally, even rebuild again after terminators did their dirty job.

Funny thing we found about our fence.  It was a great babysitter.  All we had to do if children were being rambunctious or driving us crazy, we -“Go play in the yard!  You can do anything you want, but don’t hurt each other and don’t go outside the fence.”  By golly, they’d DO it.  It wasn’t NECESSARY, really.  We rarely went out unless blood was drawn.  Any one of them could easily push open the gate and whip out into cars careening up Edmunds Street some weekend afternoons. The kids could actually climb OVER it – it was only 2 1/2 or 3 feet high.  Or THROUGH it.  The rails left plenty of room to crawl through. In my earlier years- before the grandchildren–I could have moment of uncharacteristic recklessness and JUMP the fool thing.

“Why?” I sometimes asked myself, “Why do those kids STAY INSIDE?”  They could easily have gotten out. I couldn’t stop them.  But I don’t remember that any of them went screaming out – “Old man Mead is being mean to me.  He won’t let me go outside the fence!”

There’s some truth there somewhere.  Word pondering. Feel free to do so. (I’d love to hear your reflections.)  Let me point to some things that come to me.

My ‘rule’ must have seemed to be, well, sort of ‘reasonable.’ Maybe ‘understandable.’ They’d heard things like that from others.

It was simple. You could do pretty much anything you wanted to do EXCEPT go outside the fence.  Most people seemed to think – “There’s plenty to do inside the fence already!  Who needs to go there.”

And I wasn’t pulling some kind of power thing on them.  I hadn’t established myself as an ‘enemy’ trying to push them around.  We hadn’t set ourselves up to fight, so nobody had to be defensive.  I could, and occasionally did, tell some suspicious skeptic WHY we wanted them inside the fence, but it rarely come up. Shoot, I don’t know myself why we decided to keep them inside – the truth was – IT WORKED. The kids didn’t kill each other, and we could sit on the porch and have a drink without worrying about them!  I guess that really was it.

But – and this may be the secret – having that boundary out there very clearly- made people feel comfortable.  It defined a place where things were ‘safe,’ where people would  – at least in a minimal way- watch out for each other. It felt to me that crazy fence set up a kind of neutrality zone.

It wasn’t perfect, but I find reflecting on it sort of neat. Sometimes having clear boundaries gives us a safe zone.

I think I may want to say more about boundaries one of these days. I think they are more important than we give them credit for.

One of MY problems right now may be that when you change where you live, the old boundaries shift on you- and you have to work to find out where the new ones are.

Are there safe zones herd? Where are they? How do I find them? I wish I understood better how God is involved in all of this. It’s a fact, I’m sure, there’s something here that really points to God.

Loren Mead

About stalbansparish

St. Alban's Parish is a vibrant and diverse Episcopal Church in Washington, DC near the National Cathedral. We come from every walk of life, every culture and context, and every corner of this region. St. Alban's Parish is active in the city, engaging social issues, and making the reconciling love of Christ known in word and deed. We have ministries for children, youth, young adults, adults, and the elderly. We have outreach programs that address homelessness, poverty, the environment, and hunger. We believe in being open and inclusive to all people no matter disability, age, income, gender, race, or sexual orientation. We welcome the faithful, the seeker, and the doubter, because God's embrace is wide, and God's good news is for all people. We want you to come, participate, grow in God's love, and become a part of the Body of Christ at St. Alban's!
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