Creation was never meant to be caged. In the garden, God walked among His creation, and existence was couched in “togetherness.” Even now, much of God’s redeeming work centers on unification. God has been known to shake off chains, break open jail cells, and obliterate separating lines. The tomb is open, membership in the Body is open, and God’s welcoming arms are open. Even the gates of Heaven will remain open for all eternity (Rev. 21:25).
Despite the inherent openness of our God, the sin-scarred world in which we live persists in creating division. Be it fence, wall, or boundary, we simply cannot help ourselves: we must segregate. Security posts, combination locks, restrictive petting zoos–these are faint echoes of our fallenness, subtle reminders of the curse we’re under. Fruit of the poisonous tree, so to speak.
A few summers back, shortly after a violent thunderstorm, I was driving around the neighborhood near our house. As I stopped at a traffic light, I noticed that the deluge had filled some potholes with rainwater. Two small children were sitting in the largest pothole, water coming over their hips. The girl was wearing a swimsuit, and the boy had peeled off his t-shirt. A rubber duck floated between them as the children splashed merrily in the filthy water. These children had turned a muddy pothole into a wading pool. I watched them play for a few moments, until the angry honking of drivers behind me jolted my attention back to the road and destination ahead.
One block from the potholes stands a bright, gleaming new playground. Recipient of grants and community-beautification awards, this playground and recreation area has done much to improve the atmosphere of the community. The cast-iron sign at the intersection reads, “Hope Corner.” It is truly beautiful.
But Hope Corner is fenced in, off-limits to the public.
More recently, I happened upon a group of teenagers playing basketball outside a privately owned playground and basketball court, which had been fenced in and firmly locked. One of the teens had hopped the fence, rolled the portable basketball hoop to the perimeter of the playground, and positioned the hoop so that it peeked over the top of the fence. The teens then played a game of basketball on the parking lot and sidewalk outside, taking shots at the basket locked inside the fence. Well-placed shots bounced off the backboard and returned. Anytime a ball went rogue, one of the players quickly climbed the fence to retrieve it.
What does it say about a neighborhood when everything new and pretty is under lock and key? What does it mean to have a community park that is closed to the community? Few people invest the time, energy, and resources to create, transform, and restore spaces in our neighborhood. Even fewer have the guts to do it out in the open, with others. Perhaps it is fear that divides us, or perhaps it is pride. Maybe we don’t trust each other to seek out the good in this creation. Perhaps we don’t have faith enough to believe it could actually work. Or maybe we are just worried that someone will come along and spray paint the f-word on our sliding board. Whatever it is that keeps us purchasing barbed wire and plate glass, it has no place in the wide-open Kingdom of God.
So that got us thinking. What if we built a park, but refused to put up fences? What if we worked alongside our neighbors to create a community space, where our families can gather for fun and fellowship? Why should everything new and beautiful be visible only through a chain-link fence?
For the past year, we’ve dedicated ourselves to exploring this concept, using an old abandoned lot near our house as the site of our experiment, starting with a garden this spring. We yearn for it to serve as a podium for togetherness. Robert Frost once said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Perhaps. But we are prepared to entertain the notion that demolished fences make better neighbors.
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Take a look at these pictures of the land!