Responsively Yours: Understanding Borders
- Audio version, December 2009 (MP3, 8.4MB)
- Cover of Response, December 2009 (PDF, 116K)
- Content of Response, December 2009 (PDF, 54K)
Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
Do you remember the first time you realized that state boundaries didn’t show up on the ground like they do on a map or a globe? Perhaps it’s because I grew up in South Jersey, but I somehow thought that borders were natural — like the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River. There were streets that separated Haddon Township from the neighboring municipalities — these weren’t natural features but still visible boundaries. I remember wondering if the lines would be solid or dashed when viewed from a plane. Hiking sections of the Appalachian Trail that cross over the border between New Jersey and New York several times within a few miles is still a little mind blowing for me.
It is interesting to think about the power of borders and how our loyalties are shaped. Despite my current zip code, I remain a Philadelphia Phillies fan — hoping for next year.
Despite living for 11 years in Nashville, I always called Greater New Jersey my “home” Conference. Residence alone does not create identification.
Growing up, in my own public high school we knew our school was better than the wealthier, larger schools in our area, and we knew our school was better than the other schools (large and small) in towns with fewer resources. I can only imagine what happens when a school merges or consolidates or when a regional district is created and those identities are threatened. How is it that our loyalties are so quickly and fervently engaged to the towns, schools and experiences shaped by borders?
I relate this to national borders as well. It’s been a long time since the United States’ northern border was agreed upon in1846 (with a small adjustment in 1925). Along many miles through the former Oregon Territory the border follows the 49th parallel, despite President Polk’s campaign promise to fix the border at “54° 40’ or fight.” The U.S. southern borders were established, through battle and negotiation, from the Louisiana Purchase throughout much of the 1800s giving us today’s borders.
Thinking about this has reminded me that the U.S. borders, no less than the borders of Israel or Kosovo or Namibia, are political constructs — created at a specific time and place and subject to change.
To complicate this topic still further, we have sovereign borders within the United States, known as reservations, which are quite a different kind of political construct. On one level, they recognize the independence of the first peoples within what is now the United States. At another level they delineate separate and definitely not equal access to schools, medical care and even potable water in some cases.
Debate about reforming U.S. immigration law gives us a chance to review how those political constructs work and how they could work. Of course, this is a conversation in which the voice of United Methodist Women must be heard.
United Methodist Women’s predecessors engaged in work to support immigrants — especially women and girl immigrants. God instructs the people of Israel to care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger within our gates. We show that care every day at national mission institutions with education, health care, childcare, English-as-a-Second Language classes and more. We also need to show that care as we review how the borders that are today’s political constructs are used to include and to exclude, to protect or to create vulnerability. Understanding borders becomes critical mission work for United Methodist Women. Join me in continuing the work of our foremothers. Let us strive for justice and peace along the borders in our world today.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : December 4, 2009