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  • Ross Moughtin

Keeping the Scousers out

The police, I know, are on full alert as we await the influx, invasion even, of those from the other side of the border. As Ormskirk and rural West Lancs Police explain, somewhat tentatively, in their Facebook posting: “We are aware that some people may be planning to travel to Lancashire (they mean Ormskirk) this weekend to watch the football.” Yes, tomorrow’s 238th derby match between Everton and Liverpool may be a top tier match but in terms of covid restrictions it is being played in a top tier location, tier 3 to be precise. The Liverpool region, which includes the surrounding boroughs, is currently facing the tightest restrictions in the country. However, here in West Lancashire we are still in tier 2, at least as I write this. We may be on high alert but even so our pubs are still open – although still subject to social distancing rules. That means if you live in the Liverpool region and want to watch the derby match, unless you subscribe to BT, your best option is to travel to a pub in Ormskirk, just four miles over the boundary. Making boundaries always causes problems, even for the best of reasons such as restricting the spread of covid. For once you introduce borders, often just a line on a map, anomalies are inevitable.

There will be roads, for example, where those living on one side of the border are forbidden to meet people in their gardens while their neighbours next door still have this luxury, at least upto six people.

I’ve always been fascinated by boundaries and frontiers, how everything can change in a single pace. If the truth be told, as human beings we need borders so that we define ‘us’ from ‘them’. Even as the European Union tries to erase boundaries through the Schengen agreement, the need to impede the covid pandemic has introduced them with a vengeance.

Boundaries were very important for the people of Israel. Even as Joshua was preparing to settle the land promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the boundaries for this territory are carefully defined. Numbers 34, for one, goes into some detail over ten verses concluding ‘This will be your land, with its boundaries on every side.” (Numbers 10:12)

Over the centuries these boundaries became ever more important as they defined those who were called to be the people of God and those who weren’t, between Jew and Gentile. This was especially so after the Northern Kingdom was overwhelmed by the Assyrians in 721 BC for this is where the Samaritans come in. For the Samaritans occupied the geographical gap left by the tribes of the Northern Kingdom. There’s no need here to go into detail but by the time of Jesus, centuries later, residents of Galilee were prepared to walk an extra 70 miles on a much hotter and more uncomfortable road to be in Jerusalem rather than cross the boundary into Samaria. However, Jesus crossed boundaries all the time. Not just into Samaria where he encountered the outcast woman at the well at Sychar; not just over the other side of Lake Galilee to the region of the Gerasenes where he delivered a demon-possessed man; not just in the vicinity of Tyre where he similarly helped the daughter of a Syrophoenician Woman. Jesus loved crossing borders. However, it was his cross which put an end to all boundaries. In the words of the apostle Paul, who crossed more borders than anyone else in the Bible, “Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.” (Ephesians 2:16, Message translation, obviously) Of course, the most effective borders are not those drawn on a map, even though marked by barbed wire and minefields. The most effective borders are those in our minds. Hence Jesus was prepared to dismantle the various boundary markers for the Jewish people, such as the food laws and sabbath observance, Even so, throughout the New Testament the early church battled with the idea of welcoming people from the wrong side of their mental borders into the family of God. It wasn’t easy. Welcoming non-Jews into table fellowship was to cause all kinds of problems for those raised with the basics of the Jewish religion. In gentile Antioch this was where the apostle Paul accused his colleague Barnabas and even Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, of hypocrisy for pulling back from fellowship with Gentile Christians . Crucially we are called to disregard those boundaries which Jesus has destroyed. So missiologist. Dana Robert urges: “Christians have the responsibility to make friends across divisions that can separate us from one another.” The danger, of course, is as fast as the Holy Spirit removes boundaries we aim to reinstate them. It is human nature to categorise people. As Fleming Rutledge writes (I’m now in her final chapter!): “In religion, as in every other human enterprise, there is always some underlying distinction. . .Therefore, new types of exclusion replace the old, more obvious race – or class-based types. It is part of sinful human nature that this is so.” (Crucifixion, page 577). Jesus insists we cross boundaries in his name, especially the one we carefully construct ourselves. Even so, here’s hoping for an Everton win! #bounaries #cross #welcome

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