One of my favorite biblical stories shows the struggle of indomitable defenses being overcome by the weaker men, powers by the will and strength of the Lord. Of course, I could be speaking about any number of stories, but I am speaking about Jericho.
Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world, and though the inhabitants were wicked, they had built up strong defensive walls. When the Israelite army, marching to Jericho before their long list of victories, saw the walls and despaired, knowing that they had no means to defeat the city. If the city was left to stand, not only would they be violating God’s command to rid the land of the wicked, but they would have strong defensive city on their northern border, constantly harassing and working toward their destruction. If they could overtake the city, they would have a strong g strategic position to defend that same northern border. Jericho was, perhaps more than most cities, critical for the Israelites national defense.
God, however, was with the Isrealites. At His command, they marched around the city walls for 6 days, the army was silent, and the priests blew the trumpets. On the last day, the army joined the priests by shouting, and the walls crumbled. The city fell to the army of God’s chosen people.
Perhaps my love of the story comes from my desire to have the God of Israel on my side as he was for them. Perhaps it comes from my love of a song I performed in high school (this is just the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we probably sounded better, and unless someone want to go through the trouble of pulling one of our recording sessions out of their memento box, there’s no way for you to disprove that!… If someone does do that, however, forget I said that because it was probably a typo on my part… Or… Taken out of context – those are the standard Washington defenses, right?)
Still, it’s one of the stories often the most difficult to tie into our own lives.
In yesteryear, neighbors knew their neighbors. They were intimately aware of the needs, desires, and struggles of those around them. They had block parties, and worked together to now lawns, shovel walks, or raise barns. As the world has gotten proverbially smaller, we’ve begun to build more walls. Oh, it’s no longer common to see a new wall go up around a city or stronghold, but we build them around our hearts.
I remember some of this global shift. I look back with some nostalgia on my old myspace page; sharing with my closest friends my photographs that I had painstakingly scanned into my computer and (as is still the practice by most) painstakingly photoshopped out the most egregious flaws in my photos. I look back fondly on the late night IMS chat sessions, some with yahoo, others with AOL, and yet more with MySpace chat- 3 or 4 different conversations with the same number of software pieces to do it. We didn’t have this newfangled “texting” back then. And this 😊 looked my this : ) – ah, those were the days. The world was made new. The cold hearts and barriers that would isolate people where finally gone.
Of course, MySpace has gone the way of the typewriter (gone, except the the hardest hipsters), and facebook, Twitter, and Instagram compete for social media kingship.
But hearts haven’t softened. Isolation has increased, not decreased. And, like my old myspace photos, people still use these mediums to whitewash the flaws from their lives. In case you hear condemnation in my voice (which, if you are perceptive, you do), understand that I am also guilty of this. I haven’t kept up with photoshop, but I usually only share when things are going well, or only share the things that make it look like they are. I know, however, when they aren’t going well, and it is exhausting to see everyone around me (read: on the Internet) leading perfect lives. How can they be so perfect? They, and I, have built up strong defensive walls around our hearts in order to protect ourselves from the emotional hurt that can come with being close to people.
Ironically, it is precisely these walls that causes us to feel isolated, even when we’re surrounded by people. It is these walls that hinder our ability to have meaningful relationships with new people, and worse, often with those whom we love and are closest to.
But what about the trumpets?
I’ve mentioned before that I have little filter. My old choir members and teachers would be the first to attest to that (“Jared, shut up!” Was often on the tips of tongues, and was not unheard of slipping out…). And, as I’ve mentioned before, one of my medications removes what little filter I have. It’s darn near all I can do to keep my bank account PIN numbers and Internet passwords from being shouted at the nearest strangers at the grocery store (hyperbole? Probably…)
I spend a lot of time at the gym. My workouts take a lot longer than most people, and I get less from them, but it gives me something to do that’s not watching TV, and makes me feel like I’m being productive. I feel significant anxiety being looked at by people, particularly the hotties at the gym. Interestingly, the best solution I’ve found to that anxiety is precisely the most difficult thing to do: have meaningful conversations with those I feel judgement from the most!
My gym has about 2500 daily visitors. But many of them know me by name. If someone is near me for more than. Few minutes, they’re going to be talked to (sorry if I’ve victimized you in this way.)
I tell them my life story. The cane makes people ask about my health (it’s like a magic wand – it’s going to happen, period) and I tell them. Because I have no filter, I tell them everything. My history, my hopes, my desires, and my goals.
What I’ve found most curious, is that my opening up is exactly like the Isrealite’s trumpets: it crumbles people’s walls. I’ve had as many life stories shared with me in the last 6 months than my psychiatrist friend (also probably hyperbole… probably). People, in my experience, are desperate for meaningful, human interaction. They often don’t even realize that they are missing it, but they embrace it fully. Even the most secure are, like me, insecure about some things.
The walls can’t be broken down by siege, only by example. Only when I first drop my walls and open up, sharing the intimate details of my life, and never before, do people share with me their demons, their struggles, their failures, their hopes, their dreams, and their victories. It’s become so common for me that I’ve forgotten many of them (not surprising, considering that I can’t remember anything…), but because I’m the anomaly, they can’t forget me. “How are you feeling today, Jared?” “How’s the weight loss going?” “How are your kids?” My long, well established friends… That I’ve only just made.
I hope you don’t understand me to say that these friendships aren’t meaningful to me, they really are. But my point is this: if we are lonely, we are cold, and we long for the warmth of friendship – we must open our own gates before the walls keeping us from our neighbors will come down.