February 8, 2016,

Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,

In past issues of Bishop’s Writings I have written about how we can close ourselves in with silos when we are called to build bridges. Indeed the Latin for bridge is “pont.” Pontiff, or bridge builder, is another name for the Pope. Bridges and silos are opposites, but what about fences? A high fence topped with concertina wire is designed to prohibit movement of people, but this does not describe all fences.

The great New England poet, Robert Frost, once wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost had in mind “stone fences.” These are low, two to three foot high, rock walls. They usually follow property lines and need continued maintenance. These fences can be crossed easily and have flat tops that allow for sitting.

What is symbolic of a simple fence of wood or a stout New England rock fence? Simple fences provide separation. While this can mean distinguishing between people when we are called by God to be inclusive, a simple fence can symbolize a principle of effective organization. For example, in the New England context, the rock fence says, “I will tend to my land and my neighbor will tend his. If he needs my help, I will cross the fence and be there.”

My mother once taught me the most important item in organizing is discarding what you don’t need. You are giving other matters priority. If something not a priority requires attention you can usually recover it or find it. Discarding serves as a fence. Jesus had a mental fence regarding Gentiles and Jews. In Matthew 15:21 a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Here is a simple fence. His focus is upon the Jewish people, but the woman continues her plea. As a result, Jesus crosses the fence and helps her. He retained his focus on Jews, but Gentiles could request and receive his help.

When compared to silos and bridges, fences are complicated. Fences, by helping us to separate and prioritize, are organizational tools for accomplishing specific goals. That said, God designs simple fences so we can cross them. In this way we don’t hesitate to help our neighbors and even establish new priorities. With my love and best wishes, I am,

Your brother in Christ,