The Bridge

We drove down from San Diego to the border last week. It’s a huge operation. Long lines of automobiles are lined up on both sides, driving south from the United States into Mexico and north from Mexico into the United States. 70,000 people cross that border every day; more than 1,000 walk over the border bridge. Many Mexicans have jobs in the United States and return to their Tijuana homes nightly. It was a Sunday afternoon and we watched a steady stream of men, women and children crossing the border bridge after shopping at the Outlet Malls on the American side.

I was impressed with the simple, ordinary humanness of it all. Families walking toward the bridge, elderly on walkers, babies in strollers, children eating ice cream cones following their parents, adults carrying their purchases. I know our brief visit did not reveal the complexity nor the danger associated with the border. I was simply left with feeling the humanness of it, the families heading for home at the end of the day.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of my nation. As a child I loved looking at pictures of her standing proud and tall. There was a small replica on a living room shelf when I was growing up. My parents told me about it, how it stands in the New York harbor, how it was a gift to us from France, how the illuminated torch in her hand at the very top of her outstretched arm represented liberty lighting the way to our country, how there was a poem by Emma Lazarus engraved in the base… “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”, how the first thing millions of immigrants saw of the United States of America was that statue, how service people returning from war often wept when they saw the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty always made me proud to be an American, citizen of a nation that opens its arms wide in welcome, a nation that promises hope and opportunity and security and freedom.

The tragedy of the past two years is that the American President is in the process of replacing the Statue of Liberty and its promise with another symbol of America – a wall, a wall to keep people out, “a big, beautiful wall” he calls it and declares that if you don’t have a secure border with an impenetrable wall you don’t have a nation. The replacement of the Statue of Liberty with an ugly wall as a symbol of my nation is depressing.

Of course nations have to have borders. Of course it is necessary to control who comes in and who goes out. But no one except the President and his enablers believes that a wall is the answer. No one.

The lead editorial in the February 13, 2019 Christian Century wisely observed: “A border wall is a cruel symbol, reflecting some of America’s worst instincts. It’s also an effective symbol: it captures starkly the notion that national boundaries must be fiercely protected from outsiders.”

That is beyond sad. But, because of what I saw last week I have a new West Coast symbol to supplement the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. My new symbol is that bridge reflecting welcome, access to both the United States and to Mexico, a symbol of an important truth that, I would suggest, is both nobler and truer than mean-spirited protectionism, that our common humanity transcends national boundaries, transcends ethnicity and skin color. That bridge suggests something of our most precious belief, that all of us are created in the image of God and are part of a universal human family.

John M. Buchanan


  1. Jinny Tennant Crown Point, Indiana says:

    Amen, John…you have beautifully expressed what remains in my heart as a hope and dream!

  2. Like most Americans who live hundreds of miles from our southern border, I have observed the likes of the bridge only from afar. Your description of “the simple, ordinary humanness” of the daily coming and going on the bridge, and the sheer number of 70,000 per day, give me a visual picture. I can see it in my mind. As long as the Lady in the Harbor’s torch with Emma Lazarus’ poem and ice cream cones on the bridge stand as witnesses to hope for our better selves. “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Thank you, John. And…go Cubs!

  3. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge.

  4. timjweaver says:

    Dr. Buchanan, your outstanding post has caused me to remember a beloved poem that I hadn’t thought of in a long time. It’s “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole. The thought now occurs to me – What if the central figure in the Dromgoole poem hadn’t been a kind and charitable man of vision? What if he’d been a power hungry tyrant? What if the man in the poem had built a wall instead of a bridge? What would have happened to the “fair-haired youth whose feet must (later) pass this way”? It’s heartbreaking to consider. Thank you for your timely message of encouragement.

  5. Susan Redfield says:

    We’ve been tackling issues of diversity in our Bible study this month. The challenges of being around people who think differently than ourselves, not just ethnic or sexuality or gender but cultural differences, like sometimes typical southern Americans and sometimes typical Californians. We talked about Luke 17 and how the lepors were from both Galilee and Samaria but hung together because of their shared medical condition. Just as we hang out with like-minded folks, whether they be culturally or educationally or ethnically similar. You describe crossing the welcoming bridge so poignantly: that “Common humanity transcends national boundaries” Our California Governor is fighting that literal and symbolic wall that is trying to preclude those who are different. Our Governor hopes to expand and strengthen that bridge both ways. in an effort to continue that wonderful historic tradition of welcoming “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free.” I am thankful that for so many years my pastor helped me to appreciate, enjoy, learn from and laugh with those who are different from me, in a church filled with socio-economically and politically diverse members of all races and cultures. Even if our convictions or preferences varied, our core beliefs in the loving nature of God and Jesus prevailed. Thanks for being that pastor.

    • Nika Den says:

      I am a Latina who is appalled by the elitist attitude toward “diversity”. We are the same as you. We love, and we live, and we hurt, and we pray. We also believe in the rule of law, and do not tolerate those who would steal from the hard working people of America. I worked hard to become a citizen here, and those who would come and steal that which we proudly worked for is a disgrace, I am embarrassed for you that you would have such racism to us that you think we would not value our countries or have enough dignity to live by the law. I would never choose to steal from you, and would hope you would never encourage others to do that to me. We can love each other by not taking what belongs to the other. Let us help each other within the confines of what is right.

  6. Barbara Fountain says:

    Thank you again John.

  7. ALEIDA Oehlke says:

    I love reading your thoughts and always happy when your daughter Diane shares on fb. Our kids graduated from Greenhill together in ‘09. I’ve seen similar in the Rio Grande Valley where I was raised. My family has been involved volunteering at the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. I agree that we need a solution , not the wall, When I look into these people’s eyes, I see something deeper than politics.

  8. Susan Schaefer says:

    Thank you, John. Perhaps we should all have a replica of a bridge on our living room shelves. (I always love learning what your family taught you.)

  9. What a meaningful post, John. In 2014, George and I followed the Mexican Border from its start in San Diego to the point where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. What we found was a living entity, alive with the people on both sides who live and work there moving back and forth each day. I will attach a link to my photo journal of our trip, in case you would be interested in seeing it.

  10. Ruth Beckman says:

    Thank you So incredibly true, it brings me to tears Agreeing with Elija Cummings, ‘We are better that that’

    Sent from my iPhone


  11. Nika Den says:

    The amount of rich elitist white people on this site appalls me. I hope that one day you will see us as equals, just as able to obey the law as you are, just as proud of our countries as you do.

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