The Utter and Undeniable Need For Walls of Compassion. Still. by Karen Leslie Hernandez

This piece was already published – back on September 11, 2015. Yet, it’s still so relevant, I am sharing it again. Edited a bit, but the same sentiment, same message, same hope.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We build a lot of walls, especially when we are fearful, hateful, angry, and retaliatory.

There are personal walls, our own little “bubbles,” that give us the illusion of safety. Then we have bigger walls. Walls that our governments build. Walls to keep people in and walls to keep people out.

Current walls that come to mind are the Mexican-US Border Wall – you know, the one that Donald Trump loved and his minions chanted about … “Build that wall! Build that wall!” We have the Israeli-West Bank Separation Barrier-which has contributed to a drop of suicide bombings exponentially, but in the meantime, has cut off Palestinian livelihoods and led to the death of many who can’t get through the checkpoints in an emergency. Here in the US, we have “gated communities” – those communities that give a false sense of security to keep the “degenerates” out. No crime inside those walls, right? Right. We also have prison walls to keep people in. The prison industry is thriving here in the US and more walls need to be put up to incarcerate all the “offenders.” And who can forget the razer wire walls built in 2015, to keep Syrian refugees out of places such as Hungary.

Note I use We when referring to all of these walls; walls that aren’t even in your country, or walls that may not even be on your mind. That’s because We believe in walls.

The personal walls we build inside and outside of us, transcend to the larger walls we witness, approve of, are normalized – walls that are built to “protect us” are everywhere.  

I never realized how walls must feel to those we are trying to keep out until 2008, when I went on a service trip with my church to our sister church in Dominica. The church had a few break-ins, so they asked us to come and build a concrete wall around the church to keep the “bad guys” out.

As we started to build the wall however, I noted the homes around the church, as well as the people. Obviously in need and obviously hungry, as each cinder block went up and each house left the view of the grassy, “blessed” church yard, I wondered what the people who didn’t belong to the church felt – as they were shut out, excluded, ignored, ostracized, forgotten, “unsaved.”

In the last several years, we’ve witnessed here in the states an infinite number of Latinos desperately trying to leave their dire conditions at home in Central and South America, literally risking their lives and making the journey to the US. If they even make the journey safely across, they are met with walls. Walls of incarceration, walls of family separation, and walls of deportation. Six years ago, the world watched as desperate Syrians tried to cross borders and were stopped by human walls, razor fenced walls, and ocean walls. How can we forget little Ayman Alkurdi, the toddler whose lifeless body washed ashore in Turkey, as the world wept, asking, “How could this happen?” Perhaps the answer is too much to bare. Perhaps the wall of indifference is drowning us all.

We largely ignore the walls that we all put up and normalize. In this past year with Covid, our walls were fortified by disease, ignorance, intolerance, the struggle between faith and science, and the worst wall of all – fear. The wall of fear is probably the most poignant wall. The wall that causes all the other walls to form and thrive. The colossal wall. The wall of fear has pervaded throughout the pandemic and has created its most recent wall – the wall to vaccines. Interestingly enough, most of these walls are masked (pun intended) in entitlement and wealth. Which is a wall none of us cares to acknowledge, for fear we point fingers at ourselves.

I am met with the news today of more indigenous children whose remains have been found in Canada. The headlines are something right out of a horror film. But, it’s not a film. It’s real. The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for the harm and death of children in their “care.” Children that they didn’t allow to speak their native language, or dress as they wanted. Children that they literally removed from their homes and separated from their families and communities – to undo and erase who they were born to be.

More walls of terror. Past and present.


I wonder – instead of walls of harm, are we capable of choosing to build walls of compassion? How can we offer walls with doors of love, instead of walls of windows to oppression? Why can we not offer walls of hope, instead of walls of despair? This is not impossible.

As I ponder the practice of compassion, I am met with one consistent thought – God is compassion. And if God is indeed compassion and we are indeed faithful human beings, then how are we not living by example? How are we denying compassion to every one of our brothers and sisters across the planet? Especially to our children.

I crave walls that do not distinguish “the other.” I want walls that offer food, jobs, education, housing, a safe space to worship, medical care, freedom, safety, and a sense of place. I desire walls of welcome. I want to create walls of acceptance. I know We can create walls of tolerance. Why wouldn’t We want walls of coexistence? We can insist on walls of peace.

These walls – the walls that lead us to be better humans – they are the walls that will enable us to understand and embrace the utter and undeniable need for walls of compassion.

For this, I hope. Still.


Dr. Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian, restorative justice practitioner and interfaith activist/peacebuilder. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Karen recently graduated with her Doctor of Ministry from Claremont School of Theology and she also holds two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies. Karen currently lives in California and focuses her work in non-profit community organizing – to create more inclusive, peaceful, equitable communities. She is also a certified domestic violence advocate and mandated reporter, and she loves to kayak, hike, practice yoga and spend time with her daughter. 

Categories: Peacemaking, Women for Peace

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11 replies

  1. Yes. Such an important post. Thank you. Walls of fear do need to come down. Permeable walls of compassion that protect boundaries while letting in interaction and love, those are good walls. ;) Have shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you are describing doors.

    There was a theologian who wrote (I can’t think of his name although I can picture him in my mind) that the walls we build to keep out others become our own prisons. It is similar to what you describe, perhaps a wall of indifference that will drown us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your reply, Janet. I do actually mean walls. The idea is to view walls differently, not as we always have and do. You may be uncertain of that, or not agree, or even understand that – but, that’s the point – is to change a way of thinking that we are led to believe is the correct way of thinking.

      Also, be careful when responding to writers with what “you think” they are trying to say. Especially when you don’t know the writer personally, or, if the writer is BIPOC such as myself. Even if you don’t mean it that way, it can be received as a micro aggression – telling someone else what they must be thinking and perhaps didn’t articulate as you think they should have… that’s a big no-no.


      • I do want to apologize as I was hasty, unclear and inelegant in what I said. I feel that the language we use is very important in how we communicate and so I am doubly sorry to have been so sloppy. And I must say that I am delighted with bringing back old gems from prior years as so much has been written on this forum and so I thank you for doing that. I hear you that you mean walls and that you are indeed happy with this as a paradigm. That is important.

        Here is where I am coming from: In my shamanic studies and experiences, I have found that the underlying paradigms we use affect the outcomes of our journeys. In all the shamanic pathways that I know (admittedly I don’t know every single shamanic or even spiritual pathway), walls, even permeable ones as a foundational paradigm would be a constraining and as a foundation, at least in my own journey, would be limiting.

        I recognize this is totally my own take and for me, it also spills over into the concept of boundaries. Here is an example from my own life: Both my mother-in-law and my mother had borderline personality disorder. It was pretty brutal as I was always the focus of their blame for everything and anything. I joined and even eventually helped to moderate an on-line forum for family members of those with BPD. A lot of the discussion amongst both professionals and group members was the primary tool of setting boundaries as a way to deal with the dysfunction. I was profoundly uncomfortable with this as I could almost feel it physically enclosing me. The boundaries I was setting were having the effect of imprisoning me. I settled on two tools 1) setting limitations and 2) creating consequences (eg: you tell me what a horrible person I am, then I will leave). My life became far more peaceful. Neither of them are still alive. As I look back though, it was a simple but important paradigm shift which had pretty much the same result while still allowing me to grow on my own journey without feeling.

        So I do come from a different angle than you do but no one direction is inherently better or worse than any other. I honor our differences.


        • Thanks for this, Janet. I appreciate your detailed reasons for what you wrote. Unfortunately you missed the point. You have now told me all the reasons for your response, but not acknowledged the one point I made.

          Regardless of where you stand or your past, it is never OK to tell anyone what *you* think they mean by what they have written. It’s really simple. As politely as I can say it, please, just simply sit down and stop talking when someone points out a microaggression to you. There is no need to respond or defend yourself. It is a lesson I have offered to you to reflect, sit with, and learn. I am not angry, nor do I think less of you. It’s just a lesson. I hope you can take it and let it guide you in the future. Thanks again and take care.


  3. Good for you to republish such an excellent, thoughtful post! (Nothing wrong with repeating ourselves from time to time. You’re writing about compassion. My next post will be a repeat about kindness.)

    I’m in total agreement that walls separate us and are nearly always lack any hint or element of compassion, especially when compassion is what people on both sides need the most. I’m not sure, however, that when you say compassion, you really mean walls. I agree with Janet that maybe what you’re really writing about is doors because walls imprison people on both sides. We need fewer walls, fewer gated communities, fewer walled churches, fewer walled public properties. MORE open gates and doors in those walls. Bright blessings to us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Barbara – thanks for your response. I have never repeated a piece before, but I found this cathartic to do so this month.

      As I shared with Janet above, I do actually mean walls. The idea is to view walls differently, not as we always have and do. While you and Janet may be uncertain of that, or not agree, or even understand that – that’s the point. We need to change our way of thinking, that we are led to believe is the correct way of thinking.

      I also wrote to Janet to be careful when responding to writers with what “you think” they are trying to say. Especially when you don’t know the writer personally, or, if the writer is BIPOC such as myself. Even if you don’t mean it that way, it can be received as a micro aggression – telling someone else what they must be thinking and perhaps didn’t articulate as you think they should have… that’s a big no-no. I appreciate that my post made you both think. But again, no one should ever tell a writer what you think they are trying to say.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very good point Karen about writers – if the writer doesn’t say it assume she doesn’t mean it!

        Walls of any kind are starting to scare me a lot – walls can be seen as the antithesis of community – and so I am wary of walls in general.

        Compassion I learned the hard way needs to be tempered with appropriate boundaries or one gets used.


  4. Thank you for this wonderful post. I like to talk about healthy boundaries – the ones where they are actually better for everyone involved, not just the person or people or spaces inside them, but both inside and out, as it were. Ironically, the medieval city walls came down because they wanted more air flow to prevent the spread of pandemic diseases! A good reason for walls to come down. <3


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