Where Were You When?: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 8 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about Jesus and walls of oppression coming down. Listen in here.


There was no Twitter in 1989, of course. I heard on CNN that the East German government was allowing crossing over the border into West Germany. The violent incarceration of a generation of people since the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 – was over.

I was born in 1975 in the US, in the middle of the Cold War. And its images were seared into my mind – from history books and spy movies. Images of a world split by hatred, divided by a wall of hostility and barbed wire and weapons.

But also images of people risking everything to cross the wall – climbing over it, tunnelling under it, jumping from windows, breaking through borders in the boots of cars. Sometimes successful, often not, but people never stopped trying because, as it’s said: “once a truth is seen, it cannot be unseen”. It lives inside of us – rising and bracing, until it shines out.

On the afternoon of November 9, 1989, I was 14, in front of the television after school, transfixed by crowds of people ­– young people, old people – dancing on the wall, hammering holes in it and reaching hands across to friends never met, busting barriers and popping champagne bottles.

At Christmas that year, my grandma asked me to write a prayer for the family dinner. I didn’t know how to pray, but I wanted somehow to thank God for the crumbling of the Iron Curtain. I found a Bible verse: “Christ is our peace. He has made us one and broken down the dividing wall, the wall of hostility between us.”

A couple years later, my grandma travelled to Europe, and she brought me back a fragment of the Berlin wall, a palm-sized chunk, you can see the graffiti on it. She said: “I remember what you prayed.”

A generation has passed since then. I’m 46 now, not 14, but I still have that piece of concrete. For me, it’s a sign that walls still need to come down ­– in Afghanistan, around the world, in my own judgmental heart – but it’s also a trust that their foundations are already broken beyond repair. The battle is not over, but in a sense, it’s already won, because what’s been seen cannot be unseen, and the truth is shining out.

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