The original version of this essay was published on May 16, 2016 in Self Talk the Gospel.
I’m fascinated by bridges. I live in California so you can imagine the first bridge that comes to mind is the Golden Gate Bridge. Regal. Majestic. Glorious. Poppy red-by-day and glowing-with-lights by night. Iconic to the San Francisco skyline. The bridge opened in 1937 as one of the largest suspension bridges in the world, spanning the Golden Gate Strait and the Pacific Ocean.
A few years ago, I ran a half marathon with part of its route running over the Golden Gate Bridge. That experience gave me a real appreciation for the massive 4,200-foot structure that bears daily the weight of hundreds of cars and pedestrians.
Of course, not every bridge stands quite as glorious as the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve driven a pickup truck across shaky bridges made of rugged wood in Haiti. I’ve hiked across bridges made of sturdy, wide tree trunks in Yosemite National Park. I’ve walked carefully across bridges in Costa Rica made of planks tied together by ropes.
All of these bridges serve an important purpose: to connect one part to another.
Bridges make a way. They cross a divide. They provide a passage. Isaac Newton said, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” I am convinced that what we need in today’s chaotic political, social, racial and religious climate is more bridges. We are too busy building walls with our words, our choices, and our votes.
My friend’s husband designs and builds bridges. He gave me this resource that describes the different parts of a bridge. There are diverse types of bridges but the most secure bridges have five parts: the foundation, the beam, the bearing, the pier cap and the pier. Each of these five parts can be engineered in different ways but each plays a vital role to the overall stability of the bridge.
I am reminded that each of us in the body of Christ has a different part but an indispensable role in building bridges. 1 Corinthians 12:17-19 highlights this: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
These verses have become particularly real for me since the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am asking myself again what it looks like to build bridges and to honor others as part of the body of Christ. How can I be a bridge and lift up my brothers and sisters when others are speaking words of hate?
About a year ago, I was gathering regularly with a group of eight women from around my city to go through LaTasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge” curriculum on racial reconciliation. We come from different cultures, different economic backgrounds, and different Christian upbringings. Truth be told, our conversations about race have been hard, sometimes tense, full of awkwardness and brokenness. We are still not as diverse a group as we had hoped. Sometimes that reality weighs heavy on our hearts. We recognize that there are voices missing that are pertinent to conversations on race.
At the same time, I adore these women. Through the months, we have stumbled upon scars and past hurts, hang-ups and prejudices many of us never dreamed we harbored. We have shed tears and pride. We have cried out to God for guidance – for our country and for our world. We have also discovered surprising connections between us. We have fought for deeper friendship. And maybe that’s the point: building bridges is difficult work that requires authenticity, courage, transparency, and vulnerability.
Being a bridge requires sacrifice. It means taking time to learn the nuances of a culture different from our own. Sometimes it means bending to listen to the stories of suffering my sister has endured or leveraging my own privileges to help her amplify her voice. Let’s be real: It’s so much easier for all of us to just hang with our own people, to remain in the safe spaces that don’t require us to be uncomfortable or repent of our own prejudices.
But imagine a world without bridges. Imagine how disconnected our cities and our people would be. Jesus was the ultimate bridge example. He didn’t just build bridges between people. He became the bridge himself. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. ”
Eleven men died building the Golden Gate Bridge. That glorious structure stands secure today because people laid down their lives. My Savior wore a crown of thorns and carried a cross up the steepest hill before the world to be crucified so we might all experience grace, freedom from sin, and His glory. He made himself the bridge for all humankind. Being a bridge means following Jesus’ lead and actually laying down our politics, our prejudices, our passions, our perfect houses, our planned-out futures and our piercing sense of entitlement in this country on behalf of others.
1 Corinthians 12:24-25 says: “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together.”
Maybe it’s time we suffered together. Maybe it’s time we stopped wielding our privileges and started leveraging them for others. For example, what would happen if older leaders stood behind the younger leaders in their churches and championed them? What would happen if more white women who witnessed injustice against their Black and Latina sisters stood in the gap to help them? What would happen if more men in businesses took time to listen to women and elevate them in places leadership?
What would happen if more pastors invited immigrants and refugees to share their stories with the church? What would happen if more coaches looked their athletes in the eye and spoke words of love across racial lines? What would happen if more teachers read books with their students about the history and sacrifice of people of color? What would happen if more neighbors hung out together in their front yards instead of pulling into the garage and shutting the door?
What would happen if each one of us recalibrated our hearts to think of ways we could be a bridge?
Children’s authors Leon Garfield and Michael Bragg have written a book called King Nimrod’s Tower. The book tells the story of a boy who observes the building of the Tower of Babel. The book closes with these powerful words: “The people didn’t realize that the kingdom of heaven is reached by a bridge, not by a tower.”
My challenge today is for all of us to think about the places we are building towers in our lives and how we might build bridges instead.
Image Credit: Chris Brignola, Unsplash Creative Commons
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