The interstate near my home is a mess. They are in the process of expanding bridges – making them wider and higher. It’s a tedious process of working from both sides of the lake to slowly extend toward the middle. At the same time, barges with cranes and concrete forms work with divers to build the columns down into the lake that will support the road. As I am driving by on the current road watching the progress, it occurs to me that they are only working on one side of the interstate. Eventually that will open in two directions, the current shorter bridge will be torn down and they will start the process all over again to build the second half of the road. In other words it’s going to be a mess for a rather long time. It’s just what it takes to build a bridge right.
I remember seeing old movies of the Army Corps of Engineers building bridges across rivers in WWII. They would be working with both heavy equipment and armed reinforcements as they built from one beachhead to another. The key to those images in my head is that they were working from one beachhead! They had a piece of ground that they held. They leveraged the strength of that ground to work their way out into the torrents of the river and finally make a connection to the other side. Often that meant taking the new ground by force before the bridge could be completed.
As I sat in the sessions and workshops of the GCN conference last week, I had the overwhelming image of people building bridges. The challenge that became clear was that we are not building those bridges with the advantage of a solid beachhead. We are on that barge, fighting the currents of the river. Those currents could be changing cultures, physical struggles, family issues; any number of elements that play out in our own heads.
In the meantime we are building one direction toward the churches and faith communities we grew up in; the places our families may still call home. Places that we once thought safe, but have proved to be anything but that. We are reaching out to help them see the hurt and pain and damage they have done in the name of religion, hoping that they see in us the Love of God that they preach so eloquently, but all to often live out with short sighted dogma.
We are also building toward the opposite shore where we have a community of people who fall under Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities. This group, often marginalized in our culture, see the church as giant rule book looking to stomp out their very existence. The have come to see God not as a giver of miraculous life, but often as a myth created to control and manipulate the masses. Their perception of the church, and consequently of God, is not one of a loving, nurturing parent but rather of a cold, heartless judge. In their fear and distaste, they lash out at what they rightfully see as a threat with rhetoric that will only serve to deepen the chasm between to two sides of the river.
Granted these are stereotypes. I’ve pulled these examples from my own readings, personal conversations and experiences with people on both sides of this river. It’s heartbreaking to look either direction. But what I love about this vision in my head is all the imagery I have to draw on from the Bible where God demonstrates the power that God as creator has over the water. The Floods. Moses at the Red Sea. Holding back and releasing droughts. Christ commanding seas to be still and the disciples watching them obey.
What struck me in the image was the need to not be distracted by the rushing of the river around me; the thoughts and distortions that would take my eyes off of the Master of the Waves.
In letting go of the the eroding deluge of the currents and allowing God to bring peace to what is immediately around me, I can see clearly from shore to shore. I can let God hold be in place while, resting in God’s strength, I reach out and take hands in either direction.
Only then do we begin to see the power of God’s unifying Spirit. Only then does the strength of the bridge fully come to bear on these relationships.
Then one day, we my look around and see a road were a bridge once was. In the great peace that follows, we will wonder what became of the river that once decided us.