On a country road where I grew up there was an old iron bridge. It had rusty trusses of oxide orange, could accommodated only a single car at a time over loose, wooden planks, and it would ache like a creaky door in a haunted house under the weight. I crossed that bridge routinely, and it always terrified me.
Would this be the day the old bridge would collapse? Would my father miss the lumber runners beneath our wheels and plunge us into the river? Would we suffer a head-on collision as some other driver failed to yield to our family Buick?
Then, one day it happened: The old iron bridge was condemned. All my fears had been grounded in reality after all, as the city fathers (I hope with the guidance of professional engineers) finally deemed the structure unsafe for travel. Thus, a new concrete bridge was built in its place. The new structure had two lanes, no warning signs or weight restrictions, and was superior in every way. It was a better bridge.
All these decades later I have the same unease as when I was a child. Our bridges, the ones that we have been limping and crawling across for years, can no longer guarantee safe passage. They cannot bear the weight; they cannot accommodate the traffic; and they creak and groan, rusted with time and corrosion. We need better bridges.
And while it is beyond my ability to reform most of our crumbling, soon to be obsolete structures, I have begun to take a completely different view of my vocation as a minister and spiritual writer. In these turbulent days I cannot dismissively trust the now collapsing status quo, and naively prop up the means and methods that have brought us this far.
That “old road is rapidly aging,” Bob Dylan told us decades ago, so I must become a bridge-builder. I must be willing to take risk, more eager to engage with others outside my bubble, and more ready to reach across religious, social, ethnic, economic, and cultural divisions. Because, isn’t that what a bridge is for?
Don’t bridges span barriers, obstacles, and great distances to bring communities together? Don’t bridges stand in strength, bearing the weight of the diverse people and ideas traversing across them? Aren’t bridges constructed at great risk and at great cost, because the risk and cost of separation is simply too much?
Yes, the world is changing in epoch-like ways, ways that require people of faith to become bridge-builders, constructing new pathways and new connections. Such work can only be completed at great risk, great cost, and by great love: Love that is patient, kind, unselfish, accepting, and justice-driven.
Such bridges – and the bridge-builders themselves – will get “walked on” from both sides in this process. But again, isn’t that what a bridge is for? Yet, I believe that love can bear the weight. It must, for the world we live in depends upon it.