In an old book titled Observations on the Re-building of London Bridge by John Seaward, he says this:
It is generally acknowledged that the construction of a commodious bridge over a wide, impetuous river is one of the noblest efforts of human genius. In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. On the contrary, it has everywhere been esteemed for its great utility and has engaged the attentive care of enlightened men.
I want to focus on these words: In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. I’m struck by how much this applies to work of non-physical bridge-building and how wise we would be to pay attention to these words. If we have any hope of moving forward, bridges need to be built. We need to learn the art of bridge-building.
I sat in a clinic this morning talking to a man who is building bridges in the Muslim community. He builds these bridges person by person, activity by activiy, conversation by conversation. His passion is contagious and everything he says reflects a love for this community.
As we talked he told me some things about the community that I hadn’t heard before. A young Muslim man, beaten to a pulp while he was walking down the street; a Muslim mom in hijab out walking with her baby in a stroller, assaulted in broad daylight; Muslim food service workers being told they are “F%&*in terrorists” as they give change back to their customers. Those are only a couple of the stories that I heard.
Every single one of the people we talked about came from Syria.
Think about that for a minute. You have to be an ostrich to not see what is going on in Syria. Ghost towns with bombed out buildings; people fleeing with only the clothes on their backs; stories of families separated, of children lost. It challenges every notion we have of humanity.
And all of them came from Syria.
At one point he said: “Few people have any idea of the extent of stress present in the Muslim community.”
I came away wondering “In what universe is this okay?” I came away wondering how this is any different than ISIS. I came away choking on rage. I came away thinking that “bridge-building” is no longer just a nice idea, it’s an essential part of civilization. You don’t ignore the art of bridge-building.
“Bridge is not a construction but it is a concept, the concept of crossing over large spans of land or huge masses of water, and to connect two far-off points, eventually reducing the distance between them.”*
There is an art to building bridges.
I am not an engineer, but I do know how to look things up on google. And there are a few things about physical bridges that can be used when we think about bridge-building in our communities.
Know what you want your bridge to accomplish. Understand why it is important to build a bridge. Maybe it’s easy to understand, maybe it’s about making a community stronger, or offering health care services. But maybe it’s more difficult to know what you want to accomplish. Be able to say in clear language why you think bridge-building is so critical in our world.
Phrases to use: “I’d like to understand” “How can I help you understand why this is important?”
Understand the ‘load point’. The load point is the area on a bridge that needs to be able to sustain the most stress. This is critical. What are the areas where you see the biggest gap or divide in thinking? Those will take the most work, so start with the easier pieces. Perhaps the easy points are around food and kids — focus on the commonalities and then move into the harder things.
Phrases to use: “Tell me more.” “What do you think?” “How else can I help?”
Gather the materials – or the right people. Everyone doesn’t know how to build bridges, but gathering the right people gives credibility and strength to your bridge.
Phrases to use: “Can you help?” “Thank you for being a part of this.” “Thank you for going out of your comfort zone.”
Build the bridge step by step, activity by activity, conversation by conversation. Bridge-building doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of people died building the Golden Gate Bridge until the bridge builders put a safety net under it. Be willing to be patient. Rejoice in small victories and progress that seems slow.
Phrases to use: “I want to learn.” I want to understand.” “I trust you.” “I’ve got your back, I’ll stick up for you.”
Evaluate and learn. Test your bridge, and if it breaks look at why and how. Ask questions, and humbly admit what you don’t know. Keep on building and learning and growing. An Arab proverb says this: “Those who would build bridges, must be willing to be walked on.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that proverb.
Phrases to use: “What else might work?” “What have we not thought of?” “How can we do it better?”
And now I speak to fellow Christians. Frankly, I’m tired of excuses, I’m tired of fear mongering and hoarding, I’m tired of people saying “we must be practical.” I can’t help thinking what our world would be like had the God of the universe decided to be practical. He surely would not have decided on a virgin birth; he definitely would have dismissed the idea of death on a cross; and as for loving the likes of us? Forget it.
Because this I know, and I know it well: We know the ultimate Bridge-designer who bridged heaven and earth so that we could find our way. So we are called to build bridges and tear down walls. There is no other way.
Note: When I first wrote this, I didn’t realize that I was writing it on the anniversary of the Chapel Hill Shootings. One year ago on February 10, 2015, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha were shot in their apartment complex. Shot for being Muslim.