At 2am I received a message from a Turkish friend living in Istanbul.
She wished me luck with the election. “I hope it will go well for you” she said.
I was deeply touched. Global friendships are a gift that God has given me and I am grateful. Right after I heard from Elif I went to bed. It was over. The United States had elected a new president.
The first thing I did when I got up today was to write some email notes to my Muslim friends. I didn’t talk about the election — I just said that I was grateful that they were in my life, I was thankful for what I learn from them. I told them that I needed them.
Then I got to work on a Muslim Women’s Health Project. This is a project that I have been working on since January and it has been one of the highlights of my career. It was a balm to my heart to be able to do work I love with people whom I love.
It was also a reminder to me that my job is to build bridges.
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 the hard work that is needed to move forward. How wise we would be to pay attention to these words!
In light of Election 2016, “bridge-building” is no longer just a nice idea. If we have any hope of moving forward, bridges need to be built. We cannot ignore the art and the process. It is our only way forward.
“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. Whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, or Miscellaneous – you are called to build bridges. 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. We are called to be gracious and give grace. There is no other way.
“Strive always to love those who hate you. Never forget that we aren’t dealing with a fog-like ‘movement’ but with real three-dimensional persons, whom God loves just as much as he loves you. Christ saves only sinners—people like you. So be courageous, but always loving, for the battle is not won or lost on the public stage but inside the yearning heart of every person.” Frederica Matthewes-Green