on bridges

Although I’m not much of a one for heights, and don’t much like boats, airplanes or lifts, I don’t mind bridges, physical or metaphorical.

A bridge spans two places that would otherwise be separated. They tend to feature heavily in war films, where to capture the bridge is to have the power to separate the other side from their route out and their source of supplies and thereby gain the upper hand.

I’ve always thought it interesting that from the Latin for bridge (pons) we get the word for Pope: Pontifex – or bridge builder. History may decide that some Popes have been better bridge builders than others, but I like the concept.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to stand on the bridge between two sides, especially if the two sides are full of people not listening to each other, or even shouting at each other. This is already happening on Twitter when in the same week as the main C of E released its Living and Love and Faith resources, a sub group released a short film undermining the entire principle of LLF.

I also felt this two sides problem as I prepared for a sermon on the parable of the talents last week. I was very drawn to an alternative reading of the parable as a critique of unprincipled Capitalism, in a gut reaction that I couldn’t shift, whilst also feeling that contextually it must really be about accountability at the Second Coming of Christ.

About half of the comments on a Facebook discussion thread on this were rooting for the former interpretation and the other half for the latter, as represented by splendid and insightful friends of mine who were also either preparing to sermonise or simply giving their own take. All but one commentator fell into what I would call a reasonably predictable position, according to their standpoints.

It’s probably an Enneagram thing (over-sensitive FOUR) but it really churned me up because I was torn. I felt I was on the bridge between the two sides, and the bridge was falling down, and I needed to choose a side to run to, but couldn’t. If it had been a real, not metaphorical experience, I would’ve got pretty wet by now.

I had a lot of neck pain that week. In a lovely little serendipitous twist, my daily yoga session you tube lady suggested that neck pain was sometimes a sign of being unable to see more than one side of an argument (!)

At the same time the fallout from the US Presidential election has highlighted the enormous divides in the States between two competing world views. Until we put CNN on to follow the results, I hadn’t fully realised the extent of the unapologetic bias on the different US news channels.

I was struck by the unrelenting CNN bias against Trump which leaks out with snide asides, body language, tone of voice and blatant put downs which, although I happen to agree are justified, just don’t seem appropriate for a ‘News’ channel. It actually made me feel uncomfortable.

On the other side of the bridge: Fox News. Headlines this morning include how ‘the Elites want COVID-19 lockdowns to usher in a great reset and that should terrify you’ and how the Democrats’ tampering with the way votes are submitted led to large numbers of ‘dead people’ unfairly swinging the result. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it.

If you’ve ever listened to BBC news in the UK, you’ll realise how different it is here. No wonder the US is so divided. Unregulated press, financed by billion dollar interest groups, shouting at each other over the Republican/Democrat bridge.

Critique of free-market Capitalism? TICK.

And what about the white Evangelicals who support Trump, who prophesied he’d survive impeachment and go on to serve a second term?

This group contains some dangerous nutcases, for sure, but also some of those talented people who write the most popular worship songs that everyone’s singing these days, songs that refer to God as a ‘good good Father’ (I kinda like that) and remind us that it was ‘reckless love’ that made God leave the 99 and go in search of the one (kinda like that too). It seems a bit rich to condemn them in one breath and sing their songs in another.

So being on the bridge is hard. How do we stay on the bridge while still holding onto our own particular views? It has to at least involve giving others the benefit of the doubt, something I often fail to do.

Unless their views (apart from being bonkers) genuinely make you feel traumatised, in which case don’t engage, especially not over social media. Some people have been hurt by the internet, and by that I mean religious views presented forcefully as the only truth. Sometimes I’ve read these views and thought, in theory you are right, but you are right in ALL THE WRONG WAYS.

I’ve been on threads where I was the only female while other doctrinally correct males made supercilious jokes about how way off everyone else was. This has included ungenerous remarks about women in leadership and suspicion of anything attempting to be fully inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people in the church.

It’s easy to look down your nose at someone with a different view: I’ve done it so many times I should know. But I’ve also been in the room when ‘in jokes’ exclude me from the banter, and when a nice person with the ‘wrong’ theological label is portrayed as an idiot, even as in parallel rooms everybody robes for a service, egos and theological convictions rolling into one hard and sour tasting pill.

I’ve been made to feel ashamed of being evangelical and ashamed of being liberal (okay – sometimes these are my BIG issues to sort out – what is this shame?)

But I’m drawn to bridges. Not the kind where God is on one side of the chasm, and humanity is on the other, and if you don’t walk over the cross you are eternally done for (I know what this image means, but it leaves me increasingly cold, so you can either put me on the ‘right’ side or the ‘wrong’ side with regards to that one).

So it’s sometimes lonely on the bridge. It can be a bit cold and windy too. The bridge can rattle in the storm and sometimes it can even feel like it’s going to break.

But it’s also a spacious place, a place of ‘suspension’, expansion, growth.

Whatever bridge you’re spanning today, may you feel your feet firmly planted and your eyes able to see through the mist as you look from one side to the other.

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