I remember watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail and hearing a group of men arguing about how to tell whether a peasant woman they had captured was a witch, a scene mocking the many witch-hunt trials of old England. Part of the conversation goes like this:
Sir Vladimir: So, why do witches burn?
Peasant: Cuz they’re made of… wood?
Sir Vladimir: Gooood.
(crowd cheers on the Peasant)
Sir Vladimir: So, how do we tell if she is made of wood?
Another Peasant: Build a bridge out of her!
Monty Python’s works intend to communicate deep truths about humanity, society, and religion, through humor. Sir Vladimir goes on to say, “Ahh, but can you not also make bridges out of stone?,” thus continuing the joke, but my mind goes in a different direction.
In a different way than Monty Python was thinking, we can build bridges out of people, especially people who are just inside the outer fringes of society. My mind goes to the many layers of disconnect, presented by Monty Python, between the peasants and the rulers of the fiefdom. This lady they captured and accused of being a witch could have connected them with people who believed differently than the dominant ones. She could have been a bridge.
This idea applies also to every area of our lives. We see differences between ourselves and others, and usually, we think we are doing well when we are nearby to “the other” in a peaceful way. We may be present with “the other” at a feeding program, a parent-teacher-student organization meeting, or a town parade. And so often, we congratulate ourselves, thinking that the programs that seemed to bring us together were somehow bridges.
People exist as bridges. People, not programs. Programs are building materials, but they are not bridges. In order for the Church, which is made up entirely of people, to be attractive to secular society, the people of each congregation must be bridges between the Church and the world.
Here is what automatically happens:
We join a program and become extensions of that program. If we are handing out food, we do so with mechanical movements. If we are hosting a program at our Church campus, we open the door and allow people to come in, robotically. Those things are good, but we have not made any human connection. The people involved in the programs are unlikely to remember any of the people they connected with.
If we are to be bridge builders, we must make small movements outside of the programs, like people reaching their arms outside of a trolley cart, inviting people to come along for the ride. We make small gestures, like saying, “I noticed you were crying when I walked up. May I hold your hand and say a prayer with you?” Or perhaps we make brave invitations like, “I remember your husband died around this time last year, leaving you alone. Would you like to join my family for Christmas dinner, so you won’t be alone?” Or even something as small as, “I heard you say that you were looking for a group to fit in. Could I give you a ride to our Christmas Eve service next week?” And in all of this, we are not trying to grow our club, but simply to offer the love and support that we have found within the Body of Christ, the Church.
The act of bridge-building starts out subtle, like planting seeds, but in the long-run it takes a lot of energy. I have been using the phrase “bridge building,” because it is the language that Pope Francis used in the book I am reading. However, I think it is just one way of talking about a larger mission – a Commission, actually.
As followers of Jesus, we ought have no choice except to get out of our comfort zones, no option except to connect the heart of God to other people, no method except to do it as a non-coercive invitation, and no scheme except to highlight the attractiveness of God’s love in our lives.
The Church so often forgets small truths like this. We have a lot of work to do, and we see the Church’s struggle and demise. We may see the demise of the way of doing things, but I don’t think we have to see the demise of our Tradition. If something has to die, I pray that the programmatic Christianity – that moves people like mechanisms and religion like a robot – would die out in favor of reviving Believers to be bridges.
If you are part of a program in your Church, I invite you to do something out of the ordinary, next time you are in it. But don’t just be unordinary, for weirdness’ sake. Change up your routine in a way that connects your heart to the heart of the people you encounter. And if you don’t know how to do that, ask them if you can hold their hand and pray for them. When you look down at your arm and hand connecting to theirs, and when your ears listen to your words going to their ears, you will be witnessing a multi-faceted bridge, or at least the first piece of one being built.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, who embodied bridge-building, between us and Heaven’s hope, please embody our attempts to touch our lives to the lives of other people, in a way that goes deeper than the surface on which we are used to living. Help us to seek a depth of relationship that connects our hearts and hopes to the hearts and hopes of other humans, knowing that you are with us. Amen.