“I snap back into frame.
I am good at bending and stretching without breaking,
For I am a bridge that connects places that are uncomfortable with one another,
A bridge that says we won’t treat disadvantaged kids as the other,
To be conquered with policies that see us simply as statistics.” ~Travis Reginal
Travis Reginal spoke #truth when he wrote an essay in Education Life about his journey from Jackson, Mississippi to Yale as a first generation student. Being a bridge that connects places or people is uncomfortable, and often inconvenient, yet we are called to this type of connection.
While the metaphor sounds lovely—connecting one group to another, or picturing a romantic covered bridge—think about the use of a bridge. Bridges are walked on and driven over. Bridges are required to support the heavy weight of that which crosses over them. My friend Dannemart knows this only too well. As a Haitian-American she feels the burden of being a bridge within a homogeneously white educational community. She has helped me process my own biases and blind spots in a way that is safe for me, but usually at a cost to her as she processes her own feelings listening to mine. I am #grateful for her sacrifice and willingness to help me re-connect.
We live in a very polarizing time in history in our country. We have lost the ability to discuss things, like politics or race relations, civilly. What if instead of just espousing our views on Facebook trying to convince others that our viewpoint is the correct one, we engaged in dialog and sought to understand?
I’ve witnessed on Facebook and in person people trying to convict, convert, and convince those of the LGBTQ community. It isn’t our job to do that. We are called to love our neighbor, and love looks like something, but it doesn’t look like condemnation. I think love looks like being a bridge.
I love my friend Maricela, despite our differences on politics. I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t just talk about the need for immigration reform, but is determined to make a difference for others. As one who escaped with her mother and siblings from a life of violence to a migrant community, she knows only too well the plight of those she serves. She doesn’t just talk about her convictions, she lives them.
So when she invited me to the grand opening celebration of the Esperanza Community Center I came, and I donated. Why? Because being a bridge connects between two places that may be uncomfortable and disagree. I may not share her views on immigration, but I do share her passion for wanting to help people and love my neighbor, as we are commanded to do by the red letters. When she sees Mexicans, Guatemalans, Costa Ricans. . .sitting on the side of the road hoping to earn a day’s wages—she sees human beings. What do you see?
Her center provides health education, literacy training, occupational training. For weeks she canvassed the streets of Northwood asking the people what they needed. She made appointments with government officials. All of this in the margins of her life, and outside of her full time employment. She is a bridge.
How to be a bridge
How can we be a bridge? Dr. Brené Brown offers this: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Look around you and your world. Who is missing? When we attend our events and you look around the room, it isn’t just about who is in the room, but who is missed when they aren’t there. Being seen by others includes being missed when they don’t show up or aren’t invited.
Here’s a quick challenge: go to your Instagram or your images photos file on your phone—how many pictures do you have to scroll through until you find someone who is a different color than you? A different political party? Identifies their sexuality differently than you?
You don’t need to agree; but they need to be seen.
Before quoting facts and statistics or offering opinions and advice, try just listening. Actually listen to their pain or fear.
Courtney was visibly upset. Another incident where a young black male was shot and killed. She didn’t know him, but she knew him—to her that could have been her brother. Another friend recounted how he taught his sons that when pulled over by the police to slowly put their hands on the steering wheel and not to reach for anything. My father never had to teach me that. Did yours? Recounting facts, quoting statistics, don’t take away the fear, justify the pain, or rectify the issues. Love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and love looks like something—often like listening.
Our culture with its instant tweets has lost the art of lamenting with others. We are good at rejoicing with those who rejoice, however, we are also called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Three years ago this month my friend Maricela tragically lost her sister. As mourners came to greet her some offered advice, “you need to eat, you are getting too thin,” or “time will heal”. I simply hugged her for an uncomfortably long time, and then said, “I don’t have words that will make things better, but I can sit with you in silence.” She still remembers that kindness.
You aren’t a savior, but Jesus is. We are called to love others as Christ loves us.
Valuing others means seeing them as people, not projects. Bob Goff, author of Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, puts it like this, “I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them. . .most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.”
People aren’t stray cats that we take in, but humans that we care for because love compels us to. Valuing others despite their political preferences might look like connecting with them, not convincing them or converting them to yours. It’s our role to love and value others, and God’s role to work out the rest.
In a divisive climate, how can we move toward one another (rather than repel one another) and be open in dialog even if we disagree? Can we connect well with others while still being authentically who we are? Are you willing to be a bridge? To have the difficult conversations? Face your own bias and blind spots? To listen instead of just espousing your views? Are you willing to be stepped upon, not as a co-dependent doormat, but as a bridge connecting people?
Being a bridge can be painful and burdensome, but we need more bridges. Are you willing to be a bridge, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ?” (Galatians 6:2)