Monday, March 21, 2016

Walls and Bridges and Doors...Oh My...

Recently I have seen quite a bit of talk about how we need to “build bridges, not walls.” I don’t know the exact origin of this quote or line of thinking but it seems to go back in history much longer than those who are currently fond of using it may imagine.

I do know Pope Francis has been using the imagery of walls and bridges for a while now, in various contexts. I happen to like Pope Francis…very much. Plus, he’s the Pope. So there’s that. But just to be clear, the Pope doesn’t always use this imagery in the “either/or” fashion that many people do.

For example, in February when discussing the USAmerican presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, Pope Francis said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel.” I couldn’t agree more. Trump responded with something about the Vatican having an “awfully big wall” itself, to which some Catholic priests replied that “Vatican city also has an awfully big door” (for more, see this article at CNN).  

Ah…the third element that we always seem to miss…if you are going to have a place to call home, you necessarily have to have walls…but you also necessarily have to have doors…preferably lots of them, and preferably really big ones…or else you cannot welcome anyone else in…nor can you go out to welcome people, yourself. You are trapped, and others are marginalized. That’s a lose-lose scenario.

Of course, Pope Francis hasn’t just said these things in a political context, and I am not intending for this to be a political post. Nearly three years ago Pope Francis, commenting on the Apostle Paul in Athens, put it this way: "He doesn't say: 'Idolaters, go to hell! This is the attitude of Paul in Athens: Build a bridge to their heart, in order then to take another step and announce Jesus Christ.” Again, I very much agree.

But then Pope Francis said something else that sheds additional light on the idea of “building bridges”:

"When the church loses this apostolic courage, it becomes a stalled church, a tidy church, nice, very nice, but without fertility, because it has lost the courage to go to the peripheries, where there are so many victims of idolatry, of worldliness, of weak thinking” (emphasis mine).

“Build bridges, not walls” – it’s not a bad metaphor – but the trouble is when people do talk about building bridges, it typically involves building a one-way bridge designed to bring the proverbial “them” to the proverbial “us”. Which isn’t bad (it is better than a ‘wall only’ with no bridges…or doors…at all). But it’s not missional. It’s not a “go and be” posture. It has the appearance of it – we build a bridge “into” other people’s lives – but then we stand at “our” end of the bridge and shout across the gap, “come on over!” This is still not the fullness of what Jesus calls us to do – the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to do as the first disciples did, to leave everything and follow him (Mark 10:28, Luke 5:11, etc).

“Leaving” is part and parcel of “following.” How can you follow where Jesus is going if you stay put where you are? If you build a one-way bridge that only comes to you but doesn't go to others?

There is a “classic” illustration that has been used in Western-American Christianity of the cross being a “bridge” over a “gap” so that people can cross over the gap, on the bridge of the cross, to get to Jesus. I’m just going to say it: That illustration gets it wrong. We don’t have to “get to Jesus.” Jesus comes to us. And he doesn’t use a one-way bridge to do it. God becomes incarnate in and through Jesus, both coming to us and returning to the Father…and then coming to us again. It’s a two-way bridge that, when both ways are fully embraced, creates a third way of being – not either/or, but both/and.

The two-way bridge, the life of Christ, shows us that we need to go to the least of these. Not just as visitors, but to become one of the least of these, ourselves – to become incarnate as the least of these the way Jesus became incarnate as one of us, as human, as the least of these. And perhaps to our surprise (though it shouldn’t be), when we do go to the other side, to the margins, to the edges, to the periphery, and we quite literally extend our home to those places – we find something spectacular:

God is there, too.

I want to be where God is. Home is where Jesus is. And if that is everywhere, with the least of these…then I need to go and be everywhere, at home, with the least of these, as one of them…

There is a third way – one of two-way bridges, really big doors, and even some necessary walls - if we dare to leave everything and follow Jesus, making our home with him, with the least of these.

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