How Many Bridges? – Chris Green

I was a foreigner in a foreign city but somehow I found myself sitting across the table from the mayor. On one side was a spokesman for the Moroccan mosque and on the other was the pastor of the liberal Protestant church. It was the bi-annual gathering of religious leaders in our city in the Netherlands and I had rarely been so curious.  What would they talk about? What would the reformed pastor say to the catholic priest? Had the Muslim gentleman heard how youth from the streets were coming to our youth center and finding Jesus? Aside from politics, is there any other topic more sensitive in Western culture than religion?


On the wall behind us in this city hall conference room hung a large, painted canvas. Inscribed on that canvas were these words, written in Dutch but roughly translated,


“Nothing in the world is true; nothing good or bad.”


When one political leader in that meeting told us that “religion is like a pair of glasses – sometimes you need to take them off in order to see the world around you,” it occurred to me that this particular conference room had not been chosen to host our meeting by coincidence.


Here, at this gathering of religious leaders, common ground was being created for us; ground whose boundaries had been marked out by the neutralizing statement that hung imposingly on the wall behind us. Reading between the lines of such a statement is the only way to unmask it.


“Truth is what you make it. Here gather those who can set aside and rise above the truth they claim in order to accomplish something great together.”


As I listened to these well-intentioned men and women discuss the issues confronting their city, I was distracted by the unseen drama unfolding before me. Two questions made revolutions in my mind as I drifted in and out of the conversation happening around the table:


Must we forsake who we are and what we believe in order be decent and loving toward one another? What good is common ground if we have all forgotten who we are by the time we get there?


Insecurity, fear, elitism or just plain hate forces another to deny those things they cherish in order to be valued and accepted. Sameness should never be a prerequisite for loving, human interaction. We believe that worth has been inscribed into the fabric of our humanity – that of the sinner, saint, conservative, liberal, Muslim, secularist, Christian and everyone in between.


Must we debase and bury ourselves in order to find each other? No. In fact, I believe that our Christian faith uniquely enables us to build bridges where others would dig graves. No matter who it is or what their political, religious or other beliefs might be, we can embrace and honor the image of God in everyone and give them the respect that one loved by the Most High God deserves. Echoing Paul we can say, “what we are is plain to God and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” and in so doing even attempt to “persuade others”  (2 Cor. 5:11).  But that need not come at the cost of abiding by the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).


Debasement, denial or even tolerance cannot build any bridge strong enough to walk upon. Only a love that embraces people where they are can build a bridge that strong and only those who dare to cross it can be of any help to those on the other side.