Sunday, July 13, 2014

Building Bridges Of Love

The Summer conference Building Bridges of Love continued on Saturday and closed today with an exhilarating communion worship service exalting our Lord and Savior Jesus.

I blogged the Friday plenary presentation as my way of taking notes! Diverse activities (drawing, cutting, pasting, crafts, visualizing, observing), presentations, meditations from Scripture and original poetry, and songs, used the engineering/construction metaphor in five different sessions. The titles were: 1) Leveling the Ground; 2) Laying the Foundation; 3) Placing the Support Beams; 4)  Securing the Planks; and 5) Walking the Bridge.

Cheryl Raine and Beth Patton took turns leading the plenary presentations and activities. Cheryl, in fact, was the author of the two meditative poems: Walls; Beauty in Everyone. I have already written and shared their first two presentations previously, writing and posting them while those sessions were still going on; I described  the activities we completed after the Biblical story of Sarah and Hagar, not models for building bridges of love. Now, I summarize the first two and complete the remaining three plenary presentations.

I. Leveling the Ground
Scripture: Genesis (various chapters, 12, 16, etc.)
This is how we begin to level the ground. Scripture - Genesis - Creator and Creation - tells us we are all created in God's image. Ish = man; ishah = woman. Historically, woman, through Eve has been blamed for original sin and in pop culture portrayed as temptress. How do we see God in everybody? In man and woman? Not just those who look like us?

II. Laying the Foundation
Scripture: Genesis 1 and 2; Romans 12: 9 - 21
Reformation theology (e.g. Calvin) warns us about our two human tendencies to idolatry and tyranny. Bridge building, thus, requires a continual placing of our lives before God, welcoming the Spirit's presence to recalibrate our lives. To know God is to let God live in us. When the Spirit is in us and working in us we can reflect God. (Paraphrased quote from L'Arche founder Jean Vanier). 
Sarah and Hagar, both of whom were blessed by God and matriarchs of different nations of Abraham, are not good models for building bridges of love. Sarah tradition is part of the Genesis matriarchs and familiar to most of us. Hagar is less familiar sometimes; she is the first woman in the Bible to name God, El Roi - God of Seeing.

III. Placing the Support Beams
The challenge to building bridges of love is that we're indelibly shaped by the culture, norms, behaviors, values and judgments into which we're born. Often, quite unconsciously we think this way quite unintentionally:
My worldview = the only valid reality
My values and behavior = what is normal and right
My world view = the determination of right/wrong in relation to the 'other'
The challenge, in other words, is how do we deal with difference. Here's what often happens when we encounter differences.  

Stage one is denial; people are people and differences don't matter, don't exist or are unreal.

Stage two is defense; one way we do this is by putting the difference or 'others' down. The 'other' is inferior; the dominant culture or dominant person is the best, the one who wins. In this stage two, we speak about the 'other' from our worldview and make judgments.

Stage three is minimization. We trivialize the difference and the 'other.' When 'others' don't play by our rules conflict ensues.Relationships become a challenge and in church situations it plays out like this: we're all children of God and we're all equal before God, and so let's do 'mission' (to to a foreign country and serve complete outsiders). We don't welcome the uniqueness of the 'other' who is on our own neighborhood or community. We encourage them to be like us, to forego their uniqueness.

These first three stages are negative because they are only paying lip service to the foundational idea in Scripture that all humankind is created in the image of God. We are all children of God and equally loved by him.

Stage four is acceptance. We accept the possibility of another value system and behavioral norms. Still, there is no willingness to adopt the uniqueness of the other and value it as a useful way of seeing the world.

V. Securing the Planks
In order for to build bridges of love we have to understand and know ourselves very well. We also have to work with others. Thus, these stages aren't linear. Often, we move between the stages. Cultivating openness to one another (especially the 'other' helps to build bridges. Am I putting a stake in the ground and saying my way or the highway or are we open to the other? 

There are two final stages. Stage Five is adaptation. We adjust our behavior to the 'other.' We understand the potential power differences and we adjust our own behavior. For example, concepts about time are different in cultures. When a westerner is invited to a Vietnamese dinner at 7 pm, one can have a snack before showing up at 7 because in Vietnamese culture dinner will probably not be served until 9 pm. The best way to learn about these kind of cultural differences is to ask questions openly and gently. For example:
She: Please join us for a dinner at 7 pm. Sat. Me: Thank you. I'd like that. When do you expect to eat dinner? 

Stage Six is integration. If we live as fully integrated people who fit in easily in any culture and diverse situations, always building bridges, we will also experience loneliness. We will no longer fit fully into our own culture because we have integrated 'others.'

V. Walking the Bridge of Love
This happens when we are very clear about understanding our own selves, and see how we're making judgments about 'others.' We have to know our own values and priorities and be always turned, our full to attention to God. Diversity is God's design. Building bridges of love lies in the tension between our need to be unique (differentiation) and our need to be community (integration). How we, disciples of Jesus, hold that tension will define us. We value the dignity and beauty of everyone as Jesus grows more and more in us.

Throughout the Bible women have played an important role in God's revelation and plan for humankind. Sarah, the wife of Abraham was the mother of the people of Israel. Hagar, whose son Ishmael was also fathered by Abraham, was the mother of the Arabs. Sarah and Hagar did not build of bridges of love between one another even though both of them had common experiences of being strangers in a foreign land. Generations later, Miriam, Jochabed, and Pharoah's daughter, on the other hand, joined across cultural and socioeconomic lines to save the baby Moses. Jesus, of course, was the ultimate bridge-builder of love.

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