The Joyful Journey

In his November blog, Bishop David Bard reflects on the value of the work of bridge-building.

I have now spent more time in Michigan than at any other time in my life. This is hardly surprising, though I have been here before.

When I was a boy, my family took a trip around Lake Superior, and detoured into the Lower Peninsula, visiting Mackinac Island and Frankenmuth. We used to watch 8 mm films of our family bicycling around the island and of my sister dancing along with Bavarian dancers in the Frankenmuth town square. When my own children were younger, Julie and I brought them to Mackinac Island, and my family also bicycled around the island. Just a few years ago, as part of our summer vacation, Julie, our youngest daughter Sarah and I included a few days in Michigan traveling back from visiting our older daughter, Beth, in Rochester, New York. We visited the Henry Ford. We spent a couple of days in the Keweenaw Peninsula where we heard a waitress explaining pasties to a dinner guest at a nearby table. The waitress not only described the pasties, but spoke authoritatively about how they were to be eaten with ketchup, and not gravy. Gravy people were definitely out-of-towners. Having been a pastor on Minnesota’s Iron Range, and having a great aunt who owned a bakery on the Vermillion Iron Range, I was very familiar with pasties, but admit to being ignorant of the Keweenaw ketchup tradition. Michiganders know pasties.

Michiganders also know something about bridge building. Throughout all my visits, and in my recent travels, I never get over the quiet excitement I feel when driving over the Mackinac Bridge. I love being suspended between two beautiful great lakes. I marvel at the engineering feat that is the Mighty Mac. The dream to connect the peninsulas of Michigan by way of a bridge burned particularly intensely in the imaginations of Michiganders following the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. (By the way, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in 2014, and look forward to walking across the Mackinac Bridge some Labor Day weekend in the future.) It took until 1957 for the dream of a bridge over the Straits of Mackinac to be realized. It is a splendid accomplishment.

So Michiganders know bridge-building and I hope we Michigan United Methodists can build some needed bridges in the name and Spirit of Jesus. Yes, Jesus walked on water, but he also built bridges – reaching out to persons with good news of God’s love, welcoming all, particularly those who society saw as marginal, yet also extending welcome to the well-off. I invite, encourage and even challenge us to bridge-building work.

“So Michiganders know bridge-building and I hope we Michigan United Methodists can build some needed bridges in the name and Spirit of Jesus.”

Bridges need to be built in our nation to heal our wounds and bind our divisions. We have an election on the horizon and I encourage each of you to go to the polls and vote. Vote with Christian principles in mind – justice, freedom, peace, concern for those on the margins, deep hospitality. Vote with biblical stories echoing in your heart – the heroic Samaritan, the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman, the strong words of the prophets.

Yet when the voting is done, and the office holders are elected, remember that the real work begins, and much of that work is bridge-building work. This election has brought many of the divides in our country to light in painful ways.  We are still marked as a country by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, and of the marginalization of native peoples. Some people are troubled by the phrase, “Black Lives Matter,” preferring something such as “All Lives Matter.” All lives do matter.  They matter to God, they matter to the community. The reality, however, is that in the history of this society, black lives have mattered less, and we have not yet overcome that legacy. There is bridge-building to be done in the name and Spirit of Jesus.

There are other divides. Economic disparities are tearing at the fabric of our common life. Religious differences are being used as a wedge between people. I was deeply disturbed the other day by a story on National Public Radio about some churches in rural Minnesota inviting in anti-Muslim speakers who paint Muslims with a broad brush of violence and terror. Terroristic acts are being committed in the world today by persons in the name of Islam. Yet Muslims have been part of our nation since its inception, and the vast majority of the followers of Islam desire to live peacefully with their neighbors. We need to build some bridges in the name and Spirit of Jesus.

In our own United Methodist Church, we are in need of some good bridge-building. Just recently the names of the members of the Council of Bishops Commission on a Way Forward were announced.  Some have already written off the work of this group. I hope you will take a different tack. Please pray for this commission and its work, as I have been doing every day. It is not a perfect group, there is no such thing. It has a challenging task, and it will not be working in isolation. Michigan United Methodists, and United Methodists from around the world, will have opportunities for their own conversations about LGBT inclusion and church unity, and those conversations will be fed into the commission. Please, then, also pray for The United Methodist Church in Michigan. We are not of one mind. Might we be able to build bridges to find a common heart? In the midst of all of this, let’s keep finding ways to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and that transformative work includes our own hearts and lives.

“I want to encourage us to build bridges from church to community. At our best as churches we will have a vibrant inner life and caring connections into the community.”

There are often times within our own churches that there is bridge-building work needed. Some congregations carry wounds and scars from old controversies that still peek through, and are sometimes more readily observed by new persons coming into the community than by us. As human beings, even human beings touched by the love of God in Jesus, we wound one another from time to time.  Can we work to build bridges called “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”? When we don’t, and our unresolved conflicts show through, we are less likely to attract new persons.

Finally, I want to encourage us to build bridges from church to community. At our best as churches we will have a vibrant inner life and caring connections into the community. We will find ways to share God’s love in Jesus through bread, and through the bread of compassion, through shared work for justice and the sharing of life stories that invite others into a new or deeper faith.

Michiganders know bridge-building. My hope and prayer is that we Michigan United Methodists will be wonderfully adept at building needed social, psychological and spiritual bridges over and through the turbulent waters of our lives and of our world, all in the name and Spirit of Jesus.

In addition to being election season, Thanksgiving season is just around the corner. I want to take a moment to share some thanks.  I am thankful for God’s love in Jesus. I am thankful for my family who have helped me know and grow in that love. I am thankful for small graces which touch my life with beauty and joy. I am thankful for all of you, thankful to be with you on this joyful journey.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop David Bard