Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Pilgrim Road Blog Photo

Friday, October 3, 2014

31 Days of Courage: The Courage to Build Bridges

In the 19th century, bridge building was deadly business.  It’s still feat of human endeavor that could blow my head off if I think too hard about it.

Of all the bridges I’ve personally experienced, the Brooklyn Bridge is my favorite.  Spanning the East River from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights, that monument to form and function was erected not only with granite and steel, but with perseverance and wild courage.

The bridge’s construction took 14 years.  In 1883 folks began crossing that marvel that engaged the sweat and muscle of 600 workers with a price tag of $15 million (more than $320 million in today’s dollars). At least two dozen people died in the process.  One of the first to lose his life on the project was the original designer, John Augustus Roebling.  Before even one steel cable came out of the box, Roebling had his foot crushed by a boat while taking compass readings along the river.  He died of tetanus 3 weeks later, leaving his son to carry on.

Immigrants did much of the dirty work of putting down a solid foundation for the bridge.  They were nicknamed Sandhogs.   In a process I don’t fully understand, but which sounds simply awful, workers excavated the riverbed in massive wooden boxes called caissons. These airtight chambers kept water out and pumped air in to enable the excavation of debris by the bridge builders.  Many died or were debilitated by way of  “Caisson’s Disease”, known in the vernacular as “the bends”.  Others perished in explosions, fires and conventional construction accidents.

So where am I going with this?

Most of us have some kind of relational brokenness in our lives.  I’d wager a stamp that that particular kind of trial is the most painful of them all, since we are at our core relational beings. 
And there’s a sort of unique fear that accompanies messed up connections with the people we love.  I can’t pinpoint what it is, but you know it if you’ve lived it.  Often times we want to make our way back to the folks who have hurt us, or we have hurt, but we fear the cost.  Bridge building can precipitate great pain as we excavate the debris of pride and unforgiveness or let down the walls that protect us from rejection in order to make a foundation for restoration.

But then, when the crossing is made, there it is:  the beauty of the bridge.  Then, life can be lived there.  Fellowship and friendship and hope can move back and forth across the hard won path made not from steel and granite, but from the courage to feel the pain and die the death for the joy that will follow.

We Smitties are Simon and Garfunkel fans, especially on long car rides.  That duo’s classic song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” never gets old for me.

When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all
I'm on your side, when times get rough
and friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down

I confess that whenever I hear Art Garfunkel’s angelic voice chanting that verse I find myself in tears. 

The One and Only, He didn’t just build a bridge, He laid down to be the bridge:

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.”  1 Peter 3:18  NLT

His great passion from the beginning was to bring us back across the chasm of separation in to the warm embrace of a good Father.  (Mysterious, but compellingly good).  He stands as the greatest bridge builder of all time, the bravest of the brave.

I continue on to grapple with the towering truth that He who was most courageous of all cheers us on in our puny efforts to be brave.

 There’s a letter I have to write again…it’s another pylon for a bridge I’ve hoped to build for years, without much success.  It’s just this…that even if the person we’re trying to reach on the other side doesn’t build back, we cannot lose.  The very effort to reach the bedrock, to stretch the cable, to remove the obstacle, makes us more what we were created to be: loving, relational beings with a destiny and a future hope that no deep river can constrain.  But it will cost us.

I can’t tell you how many times I have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in the car, on foot, and best of all, on my bicycle.  That highway of alliance, commerce, recreation and interaction has benefited millions of people since it was completed in 1883.  I’m so grateful for the courageous folks who struggled, some to the point of death to provide that crossing.

How much more ought we to have the courage to build bridges that mend, heal and deliver.

Your Sandhog friend on the pilgrim road,


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