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Of bridges and neighbors

When I first learned that ‘pontifex’, Pope Francis’ Twitter account, is Latin for ‘bridge builder’, I was entirely delighted. “How wonderful”, I thought, “that our institution sees the value in a Pope who builds bridges between the Church and the rest of humanity.”

When I look at myself with kind eyes, I dare to see the ways in which I myself help build these bridges. As a queer facilitator, I’m part of the leadership team at Vine & Fig, a community for affirming LGBTQIA+ Catholics. When it comes to the bridge between us and the rest of the world, I focus most of my efforts on building not the bridge’s deck but its foundation. The part that contains the strong back and self love required to even begin thinking about making it to the deck, which is where all the difficult dialogues happen. You know, the ones about whether or not we’re inherently disordered and whether we should ever experience physical intimacy.

This image of a bridge stretching from the feet of one group to another fits in beautifully with my theology. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, the rest is commentary.

My fantasy of pontifical bridges stretching from one people to the next was quite short-lived. “It’s a bridge between mankind and God, babe, not Catholics and everybody else”, my partner mumbled. An anti-clerical lesbian raised on the feminism of her Jewish hippie mom, she doesn’t own a pair of rosy glasses polished by my warm memories of Christmas-time pews overflowing with chilly bodies in warm coats. The Church does not invoke tender feelings of heritage for her. Wikipedia told me she was right about where that bridge leads.

While our Pope is our bridge, he is also a model. He reminds us, simply by showing up, that we must strive for a connection with God; one that will help us believe the correct thing and do what is righteous, so that we will not be forgotten when the time comes. We dream, for ourselves and for our neighbors, of bridges, thick as concrete, paved smoothly with whatever pleases the Lord as well as our abstinence from sin. We have that light, and by God, we will bring salvation to the ends of the Earth.

Today, as we read Romans 10, which is to say Paul’s conversion strategy for the Jews and Gentiles, we get to meditate on that light, and how beautiful it is that we can share it with our neighbors. In the days of the men who wrote what we’ve come to know as the Pauline Epistles, the act of embracing Gentiles and Jews alike in the image of Christ must have been such a beautiful, tender aspiration. Today, however, their words evoke something different altogether. They remind me that those of us who don’t think the Epistle to the Romans should come with a trigger warning, simply haven’t spent enough time with actual Jews. Or really any person who has felt the foot of the Church on their own foot.

See, there’s a thing us Christians are primed to overlook when we engage with the world, filled with the warmth of Jesus: we are taught to long for that strong spiritual connection with The Above so fervently, that we often do it at the expense of whoever else is with us in The Below. Why do so many of our bridges lean on the backs of others?

Tell the Jews the Messiah has already come and how they’re missing out. Make sure you make ‘em really feel it. Take their book and forget it was ever even theirs. Don’t vaccinate. Don’t gay. Choose purity culture over an actual human’s life, choose a pastor over a child. Choose a child over a woman, choose one color over the others. Go to Africa and do things so that you feel charitable. Go anywhere but home to help your neighbor.

As we welcome the Season of Advent — and truly, I hope it will fill our sore hearts with anticipation and longing — I want to begin reimagining the bridge between myself and God. May it be paved with whatever pleases Her as well as my abstinence from sin. May it remind me that I am allowed a seat at the table, and that this table is one to share. May my bridge be made up of all the bridges I build between myself and my neighbors, so that we may travel between this island and another.

This Scripture reflection originally appeared as part of the Advent project by Call To Action USA.