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Many more bridges to build

Two brothers, living on adjoining farms, fell into conflict. In forty years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, providing mutual support and assistance whenever needed, it is their first rift. But it doesn’t take much, does it? A conflict that begins with a small misunderstanding can grow into a major fracture. Weeks (spilling into months) of hostile silence follow the exchange of bitter and spiteful words between the brothers.
One morning there is a knock on the older brother’s door. Opening the door, the older brother encounters a man with a carpenter’s toolbox, eager to do odd jobs around the farm. After thinking for a quick moment, the brother says, “Yes, I do have a job for you.” Pointing toward the creek separating the two farms, the elder brother says, “Last week there was a meadow between our two farms until my brother bulldozed his way to the river levee, leaving this creek to divide our land. I want to go him one better. I want you to build an eight-foot fence between our properties. I won’t need to see him or his farm anymore.”
The carpenter responds, “I think I understand the situation. Provide me the wood, the nails and a post-hole digger, and I’ll get started.” The older brother has errands, so after readying the supplies, he leaves for the day. All day, the carpenter measures, saws, planes and builds. At just about sunset, the farmer returns home to see the carpenter completing his task.
The farmer’s jaw drops, for the carpenter has not built a fence at all. Instead, he has created a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other. It is a fine piece of work, complete with handrails, but not at all what the older brother had asked for. Imagine the older brother’s surprise when he sees his younger brother standing on the bridge, his hands outstretched as he says, “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done. I’m amazed. Thank you.” The two brothers meet one another in the middle, embracing in a spirit of reconciliation.
Turning, they see the carpenter hoisting his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait!” says the older brother. “I have many other projects for you.” 
“I’d be glad to stay,” the carpenter responds, “but I have many more bridges to build.”

This story always does my heart good. I love telling it. Over the years, in homilies, workshops, and Sabbath Moment. And every time, I am invited to embrace the permission and the gift of being a carpenter.
But of late, I confess that I’ve carried a heavy spirit. Sometimes feeling hope slip away. And then my skepticism about bridge building wins out. That’s not fun to say out loud, because I thought I was made of stronger stuff. But a world of anger and acrimony takes a toll. And I take too much of it personally.
So. This morning I had a good long conversation with the geese about bridges. They never ask how long the homily will last, and that lifts my spirits. As I tell them the story, it seems more relevant than ever. And I remember, I’m in awe of bridge builders. All ages, shapes, sizes and persuasions.

Okay. Back to the story. Here’s the deal: We see what we want to see. So; what is in us that sees only a fence (or a wall) instead of a bridge? Is it that we need to guard or clutch or protect something?
I am sure that there is something about a fence that makes us feel secure; as if we are in control. And in an uncertain and precarious world, even perceived control in some way feels like an anchor.
Charlie Brown and Lucy are leaning against a wall.
“If I were in charge of the world, I’d change everything!” Lucy says.
“That would not be easy… where would you start?” Charlie Brown asks.
“I’d start with you!” Lucy tells him.
You go, girl.
This I do know: with walls we live from a place of fear.
Fear from a self that is made too small.
And the next thing you know, we project this smallness on to others.
This smallness becomes an impediment. You name it; distrust, prejudice, small-mindedness, bullying, intolerance.
What does it take to build a bridge where there is none?

This week I savored Naomi Shihab Nye’s new book of poetry, Everything Comes Next. This excerpt from the poem, Red Brocade (the entire poem below).
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Bridges are real. Bridges connect us. Bridges built on reverence for life, dignity, sanctuary, restoration and healing.
I let go of my need to build any wall that would wound, hurt, damage or threaten. My heart needs to hear that. Our hearts need to hear that.
To the God of grace and mercy.
To stories of hope.
To the healing balm of laughter.
To our inner child.
To wonder and the gift of awe and beauty and simplicity and gentle pleasures.
To safety and sanctuary and rest and renewal.
To clarity and openness and forgiveness and willingness to change, learn.
To the healing cleansing power of “I’m sorry”.

Speaking of bridges; Bridge walker and bridge builder, John Lewis is one of my heroes. And this week I’m reading, His Truth Is Marching On, Jon Meacham’s book about Lewis.
When I think of the divides in our world, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, and I say, “I’ll leave that to someone more gifted or suited or capable.” Because we forget: bridgebuilding is what we all do. Imitating a carpenter who lived and showed us the way, 2000 years ago.
Inside of us, each one of us carries that carpenter’s tools.
Each one of us can dismantle the message of shame or disgrace or humiliation.
Each one of us can become an enlightened witness.
Each one of us can tell others the truth, which is our truth… meaning that we return people to themselves and to the truth of themselves, that we are–in fact–brothers (and sisters).

This week, Nanci Griffith, singer and song writer, died too young. Her version of From a Distance is in the video below.
And it is late summer, which means the exquisite bliss of sweet corn. As Garrison Keillor tells it, “sweet corn could tell you more than a sermon ever could about how much God loves you.”
A raise of my glass to all bridge-builders and light-spillers.

Quote for your week…
Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.  H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


Today’s Photo Credit: “Sunset over Carr Inlet, from Wollochet, WA, August 9, 2021. Visiting the Kitsap Peninsula and surrounding areas over a five-week period. Beautiful area, which you know,” Kevin Barry… Thank you Kevin…  Keep sending your photos… send to [email protected]
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Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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In the mailbag…
–Terry, Thank you and Anastasia for your help. My wife is back online with SM… It’s nice to have you at the breakfast table with us again! Robert
–Thank you for this message today. My husband and I just returned from a camping trip of visiting old friends and family, 5,000 miles to the announcement of mask mandate and tightened regulations because of Covid here in Durham, NC. It felt like prison. Your story opened me to my ability to find internal keys to open this cage. So timely, Bonnie

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To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. Stephen Covey

Red Brocade
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
Naomi Shihab Nye (Everything Comes Next)

Prayer cannot bring water to parched land, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.
In this spirit, let us pray:
For health and healing,
for labor and rest,
for the ever-renewed beauty of earth and sky,
for thoughts of truth and justice which stir us from our ease and move us to acts of goodness,
and for the contemplation of life which fills us with hope that what is good and lovely cannot perish.
The New Union Prayer Book    

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