Editor’s Note: Are you looking for something to read that will make you feel better, instead of worse? Are you a non-believer open to feeling better about believers or a believer who is open to learning more about non-believers? Are you anyone who wants to appreciate the people around you and the world we all share? If so, there’s a book for you and here’s a good review of it. /Linda LaScola, Editor
By Alexis Record
Sometimes it is easier to write ten thousand pages than ten. Like a multitude of lattices holding up a large structure, a multitude of words shares the support of a heavy topic. Pith, however, takes much more concentrated effort. This is how I see Chris Highland’s words—carefully chosen and powerful.
Broken Bridges: Building Community in a World Divided by Beliefs by Chris Highland is the latest in a series of books by the same former minister, interfaith chaplain, teacher, and community leader. Bridges describe relational work. We rebuild them, cross them shaking, or we burn them in tears. Although bridges appear in the title, ultimately this book is about the human beings on the other side of the divide. Highland values people and reaches for ways to connect with them musically, conversationally, and organizationally.
Like Highland, I am also a leader in a radically inclusive community; I’m also married to a Christian; and I also support unsheltered people downtown. I think the term is “preaching to the choir.” Yet even so, I finished this read not only lighter and more focused on community work, but also challenged.
While so much of Broken Bridges is uplifting and encouraging, there is also a clear call to difficult adaptation. Those on both sides of belief must have the wisdom to know when to change those inaccessible things about ourselves that divide us rather than call us to harmonious cooperation. Wearing symbols of our identity is often healthy and good, for example, but when does it cross the line into tribalism? Highland gives a story of sharing his background of leaving ministry and becoming a freethinker with an elderly clergyman, and the conversation was lesser for it. Did someone stop halfway across that bridge? I remember getting the compliment of “Cool! Avengers!” to my earrings with the red A on them and having to explain to my Christian friend that it actually stood for atheist. My identity was not news to her, but I did glance at where her cross necklace would have fallen just above her clavicle and noticed it clearly absent on this visit to my home. I could not help but think that of the two of us, I was ostensibly the discourteous one.
There are multiple examples of religions being horribly divisive, yet people like me who say, “religion is bad” need these reminders that religion is also human. I know people who would not seek out others enduring hard times without those bits of shared cultural or spiritual trappings—not for a lack of empathy, but for a lack of structure. Praying together is ordered, gathering to a drumbeat lends focus, and kissing an icon or making a cross-shaped hand gesture are directed actions that someone like me who never knows what to do with her hands can appreciate. At the same time, do these traditions welcome unbelievers? In his interfaith work, there was an emphasis on sharing multiple religious traditions while not upholding one over the others. In this way, the community moved from competitive, past comparative, to cooperative.
If there is nothing the angels or saints can do that we cannot, then why not join them? Not in their supernatural beliefs, but in the good work of community, harm reduction, assuaging hurt, feeding hungry bellies, and alleviating loneliness. One biblical writer said that pure and acceptable religion is looking after the vulnerable in their distress. For those of us called “holy” for charity efforts, we might reject the term, but recognize the shared values. Like being special, if every good work is godly, then none of it is. In this way, it is accessible to anyone. Perhaps the answer is shedding those things that make connection with other humans harder and working together towards the goodness we share.
**Editor’s Question** What “interfaith” work have you done or would you be open to doing?
Bio: Alexis Record is a feminist, humanist, ex-Christian atheist, and mother to children with disabilities. She devoted the first 30 years of her life to Christian study and service due to indoctrination, and is working to repair the years the locusts have eaten.
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