Religion should be a bridge builder, shouldn’t it? At first glance, I think this question would get a nod from most people. People who belong to and practice a religion generally believe that their religion is a source of good in their lives and makes the world a better place. So, religion, their specific religion, should be a bridge builder in the world, and yet when we survey the histories of religions and their almost constant role in conflict in the world, we see otherwise. Often, religions help to tear bridges down rather than build them.
There’s a dynamic that can be fairly easily observed in almost all religions. The earliest events of any religion are always experiential. Individuals and communities have experiences or at least stories of experiences which lend themselves to dynamic interaction. Jesus finds himself surrounded by a crowd that want to hear more of his stories, and yet they are hungry. He sees a boy with a basket of bread and fish, and he takes them, blesses them and suddenly the entire crowd has plenty of food to eat and share. The story itself becomes the foundation of stories of becoming community, of feasting on grace, of experiencing love and compassion in a place where everyone is welcome.
In the next generation, the story is turned into doctrine. Thou must share with others. There it is: a simple doctrine, and it has created a subset of people called “others.” This primitive doctrine is quickly followed by more: You must believe in Jesus and obey his commands. If you don’t, you will go to hell. The experience of community, sharing, grace, compassion and inclusion–a powerful bridge builder–is collapsed into doctrine–required beliefs used to judge human behavior and to create division: the saved and the damned, the included and the excluded, our people and other people.
I was pondering recently the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism. Rather than doctrines, we form community around our Principles, which are much more commonly known by Unitarian and Universalists, but we also form community around these Sources. What the Sources do for me is to help me keep building bridges within myself, between myself and “others”, and in the world between communities. The Sources give to me a large variety of the stories and experiences of many world religions, philosophical traditions and legacies of justice and human thought that draw me out of myself, move me beyond my own tendencies to judge and exclude and to become a better human being, a better thinker, a better lover–because love makes bridges.
If it’s been a while, you might click the link above and ponder the Sources we use in our community. They point to a world of inspiring stories and experiences about love.
Love makes a bridge.