Bridges, Building, and Moments of Faith

bridge jumpingThe bridge isn’t that high. But outside of the parked car, standing on the edge looking down at the moving water, it seems a lot higher than it did from the road. Gauging height is always impossible when you’re looking down — right? — and when there are six high school students waiting for you to take that first jump. The water is plenty deep below. Kids were making this jump just yesterday. Even if you break your leg, you probably won’t drown. At least there are no sharks.

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People like to talk about a “leap of faith.” Whether it’s Søren Kierkegaard writing in the 19th century about the Akedah or Indiana Jones trying to find the Holy Grail in The Last Crusade, the metaphor of a leap from rational knowledge to belief is appealing. But as powerful as the image is, I am not sure a leap is a sufficient metaphor to describe the Christian faith.

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A dark vehicle pulled over on the bridge, a window rolled down, and a loud man’s voice called out, “Be careful – there’s something down there biting people.” In the moment that followed, our eyes met and I tried to gauge whether this was playful teasing or an honest warning. The stern injunction dissolved into a chuckle and wide grin, indicating the former. The woman sitting in the passenger seat called out, “Don’t listen to him! He’s just pulling your leg,” sensing my practically palpable apprehension. I nodded gratefully to her. A tall man with a twinkle in his eye emerged from the black truck and walked over to the edge of the bridge and peered down. Oh it’s plenty deep. His Minnesota vowels mixed with the cadence from his Native American accent in a methodical and comforting way. Kids were doing backflips off here yesterday. You’re safe. Jump on three. One…Two…

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Take the plunge. Make a leap of faith. Dive in. (Stephen Curtis Chapman, anyone?) But research on faith practice indicates that religious devotion isn’t defined by singular experiences. People like to point to big events (like copying a stolen library book) as powerful, swaying, and influential moments in life. And there’s tremendous cultural and narrative appeal to that kind of story. But life is made up of a stream of little decisions, and the overall shape of one’s life is the sum of those little moments, habits, and seemingly small practices (like reading a sacred text, meditation, or prayer). Faith is much more exciting and dynamic when compared to a leap. It loses some of its luster when coupled with words like “discipline,” “drudgery,” and “thoughtfulness.”

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Three. The river rushes up towards me. A shred of memory from high school physics flashes the rate 9.81 m/s2. As my mind gropes for the rest of the formula, everything is shut out by the shock and wonder of water surrounding my being. My feet find the bottom of the river, and I push up with a flutter kick, propelling myself to the surface. Emerging with a sputter and a couple coughs ridding the lungs of a fraction of the river-water I’ve swallowed, I call up to the rest of the waiting cohort, “The water’s fine!”

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Faith is a multidimensional part of life. And just one metaphor is insufficient to capture the Christian faith. Certainly, a leap captures one part of faith, but the metaphor I love for faith is construction. When building something that lasts, careful planning, meticulous design, and quality materials must be sought after. I spent the last week of July on a mission trip with 8 incredible youth and adults in Cass Lake, Minnesota (read about what we did here). As we nailed the shingles down on the roof of the White Earth tribe member, every few rows of shingles we measured both ends and the middle to ensure we were on track. And often, that’s what the Christian life is like – working hard, feeling the soreness of a bent back, and periodic assessment. Sometimes it feels like taking a plunge or making a leap. And mission trips are a reminder of the exhilaration, the joy, and the rush that comes from that leap of faith. But when we get home, we’re reminded that faith is a day-by-day activity, an activity that requires work, diligence, perseverance, and discipline.

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