Vandals of the Bridge

There is a stretch of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that runs from the town of Millvale down to PNC Park that I have enjoyed walking, running and cycling over the past few years. It follows the edge of the Allegheny River and travels under quite a few of the city’s many bridges. It passes beneath old railway infrastructure, along a fairly new pedestrian bridge and eventually ushers you either over or under the Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. The trail runs further in both directions, but this is my favorite segment.wp-1471282521398.jpg
There is more than a little bit of graffiti that adorns the support structure for these bridges and overpasses along the trail. At many points, it creates a very stark contrast between the trees and rushing water of nature over one shoulder and the industrial and urban scene over the other. Some might categorize this “street art” right alongside the rank smell from the river that occasionally fills your nose.

I personally love it.

For the most part, the taggers have restrained themselves from intentional destruction and vulgarity, in favor of personal expression.

I am somehow less thrilled with people that feel the need to spray paint nature. If I find myself on a mountain trail, and come across a massive boulder that has somehow decided to stop tumbling about halfway down the mountainside, I am far less appreciative of this artistic expression.

Those that feel the need to give nature a coat of paint, also seem to be less constrained when  it comes to phallic illustrations and drug allusions… so that’s definitely part of it.

The deeper issue at play in my mind is that in that cityscape you have two expressions of man competing against each other. One generally finds its inspiration in some cold bureaucracy somewhere that has decided that a bridge must be built. As we know bridges must be built (along with bypasses *wink*), making thundering statements of the power and ingenuity of man. Later, someone with an array of paint cans comes along and decides that his voice should be heard as well.

It can be like competing voices in a debate, or in the best of circumstances it can symbolize the complementary voices of a community.

In the case of nature, we see a voice that truly booms forth and says that “God has spoken”.

In a way, the person who paints nature landscapes on canvas is trying to interpret or at the very least experience what it is that God is saying in nature. The one who decides to use nature as their own canvas has become a critic of what God has said through his creation.

He has chosen to rewrite nature in his own image… and the image is often a foul one.

For those who would give me a second thought, and I doubt that there are many, I may be seen at times as a vandal on the walls of the church. I have very little use for spray paint, excepting for the occasional salvation of an abandoned piece of furniture, so the walls that I speak of are the metaphorical ones.

When I talk about something like the subtle (and not so subtle) manipulation that goes into worship music, the nature of the sermon in our gatherings or the authority structures within the church, there are those who would see those in the same light as a vulgar image scrawled across the wall of a physical church building.

It comes down to a matter of perception. There is a perception that those things that are spoken against are as natural to the church as that boulder perched on the side of the mountain. From my own perspective, I see each of these things, among many others, as man-made structures that have served to obscure the view of what is natural to God’s called people.

The church that man has made seems to be obsessed with building bridges. That bridge might be a hierarchical leadership structure that mediates between man and God. This bridge might be a fog filled room of flashing lights and thumping Christian contemporary music. The bridge may be a seminary trained preacher packaging and delivering an interpretation of God’s word to an audience of people.

There is a great bridge that has been constructed by God, painted red with the blood of his Son, that serves to span the great chasm that exists between ourselves and him.

As long as we continue to construct bridges other than the one that has been appointed for us, there will be those that feel the need to vandalize those man-made bridges. Their voices may not be as loud as those of the bridge builders, but my hope is that they continue to be the voices that call for people to look to the true bridge.

May no man vandalize the bridge, that true bridge, which God has constructed.

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18 thoughts on “Vandals of the Bridge

  1. dude.. half my life ago i tagged the underbelly of church buildings.. inside the structural beams of their basements.. even asked (cause i know i’d get it) permission once from the then but now late pastor of East Liberty Lutheran Church to do so.. i’d love to see if my markings are still there!

  2. I many times struggled with whether or not to vandalize bathroom walls with scripture. I know I did it a few times before I returned to the same stall and saw the response bearing the same fruit as vandalizing a wall on the internet.

    • I have found that when vandalizing the internet that as long as it is worthy and true, no matter how detestable it may be too the majority, you will find people that will appreciate it.

      • True, for it isn’t really vandalizing, when on the webz, while some janitor will have to spend a few minutes scrubbing your scrawl whether or not he appreciates it.

        • I mean there is the degree to which I don’t want to create work for someone, or force someone to clean up after me, but I generally chuckle when I see the job they do covering up graffiti. If I’m not mistaken, the last time I saw what is shared in the picture, it was half covered in beige paint. Hardly an improvement.

  3. I absolutely love the picture you have painted with this post!

    When it comes to man-made structures, our voices “can be like competing voices in a debate, or… the complementary voices of a community.” A lot does depend on the perspective of the audience.

    The best of all, is to “continue to be the voices that call for people to look to the true bridge.” 😀

    • Thanks the the encouragement.

      I hope it doesn’t come through in the end, but I actually didn’t know where I was going with this post when I first started it. I kind of stumbled into the imagery, and ended up liking it.

      It was like a quote I sited in a previous post, if you get people asking the wrong questions it doesn’t matter what answers they come up with. Bad questions are a cottage industry in the church, and it creates so much noise and business that it drowns out a lot of the joy that is offered to us.

        • You’re probably right, I definitely have my things to work out, and writing has been a fairly affective way of doing that. I will say that I feel hesitant to at least verbalize something like that because I sometimes have a hard time not coming off as arrogant, and starting to attribute things to the leading and inspiration of God would be dangerous ground for me.

          I’ll stick with being confident that God has me in a journey here, and writing is helping me map out the land, and work through some questions and issues I have. Heck, there are some earlier posts from here that I probably only 80% agree with because I’m further down the trail now, and have dropped some of the questions that used to be important to me. Things, I think, are becoming simpler, but they constantly struggle with wanting to get complicated.

          • “…I sometimes have a hard time not coming off as arrogant, and starting to attribute things to the leading and inspiration of God would be dangerous ground for me.”

            I’ve been pondering your words and it’s made me think… I know what you mean about looking back and seeing how far you’ve travelled forward from where you were. But do you think that it’s because of that very journey that we can admit to being led or inspired? By that I mean, if our journey has been (and continues to be) led by God, doesn’t that hold true for each and every ‘mile’ of that journey. So, for example, what you might have shared a couple of years ago was inspired by God, even if it’s not where you are at now.

            If you separate the concept of being inspired by God from the idea that you can only ever be “right” or be “wrong”, and realise that being led doesn’t mean you have actually “arrived”, then I wonder if we can sit back and embrace God’s inspiration without it being arrogant, or even dangerous. Can it simply mean that we are journeying with him, and he reveals himself to us progressively because the journey itself helps us to develop “ears to hear” that particular understanding?

            To put it more concretely, can you embrace the thought of being inspired by God in this post, not because it means you are some kind of ‘super-christian’, but because it is simply a reflection of where you are up to in your God-inspired journey?

            (Anyway, those are my random thoughts, and I hope some of this makes some sort of sense. I’d be interested to know what you think.)

          • It really does make a lot of sense, and better puts into words what I was thinking. One of the themes that has been going through my head in the past few months, and has come across here a few times is that there are words that are extremely helpful to speak to myself that don’t need to reach any other ears.

            There is also what CS Lewis points out in Mere Christianity that some words (and phrases) have become so commonly misused that they are essentially meaningless. The language of Godly inspiration and leading has been so abused that in many cases it has become even harmful. On the other hand, it has become tangled enough that we had a nice conversation about it just to try to get to the heart of it, so there’s that too.

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