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From Idea to Page: the Origin of A Narrow Bridge

August 2016


How is an idea birthed? How do humans become a conduit for the electrical charge of imagination?


The idea for A Narrow Bridge was spontaneous. Joyce was playing music in the car when the random shuffle selected Ben Harper’s Crying on the Steps of the Church. A question surfaced. What would make someone cry on the steps of a church? On the back of a bank statement salvaged from the bottom of her purse, she jotted down:


devastating loss
nowhere to turn


The next day she posed the church steps question to Janet and showed her the hasty notes. Was there a story hidden there? In less than five seconds, Janet was intrigued. “Yes. Let’s do it.”


The story’s evolution was like people watching at an airport. We took the image and worked backwards. We played with the picture, tossing possible identities until we had a fully formed protagonist, a man in all his complexity. What did he look like? What was his background? And most importantly, what would break this man so completely that he would end up crying on the steps of a church? It didn’t take long to cull the answer from the fears that we all share in our post 9/11 world.


The story would be more interesting if contrast was extreme – what if we took Jacob, an Orthodox Jew from New York, and placed him in a small southern town with a Baptist church? Through research, we found our small town: Brent, Alabama, formerly industrial, stagnant, depressed, but still proud. We let our imaginations populate the town with compassionate people.


The church itself, the center of life in Brent, gave us our next creative foothold: Gospel music. Music brings people together, soothes our spirits, and makes us – no matter our background – fully human. What if our sophisticated, urban Orthodox Jew shared a passion for music with the church community of Brent? As Jews we are familiar with the Orthodox way of life –the strict guidelines for behavior, the loving community, and the intentional isolation from mainstream culture. What we didn’t know was the world of the Baptist church.


Nothing intrigues us more than research, especially the experiential kind.


We contacted a local cantor who explained in depth the role a cantor fills in the observant community. When we shared our concept, he recommended that we visit Calvary Baptist Church (the Broadus Ministry) in Pacoima, California. He told us their choir was outstanding, and perhaps the reverend and congregation could offer insight. It wasn’t long before we connected with the choir director and accepted an invitation to Sunday services.


We were warmly welcomed, a humbling and insightful experience, especially for two secular Jews. The sanctuary was filled with a true sense of connection and a profound joy of music. When asked to share affirmations with our pew neighbors we hesitantly offered Old Testament concepts—all affirmations were welcomed. We were deeply moved by the congregant’s unself-conscious expressions of belief and their respect for individual definitions of faith.


Our exploration covered far more than a visit to a church and a look at a map. There were many more visits and conversations that led to us understanding who our characters were on the inside. We imagined and invented. We discarded and reclaimed. The direction of the plot slowly formed.


This is our origin story, from spark to conduit to page.