The Rev. Christopher Carlisle: Building Bridges toward no more war

Published: 11/11/2021 10:45:19 AM

When my bishop asked me to launch a ministry to address the needs of veterans, my initial response was: “I’m against war! And what do I know about veterans?”

In my six years working with hundreds of veterans, I haven’t met one in favor of war. The Building Bridges Veteran Initiative, now 10 communities strong, hosts veterans for lunch, camaraderie and mutual support. Almost 20 veterans take their lives every day, and more Vietnam veterans have died by suicide than on the battlefield.

I approached the church where I grew up about hosting a Building Bridges lunch and was told, “It probably wouldn’t work because the church is opposed to war.” At first I was struck by the irony: that there was no place at the table for those who risked their lives on our behalf. Yet I realize now this could have been me flaunting a liberal badge of courage and going to college instead.

The first person to acknowledge the divinity of Christ was a Roman soldier. This was a startling a realization. To this day I wonder if, like the man he watched dying on a cross, the soldier knew what it meant to give over his life for another. This realization inspired a conversation in my novel, “For Theirs is the Kingdom,” between the narrator and a street priest, Luke Hale, who’d been a medic in Vietnam.

“Hale,” I said. “I once heard a friend is someone you would trust to set your piton. When it’s your piton or his, hanging from a cliff… it’s yours he would choose to set.” Hale smiled, as though he liked the idea. “Hale—” I said, across a tightening throat. “I think you would set my piton.” He mischievously grinned. “Thanks,” he said. “I’d like to think I would.”

At the Leverett transfer station I was approached by a Building Bridges veteran and former Vietnam marine. He said, “I never realized how much I’d miss Building Bridges until the pandemic.” Then, from across the transfer station lot, he unexpectedly called out: “Tell ’em — you want to thank me for my service? Tell ’em — no more war!”

The Rev. Christopher Carlisle

Leverett

The writer is the director of the Building Bridges Veterans Initiative.

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