Day 19: Not By Bridges Alone
Today is Day 19 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to learn more about resources available for welcoming servicemembers into our congregations and communities. Click here for resources available from the Church of the Larger Fellowship’s Military Bridge Builder Kit. The kit is currently being revised and will be republished by the UUA this spring as Military Ministry Toolkit, an on-line program that includes workshop plans and supplemental resources for congregations. Click here for resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
When I mentioned the “Building Bridges of Love” campaign to a Brooklyn friend, she automatically quipped: “The bridge is a nightmare. Take the tunnel.”
It was a good spur to memory, because I often use a tunnel metaphor to describe what it’s like to move between the worlds of a Unitarian Universalist minister and a military officer in the U.S. Navy. I wouldn’t say I’m a “mole” (not a welcome word in the world of military intelligence), rather a micro-tunneler.
The most direct path between one community and another is not always clear. Often, I have to feel my way, taking somewhat winding routes, unsure precisely where I’ll pop up.
And a lot of the time I’m working in the dark.
All military chaplains straddle the world of faith—where peace is among the highest objectives, no matter the religion—and the world of the warrior, where peace is always desired, but security is the goal.
In my case, the divide may be even more demanding than usual. Facts of my life don’t always make me an easy fit with military culture. For example, I’m serving two of the most male dominated professions—and every so often a military colleague tells me that women don’t belong in either domain.
But there are challenges in the other direction as well. Military service was no mere career choice: I felt deeply called, and I responded. Attending Harvard Divinity School during the time of the university’s ROTC and recruiting ban, I knew that this would be a hard sell to friends and colleagues. When eventually I “came out” concerning my naval aspirations, responses at HDS were largely as anticipated: silence, shock, sometimes condescension, sometimes anger.
As a person of faith hoping to build a world of peace, the military is the most gripping, complicated, daunting, and occasionally devastating place to be. It is also possibly the most inspiring.
Every day of ministry brings me into contact with men and women who exactly understand the toll of war. No matter our politics, we generally agree with two things: 1) military service demands incomprehensible sacrifices at times; and 2) those sacrifices help make it possible for U.S. citizens to live free of the fear of open conflict on their own soil.
We men and women of the military serve with fierce dedication, regardless of our fears or misgivings. We demonstrate uncommon loyalty to one another. And we usually are better at organizing and getting a job done than anyone I have ever met.
Learning what servicemembers know about both war and peace; understanding what we’ve experienced; supporting our efforts to return to the civilian world and contribute to our home communities, just as we have contributed to mobilizations in distant countries—these are all critical ingredients to building a world where love and peace flourish freely.
Yet for the most part, servicemembers often feel deeply misunderstood by our own country, and perhaps by no constituency more so than progressive, educated, peace-focused people—people like the readers of this blog.
I love the idea of building bridges, and I am inspired by this campaign. Yet it strikes me that, at the outset of efforts to bring two communities together, a bridge may be an overly ambitious undertaking. To build a bridge one has to know where it will start and where it will end. One has to know how people will travel across it. One has to know what kind of weight it needs to bear.
Sometimes, I would urge, we may need to tunnel a little bit first. Quietly, slowly, inching our way.
If you do not have a servicemember in your life, why not start by meeting a serviceperson and their family? Just to get together and discover what our experiences are like. You can start by going down to your local VFW or American Legion or contact a civilian and family support group. Perhaps you could join a day of community service and work side by side for a few hours with a servicemember?
Don’t worry about whether you agree with their politics or they agree with yours, or whether you can build a friendship that will stand. Just dig down into the experience for a while, and see where you pop up.
Because tunneling in the soil, as blind and directionless as it may seem, is actually the same activity that allows all good new things to grow.
In faith and fellowship,
Rev. Cynthia L. G. Kane
Lieutenant Commander, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy
Cynthia Kane is Unitarian Universalist minister serving on active duty. She was commissioned in August 2001 and is a pioneer in UUism concerning military ministry. Her current assignment is with the Marines in Kaneohe, Hawaii.