Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience
Just Released, by
Logan Mehl-Laituri, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 2012
Logan Mehl-Laituri spoke to us on March 16, 2007 from the front of the National Cathedral where some 3000 of us had gathered to hear testimony before walking through the snow to the White House to protest the Iraq War, in its 5th year. He describes the evening toward the end of his testimonial tracing his crystallization of conscience and journey as a Conscientious Objector, released today, July 4th 2012, because of a confirming epiphany he had in the Cathedral that evening, before the fresco of Jesus’s Resurrection. Wandering the Church prior to the ceremony, at which he was asked to read the words of another recognized conscientious objector, Joshua Casteel, he had stumbled upon and fresco and recognized with full and final force the call to forgive one’s enemies and serve God. As with much of the book, the scene is painted vividly with characters in the fresco coming to life and being transformed into Iraqi soldiers and families. We can feel Logan’s body quake and see the tears streaming down his face.
How Mehl-Laituri ended up in this space and event is the tale of a child of the 80’s, born to boomers, teachers, raised working-class in affluent, Orange County, California, lured into the Army as a path to an education after enlistment and service. Recruited in 2000, before the events of September 11th 2001, his career in the Army was quickly shaped by the invasion of Afghanistan and then the attack of Iraq as part of the first forward troops. But his conversion experience is as much, if not more, shaped by the life lead around the edges of the military life, high school church youth groups, a dating relationship with a woman’s whose veteran father challenged his beliefs, participation in a church in Hawaii where he was stationed for a while, the late night discussions with other soldiers wrestling with the same questions about reconciling faith and consciences, patriotism with pacifism.
A good story teller, with a cadence of speech that makes the experience more like listening than reading, and a sense of timing which reveals a sense of humor and humility below the surface of a very serious set of questions, for the writer and the reader, the book is easy to read and yet discomfiting as well. It would be an excellent gift for a recent high-school graduate who might be thinking about enlisting, or someone who has discovered the possibility of selective conscientious objection after enlisting and finding that the deeper truths of war cannot be born in good conscience as a soldier.
I was in the back of National Cathedral that night in March 2007 as the newly selected director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. A part of my initiation was a modest supportive role in planning the event, mostly making sure FOR’s members were aware it was happening and felt invited. I had been chosen for my new role in part because FOR had been a part of my crystallization of conscience 40 years earlier when I filed as a conscientious objector to the Viet Nam war. Reading “Reborn on the Fourth of July” I was taken back to the summer I spent writing my Application as a Conscientious Objector mentored by Prof. Nels Ferre among others. Mehl-Laituri’s witness is deepened and strengthened by a series of appendices, including reflections, resources, Biblical citations and his own Application. In all this I found myself reaffirmed in a choice made now 45 years ago.
There is a price to be paid for professing pacifism in a world where patriotism is taken as an endorsement of war. Logan, like many of us who are conscientious objectors, have been shunned as cowards, or dangerous persons, especially on holidays like today. But we take our strength in our faith that war is not the answer to the call to know that all life is precious and sacred. Now a graduate student at Duke and a member of Centurion’s Guild’s, Logan’s witness is welcome and well worth reading.
Mark C. Johnson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation USA. firstname.lastname@example.org