Good Conscience: A Response to "Reborn on the Fourth of July"
Confession in a broader sense is also about confessing the movement of God in one's life, and confessing the greatness of God. That's why Augustine chose to call his great work Confessions (and why, incidentally, Mr. Wills translates that work's title in his book as Testimony). Reborn on the Fourth of July also displays these additional meanings of confession, particularly as Mr. Mehl-Laituri attempts to find some meaning in his journey and listens for how God might be speaking authentically in the various forms of Christianity that rise in front of him along the way.
Take, for example, a conversation with Uncle Jimmy, a Christian whose teaching had been formative for him and that normally centered around love. When Mr. Mehl-Laituri asked Uncle Jimmy about military service, he was surprised to hear his teacher espouse a holy war theology that understands the United States military as "God's hand of judgment in the Middle East":
I tried my best to consider if what I did in Iraq had any divine purpose. It has been said that war is an attempt at ordering chaos, just as God did cosmically at creation. But it has also been said—more accurately in my opinion—that war is hell. It certainly felt that way to me, so I couldn't bring myself to agree with Jimmy that God would bless war as readily as we expect him to. (81)
What Reborn on the Fourth of July ultimately does is provide testimony that such a faithful journey is possible, that a person can excel as a soldier (as Mr. Mehl-Laituri clearly did), can love and feel responsible to one's brothers-in-arms (as Mr. Mehl-Laituri certainly did), and can feel it is wrong to kill another human being. Shane Claiborne points out in his Foreword that we rightly trust the testimony of a soldier involved in combat more than we do a roomful of so-called experts or commentators. I have never been in battle, and God willing, will never be. My own opposition to war and violence is theoretical and theological (and God willing, may it remain so!). But as Mr. Claiborne explains,
What's exceptional about Logan is that his commitment to peace did not come from reading a bunch of books or watching indie films. . . . Logan's heart for peace comes from simply reading the Bible and wanting to follow Jesus. His nonviolence comes from seeing the cost of war and how different it looks from the gospel of Jesus. It's hard to argue with someone who hates war because they've lived war. (10)
So it is. And because of this faithful life, here so well remembered, Reborn on the Fourth of July just might be that rare anti-war artifact that people could pay as much attention to as the violent and entertaining versions of war they consume on game consoles, movie and TV screens, and in print.
"I still wrestle with what to do when my nation does things that I cannot in good conscience support," Mr. Mehl-Laituri writes, "things that make me not just cringe but shake with disgust." (177) And so should all of us be wrestling with such things.
This book might help us do just that.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on Reborn on the Fourth of July.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.