Families, faith, and the military vocation

David French is an Iraq war veteran and Nancy French is his wife. Together they have written Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War

‘Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses,” David French writes about the strain of deployment on marriage. “Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the ‘Dear John’ letter via Facebook message or e-mail. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs. In fact, I would say that the ongoing betrayal of our men and women in uniform by their own family members is perhaps the most underreported scandal and toll of the war. It is an enduring symbol of the depravity of man and the fallen nature of our own culture.”

You should read the whole interview and maybe order the book.  The Frenches are honest and unsparing, and yet they come across as a truly strong and devoted couple, despite or perhaps because of all they have gone through.  What is striking to me is what they say about their faith, both in relation to their marriage and in relation to war and the military vocation:

LOPEZ: Could either of you have done this without faith? What has deployment taught you about faith?

NANCY: When David and I were having the “I want to join the Army” conversation when we lived in Philadelphia, he quoted Stonewall Jackson. He said something like this, “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” Of course, Stonewall died while recovering from wounds received in battle. “Duty is ours, consequences are God’s,” he is also known to have said. In other words, we threw ourselves on the mercy and sovereignty of God, and put one foot in front of the other until he came home.

DAVID: It’s easy to quote Calvinist generals from the safetyof your own home. It’s another thing entirely to trust God when you’re bumping down a dirt road in a Humvee or saluting at the third memorial in a month for a fallen trooper. My deployment taught me that I am utterly dependent on God for my next breath of life. But in many ways, that thought could be more terrifying than comforting. Men who were better than me in every way were falling to IEDs and ambushes. There is no formula for survival, and God’s ways are mysterious. But we’re not promised understanding, safety, or comfort.
LOPEZ: David, you write about Playboys and Maxims and things. Do men at war have the support they need to be good men, brave in all sorts of ways? Is there any way to help or change that?

DAVID: In the book I describe our armored cavalry squadron as a “rolling, violent fraternity.” In other words, we were a group of guys (guys only; this was a combat arms unit) from all walks of life bonded together by our shared mission and sacrifice. There were devout Christians in the group and guys who couldn’t wait to head to the closest strip club when they landed in America on leave. There were guys who bounced between those extremes. There’s quite a bit of spiritual support available to soldiers, but it’s up to them whether they use it. Mostly, soldiers support each other, and I don’t think that will ever change — nor should it.

 

HT:  Bruce Gee

The 19th Century Depression

Canadian historian Francois Furstenberg reminds us of the economic depression that America had to struggle through in the 19th century:

Much like our time, the Gilded Age was an era of economic booms and busts. None was greater than the financial crisis that began in September 1873 with the collapse of Jay Cooke & Co., the nation’s premier investment bank. Like many other firms, Cooke & Co. overextended itself by offering risky loans based on overvalued real estate.

Cooke’s collapse launched the first economic crisis of the Industrial Age. For 65 straight months, the U.S. economy shrank — the longest such stretch in U.S. history. America’s industrial base ground to a near halt: By 1876, half of the nation’s railroads had declared bankruptcy, almost half of the country’s iron furnaces were shut and coal production collapsed. Until the 1930s, it would be known as the Great Depression.

In the face of economic calamity and skyrocketing unemployment, the government did, well, nothing. No federal unemployment insurance eased families’ suffering and kept a floor on demand. No central bank existed to fight deflation. Large-scale government stimulus was a thing of the distant future.

As demand collapsed, businesses slashed payrolls and reduced wages, and a ruinous period of deflation began. By 1879, wholesale prices had declined 30 percent. The consequences were catastrophic for the nation’s many debtors and set off a vicious economic cycle. When economic growth eventually began, progress was slow, with periodic crises plaguing the economy through the end of the century.

Neither political party offered genuine solutions. As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, political parties during the Gilded Age “divided over spoils, not issues,” and neither Democrats nor Republicans were inclined to challenge their corporate masters. . . .

With laissez-faire ideas dominant and the political system in stasis, economic decline persisted. The collapse in tax revenue only strengthened calls for fiscal retrenchment. Government at all levels cut spending. Congress returned the country to the gold standard for the first time since the Civil War: “hard money” policies that favored Eastern financiers over indebted farmers and workers.

With neither major party responding to the crisis, new insurgent movements arose: antimonopoly coalitions, reform parties and labor candidates all began to attract support.

via What history teaches us about the welfare state – The Washington Post.

Prof. Furstenberg goes on to cite the violent strikes of the growing labor movement and the prospect of social unrest–similar to what was happening in Europe that would spark the Marxist revolutions–that, according to him, encouraged even capitalists by the time of FDR to support social reforms and a welfare state, so as to promote social stability.  He then warns us about cutting the social safety net as we try to deal with today’s economic problems.

Since among my readers are experts in just about everything, I ask you, is Prof. Furstenberg’s account correct, or is it a leftist reading of a  history that is open to other interpretations?  Are there things we can learn from what happened in the Gilded Age?

HT:  Frank Sonnek

Headaches for Bachmann

It is being reported that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann suffers from “incapacitating” migraine headaches.  The implication is that this disqualifies her from office.  Is this a concern?  Or an example of the punditocracy, having already discredited her religious background, being willing to bring up anything to damage the prospects of a conservative candidate?

See Bachmann’s Headache | Stress-Related Condition | Pill Use | The Daily Caller, which broke the story, and The Fix at the Washington Post, which makes a big deal about how this will hurt her prospects.

A prominent evangelical discovers Bo Giertz

Remember our recent discussion about “Where are the Lutherans?”, responding to another blog complaining that Lutherans are invisible in the evangelical world?  Well, here is a post from Tullian Tchividjian.  He is a Reformed pastor, the grandson of Billy Graham and the successor to the late D. James Kennedy as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church.  He describes reading The Hammer of God  by the Swedish Lutheran bishop and novelist Bo Giertz.  The result?  A  “Copernican revolution” in his ministry:

After sitting on my shelf uncracked for the better part of last year, I finally decided to read Bo Giertz’s classic novel The Hammer of God (first published in 1941). I first heard about this book from my friends Elyse Fitzpatrick and Mike Horton. I’m a third of the way through it and it is simply breathtaking. Giertz was a master storyteller and theologian. Both of these gifts shine brightly on every page of this book. It is the story of three pastors who learn the necessity of relying on God’s grace. It is law/gospel theology in the most captivating narrative form. But, you’ll have to read it for yourself. I just want to share one part. I need to first give some context, though.

Set in Sweden in the early 1800′s, Henrik is a young, remarkably gifted and fiery preacher who very much looks up to Justus Johan Linder, a preacher ten years his senior. Henrik is having a crisis of faith. Bothered by the worldliness all around him, he has become widely known for his passionate pleas and exhortations for people to stop sinning. He’s meticulous in his examination of sinful behavior both in and out of the pulpit. And it is bearing fruit. The church is packed every Sunday and bad behavior is declining in the village. But, much to his surprise, pride and self-righteousness are popping up everywhere. He’s noticed that while drinking and debauchery may be at an all time low, a cold and legalistic hardness of heart has emerged in their place. While on the one hand Henrik is encouraged to see external worldliness dissipating, he’s remarkably discouraged to see a cold, loveless culture developing. Not only that, but now he’s beginning to realize the depth of his own sin. He feels like a hypocrite for preaching so strongly against the external manifestation of sin while ignoring the deeper problem, sin’s root. In despair over his own inability to be as good as he tells other people to be, he breaks down and confesses to Linder that he’s not even sure he’s saved. Linder’s response is pure gold:

Henrik, we must start again from the beginning. We have thundered like the storm [speaking of the way he and Henrik have preached God's Law], we have bombarded with the heaviest mortars of God’s Law in an attempt to break down the walls of sin. And that was surely right. I still load my gun with the best powder when I aim at unrepentance. But we had almost forgotten to let the sunshine of the gospel shine through the clouds. Our method has been to destroy all carnal security by our volley’s, but we have left it to the soul’s to build something new with their own resolutions and their own honest attempts at amending their lives. In that way, Henrik, it is never finished. We have not become finished  ourselves. Now I have instead begun to preach about that which is finished, about that which is built on Calvary and which is a safe fortress to come to when the thunder rolls over our sinful heads. And now I always apportion the Word of God in three directions, not only to the self-satisfied [the bad people] as I did formerly, but also to the awakened [the "good" people] and to the anxious, the heavy laden and to the  poor in spirit. And I find strength each day for my own poor heart at the fount of redemption.

Henrik is captivated by the “new” way in which Linder is preaching and he asks about the results. “Do you note any difference?”

Linder answers:

In the first place, I myself see light where formerly I saw only darkness. There is light in my heart and light over the congregation. Before, I was in despair over my people, at their impenitence. I see now that this was because I kept thinking that everything depended on what we should do, for when I saw so little of true repentance and victory over sin, helplessness crept into my heart. I counted and summed up all that they did  [to clean up their act], and not the smallest percentage of debt was paid. But now I see that which is done, and  I see that the whole debt is paid. Now therefore I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries in his pocket a letter of pardon for all  his criminals. Do you wonder why I am so happy? Now I see everything in the sun’s light. If God has done so much already, surely there is hope for what remains.

The way Linder describes the transformation that took place in his preaching is almost identical to the transformation that has taken place in mine (and Chuck’s–click here). I  have a long way to go (bad habits die slowly, for sure). But a Copernican revolution of sorts has taken place in my own heart regarding the need to preach the law then the gospel without going back to the law as a means of keeping God’s favor.

via The Whole Debt Is Paid – Tullian Tchividjian.

I would add that I have just reviewed a manuscript by Rev. Tchividjian entitled Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in which he describes his growing understanding of the  Gospel, with the help of writers including Gerhard Forde, C. F. W. Walther, and Harold Senkbeil.  So there are the Lutherans for contemporary evangelicals.

HT:  Larry Wilson

When government embraces religion

A speaker at the National Press Club called for making religion central to our foreign policy. He made a lot of sense at first, but then fell off the deep end:

The best way to address Jihadist terrorism is to make religion a central component of American foreign policy, according to Douglas Johnston, an expert on foreign policy and religion, who spoke at the National Press Club on June 23.

“We’re dealing with symptoms and not the real cause,” Johnston said in a critique of current U.S. policy. “And that’s the problem.”

The International Correspondents Committee hosted the event to coincide with the launch of Johnston’s new book, “Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.”

The book argues that what is required today is a longer-term strategy of cultural and religious interaction, backed by a deeper understanding of how others, especially the Muslims, view the world and what is important to them.

As a first step, the State Department must immediately appoint religion officers at its embassies overseas, just like the military attaches, according to Johnston. They must be given a prominent role with clear-cut policy directives based on the fundamental American principle of tolerance and accommodation with other religions.

In this context, he suggested the experiment should begin at home with American Muslims. He lamented the fact that they feel alienated and shunned.

“It’s a shame that we’ve failed to embrace them wholeheartedly,” Johnston said.

As a first step, he said efforts should be made to arrange for Imams of mosques in America to deliver sermons at churches, and pastors should go to mosques to talk about their religion.

Johnston, who runs the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, added that the whole approach should demonstrate the essence of what he called “organic suasion,” meaning “change and healing from within.”

He also advocated spreading Madrassa education with emphasis on critical thinking.

“We’ve got very positive results through our projects in Pakistan and how it can change the attitude of Madrassa students,” said Johnston, a former Naval officer and veteran of the intelligence community who holds a Ph.D. in political Science from Harvard.

Most of the panelists essentially agreed with Johnston’s premise, saying religion should take center stage, rather than a back seat, in the formulation of American foreign policy.

Arrange for Muslims to preach in Christian churches, and vice versa?  The government would arrange that, as a “first step”?  Surely it would be better for the government to keep religion in the back seat–or even persecute it–than to give it “center stage” in an inevitably syncretistic civil religion.

via Johnston: To counter Jihadists, put religion at center of foreign policy | The National Press Club.

HT:  Aaron Lewis

Iranian president’s theological troubles

Theology may be bringing down Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.  So says Karim Sadjadpour, writing in the Washington Post:

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery and Holocaust revisionism on the world stage have earned him alarmist comparisons to Adolf Hitler, his recent, ignoble fall from grace reveals the Iranian president for what he really is: the dispensable sword of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The marriage of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad should be understood in the context of Iran’s internal rivalries. Since the death in 1989 of the revolution’s father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — whose austere nature and anti-Americanism set the tenor for Iran’s post-monarchic order — Tehran’s political elite has been broadly divided into two schools.

Reformists and pragmatists argued that ensuring the Islamic Republic’s survival required easing political and social restrictions and prioritizing economic expediency over ideology. Hard-liners, led by Khamenei, believed that compromising on revolutionary ideals could unravel the system, just as perestroika did the Soviet Union. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s pious populism resonated among Iran’s working classes, and his revolutionary zeal and willingness to attack Khamenei’s adversaries endeared him to the supreme leader, whose backing of Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election proved decisive. The balance of power between the two was exhibited during Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, when the new president prostrated himself before Khamenei and kissed his hand.

Under the supreme leader’s approving gaze, Ahmadinejad’s first term as president was spent bludgeoning Khamenei’s domestic opponents, taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and taunting the United States. Ahmadinejad’s newfound fame abroad, however, confused his true position at home.

What Khamenei failed to realize was that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts had greater ambitions than simply being his minions.

They spoke of their direct connection to the hidden imam — Shiite Islam’s Messiah equivalent — in an attempt to render the clergy obsolete. In “private” meetings — which were bugged by intelligence forces loyal to Khamenei — Ahmadinejad’s closest adviser, Rahim Mashaei, spoke openly of designs to supplant the clergy. The last straw came earlier this year, when Ahmadinejad tried to take over the Ministry of Intelligence, whose vast files on the financial and moral corruption of Iran’s political elite are powerful tools of political persuasion and blackmail.

The supreme leader was publicly nonchalant about Ahmadinejad’s insubordination; privately, however, he unleashed jackals that had long been salivating for the president’s comeuppance. The powerful Revolutionary Guards — who helped engineer Ahmadinejad’s contested 2009 reelection — swiftly declared their devotion to Khamenei, and several of the president’s advisers were arrested.

One former Guard and current member of parliament, Mohammad Karamirad, sent Ahmadinejad a message last weekin the form of a macabre Persian proverb: “If [Khamenei] asks us to bring him a hat, we know what to bring him,” i.e., the head of the person wearing the hat.In addition to proving the primacy of Iran’s supreme leader, the rise and fall of Ahmadinejad exemplifies the contempt that Tehran’s ruling cartel has for the intelligence of its citizenry.

Ahmadinejad’s tainted reelection — which spurred millions to take to the streets — was hailed by Khamenei as a “divine assessment” and the people’s will. Two years later, Ahmadinejad and his cronies are accused by former supporters of being “deviant Zionist agents” and “possessed by the devil.”

Khamenei’s desire to project a unified front to the world is likely to keep Ahmadinejad in office until his term expires in 2013. Khamenei seeks to wield power without accountability; this requires a president who has accountability without power. A disgraced Ahmadinejad can conveniently absorb blame for the country’s endemic economic, political and social disaffection.

via The rise and fall of Iran’s Ahmadinejad – The Washington Post.


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