Can you be a soldier and be a Christian?

How does a Christian veteran deal with the horrors he or she witnessed in war? How can a Christian reconcile faith and killing?

PB-7886-Mehl-Laituri

When I first saw we at MennoMedia/Herald Press were publishing a book by a veteran of the Iraq war, I thought, oh wow, that’s interesting. I assumed it would be all about how war is terrible and soldiers can’t be Christian and the military is a giant industrial complex, right? And the world would be much better off if people were all pacifists like most Mennonite-Anabaptists.

I mean, MennoMedia and Herald Press are supposed to be Anabaptist-Mennonite media producers and that’s what we do, right?

In For God and Country (In That Order): Faith and Service for Ordinary Radicals, ForGodAndCountryLogan Mehl-Laituri has compiled quite a remarkable roster of what he calls “soldier saints and patriot pacifists” from the “front lines of church history.” He himself has been a soldier, a patriot, a Christian, and now, a conscientious objector to war—but wants everyone across great divides to try and understand each other.

A press release for the book calls it “likely the first book written by such a recent war veteran published by the Mennonite/Anabaptist/pacifist publisher.”

Earlier he told his own fascinating story, Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience by Intervarsity Press, 2012. It earned a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.

Here Logan tells some of his story.

The book, with some engaging elements of images and design (especially for Herald Press) tells quick short stories of nearly 50 biblical “warriors,” soldier saints, pacifists, and pacific patriots.

If these intriguing labels don’t whet your appetite, maybe this will:

“This book is like a Hall of Fame for Christian soldiers and peacemakers, written by one of my favorite veterans for peace.  Logan reminds us that making peace is as costly as waging war, and if we aren’t prepared to pay the price for peace like the folks in this book, than we should sadly confess that we never really believed that the cross is an alternative to the sword.”  –-Shane Claiborne; author, activist, and Christian peacemaker

 

If you believe that we must come together across the many divides that cross Christians (and society) up, you owe it to yourself to buy, share and tell others about this book.

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What do you think? Do you feel a conflict between being a faithful follower of Jesus, as well as loyal to the country in which you live? Where do these feelings and experiences get discussed? Do you feel alone in your positions?

Logan Mehl-Laituri’s blog can be found here.

Posted by Melodie Davis, staff writer and editor.

 

 

Pushing the Edges

By Byron Rempel-Burkholder

This week I’ve been working on two books by people who are not Mennonite but who are passionately committed to social justice and attracted to radical Christian discipleship. If you’ve ever heard me talking about the books, chances are you’ve heard me say that they “push the edges” of what we at MennoMedia normally do. Both are to be released this fall.

The first is a comic book, Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith. It opens with excerpts from the gospels, showing the original Jesus movement from a social justice perspective, and then tells stories of people through history who have taken seriously Jesus’ costly call to peace and reconciliation. Historical examples include Swiss Anabaptist Conrad Grebel and slavery opponent Angelina Grimke. More recent stories feature Christian Peacemaker Teams workers and civil rights leaders.

Editor Paul Buhle is a veteran comic book writer, editor, and university professor of comic art. Paul says this is the first comic book of its kind, taking its place among various graphic retellings of the Bible, including the recent Manga Bible. And yet it also fits squarely within a long tradition of using visual art to illuminate the gospel story.

The format is relatively new territory for us, and therefore edgy. But so is the cast of participants in the book. The three illustrators are all recognized comic artists from a variety of backgrounds, each bringing a unique perspective on what’s so radical about Jesus. Sabrina Jones overlays the gospel stories with visual allusions to contemporary social justice issues; Nick Thorkelson introduces us to Catholic Worker communities; while Gary Dumm pays homage to Quakers, and their relationships with Native Americans. It’s refreshing to see how radical Christian discipleship has played out in so many ways in history, beyond our usual Anabaptist stories, and even beyond the language we use to tell them.

Coincidentally—or providentially?—another fall release is doing something similar, even though it is quite a different book. For God and Country (in that Order): Faith and Service for Ordinary Radicals by Iraq war veteran Logan Mehl-Laituri is what the author calls a kind of hagiography—a book of stories about saints. But the saints he profiles here are people who have served in the military and have struggled to come to terms with Jesus’ call to the way of peace and nonviolence.

Many of these people were, or became, conscientious objectors. Some, like Logan, left the military when they encountered the gospel. Others felt God’s call to serve in non-combatant roles, such as chaplaincy or in the medical corps. Some, including Logan, maintain a deep compassion for their fellow-soldiers—especially today, when soldiers come home psychologically wounded, often ignored or criticized by the church, and every bit in need of the gospel as smug pacifists in armchairs.

Like Radical Jesus, this book begins in the Bible and then combs history for stories of faithful people—in this case, those who worked that treacherous borderland between civic duty and nonviolence. These “saints” are not perfect—and one or two, such as the biblical Samson, are downright bad examples. Warriors such as Deborah in Judges and Cornelius in the book of Acts show courage and faithfulness. St. Francis and St. Joan of Arc challenge militarism in their own ways. North Americans serving in the increasingly brutal context of high-tech warfare find themselves all the more convinced of Jesus’ way of peace.

For Mennonites and other pacifists who reject all participation in things military, some of the stories in For God and Country will shatter comfort zones. But maybe that’s healthy. It will help us be a little less judgmental of those who have interpreted Jesus’ call slightly differently. It will help us appreciate the difficult path that people of faith in the military walk every day. It will arouse us to compassion for those who have been wounded by war. It will jostle us out of the smugness that so easily tempts us, especially if we are not on the front lines of violence ourselves.

In editing both these books, I have become even more convinced that the way we grow in our faithfulness is by walking the edges, not staying in the comfortable middle. Even for those of us who wish to claim a “radical” faith—we can become settled in our radical identity. These books shake us up a little—just as the gospel itself does.

IMG_6160Byron is managing book editor for Herald Press, MennoMedia’s tradebook division.He works out of his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba.