Wednesday, October 3, 2012


bougainvillea and mexican bird-of-paradise
From a recent exchange with a reader I'll call Andre. Andre is a husband, father, and white-collar professional who has served time in the military. He's not always thrilled with what I write and I have come to treasure his emotional honesty and our friendship.

Hi Heather:

Taking the wild shot in the dark that you probably don't get to reading the Wall Street Journal too terribly much, I thought you might like to know about this phenomenon. I alluded to it in the case of [a troubled relative about whom Andre and I had spoken]. Statistics are not interesting of themselves, but people are, and they all have stories, and it appears that many are tragic. This article describes a few remedies but fails to touch the heart of the matter.

War is an ugly thing and it often makes men uglier. It's hard to find the face of Christ in some of the men I served with. But it's heartbreaking to discover the turmoil they're experiencing long after the last round downrange...

Hi Andre, thanks for the piece. This is one of the many reasons my heart breaks for all those involved in war, and all of us, period, for we are all part of one another....I'm haunted by your observation that in modern warfare the terror level is amped up several notches as day or night the soldiers never know when an attack might come. Reminds me of something I once read of Death Row in Japanese prisons--they're not told when their execution date/time might be--so anytime they hear a footstep...this is literal terror way beyond what a human being can bear.

Non-violence is not some airy-fairy over-the-rainbow that's-just-not-practical crackpot "liberal" idea. It's how we are called to live with one another by Christ and it requires the courage of a warrior and the heart of a child... You see with [your relative] how hard it is to "love our enemy". But all things are possible with God...we have to look into our own hearts at all the wounds, fears, guilt...cause it seems to me that what we can't forgive another is often an echo of what we can't forgive ourselves...

I have a friend, a few years older than me, who every once in awhile will speak of his time in Vietnam (though he is also clear that he saw things there that he will never tell anybody). He came from a small town outside Chicago and had been trained to think of the U.S. as benevolent, righteous...he said he has never gotten over the shock to his 18-year-old psyche to find that things were not as they seemed...that's not a slam against the U.S. It's a reflection of reality.

I also had a friend, Fred, who died in the VA Hospital here in L.A. and who I would visit frequently in the board and care there, so I got to see many Vietnam vets in their 50s and 60s who were living there...not exactly poster children for the glories of war. In fact, one of my objections to war is that if I'm so keen on defending my liberty/way of life, I should go put my own body and spirit on the line, not send some 18-year-old from the hinterlands in my place. The answer, as always, is the transformation of one human heart. Namely, also as always, our own...

I still have your wife's friend who gave birth to a child with severe defects on my prayer list--

In Christ's love

Thank you for praying for [my wife’s friend]. Her child, a girl, passed away after 11 days; I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. The good news, I suppose, is now we can pray to her as well as for her. Isn't it good to be a Catholic? The family appears to be doing alright. That sort of heroic faith is inspiring but also evokes fear and trembling for me. I have lived a monumentally fortunate existence and as such I literally have nightmares about the day that I'm actually put to the test -- how will I respond? What tragedies does fate and the almighty have in store? And the worst -- will I be asked to reap what I've sown? Life is a lonely and unnerving thing without Jesus.

I suppose that's all silly and Karmic but I recall Chesterton pointing out that the common man has no problem buying modern science while also holding with equal certainty that luck, chance, signs and portents are real and meaningful.

I absolutely concur with your position on non-violence, by the way. It saddens me though. There's something inherently noble and virile about military life and perhaps those associated virtues -- duty, honor, courage, forbearance -- become less easily admired without it. Yet war is so tragic because it's such an absence of love. It's probably a favorable commentary on the human condition that combat's violence and cruelty actually do result in what we call PTSD, because it shows that men are not built to live in an arena bereft of love and kindness.

Hi again—

Yes, yes, this is exactly where "the edges" don't quite meet up, as they never quite do with Christ-- "There's something inherently noble and virile about military life and perhaps those associated virtues -- duty, honor, courage, forbearance -- become less easily admired without it. " I quake before the courage and nobility displayed by so many soldiers when I have so little of either myself, and I am also keenly aware that so many of them have LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES in a way so I can wander about L.A. looking at the flowers, going to Mass, and living my little life mainly unmolested and un-interfered with... one big supporter of my blog is/was an Army chaplain in Afghanistan, a Catholic priest who said he simply felt called to be there and whose simplicity, humility, gentleness put me to shame.

What if priests like him, and the "good" soldiers for lack of a better term, weren't there?--so I am also keenly aware of the men and women who plow in--to war, to life--disregarding the messiness, complexities, ambiguities, and simply try to bring Christ wherever they are.

Yes, your wife’s friend’s daughter can now pray for us and with us...

"The edges don't quite meet up" -- now that's a really interesting point. Wow, that's good stuff, Heather. Have you (or anyone else) written about that concept, I mean specifically? If so, please direct me...

Thank you as always…

Not that I know of, but I keep meaning to elaborate on that thought myself....have been sitting vigil (from 3500 miles away) for my mother for a week...maybe this is one piece that will come out of it....
Thank you, too…


  1. You refer to those edges in Shirt of Flame, I think, though in different terms. I don't have my copy handy, but you write that the rain falls on the just and unjust, and that in a world where things matched up and went our way, life would not be an event or drama, but monstrous, merely anecdotal . . . I remember because it's my favorite passage. :)

  2. One thing I remember reading in commentary on Genesis once was that, in the Biblical account of creation, God does not create a cosmos, i.e., a mechanistic and deterministic universe and world, with rigid laws straightjacketing everything. Rather, the world is good, there is order, but it is God's order, not a deterministic, order with clean and neat lines. We can see something of the pattern of order, but not the whole of it. To us, the order appears messy, such that the edges don't quite fit, as Heather writes. Kind of like at the end of the book of Job? Where God answers Job and shows him the complexity of creation, that it's bigger than he (Job) can possibly imagine...

    I might be blowing smoke here, so please correct me if I'm wrong.

  3. I too would be interested in reading more about the edges not meeting up.

  4. Bread in the Wilderness

  5. Potent post Heather.

    Fwiw, I know I'm supposed to love and value people for who they are and without regard to their circumstances or "production" - i.e. as children of God - but I "cheat" sometimes and look at people I dislike with two views in mind:

    1) They may be saints, or turn into saints. They may be my only assistance someday (I say selfishly).

    And 2) they may have to go through hell, i.e. "what tragedies does fate and the almighty have in store?". One can't help but have sympathy for our fellow humans given the potential torture we are all subject to, whether it comes naturally (through something like cancer) or via our inhumanity to each other most dramatically expressed in war.

  6. Maybe those moments in life when we find ourselves on the edge make us more aware, and hopefully with God's grace, wiser to what matters. You and your friend remind me of that walk between life and death and last breaths taken in your own arms. How close you feel to God's presence! How fragile and tender in that very moment! And how true that everything doesn't matter except that last breath--the edge between here and next.

  7. djeter/ 15, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    There is not a single thing good about war, not a thing. And yet we still fight whether to protect our way of life, out of revenge or practicality, to acquire land and strategic value, minerals, wealth. It never ends, and our children always die.

    The Catholic Church has considered theories of Just War (Bellum iustum), although, to be truthful, all war is on some level deeply unjust and violates our purpose and heavenly nature as imago dei.

    Just war theory is a doctrine of military ethics of Roman philosophical and Catholic origin, studied by moral theologians, ethicists and international policy makers, which holds that a violent conflict ought to meet philosophical, religious or political criteria. It thus becomes an apologia for whatever particular war that is its object.

    At the root of the paradox of war, why it is unjust and necessary at the same time is the very nature of our world: why it needs to be saved and why the strong are always called upon to protect the weak.

    It wasn’t lost on all (at least not this Catholic) when a marine guard of six bore each of the four coffins of Ambassador Stephens and the three others who died in the Libyan Embassy attacks by Al Qaeda. Twenty-four marines cared for them in death. Why had they not been available to them in life?



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