I received word that my book, Through All The Plain, would be coming out sometime in late April or early May. My excitement, however, increased when my publisher sent me the layout and design last night. I opened the document and thought, Wow, that looks like a real book. My stomach looped and my head lightened. This is really gonna happen! And then, as my wife and I watched the season two finale of House of Cards, I couldn’t stop grinning stupidly. So what if Underwood kills people for political power, I’ve got a book coming out!
My forthcoming book is due out later this year. My editor recently emailed me with a request I have long dreaded: “Can you rewrite your Introduction?” As an artist — though I use that term loosely — my first thought was: No, I like it and I worked hard on it, really hard. But as an improving writer that wants nothing more than to grow, stretch, and become better, I thought: Why not? If I’m never again given the opportunity to publish, then I want this book to best represent what I offer. In other words, my editor and I were aligned, we both want this book to realize its full potential. So — sigh — I’m starting over today. I’m redacting my “Introduction,” taking what I have written and incorporating it into a new, fresh narrative — an invitation through story.
In parting, I present that which is lost. Farewell old friend. Perhaps in another life…
I have been to war twice. I have seen men and women killed. I have seen the darkness of humanity. I was an agent of this darkness. And with patriotic fervor, I too have killed. Before I went to Iraq, I had considered myself to be a Christian. Afterwards, I did not know who or what I was. I began to question my faith, my country, and myself. I enrolled in Seminary. I wanted answers to difficult, life-altering questions. Questions like: What happens when Christians join the military, pledge allegiance to something or someone other than Jesus, and begin killing in the name of this new allegiance? How should churches respond when their government wars with other nations? Are Christians supposed to interpret Jesus’ commands to love their enemies literally? Will I go to hell for killing? How do I, as a Christian, crawl from the dark hole that I had dug after perpetrating systemic injustice and corruption?
Let me be frank: There is no greater form of systemic evil than war. I participated in that evil, our country continues to participate in that evil, and, sadly, many of our churches participate in that evil. This is not a political statement. This is not a theological statement. It is a simple reality of warfare. War is dark. War is evil. War is morally corrupt. I make no excuses for my conclusions, but I feel it only fair to admit to my presuppositions.
This book is written from a Christian perspective: I am a Christian. I view the world through the death and resurrection (whether symbolic or not) of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is from this perspective that I create the narrative of my life. We all have our paradigms, our perspectives from which to view the world. These paradigms, perspectives, and narratives help us process the events of our lives, help us make decisions about the future, and help us live in the present. Mine are Christian. That is why, when wrestling with questions of systemic injustice and oppression, I turn to both the Christian community and the biblical narrative for answers. If this is offensive to you, I can offer no apologizes. I am who I am.
Even so, this book is not for Christians alone. This book is not for secular humanists. This book is not for the conservative, nor is it for the liberal. This book is not for any labeled group. This book is for those who question, for those who seek answers. This book is for those who are willing to put aside their particular epithet and enter into a much larger discussion.
This book is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to find answers corporately. I am no genius. I am no biblical scholar. I am a seeker, an aspirant. This book is full of tales, thoughts, and studies. It is my story, and through the process of writing it I have tried to make sense of the past so as to better live in the present.
Dialogue, however, requires authenticity and, in pursuit of narrative transparency, I have chosen to use both crass and rude language. For we cannot—nor should we—seek to make far-reaching decisions based on ideals. We should base our decisions in reality. Reality requires authenticity. Authenticity requires truth and truth honesty. This same honesty demands that I admit, upfront, that what you are reading is not a wooden translation of history. Narrative is rarely a past reality transcribed as fact. I have recreated dialogue and modified scenes for narrative clarity. Redaction does not render a story untrue, but palatable. In other words, “Memory is creatively reproductive rather than accurately recollective.”
Because mine is a Christian perspective, I often turned to the Bible for help when writing this book. I found Romans 12:14–13:7 to be especially enlightening in terms of framing the questions that I sought to answer. Through the centuries scholars have interpreted Romans 12:14–13:7 in such a way as to promote submission to authorities at all costs; or, on the other hand, to promote a full withdrawal and retreat from society. I have discovered that these interpretations are neither valid nor biblical. But I am outpacing my narrative.
My aspirations are straightforward and personal. As a Christian, I seek to understand the meaning of Paul’s exhortation in Romans to submit to the governing authorities. Is a Christian warranted in fighting in a war? What is a Christian’s role or responsibility within the government that he or she lives? As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I seek to discover the answers to profoundly personal questions: Was I justified in what I did? Were we justified in what we did? How do I hold my faith, but also live out of my faith?
This book comes at the end of a long journey. These are my thoughts and conclusions written down, cemented in history. While, at times, a discussion can be difficult and polarizing, I humbly ask you to enter into the give-and-take of dialogue. Who knows? Together we might come to a better understanding of what it means to embody the teachings of Jesus. And, in that way, maybe our journey is only beginning.
May we have the strength to admit our preconceptions and come to one another in mutual respect.
May we dialogue honestly, vulnerably, and humbly—for only in so doing can we lay aside our hate and prejudice.
May we better identify our narratives and learn from our history.
May our conversation be a catalyst for change in our world.
August 25, 2012
 John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (New York: Harper One, 1999), 54.
For the three of you that follow this blog, you’ll be aware that I’m writing a book for my newly acquired son, Magnus. Nearing the finish line, I thought I would share this little tidbit of goodness. Enjoy…or don’t, only remember two things: 1) This section is an unedited excerpt and 2) This was not written on a typewriter.
The sun rose quietly over the Lady’s city, casting dark, oblong shadows atop the rising columns and peaks. It warmed cold stones ensconced in ancient streets, enlivened lone flowers waiting patiently upon sills, and broke through curtains, stealing night from gray interiors. The gentle rays, pouring through a nearby window, slowly crept over Nim’s shoulder. She had drifted to sleep in a chair before Durante’s fireplace after they had discussed much of grave import late into the night or, rather, early into the morning. As she began to stir and stretch, a knock — quick and decisive — rapped upon the door. Not fully awake, however, she heard Durante both answer the door and converse with the morning’s intruder (for he had broken the days silence) in a dreamlike state. She wasn’t sure if what she heard was real or fancy or both.
“No, no, to bet — it’s for her,” the man said in a strangely thick accent.
“So the missive bore badly?” This was Durante’s voice wafting down the hallway and into the ear of Nim, whom had thrown a blanket over her face in protest of the dawn.
“Aye. And the Lady calls for your guest. No doubt a sweet one, but she’ll be answering for sure.”
“Guest? Mine? But why? It’s too soon.”
“Not for it myself, you know? I’m but a lowly messenger. I deliver. I ain’t the one to question.”
“And I see that you do.”
“Well, that’s the thing.”
“Yes. Wait, what?”
“Questioning is not my business, yeah?”
“No, sir. The seeing is the thing.”
“Is it, now?”
“Yes. Quite right.”
If Nim were a fly flitting beneath the lintel, then she would have seen two pairs of blinking, confused eyes.
“Then,” the intruder, in a dazed and reluctant stupor, continued, “you’ll be off?”
“Soon, yes, soon. Did the Lady say when?”
“She said: ‘Right before the sun,’ she did.”
“But the sun, sir, is already up.”
“Aye, true, true,” the man squinted, “not hard to ascertain, of course. But I can see,” he said, with an effortless tilt, “you’re a quick one.”
“Late, sir!” said Durante, clipped and flustered.
“Am I? Yes, yes. So it seems. But I had stop in a doffer to pick my way up, yeah?”
“No. But thanks nonetheless.”
Nim heard the door slam, which finally and irreversibly roused her from her lingering slumber.
Here are the unedited, first five-hundred words of my next novel, a novel dedicated to my forthcoming son, Basil Augustus:
There are some stories that deal with the fanciful and whimsical. You have most likely read these stories. They tell of both heroes and heroines bravely facing the unknown. While these stories serve an important purpose in our society, they fail in one important aspect—or so say the stuffy, codgerly academics; for those who cannot write, critique those who can by creating foreign paradigms of literary excellence. Stories of fancy and whim minimize both the suspense and mystery of their narrative precisely because we know, no matter what may come, that the teller will refrain from killing his or her protagonist. If we know, all along, that the protagonist is in no real danger, then how can we believe? How can we narratively participate? We are left with a sense of discomfort and disbelief because we have to consciously break out of the narrative and tell ourselves to pretend as if what we are reading is real, though we know otherwise. In this way, we break out of the magic that is story. This, of course, and ironically, destroys the narrative world that the author has labored to create. But to experience the plot as the protagonist is experiencing the plot, with no knowledge of outcome—that is true literature. In summary, stories of fantasy, intrigue, and mystery fail precisely because we begin with the knowledge that all will end well. And all that is left of the author is the mundane task of connecting dots in a sea of white.
Take, for example, the Aeneid. Like any proper epic, the Aeneid, in the middle begins. Once we are rightly brought up, so to speak, we find Aeneas sailing the wine-dark sea driving his ship towards Latium. And we, the reader, do not know the outcome. Will Aeneas escape Troy? Will Aeneas be ensnared by Dido? Will Palinurus successfully navigate Latium? Will Aeneas or will Aeneas not kill Turnus? And Rome, that once great Republic, what will become of Rome? We do not know. We are kept in the dark, clearly. We must read and allow the story to unfold. Aeneas may die, and with him the dream of Rome, and we are forced to participate in Aeneas’ journey with that eventuality in mind.
Other stories, simpler stories, however, are not of this caliber. We read; we know the outcome; we follow plot, but we do not risk. Stories of this sort are safe, stories for the kindhearted and gentle-minded.
This is not one of those stories.
If you have cracked open the binding of this book in the hopes of finding such a literary travesty, then I warn you: you are, sadly, mistaken. The following story is dark, grim, and harrowing, even more so because it is true. If you are the kind of reader that maintains a reasonable amount of perspective on things of apocalyptic proportions, then continue—this book is for you. As the evening sun sets and darkness creeps over your shoulder, alight your lantern, boil tea-water, and keep pace with the journey. But know this, a story that deals with broken kingdoms, post-apocalypse, and eschatology are not for the faint of heart. There is no shame in admitting that you have not the stomach for it. On the contrary, I encourage you: close this book and slide it back onto its shelf.
If you know yourself, however, then locate your spot of comfort—perhaps that one near the window?—and read on as we now turn towards our protagonist.
My forthcoming book, Peacemaking: A Story of Redemption, is due out next Spring. The book stems from my experience as both a Marine and a seminary student. I fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom; I came home; I studied pacifism. As I wrestled with being both a warfighter and a Christian, I wrote an academic thesis titled, A Thesis: Just War and Pacifism in Romans 12:14-13:7 through a Sociological Lens. Years later, I decided to rewrite my thesis to include the story of my time in Iraq. The rewritten version is due out next Spring through Wipf & Stock publishers. I have, however, decided to make the original available through Amazon. It is available now in all of its academic glory. Please note that the original is an academic work written to meet the requirement of an M.A. in Biblical Studies N.T. The rewritten version is a much better, much more digestible story. I am making the original available for those who might be interested in reading the thesis behind the story. I also want to make any potential readers aware that the Koine Greek fonts may or may not appear in your Kindle reader. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. If any brave soul decides to read A Thesis, then I would love to hear both your thoughts and analysis. You can find the thesis here and my Amazon author’s page here.