I have been adding book reviews to my Recommendations tab, above. The latest to be added are two twin publications surveying Christian Attitudes Toward War & Peace, the first by esteemed Church historian Roland Bainton and another, later supplementary book by  Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder (who added “Revolution” to the title). Check them out!

Screenshot 2014-03-12 11.53.11 Bainton’s book is reviewed HERE

Screenshot 2014-03-12 11.52.38Yoder’s book can be found HERE.

As I did with my first book, #Reborn4thJuly, I hope to compile reviews from my latest one, #ForGodandcountry. This is a way to recognize reviewers thoughtful reflections and interact just a bit with what’s being said about the book. The most substantial review thus far has been by Dana Cassell over at ERB Books. She gave a fair and incredibly thoughtful synopsis of the book that was so good that she said things I probably should have in my introduction!

One of my favorite lines of hers gives a look into my motivations for writing it in the first place;

If the church has something to say about violence, war, and military service, the only way it can speak with integrity is to engage deeply with the lives and the stories of those immersed in the systems of war we wish to critique.

You can click HERE to head to the website, or cut and paste the following URL into your browser; http://erb.kingdomnow.org/logan-mehl-laituri-for-god-and-country-feature-review. If you have seen one or are interested in writing one yourself, let me know! DM me on Twitter or leave a message in the comments section below!

2013 in review

Posted: January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

outrageous

Several weeks ago on Veterans Day, I watched as Duke University held its annual ceremony to honor members of “the next greatest generation.” Every year on November 11th, Duke Chapel rings its magnificent bells 11 times in remembrance of the Armistice signed in 1918, ending WWI. In the century that has followed, the bell tolls have come to represent a moment of ceremonial silence to remember all veterans that have followed. The tradition of maintaining one minute of silence in recognition of the sacrifices made by this courageous group of people has been, for many veterans, a necessary and cathartic ritual. For many veterans and their loved ones, violating this one yearly moment of silent reflection is on par with sacrilege.

As I watched from the bottom of the Chapel steps, I was therefore outraged that organizers this past year had a handful of veterans-to-be, the Duke ROTC Color Guard, plow right through the solemn occasion. The young cadets began stepping in time just as the first, somber toll sounded, which prompted the National Anthem to be blared loudly all the way through the remaining ten. This insensitive oversight is only one of many recent events to besmirch Duke’s otherwise seemingly spotless brand.

Prior to the ceremony, I had drafted (and later published) an article about some of the ways in which veterans at Duke have been fighting against institutional policies and habits that impede their successful and holistic pursuit of higher education. In the weeks since Veterans Day, a small group of students, alumni, and community allies have received numerous offers of support and pro-bono services to fill the gap left by Duke. Larry Moneta, Vice President of Student Affairs, met with me back in April, after which I was left with the impression that peer to peer communication was a mutual concern and priority, since vets process best with other vets by providing one another a place in which our most painful experiences can surface without judgment.  Keeping these memories out of public view is our way of protecting those we love, but we all must eventually process them with one another or risk bottling up volatile emotions associated therewith. However, in a recent phone call with Duke administrators, I was told that helping student and alumni veterans connect with each other was “the last thing [Duke is] attempting to do.”

“Keeping these memories out of public view is our way of protecting those we love, but we all must eventually process them with one another”

Besides peer-to-peer communication, reliable sources like the American Council on Education (PDF) suggest that a dedicated office and staff are highly effective in helping student veterans excel in higher education. Despite this, Moneta has insisted that there will not be a center for veterans at Duke any time soon. In fact, not one dollar at Duke is dedicated to permanent programming, staff, or space to consolidate information and resources for this next greatest generation despite having the 15th largest endowment in the nation. Had one been in place, when Congressional representatives visited last month in conjunction with a visit from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey (a Duke alumnus), the University could have communicated better with various silos graduate and professional schools in search of veterans with whom our elected officials could meet. If Duke had a center for veterans and military students, there would be more than three undergraduate student veterans, because calls from the Marine Corps Leadership Scholar Program and the Pat Tillman Foundation would more likely be returned in a timely manner.

Had there been a space in which even community volunteers could work and meet with veterans, many of the difficulties related to veterans matriculating at Duke could be avoided. After all, Duke has relied upon free labor before; a webpage that has recently appeared was constructed by staff with no such explicit responsibility to student veterans. To this day, there is not a single job description at Duke that makes reference to veterans programming. Had Duke allocated funds and resources specifically to the unique and overwhelming challenges of their own fastest growing student population, perhaps the crippling academic ambition and subsequent depression would not afflict anyone, much less student veterans like Alex Ney, whose 2009 suicide was the catalyst for the student group Duke Veterans.

Dedicated centers, of course, are resource intensive, and I understand Moneta’s hesitancy to tackle this complex issue. But complexity and limited resources have not kept Duke from ensuring there are centers serving their African American, female, LGBTQ, or other minority student populations. These centers have positively enriched the Duke community and insure that the university sees their constituents as integral to the Duke name.  For example, African American students were able to critique a January 2012 study that undermined their academic strength and reinforced marginalization.  At the time, Duke spokesperson Mike Schoenfeld called the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture “a gem.”

Student veterans, however, are left to fend for themselves. Were this an article about a more recognizable and statistically significant group, I wonder if political will would allow the situation at Duke to continue. If it were the case that veterans made up more than four percent of the American populace, numbers might prove an adequate inducement of change. Providing adequate and attentive care to this subgroup will never succeed as a numbers game. Places like Duke will only ever offer services like these because it is the right thing to do in the wake of two devastating wars (or maybe in recognition of the institution’s gains from military related research and funding).

Student veterans, however, are left to fend for themselves.

It is time for Duke to stop paying lip service to my generation of veterans. A perfunctory webpage is window dressing at best and insultingly superficial at worst. Those who were instrumental in setting it up obviously failed to provide the kind of attention and insight recent veterans could have provided back on November 11. Had Duke put their money where there mouth is by funding a veterans center in which student, staff, and faculty veteran voices are honored and collected, organizers would not have been so callous. Until Duke can see my generation of veterans as human beings in need, warranting no less concern and respect as others, the university recklessly endangers its coveted reputation. Duke must do everything in its power to pro-actively recruit, respect, and retain this next greatest generation… or slip away into mediocrity.

What do you think, how high a priority should Duke University make services to veterans?

Advent 2

Posted: December 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

The second week of Advent in the Christian Liturgical calendar focuses on hope, and the readings are from Isaiah 11. If you’ve ever googled “the peaceable kingdom” you might see the scene depicted by the prophet, in which the lion eats straw like the ox and lie down with the lamb. Bears will graze alongside cows, and wolves will live alongside lambs and leopards alongside goats. Little children will play near snake nests and one of them, from David’s lineage, will lead the rest of us in this upside down kingdom of God.

Today in church, I couldn’t help but cry in mournful anticipation when we would get to see the wrong things made right in the world, in my world. I heard the readings twice, since I attend two churches regularly. In the evening, I was selected to read the passage, and again my heart broke and my voice cracked as I read verses 3&4;

He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.

Needy is not something I feel myself, as I have had the opportunity to see extreme poverty and my life is far from it. The image that stuck in my head was a picture I took in Iraq, or thought I took at least. I just spent over an hour poring through old data CDs looking for it, but to no avail. As I heard these holy words, I recalled a woman sitting outside the main hospital in Samarrah in October 2004, which to military historians would be known as Operation Baton Rouge. To this young woman, it was the night she lost her child.

I remember it so vividly that I could probably draw her fingerprints. They stood out because her hands were soaked in what must have been the blood of her child. The pale raised flesh of her prints stood in stark contrast to the crimson stains resting in the valleys of her scarred fingers. Her palms were open limply toward the sky, begging God and the nearest uniformed friend of mine for answers as to why she suffered so. The infantryman had no idea, let alone about the whereabouts of the child. I remember the amber glow of the incandescent bulbs from the only working generator in town reflecting off the snot and tears covering her face.

The image itself is troubling, angering. Imagine if you were the person who took that poor child from its loving mother. Predator drones were not in use then, but it was a predation nonetheless. In this season of Advent, during this week in which we hope for this world to be turned upside down, this woman continues to cry. Hers is the voice I hear when we sing the hymn so popular this season;

O come, o come God-with-us,
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight,
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

Hope is not optimism, it recognizes the injustices so rampant in our world and enables the faithful to live lives that anticipate righting grave wrongs. This righting is what we look forward to in Christ’s coming in under three weeks. Advent is a mournful month, a deep reckoning with these things our world is made up of, like lions and tigers and bears and predator drones and infantrymen. When the day we await finally comes, it is not the prey who undergo fundamental change, but the predators like me and my friends who did those things our society asked of us. Violence, however necessary we might genuinely think it is, will cease. The powerful and the violent will be made ‘right,’ and those who are weak and powerless will have much less change to undergo. They will be vindicated, as Jesus was by himself being weak in the eyes of the world.

The terrible wisdom we predators acquired in this world of death will be washed away. All that will be left to know will be the Lord. This child the Church awaits will lead us in wisdom and understanding, in planning and in strength. We will be stricken by the rod of his mouth, and those who insist on remaining in wickedness will cease to be. We will not harm or destroy, nor study war anymore. We will lie down and weep with parents whose children we took and break bread in the presence of our enemies. Things will finally be right, and there will be every reason to rejoice.

But until that day, we wait…

Veterans at Duke: Following up

Posted: November 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Monday was Veterans Day, which is always a crazy busy time for me. Besides being a member of the group honored by this national holiday, it is also the feast day for my patron saint, Martin of Tours. But it is also very near what veterans and VA clinicians call an anniversary for me. Nine years ago, it was mid November when I watched a young man die slowly in the cold desert night pinned beneath several tons of a Humvee in Iraq. Reflecting on that evening over the several weeks and months that followed, my heart and mind was eventually converted from the remaining confidence I had in war.

In the years that have followed, I have committed myself to serving and supporting veterans and soldiers in particular, especially in the church, but not exclusively. For two  years as a student at Duke, I presided over the campus wide organization for students, staff, and faculty veterans; Duke Veterans. But the more we did as a group, the more speedbumps we hit. Trying to work within the system for two years left me wondering if anything was accomplished. After recently reconnecting with administrators and those who replaced me in various ways, it seemed to me that it remained business as usual.

The problem with business as usual at Duke is that it began only after someone like me took their own life.

The article I published on Monday afternoon was probably only the first of many. The system that has established itself at Duke has defaulted to methods that obstruct veterans from communicating openly with one another. However, it is common knowledge that veterans process most productively with other veterans, especially those who fought in the same or similar conflicts. Because of generational and operational differences between different wars, veterans do not connect nearly as solidly with veterans of other wars.

The instincts of the institution to put Vietnam or Gulf War veterans in front of the camera or the microphone which is certainly a small step in …a direction. But in three years, I haven’t spoken to any student veterans who fought in those conflicts. It leaves me wondering who it is the administration expects to be speaking to. For well over ten years “veteran” has included people of my war, the “Global” war on terrorism (funny how global and “world” otherwise seem synonymous), and I wonder why, for example, they didn’t put a GWOT veteran on their web page or ask one to speak on Monday.

Hopefully things will change. Hopefully those managing information and other resources will listen to the very students who make their salaries possible. I hope that administrators will begin really listening to those who continue to serve in these latest conflicts. But even those veterans who fought long before me have not been heard and fully appreciated. If they had, Duke would not have allowed the ceremony to desecrate the solemnity of the annual 11 bell tolls struck on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in memory of the devastating effects of war. Instead, the perfunctory ceremony began just as the first toll sounded , steadfastly refusing to stop and wait and listen during each and every toll that followed.

If Monday is any indication, even without my previous experience at there, Duke has a long ways to go to understand and properly acknowledge their own fastest growing student population. Instead of focusing on token gestures that themselves violate the rituals and symbolism developed by the martial community, Duke must stop and assess how their actions and inactions reflect on the character of the institution. Does Duke really want the kind of reputation it is gaining with veterans? Will they invest in this, the next greatest generation, by responding effectively to their unique needs? Time will tell, I suppose.

I hate Facebook. I love Facebook!

Posted: November 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

The recent changes to Facebook and the way they have generally been shifting their practices makes me want to start from scratch. When I began on Facebook way back in 2007, I thought I could use it to connect with the people I knew well in the real world. I denied friend requests of people, I told them, “Whose faces I had faced myself.” I was more candid and things I said there did not get automatically plugged into my Twitter profile, @lmehllaituri.

But times they are a changin’. Now  I hate Facebook. The Palo Alto, CA company seems insistent that their service is not to be used privately between friends of flesh and bone. To make their model sustainable, they sell our information thinking we want to hear about how to get ripped in three days (or whatever). They think that your “engagement pictures” album means you want advertisements sent to you about why you should honeymoon in Paris. I think it’s just creepy, but that’s not why I’ve switched accounts.

See, I thought I could maintain a distinction online between public and private. Twitter was public and Facebook was private (except for the Pages I administrate – Centurions Guild, Milites Christi, Duke Veterans, and an Author Page for myself). Those days are gone. Now I will assume Facebook updates will be shared with the world by default. No more inside jokes, no more rants about the insensitive stuff I hear about veterans (or Christians). Maybe if I had drunk pictures on there, I’d have made the switch earlier. No, now the profile that bears my name is for the whole world. Friend me all day long and I will confirm, confirm, confirm. I love Facebook!

Find me at http://www.facebook.com/lmehllaituri.