In 2007, I told a small crowd gathered in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. that “I’m not a speaker, I’m not really even a writer. But I’d really like to be a storyteller.” Despite my addiction to academic books on Church history, theology, and other really heady stuff, the two works I have published are written plainly and narratively. Stories are more compelling and engaging than straight logical arguments. In fact, an important facet of rhetoric, besides logos (and ethos, “character”) is pathos, which is translated as “experience” or “suffering.” Jesus rarely argued with logic or character alone, though he did clearly employ their persuasive power at times. His stories, on the other hand, the parables he uses to impart wisdom, can be more memorable than his commands or his character. In terms of the canon more broadly, Christians will often rise at the reading of the Gospels, the stories of Jesus’ ministry on earth, an honor not bestowed to the Pauline epistles or the Hebrew Scriptures. Stronger than my desire to craft sound but sterile logical arguments is my desire to find and share fascinating stories that help the Church appreciate the richness of our faith and the place of military service therein.
When I write, I do not shy away from the colorful experiences that have shaped my character. Shades of gray are associated with fog and confusion, and I worry that ambiguity can be a dangerous impediment to moral formation. If there is a sharp distinction between God and country, between religion and politics, then it is not a long, wide brick wall – it is a thin red line in the sand. The question, then, is whether we realize when and how we cross it. Most of my writing tries to illuminate that line so that the Church knows when it strays from and returns to its primary calling, which is to love the world in its brokenness without contributing thereto.
My most recent book, #ForGodandcountry, was published in 2013 by Mennonite publishing house Herald Press (the same that put into print much of John Howard Yoder’s works). It profiles 40+ people of faith whose lives were touched by martial violence and who challenge binary assumptions about war and theology. Too often, the choices for Christian soldiers are polarizing, as though absolute pacifism or patriotic obedience are the only options. But this is a false dichotomy, as the lives of these Soldier Saints and Patriot Pacifists reveal. Their lives are part and parcel to the story of the Church and no account of war or peace are complete without their (very diverse) witness. I hope that thinking about and honoring the testimony their lives leave us pushes Christians to a much deeper appreciation for martial virtues. All the proceeds from sales of the book go directly to Centurions Guild.
My first book, about how I was #Reborn4thJuly, was graciously picked up by InterVarsity Press and went out in 2012. Written in plain language for an ecumenical and even secular audience, my hope was to leverage my seminary training in a way that would be understood by anyone, regardless of their ecclesial background or convictions. Being accountable to the Church (the vast majority of whom has no in-depth theological training) meant that, regardless of audience, intellectual condescension was unacceptable. I tried to write both convincingly and compellingly without excluding readers by either retreating up the ivory tower or burying my head in the ideological quicksand. The main body of the book was relatively straightforward, and most of my hard and fast assertions were reserved for notes and appendices. If you skip those, then you will miss out on a lot of what I had to say! (sorry, I am a cover-to-cover kind of reader, which carried over to my writing) Though it was completed in under three months, Publishers Weekly awarded it a rare Starred Review. What can I say, I must be better at writing than I am at marketing…
Even in writing I have contributed for other books, I try to keep myself narratively centered, to remember that stories shape us as much, if not more than, logic or data. For example, I have contributed chapters or other content to LT Zachary Moon’s Coming Home (Chalice Press, 2015) and Shane and Ben Cohen’s Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream (Zondervan, 2012). I have also been featured in one or two books, like Greg Barrett’s The Gospel of Rutba (Orbis, 2012) and Shane and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President (Zondervan, 2008).
Ongoing projects I have on my plate seem to be tending toward the scholarly kind of writing expected of an academic, and include an introduction to 3,500 years of combat stress (contracted with Wipf & Stock), and an edited volume compiling as much as possible of the 2011 After the Yellow Ribbon Conference. There also are a few encyclopedia articles on war and the social sciences that are in process, as well as a chapter on private military contractors that will hopefully see the light of day. As I continue to publish, I’ll try to keep stories and story-telling central to my approach to writing while balancing my dual allegiances not just to God and country, but also to the paradigms of classroom and congregation alike.