REBORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY by Logan Mehl-Laituri
In Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience (InterVarsity Press), Logan Mehl-Laituri recounts his own personal faith journey, the story of his conversion not only to Christianity but also to nonviolence. A forward observer who suffered post traumatic stress disorder from a tour in Iraq, Mehl-Laituri came to both faith and pacifism through experiencing the meaningless violence of combat. Despite its subject matter, the author claims that Reborn on the Fourth of July "is not a book about war, it is a book about God." In fact, it is a book about what God has done in Mehl-Laituri's life and, though inspirational, may have little value in providing a theological basis for Christian pacifism.
Mehl-Laituri joined the army months before 9/11 as a way to both serve God and country and earn his way through college. His faith, like his patriotism, had always been less about following his own personal convictions than following the narrative he was taught as a child. To his mind, both were related. "Being a Christian was part and parcel to being American," he writes. "To defend the country was to serve God." His time in Iraq, however, shattered all illusions. A man who prided himself on his personal decency, he was forced to face the limits of his own callousness and anger. The random, meaningless violence of combat also forced him to reconsider the justice of war itself. Upon his return to the US at the end of his deployment, this desperation helped lead him to a closer exploration of his faith. Convicted that love for enemies was not best "expressed at the business end of an artillery shell," Mehl-Laituri sought to return to Iraq as a noncombatant conscientious objector. His request denied, he was discharged from the army and has spent the remaining years struggling with the reality of what it means to be both Christian and a soldier.
Mehl-Laituri's book is intensely personal and reads like a confession with a great deal of military terminology thrown in. It is written in movements, not chapters, which contributes to the informal style; the writing itself is conversational. While Reborn is a re-telling of specific events and writings that influenced the author, most of the emphasis is placed not on the issues themselves but on the emotional turmoil that they created. Many of these feelings are expressed in the form of song lyrics, which work themselves, sometimes awkwardly, into the larger narrative. Theological and biblical foundations for war and pacifism are included, but only as they influenced Mehl-Laituri himself. After all, the author's conversion was instigated by experience and only later supported by theology.
Reborn on the Fourth of July is an inspiring book and a quick read. In an age where both pacifism and nationalism are followed as trends, rather than serious convictions, Mehl-Laituri deserves credit for breaking that mold. His story is a wonderful example of how God can really change hearts and minds. However, while God converts, this book does not. While it does make a broad, universal claim against Christian involvement in war, it does not develop or explore that argument sufficiently enough to convince anyone to become either pacifist or Christian. At most it will only inspire readers to dig deeper, and, to be fair, that does seem to be the author's purpose. Mehl-Laituri shies away from any claim that his own experience is universally relevant, instead urging readers to pray and examine their own consciences on this issue. After all, as he himself claims, this book is about God, not war.
Rebecca Baik earned an MDiv from Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University. A former Sider Scholar with the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy, she currently works as a legal assistant in an immigration law firm.