Help for an Agnostic who is dealing with a Problem Christian

Some time ago, I received an email from an agnostic friend who asked for my help in dealing with an irritating Christian. I told him what I could.

Dear Allen (the name has been changed),

Sorry it has taken me longer than expected to answer your email. Reading it again, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. Do I understand your situation correctly? You used the word “proselytize.” Your brother-in-law is trying to “proselytize” you. I take this to mean that he is concerned for your rapidly aging soul. At your age of 66, that is no unimportant issue. You could be dead tomorrow (if not sooner). In answer to his concern, you raise your objections about what Christian missionaries do destroying cultures in other countries. Do I have that down right? So how in the world should you deal with this damnably irritating individual (whom you assure me  you love and respect) regarding his futile attempts to save you? Is that the question?

In my experience, with all such people delicacy and sophistication simply do not work. No matter what his concerns may be that you are on your way to hell, you have every right to your opinions and privacy. In particular, within the confines of a family, no one should browbeat another. Sadly, I think there’s no other alternative than a fairly brutal response. I suggest that you tell him with the utmost clarity that his attempts to save you will never work. You have made your decision regarding Christianity. While somewhat clinically fascinating as an example of spirituality, it will never be of any deeper personal interest to you.

As a sophisticated man you are quite prepared for what you consider to be the minimal risks involved with this decision. The minor risk being that Jesus Christ is exactly who the Bible says he is and that your rejection of eternal salvation offered through him means that you will go to hell. While you don’t believe this fantasy for a New York minute, you accept the logical potential that there is a very tiny percentage of possibility that it could be true. After all, in the insanity of our quantum universe almost anything could be true, if not in this dimension, then in some other. Accepting this tiny percentage of possibility and standing against it will prove one of two things – either you are a man of great moral courage who has risen above primitive ignorance or you are an arrogant, smug, eternally self-destructive fool. One way or the other, I would inform your brother-in-law that you are ready, willing and able to take the risk of being such a fool.

Perhaps he is not fully aware of the important values held by every good agnostic. As gently as possible, I would inform him that you carry in your proverbial wallet an important piece of self-identification. It is your Professional Searchers Card and it qualifies you to dabble endlessly (well, not endlessly) at the smorgasbord of world spirituality – a dab of this, a titillating morsel of that. He needs to understand that Professional Searchers are members of a very exclusive club. Their self-esteem (some would call it arrogance or overweening pride, but why quibble?) is found at all costs in maintaining their life-long objectivity. The most important clause in the contract of club membership is that a Professional Searcher is not allowed ever to actually find anything of eternal and life-changing importance other than belief in the power of his own intellect and the rather entertaining illusion that he is master of his fate and captain of his soul. To invest in anything beyond this would mean an instantaneous and very humiliating loss of membership and the status accruing to it among his many sophisticated friends. Which, you might mention, brings up the most egregious claim of historic Christianity.

To be a Christian demands abject, self-mortifying humility. (Which is irrefutable proof that there are very few actual  Christians in America today. In particular, there are almost none on Facebook, but I digress.) Not only must one believe in the anachronistic concept of sin, one must accept that he is a sinner deserving of hell before a Holy God. That is bad enough, but it gets infinitely worse. One must actually humble himself, ask forgiveness for his sins and then turn away from them, depending only on Jesus Christ, and his death on the Cross to pay the eternal penalty for all the evil crap that he has done. You might mention to your brother-in-law that, not only is this unnecessary in your case, it is personally insulting and goes against every modern concept of psychological well-being, all of which, in one way or another, depend on stoically coping with human evil and murderous destructiveness, while desperately struggling to maintain a positive, life-affirming attitude – indeed, a truly heroic endeavor in the face of the dark horrors happening every day, to say nothing of your own ever-approaching death.

But why worry about that?  An essential part of your life affirmation is clinging in blind faith to one of several assertions. Choose the one or ones that you prefer: 1) When your eyes close for the last time you enter eternal slumber without dreams.  You have no evidence that this is the case, but you are a man of faith. 2) At some point in the future, the universe will regurgitate you into another physical body, reaping whatever you have sown in a previous life without any memory of it.  Perhaps you will reappear as an Afghani goatherd or worse, as one of his goats.  3) To hell with all serious considerations about anything.  Just struggle and bumble on, considering yourself an intellectual hero who needs no ignorant crutches, bolstering your heroism with stiff shots of Jack Daniels or whatever your favorite escape libation.

So there we have it. As far as your brother-in-law is concerned, the time for charm and patience is at an end. Man of blind faith that you are, give it to him with both barrels.

All the best,

Coleman Luck

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A New, Really New, the Very Best Kind of New Colossus

(A new statue of “liberty” poem more fitting for a Great America )

Like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty orange-headed man with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and his name
HAMMER OF EXILES. From his golf-hardened hand
Glows world-wide warning; his raging eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, Third World sewers, your pathetic loser weaklings!” cries he
With endless tweets. “Give me only the rich, the powerful,
The sleek, huddled bankers ever-yearning for a little more,
The wretched refuse keep on your own teeming shore.
If you send your homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I’ll smash those losers with my really big lamp (the biggest)
beside the golden door!”

For a point of obsolete, anachronistic humor, here is the old poem:

New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

 

The Terror that Comes in the Night

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I’m going to give over this edition of my blog to my wife, Carel Gage Luck. I hope you find her article of interest and, perhaps, of help.

Carel Gage Luck:

I wrote this column a number of years ago, but feel it might be of help to people today.

There is a book by David J. Hufford entitled, The Terror that Comes in the Night. The sub-title of the book describes the contents as: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. According to Hufford’s research about a sixth of the population experience the phenomenon described in his book yet almost no one talks about it. The experience Hufford describes is similar to what has become known in our culture as the “alien abduction” experience, yet differing in some aspects. According to the Roper Poll done in 1992 at least two percent of the adult population have experienced being abducted. It is difficult to get an exact number since it is believed that many people completely repress the experience and many other just don’t talk about it.

The Roper Poll used a sample of 5,947 respondents corresponding to the equivalent number among the 185,000,000 ostensibly represented by Roper’s demographically balanced sample. The margin of error is + or – 1.4 per cent. The poll excluded everyone under 18 years of age and all residence of Hawaii and Alaska, as well as all residing in dormitories, hospitals, etc. When respondents were asked if they had ever awakened paralyzed with a sense of a strange presence in the room 18 per cent said yes. This percentage with a + or – 1.4 margin of error represents 33,300,000 people.

In 1973 Coleman and I and our two baby boys lived in Virginia. Coleman was working for Christianity Today magazine as the advertising manager and I was a stay-at-home mom doing some freelance artwork. One night I woke up instantaneously. My eyes flew open like the close-up in a horror movie when the dead person comes back to life. I was totally awake with the sense that something was very wrong. That sense moved very quickly to terror. I was paralyzed, unable to move anything except my eyes. To my left, over my husband’s sleeping body, I could see three figures gliding into the room. Their feet, which I couldn’t see because a monk-like robe covered them, never touched the ground. They were coming out of the walk-in closet and my first thought was, “How did they get into the closet?” It was communicated to me in some fashion – I don’t know how – that they had come in the large second story window in the nursery, glided down the hall, gone through the wall into the master bath, and from the bathroom had glided into the closet. I knew they were very, very angry with me for some reason, but I didn’t know why. They communicated to me, without speaking, that they were going to levitate my stiff body, slam me through the window above our bed and drop me on my head killing me. They wanted me to know that my husband would be blamed for my death.

I had no doubt that they were capable of doing this and my terror escalated. I tried to scream at Coleman to wake up but I couldn’t. My vocal cords were paralyzed. Then I began to pray. I tried to call out, “JESUS.” Again nothing would come out of my mouth other than grunts. Once more I tried to say “JESUS.” More grunts. Finally a garbled “Jesus” came out of my mouth. At the name of Jesus the beings dissipated into the air into little triangles just like a visual effect.

I immediately woke Coleman and told him what had happened. After comforting me the inevitable question came. He said, “Are you sure it wasn’t just a bad dream?” Irritated, I replied, “Yes, I’m sure. Because if it was a bad dream I’m still dreaming. I awoke before it began and I have not awakened since. Besides I just KNOW it was real.” At the time, neither one of us knew what to do with this experience, so I just filed it away and didn’t talk about it again for about 20 years.

Then about twenty years later Coleman was writing a pilot for a television series that was supposed to be about all sorts of strange phenomena. He gave me a book on alien abduction and asked me to read it and see if there might be any story ideas in it that he could use. As I read the book it struck me how similar these people’s experiences were to mine. Then I came across a drawing of one person’s alien abductor. It was eerie. He had drawn the same beings that had come into my room.

At the same time I was reading a book about several different missionaries that had gone to a variety of Third World countries. The book was entitled, Demon Experiences in Many Lands published by Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1960. In the preface we find this statement by the publishers: “It has been many years since any serious study of demon experiences has been published, and possibly never before a compilation from competent observers in many part of the world. The reason for this omission is not clear, but the results has been a feeling on the part of many Christians that these strange (to us moderns) phenomena were only valid in Bible times.”

Several of the missionaries had this attitude themselves when their story begins. Most were totally unprepared for the assaults that they and their new converts would confront. Several of these experiences were very similar to the ones described in Hufford’s book and countless alien abduction books. A conclusion from Hufford’s book is that people unfamiliar with any notion of what he calls an “Old Hag tradition” describe their symptoms precisely in accordance with those aware of one. All of these missionaries came to the same conclusion. They believed they were dealing with demons. Each looked to the Bible to learn how to deal with them.

As I began to form my own opinion about my night terror experience I went to the Internet to see if anyone besides myself had a similar experience. Was I the only person who has used the name of “Jesus” to end a night terror or alien abduction experience? I found an article from Florida Today magazine for August 17, 1997, written by Rita Elkins concerning alien abduction and it’s similarity to demonic oppression. She quotes Joe Jordan, a director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) a clearinghouse for UFO related research. When he is not checking out UFO claims for MUFON he works in product development and engineering for Sea Ray Boats. He and his partner Wes Clark, also a member of MUFON, who is a quality control engineer at the Kennedy Space Center, have, through their work at MUFON, come across several people who have been able to stop their abduction experience by calling on the name of Jesus. He shared a taped interview with Elkins for her article in Florida Today:

Jordan punches buttons on a tape recorder. A nameless, 30-something man with an intelligent-sounding voice, slightly Southern, tells his story. Calmly at first.

“There were strange lights in a nearby woods at bedtime, barking dogs.” He is up and down a few times; yelling at the dogs while his wife sleeps soundly. Then lying down again…”I couldn’t move…grey fog. I couldn’t see anything, but it was like someone was here.” He felt himself lifted off the bed. “I was terrified, so helpless… screaming inside, but I couldn’t get it out.”

The voice is less calm now, but still certain, not hesitant.

“I thought I was having a satanic experience, that the devil had gotten hold of me and had shoved a pole up my rectum and was holding me up in the air…so helpless. I couldn’t do anything.”

A non-religious person, he’d been to church with his wife a few times.

“I said, ‘Jesus, Jesus, help me,’ or ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!’ And when I did, there was a feeling or a sound or something. That either my words that I had thought or words that I had tried to say or whatever, hurt whatever was holding me up in the air on this pole. And I felt it was withdrawn, and I fell. I hit the bed, because it was like I was thrown back in the bed. I really can’t tell what it was. But when I did, my wife woke up and asked why I was jumping on the bed”

Elkins goes on to say, “Relentless anonymity is given in abduction research. Nobody in their right mind wants family, friends and co-workers to know they’ve had their personal space violated against their will by strange-looking creatures whose existence isn’t even proven.”

Jordan told Elkins that three other researchers had had similar cases. They had not revealed this because they felt it would hurt their credibility, especially among the folks that invite them to speak at UFO Conventions. I certainly can understand this. A number of years ago, Coleman and I went to a UFO Convention in San Francisco. Most of the people there were defiantly New Agers and didn’t seem to be open to traditional religion at all. In spite of the fact that abduction experiences are described as horrible, brutal and denigrating many believe they are done by good aliens and somehow beneficial to human kind. So my question is, “Do you really think our alien space brothers are assaulting us or could there be a demonic connection to these experiences?”

You may be wondering why I have decided to share my night terror story with the world on the Internet. I am sure that there are many who will just think I am a total whacko. Some of you who know me may think I am further gone than you realized. But if there are people experiencing these assaults who want them to stop, I can offer hope.

My younger son was taking a college class at a secular university. The teacher of this class, which was a language class and had nothing to do with what I am writing about today, began asking the same questions that were asked in the Roper Poll. After a few questions, one girl raised her hand and began to tell the class about her abduction experience. When she had finished, my son said to her, “There is a way to stop these experiences if you want to.” The teacher interrupted, “No there is no way to stop them!” “Yes!” my son replied, “They can be stopped.” “No they can not. We have to get back to our subject.”

I want people to know that my son’s teacher is wrong. There is a way to stop these experiences. Please don’t think that I am saying that the name “Jesus” is magic. It is not magic, but it does have power. The power is based in belief. The Creator of the Universe knows his children. The Good Shepard knows his sheep. Surely if he was willing to die for our sins, He is able to protect us from the Evil Ones. Put your faith in Him.

If you have experienced a night terror I would like to hear from you. Tell me your story.  carel@sti.net

Carel Luck © January 2006

 

Gateway to Hell–VIETNAM 1968: The Thoughts and Experiences of an Infantry Soldier

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What you are about to read is disjointed. Maybe a better word is ragged. This is because the memories are ragged. They refuse to be condensed and organized into neat, traditional forms. Partly this is because I am writing about two things at once, a very influential documentary about Vietnam by Ken Burns and about my own blighted experiences in that war. It was watching his documentary in December of 2017 that pushed me to think about such writing. I’m a professional writer with many years of experience in Hollywood, but in all those years I never wrote directly about my time in the war. There are reasons for that. Memories of war do not like to be awakened. They prefer a long sleep.

I arrived in Vietnam as an infantry First Lieutenant in early November of 1967. A few weeks after I arrived I celebrated my 22nd birthday. The year ahead for me, for my loved ones, and for the entire country was momentous and horrible. When it was over, nothing was ever the same again. But at the start, I need to say something that you may consider very strange. As terrible as that year was, I view it as one of God’s great gifts to me. How that could be true I’ll explain at the end.

So thank you for joining me on this brief journey. When it is finished, I hope you will have gained some new understanding of things that happened a long time ago.

The Inaccuracy of War Films

No film about Vietnam can ever be made that will tell the full story of that tragedy, because there are as many stories as there are American soldiers who served in that war. No film about Vietnam will ever be truly objective. Even after all these years, so much raw emotion remains on every side. Certainly, Mr. Burns has his biases. He spends a lot more time focused on the rightness of the anti-war movement and the supposed brutality of American soldiers than he does on the murderous brutality of the communist government in North Vietnam, the NVA and the Viet Cong. He touches on it, but not deeply enough and that is a major shortcoming.

Almost all of his in-depth interviews with former combat soldiers are with men who became vocal protestors against the war. That was a tiny percentage of those of us who fought. Most of us simply came home and tried to take up our lives where we left off. Mr. Burns spends far too little time on what so many Vietnam veterans faced when they came home. That is a tragedy worthy of its own documentation. But all of this said, it is one of the best documentaries I have seen on this agonizing subject.

No matter how well done and extensive it might be, no film can ever communicate what being a combat soldier is really like. Combat is not just an assault on the body. It is an assault on the soul. Some die from it, but all are wounded and the reality of those wounds cannot be experienced secondhand. Though they may not use these words to express it and they may cover it well, every combat soldier comes home with a broken heart.

When you make a documentary, you focus on the most dramatic and compelling stories and visuals available. Burns chose to cover some of the most hideous and bloody battles of the Vietnam War. I would have done the same. But that is very far from the whole story. Also, in making a film you contract time. While this is necessary, it gives a false sense of reality. In speeding up time, you speed up the misery. Before you know it, the film is over. But the real misery is slow and grinding. It is the loneliness and utter despair of seemingly endless days and nights. And it is fear, but not simply the fear when bullets strike. It is the constant fear of not knowing what tomorrow will bring. And when you are living through it, as much you want to contract time, you can’t. In Vietnam, time was measured on calendars where you crossed off the days until you could go home.

Most of all, watching a documentary you cannot experience the endless sweat and stink of your own body and the ever-increasing vileness of your soul. After you finish watching a documentary, you can forget what you have seen and keep on believing the sweet fantasy that humans are basically good.

Let me be specific. There is something dark that Mr. Burns’ documentary doesn’t touch on at all, because I’m sure neither he nor any of his team could fathom it. With all of the agony of that terrible war, how could anyone fathom it? But it must said.

With all of its horror, men love war. The myth of the warrior runs deep within the human race. It is at the heart of every super hero film. But no film can ever communicate the sense of pride that a man feels when he has done his best and fought bravely in the face of great danger. He has stood where many others were too afraid to stand. Whether we like it or not, whether it is good or not, for thousands of years, the myth of the warrior has defined manhood. It continues to do so.

Over the decades, many times, when men have learned about my experience in war, I have seen a kind of wistfulness come over them. Though it isn’t true at all, somehow they seem to feel that they missed an important step in achieving manhood. This is beyond rationality, but to think it doesn’t exist or is unimportant is blindness. Sadly, it is part of our fallen and lost human condition. And it echoes down through history from ancient mothers who told their sons, “Come back victorious or come back on your shield,” to the ticker tape parades for armies that won. As a nation, it isn’t really war we hate. What we hate is losing.

It is an interesting question to ask, how would we feel if we had won in Vietnam with maximum enemy casualties, but a minimal number of our own? But we didn’t. And there is no acceptable alternative to victory.

Is the way we feel after Vietnam, the way untold thousands of families in the American South felt after they lost their war? Far more of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers never came home. To their enemies, even their mourning was considered a traitorous act. And all of it for what? Why do men love war? Because there is violence inside of us. When the thin veneer of socialization is stripped away, it appears in all its lurid glory. Our love of violent films is an echo of this. Mr. Burns does not touch on that awful reality, but I think it is at the heart of so much that happened in Vietnam. Not only do we love war, also, we utterly despise it.

Opening the Letter Box

While watching the documentary, I did something else. For fifty years a large box has been sitting in our various garages. It is filled with all the letters that I wrote to my wife, Carel, while I was in Vietnam. I took out that box and read them for the first time since I wrote them. Sadly, I could not keep the hundreds of letters that Carel wrote to me. Our front-line infantry battalion was constantly moving from place to place, while our personal gear was stored in a huge base camp. I had a duffel bag stolen, also a footlocker broken into. The perpetrators (never caught) were rear-echelon American soldiers. (You think veterans are all wonderful? There are plenty of them who are despicable rats.)

What is it like when you are 72, to meet yourself when you are 22, and living through one of the most awful experiences of your life? As I read the letters, the first thing that struck me was how very much is completely gone from my conscious memory. In the letters I read about many intense experiences that I do not remember at all. Even more disturbing, in one or two cases, what I thought I remembered was not accurate.

The second thing that stood out in the letters that I wrote to the wonderful girl I had married, was how very hard it was for a young couple to live through all that we did and stay together.

When I went to Vietnam, Carel and I had been married for a little over two years. Of that time, we had actually lived together only about five months. And all of those few months were high stress periods during which I was either undergoing intense military training or training others for combat.

In the letters you meet two young people who are deeply in love, but in a constant state of low-level agony. Carel lived with many difficulties here at home, while every day fearing that when she came home from work she would see a green car waiting for her with news of my death. She wrote to me constantly, sending packages, trying to encourage me, while living in a country filled with chaos and consumed by hate, the streets of the cities burning with riots, the evening news spewing horrifying images of war with ever-increasing stories about the evils of American soldiers. And always, she was waiting, waiting, counting the days that seemed to never end, waiting for my return.

And across the world, me in Vietnam, desperately lonely, filled with despair, surrounded by men who felt exactly the same. Today you would say that we were all clinically depressed. But there was no therapy. You simply went out and did your job, while thirsting for mail from home and counting the days. As you ticked them off, you grew ever harder, tougher and angrier.

During the year in my infantry battalion, I had three assignments. The first was Assistant S4. In this capacity, I was responsible for the resupply of our rifle companies out in the field. This entailed collecting food and ammunition and delivering it by helicopter. Also, when the entire battalion moved, which we did often, the S4 department was responsible for logistics.

The captain, who was the official S4 and my superior, was a dithering, loud-mouthed incompetent. Everyone in the battalion knew this and came to me instead of to him. He would give stupid, impossible instructions. I would say, “Yes sir”, then do it my way. If I hadn’t, we would have hit disaster. Later, when that same captain took command of a rifle company, because of his incompetence, he was relieved of his command under fire. Other than death, there’s nothing worse for a career infantry officer. With the number of fools I encountered in positions of authority, I was amazed that we got anything done at all. Constantly dealing with idiots doesn’t encourage you in your depression.

My second assignment was leader of the battalion’s heavy mortar platoon. In Burns’ documentary you see some footage of mortars being fired. They are tubes. You drop an explosive round into them and it blasts into the air. The ones in the documentary are small. Mine were very large, 4.2 inches in diameter, and fired huge rounds.

For a couple of months, my platoon was given an interesting assignment. Outside of Saigon, there was a Shell Oil tank farm lined with giant tanks filled with highly combustible liquid. Almost every night, the enemy would fire mortars and rockets, trying to hit them. My platoon was right next to them. Our job was simple. When rounds were fired at the tanks, we had to track where they were coming from and fire back to stop them. This assumed that the first incoming rounds didn’t hit the tanks, which would have been very uncomfortable for us.

Thankfully, the enemy was not accurate, while my guys were very fast and accurate. It felt good the next morning to get word from ground units that blown-up bodies and equipment had been found where we had targeted. Long after we were gone, the enemy did hit that tank farm, which wasn’t pretty. But it didn’t happen on my watch.

My third assignment as rifle platoon leader, first platoon, Bravo company, was by far the most intense of the entire year. In looking back at all of it, the amount of responsibility I carried as a 22-year-old, was frightening and amazing. Of course, at the time, it seemed quite normal. One of the problems I had in adjusting to civilian life at 23 was going from all of that to being a student again and working at a regular job.

As a young officer, some of the things I had to deal with were slightly mind-bending. Let me tell you about one “management” challenge.

A Visit to the Whorehouse

Near one of our small, fire support bases there was a whore house. Each week the battalion surgeon would visit the house, check out the women, give shots and make sure they were healthy. As a reward for his efforts, he would get himself a freebie. The word came down the chain of command that it was permissible for the men to visit the house, but it was up to each platoon leader to either give permission or refuse it.

Now the entire battalion was going to the whore house, including the “Christian” chaplain. (Every chaplain I met over there disgusted me.) Well, I was (and am) a Christian. I was married and committed to being faithful to my wife. As a Christian, I refuse to abuse women. Going to a prostitute is participating in her abuse. Many of the poor women who worked as prostitutes in Vietnam didn’t want to be doing that kind of hellish work. They were trying desperately to feed their families and didn’t know any other way to do it. And what of the men? I firmly believe that going to a prostitute is not only abusing her, it is abusing you. There is no free moral lunch. You join yourself to a prostitute, it will cost you much more than the money you put on her bed. Needless to say, the men wanted to visit the whore house. But was it all just raging lust? There was plenty of that. But lust wasn’t the whole story.

How can I explain to you what it is like to live in a world that is iron-hard and filled with despair, where every day is endless exhaustion and desperate hopelessness? How can I explain what it is like to live in a world where you long for a single gentle word and touch, where you dream of a moment when soft fingers will run through your hair? To be an American combat soldier in Vietnam was to live in a world harsh beyond description, where every day and night you were haunted with the memories of loved ones that you had left behind.

And the ones left behind? What agony they could cause. There were horrible wounds that didn’t come from the enemy. Do you think that the protestors who spit on returning soldiers were despicable? They were, but that kind of rejection was nothing. Things happened over there that were infinitely worse. Just remembering them after all the years, is gut-wrenching.

Do you want to hear about true loneliness? How lonely could you get, how filled with absolute despair? Several young married officer friends of mine received letters telling them that their wives were leaving them. While their combat soldier husbands were in Vietnam, they had found someone else. One friend, who deeply loved his wife, got divorce papers in the mail. Not only had she found another man, she was pregnant with that man’s child.

In the darkness of our world in that far country, what does that do to you inside? How do you remain human? Just listening to my friend tell about it was a nightmare. He was so filled with anguish. What kind of woman would do that? I hated her though I had never met her. When friends have such experiences, suddenly, ugly questions roar in your head. Can you trust your own wife? Does she love you enough? Will she be faithful? Or are all women just whores? It is impossible to describe the darkness and rage that can descend upon you.

Heartbroken loneliness, the longing for a single, gentle touch even if you had to pay for it, can you imagine all of that? No, you can’t, unless you were there. So what about the whore house? I won’t tell you what I did. What would you have done?

I knew of only one other officer in my battalion who wasn’t sleeping with prostitutes. He was an old man, probably all of 39 or 40, and an infantry captain. He was a good man who was married with children and he was faithful to his wife. We sort of stood together. Then he was assigned to lead a rifle company and I didn’t see him again. But after a while, I heard a story.

One night he came in from a long, grueling operation. He was exhausted with the kind of exhaustion that grinds down into your soul. I know what that feels like. Well, his men had a present waiting for him. She was in his bed. Knowing him, I’m certain that the sad memory of that night is one that never left him. I’m sure that night brought a new sorrow. And I felt sorrow for him. We never had contact again.

The Dark Transformation

Over the course of many letters, a transition in me is apparent. At one point, I tell Carel that I feel myself aging inside. What is physical aging? It is slow, creeping death. The dark, spiritual aging of despair and horror is the same. One of the marks of it in war is that nothing shocks you anymore. In very matter-of-fact terms, I write about a man in our battalion who tried to commit suicide. He pulled a pin on a grenade and dropped it into one of the deep pockets in his jungle fatigues. The fool couldn’t even handle that. It didn’t work. It just blew his legs off. But it killed a man and a child who were nearby. My reaction? This place is full of weirdos.

In another letter, I mention that a friend of mine, a young lieutenant, was just killed in combat. Nothing to be said except that he “bought the farm”. And that was that.

When you are in darkness that never ends, what happens inside? Either you disintegrate or you become very, very hard. Part of the transition in me was the growth of a rock-hard resolve. Whatever might come, I could handle anything and face anything. I was a seasoned leader and nothing was going to shake me. It was a resolve built out of low-level rage. I was smart and I was tough. But also, I was heartbroken. It wasn’t like the heartbreak of romantic stories or even of bereavement. It was something deep within the soul where words could not find it. Dimly, you knew that a part of you had died and would never return. That’s why you felt yourself growing old.

Now I know that it was the young part of me that had died, the part that trusted, that could believe in hope, that viewed each day as filled with promise and possibilities. That person could not live in the world where I lived. So he died, but he didn’t die alone.

Hollywood speaks such abominable lies. One of the most evil of them is that killing is easy. You shoot, bodies fall. And you walk away. Those scripts are written and those films are made by stupid, little dilettantes who wouldn’t have the guts to kill a chicken for dinner. That includes every, single one of your pathetic “action heroes”. All they do is mouth words that were written for them and let visual effects artists make them look brave.

The truth? Even when killing is “justified”, the horror of taking a human life never leaves you. We weren’t killing machines over there. It would have been so much easier if we had been. Only a psychopath is a killing machine. We were young men who would carry the scars of killing as long as we lived.

Life is very strange. Because of my experience, I was the perfect person to write the character of The Equalizer, for television. The Equalizer, a Universal production, ran on CBS for four years in the late 80’s and continues running even to this day. I became the senior writer and Showrunner for the series. It is about a man named Robert McCall who has spent his life doing terrible things as a top-level operative in the CIA. He leaves that dark work and begins a search for redemption. In New York City, he runs a small newspaper ad looking for people facing dark forces with all odds against them. For them, he will be The Equalizer. Robert McCall was played by a wonderful, British actor, my late friend and former colleague, Edward Woodward.

Fools in Hollywood thought that The Equalizer was just a vigilante. I knew what he was. He was an angry, brokenhearted man searching for redemption, brokenhearted because he loved deeply. Our star, Edward Woodward, saw it in the first script I wrote for him and said, “This is what the series is about.”

Edward understood, because he was a brokenhearted man too. All the wonderful writers on our show agreed with this character definition and we worked hard to keep killing from being nothing but an orgasmic thrill. Real killing is messy and bloody and there is something strange and awful about a human body when the spirit has left it … especially when it’s gone because of what you did. The emptiness reaches inside of you.

During my year in Vietnam, with good reason, I did not trust a single person with authority above me. We had four battalion commanders. Several of them were fools. One was particularly aggravating. While we were slogging in the heat and filth of the swamps and rice paddies, he would circle above us in his helicopter, yelling over the radio for us to move faster.

One day one of my men shot at his aircraft. The colonel was not pleased about that. I tried to find out who did it, I certainly did, but I never could. I had to inform my platoon that shooting at the battalion commander’s helicopter was not a good plan. (I didn’t mention that I sympathized with the effort.) From that point, he didn’t fly quite as close to us. Part of my rock-hard resolve came from the clear understanding that no one in command above me cared whether we lived or died. It was up to me to try to get these young soldiers home alive. But that wasn’t always possible.

It is clear now, looking back, that the young man who left for Vietnam in November of 1967 never came home again. The vile, black gash of a wall in Washington lists over 58,000 names, but many more died over there and afterward from unseen wounds.

The man who got off the plane in November of 1968 at O’Hare Airport in Chicago was very different. He looked mostly the same, but he was tough and cynical beyond his years. He had left home filled with traditional patriotism. He came home respecting authority, but never trusting America again, not her government nor her people. The truth was that when I came home, I was very angry, but it was easy to cover it up for a while because I was so filled with the joy of being home from that hell. But very soon, my mother saw the change in me and didn’t like it. I didn’t care.

My wife saw it too. But she had changed as well. She wasn’t the starry-eyed bride anymore. Through that awful year, she had been forced to grow tougher. What is clear in the letters is how deeply we loved each other. But at least on my part it was an insecure kind of love.

With what some of my friends were going through, when I went for a week or more without any letters from her I would get very angry. I would express it to her in a letter. Then I would get eight or ten letters from her in a bundle. The military mail was miserable. Of course, I would feel very guilty for what I had written. And on it went, so many letters and every letter filled with love, loneliness and despair.

When I got home, it’s a miracle of God that we stayed together. So many Vietnam veteran marriages didn’t make it. The transition period was rough. There were no classes or counseling sessions to help us. One day you were in the field in war and the next you were eating pizza as though the entire year hadn’t happened. But it had. And there was no way for us to talk about it. With what I had experienced there was no common ground of understanding, no language. So we just did our best to push on through. Thank God, I married a strong, dedicated woman. Ten months after I got home, our first child was born. Well, praise God, we made it. Last September we celebrated 51 years of marriage.

Loss

I didn’t write much to Carel about my combat experiences. I didn’t want her to worry. Some things are just unspeakable.

One day in late September of 1968 at our fire support base, a helicopter landed. In it was a Major General named Julian J. Ewell. He was the commander of the Ninth Infantry Division of which we were a part. A small group of us were gathered in formation and as we stood at attention, we were a ratty looking bunch.

Instead of boots, we were wearing flip-flops and our pants were rolled up above our knees. This was because our legs were covered with infected, running sores from spending weeks up to our waists in swamps and filthy rice paddies. The battalion doctor was treating me for a fascinating range of skin infections including ringworm. Medics would scrape the pus from our sores with scalpels. Let me tell you, that is an agony worthy of the name.

That morning, General Ewell walked up to me and pinned a Bronze Star on my uniform. There was a little “V” on it that stood for valor. I was surprised. I hadn’t done anything heroic, unless heroic means feeling miserable and angry all the time. If that’s what it means, I should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor. I decided that it was like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. Being terrified every, single day in his war with witches, he needed a few medals from the Wizard to keep him going. I accepted the award as I have so many good things in my life, as a gift of grace, unmerited favor. It was nice of General Ewell to visit us. We all appreciated it.

Ken Burns talks about General Ewell in his documentary. Burns says that Ewell put out the word in our division that he wanted high enemy body counts and this caused many killings of innocent civilians as our units tried to give him what he wanted. All I can say is that on my level as a rifle platoon leader I never heard or was given such an order. Neither did I know anyone in our battalion who was pressured in that direction. While the entire concept of body counts came under great scrutiny and justified criticism throughout the Vietnam War, never was I prompted to bring in high body counts or inflate numbers. Were innocent civilians killed, sadly there were. But every unit I knew of made a deep effort to keep that from happening.

Also, Burns speaks about black soldiers being treated differently than white soldiers. Once again, all I can say is that I never saw it. There were both black and white officers in my battalion. In my rifle platoon, two thirds of the soldiers were white and about one third were black. I had black and white NCO’s. All were excellent soldiers.

I had only two young soldiers who gave me discipline problems. For what it’s worth, both were white. They were southern boys, 18 years old and both married. I had a simple way of dealing with discipline problems. One night when the platoon was out alone in a dangerous area, I woke up to find these two young men asleep when they were supposed to be on guard. This endangered all of us. Their punishment? The next day they walked point.

As it happened, my platoon was the lead element for our battalion on a search and destroy operation. As we entered a village and moved between the buildings, we walked into an ambush that could not be seen. Instantly, both of those young men died. I hadn’t intended that their punishment be a death sentence. But it was.

There are some memories that are so painted in fire and blood they never fade away. That morning is one of them. Six of our men died, two from my platoon and four from others. It took hours to destroy the enemy and get our soldiers’ bodies back. I can still hear the insanity, the yelling, the shooting. I can still hear the cobra gunship hovering 30 feet above my head, firing rockets at an enemy bunker 15 yards in front of me.

When it was over I remember feeling tremendous relief. I was still alive and I had been only a few feet from where our men had fallen in the initial attack. But with the relief there was a terrible emptiness as we loaded our dead onto helicopters. They were going home. I thought of their families, busy with their normal lives, unaware that this morning their husbands and sons and brothers had died. But soon a green car would arrive and they would know. Then would begin the crying time. I’ve wondered about those broken families over the years and prayed for them.

At the end of Burns’ documentary, a vet reads a poem about the weight of memory. It is true, there are some memories that are too heavy to bear. It is those memories that must be given to the One who said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…”

I’m sorry, I have to say this. One of the most infuriating moments in the documentary was seeing John Kerry give his testimony before Congress. That pathetic man who had experienced so little combat himself, helped to create the entire evil myth of American soldiers as baby killers.

During all of 1968 I never knew of any unit around me that perpetrated the kinds of crimes that he described. And he hadn’t seen any such crimes himself. Yes, My Lai happened. And all of those criminals who perpetrated it should have been tried and executed. That was the opinion of many soldiers I knew during that time. Did other horrors happen? I’m sure they did, but they were uncommon. After hearing John Kerry talk, Americans thought such aberrations were the rule.

Because Mr. Kerry told people what they wanted to hear about American soldiers, he was rewarded with a high position in progressive political leadership. But he built that success on the backs of untold thousands of Vietnam veterans whose reputations he smeared.

There were Vietnam veterans who supported the anti-war movement and that was their right. If they were baby killers, they should have admitted it and volunteered to be tried by a military court. I don’t remember hearing one man stand up and make such an admission. It was their right to throw away the medals they had received. Of course, the orders and citations for those medals continued to exist in their military records. They couldn’t throw those away.

What effect did their protests have? Burns seems to think it was significant. Well, it was in one way. As they appeared to agree with John Kerry’s slander that American soldiers were baby killers, their protests made everything much more difficult for all of us when we came home.

Let me be clear, I had no problem with people protesting. I had no problem with those who went to Canada. Also, I had no problem with those who tried to serve honorably and did not protest. We all live with our choices. But what America did to my generation of veterans will live in infamy as long as this country exists. As long as Vietnam veterans are alive, no other veterans will be spit on, rejected and made to feel ashamed for honorable service. For my generation of veterans, there were no parades. All we could do was try to vanish in silence back into “normal” life. To a very large extent, the so-called “Greatest Generation” that had fought in World War II, did not defend their sons when they came home. And that is to their shame. Now Vietnam veterans are old men, wearing baseball caps with bumper stickers on their cars proclaiming where they gave their youth away.

So what are we to say about Vietnam? It was the greatest tragedy since the American Civil War. In reality it started another civil war that continues to this day and is tearing us apart. Why did men who knew such a war would fail take us into it anyway? Why did 58,000 American soldiers need to die for nothing? What answer would you like to hear?

Well, that depends on your political bent, doesn’t it? It depends on what you have been taught to believe. Would you like to hear that we did it so big corporations could become rich? There’s always a lot of money to be made in war. Would you like to hear we did it because communism is brutal and evil and had to be stopped? It is one of the most brutal evils in the history of the human race and an utter failure as an economic system.

Would it satisfy you to believe that one president after another felt trapped into making horrible decisions that each knew would fail? Does that explain their lying? Maybe they were utterly corrupt. Or maybe we should blame it all on the evil generals of the Pentagon. Isn’t it true, that all they ever want is war? Perhaps Americans and their leaders are just stupid and arrogantly idealistic, insisting on making the same mistakes over and over, demanding that democracy be implanted around the world, when we are in the process of proving that it doesn’t even work in America.

Or maybe all of our leaders were just broken men trying in their own faulty ways to do what was right and making awful decisions in the process. Which answers would satisfy you? If you don’t like any of these, I could come up with more.

In the last hour of Burns’ documentary I was glad to see my old friend, Frank Snepp interviewed. You couldn’t do a documentary about the fall of Saigon without talking to Frank. He was a high level CIA officer who worked with the Phoenix Program. I didn’t know him over there. We met years later in Hollywood.

No one knows more about the ultimate fall of Vietnam, than Frank. He was on one of the last helicopters out from the Embassy. What he didn’t talk about in the documentary was the personal price he paid and it was unspeakably tragic. When he told me of it years ago, it just took my breath away.

Frank is a brave man dedicated to truth. When it was all over, he wrote a long, carefully documented book entitled Decent Interval. In it he detailed the despicable way we abandoned our Vietnamese allies, people who had believed our lies and helped us for years. In that action, we proved that we are a nation of selfish, heartless traitors.

Frank didn’t use one classified source in writing his book. Everything he documented in it was taken from the public record. But because he told the truth and because he didn’t have CIA approval to do so, he was heavily punished. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Rarely has our government in any form wanted to hear the truth about anything. We are still a nation of fools led by liars.

Burns tells the truth about the aftermath of the fall. After the communists took control, many thousands of innocent Vietnamese people risked their lives to escape the oppression. Many thousands died in the attempt. I know two women in Fresno, California who escaped with their families when they were little girls. What their parents and so many others suffered we would prefer not to hear. For us, the war was over and that’s all that mattered. Our leaders proclaimed that it was time to heal. But it hasn’t healed. It has grown.

The God of the Broken Heart

At the start, I said that, in spite of everything, I view my experience in Vietnam as a gift from God to me. What did I mean by that? How could that be true? There are things that we can only understand as we look back from the vantage point of many years.

What was my Christian faith like in Vietnam? It was real. Often, I had the strong sense that God was protecting me. I knew that He had a plan for my life. But there were many things I didn’t understand. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that I didn’t want to understand. So in the darkness and chaos of Vietnam, you might say that I placed my faith in a kind of glass box where it could be viewed and appreciated without causing trouble. What was constantly operational was my own intelligence, toughness and will.

In Vietnam, I began the process of becoming a man, but not the right kind of man yet. I knew how to take responsibility. I knew how to lead. I knew how to set goals and achieve them. I knew how to stand, even when I stood alone. I knew what it meant to be very afraid, but to do it anyway. I was committed to defending those in need and helping everyone I could. But all of it I did out of my own pride, anger and resolve.

In the letters to my wife, that kind of raw self-confidence is very clear. I brought it home with me. Also, as I said, I came home with a broken heart. Of course, I wouldn’t have described it that way. I would never have admitted such a thing. I would have said that I was just being realistic about life, sucking it up, disdaining suffering, focusing on the future, moving forward no matter what. That’s what Christian hard-asses do. I was a Christian, but I was serving myself and my own goals, while “spiritualizing” all of it to make it sound good, especially to me.

Being a man wasn’t enough, even a creative, driven, goal-oriented man. Down deep I knew that all of it was empty and unsatisfying. I had to start becoming a man of God. And I have to say that is not something I really wanted because I was afraid it would disrupt my plans. Thank God, it did.

I didn’t want my empty, unsatisfying plans to be disrupted. Does that sound stupid? It was supremely so. It is amazing how we cling to our rags. I had to get to the place where all of that self-motivated house of cards came crashing down. God is an expert at engineering such crashes. It took almost ten years after the army to get to the crossroads where I confronted the stark reality that I was a total failure at running my own life. Then came an awful year when I faced something that was far bigger than I could ever handle on my own. It drove me to my knees. But that is another story.

What came out of that year was the clear understanding that I had to surrender my life to the absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ. I could not be in the business of serving myself and my own goals. Whatever I did, it had to be to serve Him and to serve others in His Name. At the end of that year, I entered Hollywood with my first script sale to United Artists.

Suddenly, all of the things I had learned as a young military leader in war came into focus. They were necessary for what I had to do, but the power and purpose motivating all of it no longer came simply from me. Consequently, my entire definition of what it meant to be successful went through a dramatic redefinition. It could not be measured by money in the bank, fame or awards. I came to the place where I realized that success and failure would be determined only by Jesus, the King, when I stand before Him.

In entering Hollywood, I entered what I have come to call the “Story Wars” of my life. And, yes, that is another story. All I will say is that a price had to be paid. And it was paid. Now at the end of that war, there is sadness. I don’t believe you can come out of a war without it. But, also, there is peace. I have a family that loves me, many wonderful friends and a purpose that was far beyond anything I could have fabricated for myself. So I can say in the words of the New Testament, all things, including Vietnam and all that came afterward, work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His Purpose.

Let me conclude with this. Every person goes through a war. And sooner or later, every person living in this world will have a broken heart. I have come to believe that a broken heart can be a very great gift as long as it isn’t diseased and dying from hate, rage and self-pity. Broken hearts don’t go away, but they can be made strong and beautiful through the forgiving Love of God and that’s what Jesus is all about. Getting forgiveness from Him for all the things you’ve done to break your own heart and the hearts of others is the first step. Then comes forgiving others who broke your heart and asking forgiveness from the people whose hearts you have broken.

The beauty of a broken heart that has been forgiven is that, in spite of sorrow, it is filled with gratitude. You find yourself grateful to God even for the things that broke your heart because through it all you experienced His Love. To make all of that possible is why Jesus came and gave His life to forgive your sins. Don’t try to carry a broken heart without Him.

Well, Vietnam is long ago. The letters are back in their box. I won’t read them again. But, perhaps, someday a great-grandchild will be curious about that old box. He or she will pull it out and start to read about two young lovers struggling through great darkness. That child should understand that God, in His Love, carried us through. All truly happy endings come from Him. For Carel and me, the happiest is yet to come.

Coleman Luck

In the Sierra Nevada mountains near Yosemite National Park

January 7 in the Year of Our Lord, 2018.

Carel & Coleman laughing[149]

Coleman 1968 (2)

Available now:

I have put what you have just read into short book form. I have added some photographs taken during a riverine operation and a second article that I wrote about coming home. It is available on Amazon for 99 cents. I would have charged nothing, but Amazon doesn’t allow that. However, you can loan it to others at no extra cost. Also, you can read it free in the Kindle Unlimited program. A print version is available on Amazon. If you do pick up a copy of either version, I would appreciate a review.  Thanks much.

 

THE ULTIMATE ANSWER TO THE NORTH KOREA CRISIS. (It’s easier than you think.)

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Here it is and it is so simple.
 
In dealing with the problem of North Korea, we’ve been thinking in the wrong way. Everything has been focused on a military response, bombs vs. bombs. Bombast vs. bombast. Clearly, this does not work. We are slithering into a very nasty place. What would work in defusing the entire situation? Now, this is going to sound insane, but the world is insane and this strategy has ironclad logic behind it.
 
What does the little pig in NK really want? I mean personally. Has anyone asked that question? He’s young. He has total power in his pitiful country. There’s nothing for him to conquer there. What does he really want? I’ll tell you what he wants. He lusts for FAME. CELEBRITY. Not the fleeting moment of it that comes when he fires a missile into the soup. He wants what everyone wants, to be a STAR. Do you see that? Isn’t it absolutely clear? And he loves movies.  He loves video games.  He loves Disney, for pity’s sake.
 
The key to his destruction isn’t in the Pentagon. It’s in Hollywood. Give him his own TV series. The Apprentice of North Korea. Or an NK version of Star Trek with Captain Un. He’s not going to blow up the world if it would mean blowing up his audience. And I promise you something, the American audience would EAT IT UP. It’s a win/win. A major faltering network would have a new tent-pole show that would give them the night. And the strategic benefit? Stardom would mean the beginning of the End for Un, just as stardom has been the end for so very many others.  He could shriek and rant at studio and network executives instead of nations.  He could produce, direct, act. What’s he going to do if he doesn’t like network notes, nuke the studio?  They’re used to those kind of threats from talent. 
So who would watch this magnificence on the screen?  You would and you know it.  I would too.  So would everyone who has been watching the Kardashians.   Which means everyone in the entire world. Wouldn’t you rather have  another horrendous network TV sitcom than nuclear war?  And think about this:  The little pig is already the head of his country.  We wouldn’t have to worry about him becoming President.
 
(The awful, frightening thing is, in our asylum world, I think this would really work.)
 

Supernatural Healing 2

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Are there dark, unseen forces in the world that can actually heal people?  What happens, how does it work and what are the results? 

Check out this episode!

The Lost Cause

Have you been to Gettysburg?  Like Omaha beach in Normandy, it’s a place that every American should visit if they have the chance.  But if you do visit those places, you need a knowledgeable guide.  In France, our guide was a man who grew up in Normandy and who knew more about the invasion than anyone I have ever met. At Gettysburg, our guide was our younger son who has done a lot of study about the terrible battle that took place there.  The battlefield is huge and as we drove around, he told us things that had happened in various places.  In the battle of Gettysburg, 51,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded.  Of course, back then, to be wounded could be a death sentence since there were no antibiotics and sterile surgery was non-existent.

After visiting Omaha beach, we went to the American cemetery in Normandy.  We ended our visit to Gettysburg at the cemetery there.  The Normandy Invasion is a lot closer to us in time.  People still remember relatives who fought and died there.  The sorrow that came out of that awful battle lives in many  families.   The same was true for thousands of families after Gettysburg. In both the north and the south, the sorrow lasted a long time.  So many sons and fathers and brothers, never came home. Those Gold Star Gettysburg families are long gone now. It won’t be long before families who suffered losses in Normandy are gone too. Then all of it will become coldly academic or romantic, the stuff of historians and novelists, the way we view the Gettysburg horror today. The personal anguish will be gone.

It is easy for some people today to write off all southern soldiers as evil, racist traitors.

That’s not so easy for me.  My great-grandfather was at Gettysburg.  He was a young officer in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  He didn’t participate in the battle because he had been wounded in a previous battle. If he had fought at Gettysburg, there is a good chance that I might not be here.  Most of the soldiers in the Confederate Army were not slave owners.  Owning slaves was expensive. But my great-grandfather had grown up on a plantation.   Slave ownership among my Virginia ancestors goes back a long way.  Slavery was one of the greatest curses that could ever have come to America. The evils of it are almost endless.   We still live with them today.  Personally, it is a blight on my family’s history.  Was my great-grandfather an evil man?  I don‘t know.  He died 30 years before I was born. Whatever he was, I think there was repentance.  I’ve visited his grave.  On his stone are the words, “A sinner saved by grace.”

When you visit the Gettysburg cemetery you are standing where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech.  It was given to dedicate a last resting place for Union soldiers who died in that battle.   Right after it was given, the speech was vilified. It wasn’t like the bloated oratory of the times.    Not until much later did people realize it was one of the greatest speeches of history.  Do you remember it?   If it’s been awhile, let me refresh your memory.

Abraham-Lincoln1

Abraham Lincoln stood in front of a large crowd and said these few, simple words:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 Gravestones Gettysburg

As we stand in the Gettysburg cemetery a question comes to mind.

Why were the soldiers of the Union Army willing to fight and die?  Why was Abraham Lincoln willing to expend so much to fight the Civil War?  I’m sure the first answer that comes to mind is that they wanted to free the slaves.  That would be an excellent reason and eventually during the war it became “a” reason, but it wasn’t the primary reason.  Sadly, many of the Union soldiers were just as racist as the Confederates.  The view of the federal government toward the slaves became clear at the end of the war.  When it was over, the government in Washington did nothing to help the many thousands of African-Americans who had been freed.  Many were promised help that never came. Instead, cruelly, they were simply cut loose to make it or not on their own.  So what was all of that bloody horror about? The primary reason that Lincoln fought the war was to maintain the unity of the nation.  It’s very clear from the speech that Lincoln gave at Gettysburg.  With all his heart, he believed that if the war were lost America would be lost and that government “of the people, by the people and for the people” would perish from the earth.

There is something strange about that. If the south had won the war, basically the same system of government that had existed when the country was undivided would have been in place in both new nations.  Clearly, Lincoln believed that without national unity, the dream that was America could not endure.  He must have viewed the establishment of the nation as a marriage.  If there were a divorce, both parties would continue on, but it would never be the same again.  Everything that marriage stood for would be weakened to the point of death.  The light of freedom that America was bringing to the entire world would be quenched. If the war were lost, it would prove that people could not rule themselves.  It would be prove that, eventually, any such effort would blow apart in chaos.  To keep that from happening, Lincoln was willing to give his own life and the lives of many thousands.

Abraham Lincoln was not a stupid man.

After Lee surrendered at Appomattox, the President understood that national unity would not be achieved simply by winning the war.  650,000 men had been killed and 1.5 million had been casualties.   General Sherman had marched through Georgia destroying everything in his path. Hate and rage filled the land.  There was a burning desire for retribution.  Lincoln desperately desired unity and he knew that achieving it would call for forgiveness and reconciliation.  It would take time and many very specific strategies.  Most of all, the President would have to show great moral courage and leadership.

When a bullet entered Lincoln’s brain, he was 56 years old.  In a single explosion of horror, all hope for unity and national healing perished.  America has experienced many satanic acts, but the murder of Lincoln has had the longest and darkest repercussions of them all.   Much like the Presidents of today, the men who followed him into the Presidency were incapable of the leadership necessary to bind up wounds and heal a broken land.

So, another interesting question:  Has America been “unified” since Lincoln’s death?  Well, we have been unified for periods of time mostly due to “national projects” such as the “taming” of the “wild west.”  All of that land opening for settlement in the years after the war released some of the pressure in the national cooker.  Many families from both the north and the south left to start new lives far away.   And, there were other national projects such as wars.  For periods of time, patriotism bloomed as we joined together to fight common enemies.  Also, terrible times such as the Great Depression brought a kind of unity in suffering.  Or maybe we were just too distracted, exhausted and beaten-down to spew hate at each other.  I have come to believe that the ocean of hate that boiled up before the Civil War has never died.  Like the tide, it goes out only to return.   And now it is returning as a tsunami.

There are those who argue that what unified us in the past were “shared values.”

I know of only one value that we have shared as a nation from the very beginning.   And it isn’t the love of freedom.  This value is shared by both the left and the right today, by people of every race, by the poor and the rich, by the powerful and powerless.  That value is the love of money and the prosperity, or at least the hope of prosperity, that it brings.  The “American Dream” is to have money and be successful. Now let me be clear, it is one thing to view money as a necessary evil that can be used for bad or good.  It is quite another thing to love it, lust after it and worship it.  How do we do that?  By viewing money as the ultimate proof of success. And that is exactly how we view it in America today, from major corporations to churches to labor unions and far beyond.  We worship the idea of “financial security.” And at every level of society financial failure is proof of failure in all of life.  We fawn on the wealthy.  We gamble away what money we have on lotteries and in casinos.  We go into debt with credit cards pretending that we have money that isn’t ours at all and literally paying dearly for our pretense.   The love of money gets people elected to the highest offices and keeps them there. The love of money assures that the national debt grows ever higher.

For all of these reasons and more it is entirely rational to say that the love of money is the only shared value in America today.

Have there been other, more noble, values that motivated the lives of many Americans?  Of course.  Thankfully, during periods of great stress and trial we have had leaders who called us to a more righteous unity in order to achieve higher purposes, leaders such as FDR.  In every case, such leaders were people of deep compassion who themselves had suffered greatly and through that suffering had been transformed.

William Shirer in his classic work, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” tells a tiny story about Roosevelt that I absolutely love.  In the middle of the war, the President became deeply and personally concerned for the Soviet Ambassador.  Why?  Being a communist, the man was an atheist. FDR summoned him to the Oval Office and spent two hours sharing Jesus Christ with him. Can you imagine either Barack Obama or Donald Trump, these “Christian” presidents, doing that today? My father, who was a very conservative man both politically and theologically, told me that when FDR passed away, he cried. The nation cried.  A great unifying leader had left us.  The nation cried after Lincoln was murdered too.   Now we have a President who is incapable of communicating an ounce of compassion, who cannot motivate anyone to more noble values because the only value he shares with the American people is the worship of money.  And that worship is from hell.

When a nation worships a false god, what will happen?

The personality of that false god will become the guiding value of that nation.  The heart value of America is greed.  Greed is expressed in fear, selfishness, mercilessness, hate, rage and, ultimately, violence.  In a nation that worships money there will never be peace, because prosperity is always fleeting.  And the people who have no money will lust after the possessions of those who have it.  This has been the story of humanity since the beginning, but no nation has been so blessed with wealth as America.  A semblance of unity was maintained because the wealth was shared, never with total fairness, but with more equity than in most other nations.  Now, step by step, that is passing away.  The middle-class are becoming poor and the poor are deeply impoverished.  Fear is growing and that breeds mindless rage.

As the thin veneer of American unity vanishes, it is no surprise that an evil beast born before the Civil War, is rising from hell with new and terrible power.  In America, racial hate is an easy choice.  Many white Americans view black Americans as barely civilized animals and many black Americans view white Americans as the spawn of Satan.  But consider this:  If you gave all of these haters of every race who want to battle each other, plenty of money I think most would be happy to live in peace. Until the money was gone.

As I write this, the shrieking rage is about Confederate statues, with many people wanting them removed and many others wanting them to stay.  Now, let me be clear.  If it would bring racial peace and national unity, I would be happy to see every Confederate statue destroyed.  Being the great-grandson of slave owners, I have been blessed with many wonderful, African-American friends.  I want nothing for them but joy and freedom.  I want for them to never live a moment in fear, to find peace and prosperity, to know God and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ so that we can be brothers and sisters forever.  I want them to enter old age surrounded by so many grandchildren they can’t hold them all in their arms.  I want the same for my children and everyone in America.

I want the America that was Abraham Lincoln’s dream.

But this is not to be.  Tearing down every statue in the land will not remove the darkness from our hearts.  To have the future that Lincoln wanted for America, we would need to do things that will never be done.  We would need to enter into a period of national mourning and repentance – mourning and repentance for our greed and worship of money, mourning and repentance for the murder of untold millions of unborn children who weren’t even given the freedom to leave the womb alive,  mourning and repentance for racial hate by citizens of every color, mourning and repentance for a false patriotism that has become nothing but idolatry, mourning and repentance for lust and sexual perversion that has corrupted our youngest children, mourning and repentance for false religion that justifies the sin, but not the sinner, mourning and repentance for our hate, rage and thirst for retribution, mourning and repentance for our mercilessness toward the poor and the suffering stranger, mourning and repentance for our unwillingness to forgive, mourning and repentance for our insatiable love of violence.

Without all of this, the nation is lost.

The first person who should be on his knees in mourning and repentance is the President of the United States.  But we have elected a man who sees no need for mourning and repentance for anything he has ever done.  Those of you who cast your vote for him, what a curse you have brought upon us.  But truly, this President is a fitting representative for all Americans of every color and of both the left and the right, who refuse to take responsibility for their own evil.

What is the future of this country? If you are one of those intellectuals who depend on our “historic institutions” to save us, you have built your house on sand.  Truly, you have been blinded by an intellectualized version of the Normalcy Bias.  God is not mocked. Eventually, all idols will fall.  That includes Mammon.  What will happen when it falls in America?  Government of the people, by the people and for the people will vanish because we were not worthy of it.

The old southerners used to talk about The Lost Cause.  It became a kind of wistful myth.  Well, there is a real Lost Cause.  The real Lost Cause is Lincoln’s dream of America.  I won’t be writing much more about Donald Trump and the sucking national chest wound that he represents.  I won’t be writing about Charlottesville  or the Charlottesvilles that are yet to come.  I won’t be writing about statues.  Let the dead bury their dead.  Or if destroying statues is not enough, dig up the bodies of all those generals and burn them on the National Mall.  There is an ancient tradition of doing that in Western society.  Just understand that the fire of self-righteous indignation will grow hotter and hotter until every small flame joins in one great national conflagration.

My concern now is for individuals, those few brave souls who will stand against the violent, hate-filled darkness that spews from every side, who will not fall to the temptation of rage, no matter how righteous it appears. To be merciful and a peacemaker in such a time is very dangerous. These brave people will not save America, but by their courageous witness many people will be saved.  The most important preparation for such a witness starts in the heart and becomes an iron will.  Do not be afraid to stand apart and pray.  And as a Christian, I would tell you this most of all.  The greatest darkness will precede the coming of the King.  Know Jesus…and be ready.

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