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August 16, 2018

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A Memorial’s Curative Power

The Wall's Embrace

Be warned. Nancy Frohman’s documentary, The Wall’s Embrace, may stir a baby boomer’s Freudian id, with emotionalism’s raw instincts smashing through the ego and superego and spewing a mess.

Which is ironic. Her film, narrated by Jimmy Buffett, is wrapped in empathy and love. Former soldiers and Gold Star families tell the story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s therapeutic power. The vets talk about the war’s horror and PTSD-laced homecomings bathed in survivor’s guilt. Many Americans greeted them as if they were baby-killing lepers, so they clammed up. They didn’t begin to heal until they braved their own memories and traveled to Washington DC and wept at “The Wall,” as the Memorial is called. Ditto for the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters of those named on those black slabs.

It’s been a healing balm for many, including me.

I remembered my first visit to the Wall as I watched Nancy’s film (full disclosure: she’s a good friend, a veritable BFF – which is why I can’t bring myself to say, “Frohman’s documentary”). I descended the steps and saw the thousands of names. I too wept – and I only witnessed the war from afar, on television. I was seven during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and its consequent resolution; eight when the United States deployed combat troops and launched Operation Rolling thunder (a two-year bombing campaign over North Vietnam); and 18 when North Vietnamese soldiers finally marched into Saigon, long after America had withdrawn its fighters.

But, like many of my generation, the war’s images run rampant. I can still rattle off the bullet-riddled locales: The Mekong Delta, Quang Tri, Khe Sang, Hue, and Da Nang. I remember the soldier slang: The Viet Cong were “Charlie;” enemy-occupied territory was “Indian Country;” the AC-47 gunship was “Puff The Magic Dragon.” I remember the journalists’ tag for the nightly Saigon news conferences in which the military brass lied, rattled off body counts, and assured all of imminent victory: “The Five O’clock Follies.”

Fact is, Vietnam burrows into my generation’s dark recesses – and therein lay the genius of that Wall. Many war memorials imply that the fallen soldiers died heroic deaths for home, country, and the noble cause. Fact is, most didn’t know what hit them – and the US cause in Vietnam was hardy noble.  But Maya Lin’s design illuminates the intrinsic worth of those 58,220 slain men and women: Each bore a name, which means each possessed an identity and humanity and, therefore, nobility. We can’t help but imagine them as playground rascals and little leaguers with mitts and spelling bee contestants – veritable apples in their mothers’ eyes. We imagine their potential futures: They could have been fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers, but those hopes vanished in a rice paddy or a fox hole or another death trap.

For me, watching my friend’s film was like another journey to the Wall itself. I wept those healing tears again.

Her commendable documentary would have been even better had she mentioned the controversy before the Wall’s dedication: Lin, a 21-year-old Yale University student, designed the wall for an architectural class before submitting it to a contest. It was selected over 1,400 others, then faced immediate protests. Author Tom Wolfe called it a “tribute to Jane Fonda;” Vietnam veteran and future Senator Jim Webb dubbed it a “nihilistic slab of stone;” billionaire H. Ross Perot launched an anti-wall campaign and employed notorious lawyer Roy Cohn. Some even insulted Lin’s Chinese ancestry. Finally, a compromise was reached, against Lin’s wishes, in which a statue of three servicemen was erected at the Memorial’s entrance.

The quarrel is relevant for a single reason: It disintegrated upon the Memorial’s unveiling. The Wall itself healed the rancor over its design, and it’s played that role ever since.

I also recommend viewing Ken Burn’s and Lyn Novick’s ten-part documentary, The Vietnam War, as a supplement to our belated appreciation of the war’s veterans. Our legitimate thanks cannot whitewash a stark reality, from which Burns and Novick do not retreat: The War in Vietnam was a colossal military and moral failure soaked in administrative cynicism and a superpower’s hubris. Our leaders invoked America’s ideals even as they doubted the odds for victory and the legitimacy of the very regime for which our soldiers died. What’s more, the farmers in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos still pay a heavy toll when they trip over unexploded bombs and die of Agent Orange-related diseases. It’s a pity there’s no wall listing the two million Vietnamese civilian war dead, nor the fallen 200,00 South Vietnamese soldiers (not to mention the slain 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong – and the 273,000 Cambodians and thousands of Laotians). They had names as well. They were human and thus bore intrinsic nobility.

None of which takes away from my friend’s film. I’m prejudiced, of course, but I can still recommend it in good conscience. All can see our Vietnam experience through the eyes of those veterans and Gold Star families. All can walk further down the road to their own healing – as long we brace ourselves for an erupting id.

Follow this link and order it on I-tunes.

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June 27, 2018

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A snowflake-mossback embrace

libertarian immigration

Talking heads often bicker over immigration through a left-right grid: Snowflake “libturbs” abhor President Trump’s anti-immigrant travel ban and policies; government-suspicious conservatives supposedly rally to his cause.

Think again. Some of the most eloquent Trump bashers – David Brooks, David Frum, Kathleen Parker, Michael Gerson, Ana Navarro, Bill Kristol, Evan McMullin, Peter Wehner, and Jennifer Rubin – have waved the conservative flag for years. Decades, even.

Then there’s the Libertarian Party, which proposes whittling the government to a stump of its former self: Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the US Postal Service. Drain the swamp and suck the ocean dry.

But, unlike the president and his minions, Libertarians are philosophically consistent: If big bad government inevitably strangles individual freedom and initiative, then it’s wicked for immigration. Sample three paragraphs from its statement on the issue:

Libertarians believe that people should be able to travel freely as long as they are peaceful. We welcome immigrants who come seeking a better life. The vast majority of immigrants are very peaceful and highly productive.

Whether they are from India or Mexico, whether they have advanced degrees or very little education, immigrants have one great thing in common: they bravely left their familiar surroundings in search of a better life. Many are fleeing extreme poverty and violence and are searching for a free and safe place to try to build their lives. We respect and admire their courage and are proud that they see the United States as a place of freedom, stability, and prosperity.

Libertarians do not support classifying undocumented immigrants as criminals. Our current immigration system is an embarrassment. People who would like to follow the legal procedures are unable to because these procedures are so complex and expensive and lengthy. If Americans want immigrants to enter through legal channels, we need to make those channels fair, reasonable, and accessible.

Read the entire statement here.

The obvious take-away: Trump defies left-right tagging. We’re arguing over whether a cat is a German Shepherd or a Standard Poodle. A cat, like Trump, is a different animal, and all the dogs should stop barking at each other and beware. A carnivorous tiger has sneaked into the kennel.

 

 

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June 8, 2018

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Cowboy, preacher, nature-lover

There’s a documentary slated for release featuring Tri Robinson, founding pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho, and a leader in his denomination’s creation care movement. He wouldn’t like it if I called him a “hero,” so I won’t — even though he is.

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May 21, 2018

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Reclaiming Jesus

Leaders from across the theological spectrum have gathered under the banner, “Reclaiming Jesus.” They denounce religious nationalism and bigotry and remind everyone that our God favors no nation. The full statement is found here. Several of those leaders read from the statement in this video:  

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May 19, 2018

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When “thoughts & prayers” void real prayer

It’s now a macabre routine: Many tweet their “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of a school shooting, this time with ten dead in Santa Fe, Texas. Others chime back: “Drop the talk of thoughts and prayers unless you’re willing to do something.” Welcome to contemporary America, where even the language of prayer polarizes. What’s […]

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April 4, 2018

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Ain’t no such thing as a useless human

I’m living proof that God uses damaged goods. Here I am, a victim of incurable cancer (yes, I’m a victim: it is what it is), and I’m scheduled to lead a two-day seminar on healing prayer at St. Paul’s Church on 156 River Road in Willington, CT. So God really does use wounded healers. 

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March 30, 2018

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Death Between Thieves

Today, Good Friday, compels us to remember the death of deaths, when the incarnate God — the essence and source of life itself — chose death so we could participate in his essence. Christian thinkers stand in awe of this day and often drop in profound insights. Sample the following quotes. CS Lewis, from The […]

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March 24, 2018

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The Week of Weeks

We’re about to enter into those climactic, universe-rattling days, otherwise known as Holy Week, a week of focused worship.

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March 19, 2018

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Patrick: A saint for all Brits

Written on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2018 I’m swilling a Guinness while listening to Pandora’s Irish music on Saint Paddy’s Day. I’d say my Celtic ancestors were smiling, but many of them came from the very nation that oppressed the Irish for centuries. Then again, so did Saint Paddy. He was a Brit kidnapped by cruel, […]

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