In Farewell to Football? I write about my experience visiting a state prison unit for Veterans Day in 2012. It was a transitional moment that I now describe (with great verbosity) in psychoanalytical terms as a transference, from identification with nation through patriotism as a veteran to identification with church through faith as a minister of the Holy Spirit.
These are deeply ironic moments for me: I don’t so much believe in the greatness of my country anymore, I loathe the idolatry of the military that has arisen in the endless wars of Post-9/11 America, but through my faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I believe in the human potential of these men, and the shared military experience is one way for a lot of them to find their way back to a better part of themselves, perhaps their humanity. (p. 284)
Thirty years ago, I spent Veterans Day on active duty as a Special Forces A-team leader. I don’t recall exactly what happened on Veterans Day proper, but I recall quite clearly that I spent the fall of 1986 “starving for science” on a field test of a lightweight special operations ration. I think I lost 16 pounds in the 30 days of the test–one sergeant lost 24 pounds! That might as well have happened to someone else. I really don’t identify myself as a veteran with all that much passion anymore. I was patriotic enough (see this blog post on that topic), I enjoyed my Special Forces service a great deal, but I moved on and do not spend much time thinking about the good old days (Paul has a few things to say on this topic in 1 COR 13:11).
Four years ago, as I wrote about in the book, I was aware of my position between worlds:
I would be spending the better part of my Veterans Day in 2012 striving to extend God’s love from one world to another, from the City of Houston where I lived and the University of Houston where I worked and St. Thomas More Catholic Church where I worshiped to a “farm,” a state prison unit near Rosharon, TX, where men served out their sentences for the crimes they had committed. I was hoping I would get home in time to catch the second half of the Texans game on TV. (p. 276)
I made it home in time to see Jay Cutler of the Bears get a concussion and the Texans win ugly.
This year, during the week of Veterans Day I suppose I am still “lost in the cosmos,” to borrow a phrase from novelist Walker Percy, but I hope maybe I’ve settled myself more firmly in the world of the church: I led a men’s-group “micro-retreat” at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. We met on Tuesday evening and discussed the group members’ responses to Chapter 13 of Farewell to Football? “Veterans Day: Winning Ugly.” It’s a good group of faithful Catholic men responding to a challenge to examine their attachments to “America’s game,” and I was fascinated to hear how many of them picked up on themes of freedom and imprisonment in what I had written. This year, Veterans Day comes at the end of the week of the presidential election (in which I believe the two major parties offered the worst candidates in my lifetime), and I was encouraged to find out how many men joined me in pondering what freedom really means in “the land of the free.” I certainly have learned through my Christian initiation that the spiritual sense of freedom looks a lot different from the worldly “freedom brand” of consumer goods and services. To be free to do what is right looks a lot different from the freedom to choose which wireless provider will keep you plugged into an endless stream of media.
Our final “micro-retreat” meeting will be after Thanksgiving, and we will be discussing a recent keynote address by Archbishop Charles Chaput to a bishops’ symposium at Notre Dame. He talks about the growingly uneasy place of the Catholic in America, the tension between the Church and the Nation That Thinks It’s a Church (I wouldn’t count on things getting any better under a President Trump). Maybe I will blog about this further after we’ve discussed it in our men’s group. For now, I’ll just note that I’ve rarely felt that tension between faith and patriotism more acutely than Tuesday, election day, leading a Catholic men’s retreat session. Chaput observes that “the Church and American democracy are very different kinds of societies with very different structures and goals. They can never be fully integrated without eviscerating the Christian faith.”
In my book, I conclude and firmly believe that living in this fallen world, every choice is compromised, but that through Christ we can win, however ugly the win may look through worldly eyes.
Find out for yourself:
Farewell to Football? An American Fan’s Examination of Conscience. Click here to order a copy in paperback or Kindle format.