It tumbled out of a bag of old photos and memorabilia–a little white card with a name on it, the kind you hand out when you graduate from high school. When I picked it up and read the name I got chills.

He was the son of close friends of my parents–a real Midwestern, Eagle Scout, stand-up guy. I never really knew him, though. By the time I was 4 he was in the Army. Then he went to Vietnam. Then, I think it was ’67, his helicopter when down and he was MIA. Then a decade or so later some remains were found, there was a ceremony, and he was declared KIA.

All through that, we spent a lot of time at his parents’ house, including most Christmas Eves. If the grownups made it a late night, I’d often curl up in his room. Like a lot of families in similar circumstances it was kept just as he left it.

As I grew older I became more and more aware of what his parents and sisters were going through–the years spent amid swirling hope and grief–and also learned a little about the true price of the war of my childhood. These things get lost, I think, in the big stories of war–all the talk of armor and Rummy and Halliburton and billions.

And so here, on the verge of a third Christmas in conflict, came a reminder in the form of a small white card that for tens of thousands of families at home and in the lands we occupy, there is real human loss and unbearable grief.

I could not as a child and still cannot as an adult reconcile Christ and many of the things done in his name, war being the pre-eminent among them. The Christ I found among the pews of the Lutheran church was about the work of peace. But these days peacemakers are hard to find, let alone bless, and among a new a new generation of young people in those pews are those pondering the simple, devastating question: How is it that this “Christian nation” finds itself bombing people on Christmas?

An eerie acceptance has fallen over this land–red and blue–that it is war for the long haul, that Afghanistan and Iraq are just battles in a longer conflict.

Each war creates its ghosts–the kind that do not fade away–easily summoned by an old letter, a photograph, a piece of music, a calling card. We have learned full well this year that the ghosts of Vietnam are still among us. And we create today the memories that will haunt us tomorrow.

Peace on Earth.