Religion Today editor Janet Chismar met with O'Leary last summer at the Christian Booksellers Association convention in Atlanta. Following is a transcript of that interview, which includes O'Leary's own experiences of life in the military.
Janet: Would people who have no interest or no background or relationship with the military still be inspired by your book?
O'Leary: I would say yes. I wrote this book so that any person would like it. For example, a woman who would like to strengthen her husband's faith might see the cover and say, "Wow, this is something he'll read." The first three or four stories in it are Americana, patriotic, values and virtues that really anybody would be inspired by.
In a sense, the message is the story. I don't pound it in with Bible verses or principles. What happens is a lot of times, people sit there and just let it all sink in. They let the story be the teacher. So I think that's why it's an effective approach.
Janet: I think that one of the best ways to teach, sometimes, is through real life.
O'Leary: And that's the point, too. I'm trying to show that there are incredible models and heroes today that maybe people haven't heard about. There's a story in here about a POW who said, "I began after seven years of torture to see the torturer as the tormented." He said, "You know, it took all the bitterness out of my heart."
I guess what I take from that and what I try to talk about is that if he can do that in those circumstances, when a guy cuts us off in a parking lot or steals our space or somebody steals our idea at work, can we then see them not as somebody that's abusing us, but as somebody that they themselves are tormented? If we can do that, that same bitterness just kind of flows away from us, and we can live on a high ground.
You live in Washington, I live in Washington, that's a pretty tough town. I've been in the Pentagon for a couple of years so I've seen my share of beatings and such in that area. It's easy to sink down pretty quickly. But if you have examples of people who have not, then I think we raise the bar for people to live up to a higher ground than they have. I think they see that it is possible.
It's like when you talk about holiness. You have an idea, you have a word. But until you see somebody really living it out in their life, you don't ever really understand it.
There are people here who were POWs who were traumatically amputated in Vietnam, and when you see their lives in spite of those circumstances, that gives you a sense of, "That's what it means to live like that." In a country sometimes where you see the bar being lowered, this is an attempt to raise the bar, to say, "You can do this and here's some great examples of men and women who have."
Janet: Do you think that some people have a negative perception of the military? Would this book encourage them that there are good men and women in the military today leading our country?
O'Leary: Yes, I think America has a tremendous well of strength and honor in their military. I think they have every reason to feel confident that they are being well taken care of and protected. Having spent a lot of my time away from my family overseas, I can tell you that there's a real commitment to ensuring the security and safety of the United States. Ultimately, you want your military to be able to do that, above everything else. But I think the stories in the book speak to the honor of the people that have served as well, and the sacrifice that many of them have given in life and limbs on the altar of freedom.
Janet: Is it difficult to be a person of faith in the military? Is there a negative climate?
O'Leary: I'm not sure I could say that it's more difficult in the Pentagon than it is for somebody in the media or somebody in business.
I think what's difficult is living out your faith in a way that honors the Lord. That's kind of why I talked to this "High Ground." You know, in Washington, there's no position that's powerful enough, in a sense. It's good that way because the framers of the Constitution ensured that no one could take over. But because of that, everything is always somewhat flexible, more flexible than most people are comfortable with sometimes. And things change a lot.
I learned that it is possible to live out your faith, if you keep your eyes focused in the right place. That is essential. It's too easy to focus on the people around you that maybe aren't treating you as well as you'd like. But if you keep your eyes focused on the Lord I think then it becomes more possible to keep to High Ground.