Church From “The Things They Carried”


O’Brien, Tim


Book Excerpt


Receiving his BA in political science and his draft notice in the same year, Tim O’Brien served as an infantry foot soldier in the Vietnam War from 1969-1970. Based on his experiences there, O’Brien wrote his well-known fictional memoir The Things They Carried. This chapter, "Church,"centers on a conversation between two soldiers in an abandoned church where two monks currently live. As the monks clean and oil a machine gun, the soldiers talk about their attitudes toward church and religion, and what it means to them to be soldiers in the holy place of another culture. The story raises fundamental questions about the relationship between the principles we espouse and the lives we lead.

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O’Brien, Tim. “Church” from The Things They Carried. Reprinted in Hearing the Call across Traditions, ed. Adam Davis. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2009. 102-105.




Faith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingMotives and ValuesPoverty and Need

Big Questions

What is the relationship between faith and service, justice and/or poverty?What makes a good gift?Do one’s motives for serving or giving matter? How?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?How do we recognize need?


Hearing the Call Across Traditions

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think of the line, "all you can do is be nice"?
  2. What do you think of the monks?
  3. How should we care for or connect with others across difference?
  4. What are our motives for giving to or serving others? Do our motives matter if our service is important?
  5. What do people of faith offer the world? What can the clergy offer in times of need or crisis?
  6. What is the relationship between our principles and our actions?
  7. What makes it possible for us to connect with others? What gets in the way?
  8. What is good ministry?
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