Operation Red Wings

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86a24dcfff1e9cb5bb684af917fedde3It’s hard to believe that this tragic even happened 11 years ago. My heart goes out to all the families that lost their men that day. I have read their stories, watched their movie, cried, and felt great honor that we have such heroes defending our country. Their story of the ultimate brotherhood has served as an inspiration for my own stories and “Never out of the fight” is something I chant often to myself.

I’m thankful God shows such common grace to sinners to still give us brave warriors.

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Sunday Thoughts: Training

steve-rogers-i-understood-that-referenceA few weeks ago Pastor Eddie Florentino used an illustration for affliction that really stuck with me and has been a source of encouragement to me over the last few weeks. The passage for that morning was Hebrews 12: 4-11:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

While walking us through the text from Proverbs quoted in Hebrews during Pray Meeting, Pastor Eddie asked if we expected Navy SEALs to get easy training? Do we expect their training to be hard or just a walk in the park?

Well, the obvious answer is we expect their training to not only be hard, but the hardest. These men are supposed to be the elite of the elite. They are supposed to make all our other soldiers look like guys hanging out for the weekend. No soldier should have it easy in basic training. To make it easy on them is to do them a disservice because it leaves them open to attack when they go to war. The better trained our soldiers are the better chances they have of surviving and coming home to their families. (You should always worry if the standards of training are being lowered. That means someone is not getting the training they need. That puts them and  everyone around them in danger.) The Navy Seals and all our other special forces should, and do, have training that makes basic look easy. We should hold them to a high standard and we should expect lots of men to be unable to cut it. If just anyone can make it through Navy SEAL training than we have a problem.

So what does this have to do with affliction and why did it stick with me?

It says in Hebrews that our affliction is God’s disciplining and training for us. It is how God molds us and makes us into his children. This world, in some ways, is our boot camp, our basic training, and God uses trials and and sufferings to get us in shape.

Yet for some reason we always complain that our “training” isn’t easy. Why oh why am I suffering?? We moan and complain when the Bible makes it very clear that God is perfecting us. You see that? Perfecting!  I don’t know about you, but that seems like something that would require a lot of work. Perfection isn’t easy.

For six months, I’ve been struggling with health issue, and yet when I put my mind on them as training, as my spiritual boot camp, I find them much easier to bear with hope. I have hope in my trials because I know God is using them to make me a better soldier.

Navy-SealSee, I’ve read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell (one of my top 10 favorite books) and American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Through their books, I have gained a very small understanding of what our Navy SEALs do in their training. I have vicariously experienced the mental and physical strength needed to survive to become a SEAL through their stories. Pastor Eddie’s illustration really struck home with me. I truly felt like Captain America in the picture above. I got that reference. It made many things click into place in my head. Their training is hard for a reason and our training by God is hard for a reason. It made my trials logical because I understood they were God’s work in my heart. God is not perfecting everyone. But, He is perfecting His people and that means my life is going to be a struggle, a battle, filled with trials and afflictions, because He loves me and isn’t going to leave me to myself.

That, my dear brothers and sisters, is hope!

Hope!

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are here to make me more Christ-like, not give me an easy life, and just like a Navy SEAL, I’m in for a world of hurt. Not because instructors or God is mean. No. Quite the opposite. The instructors what to make sure each SEAL is the best he can be so that he survives and helps bring everyone home. There is a point to the suffering the SEALs endure in their training. There is a point to my trials and suffering. God is loosening my grip on this world, making me holy, and teaching me about Himself. One day, He will bring me home.

We are being trained. That is a hope-filled thought.

I may never have gotten to be a Navy SEAL in this life (that’s another blog post for another day) but, God is training me as a soldier of the Lord in a much bigger war with a much greater Captain.

Happy Memorial Day

 

To the Heroes who Never Came Home.

To the Heroes who Never Came Home.

Carwood Lipton, Don Malarkey, Dick Winters at the grave of Skip Muck.

Carwood Lipton, Don Malarkey, Dick Winters at the grave of Skip Muck.

Happy Memorial Day!

In honor of those who have fallen, who gave their all in defense of this country, who never came home, we set aside this day. May we never forget the cost of freedom, the cost of defending our country. May we never forget these real heroes.

These images show heroes that are close to my heart, but there are not enough minutes in the day to honor all who paid the ultimate price.

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Movie Series Review: Rambo III

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This is my least favorite of all the Rambo movies. When you take all four of them as a whole, this one sticks out like a sore thumb. Not only does it step away from dealing with Rambo’s Vietnam history, it adds so much cheese that it’s like watching a different story entirely. I mean, shockingly Rambo has a sense of humor in this movie, which isn’t even close to appropriate in the other films.

First Blood I and II and Rambo (4) all have this overarching sense of sorrow to them. They’re the story of a broken man trying to sort his life out. First Blood I and II show his struggle with his history and other people. In Rambo (4) he finds healing and peace with himself. Rambo III is supposed to be the part of the story where Rambo realizes that the war is not out there but within. They hint at this in the opening of the movie when Trautman tells him he needs to come full circle. The Army didn’t make a warrior. Rambo is a warrior. The Army just honed his skills.

Until he accepts his own warrior-ness the war inside him won’t stop. If only they ran with this idea in the movie instead of sending him to Afghanistan. In fact, Rambo (4) does this so effectively it makes Rambo III unnecessary. The haunted tone that lifts First Blood I and 4 above the normal cheesy action flick, and even First Blood II, fades into the distance as Rambo goes to save Trautman from the Russians.

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In a post 9/11 environment, I approached this story with great distrust and questions. I have no problem fighting Russians. (I did grow up in the 80’s after all.) But, I had a hard time working up an emotional connection with the brave Afghan people. I need to do a little more research. These might be the same people who helped Marcus Luttrell escape the Taliban, but I still view them with a hint of suspicion. If I understand my history right, these are the same people who later attacked us. I am also struck, yet again, by how much of the earth’s history has been caught up in fighting over the sand of the Middle East. We’ve been over there so many times, Not as Americans, but just as human beings. And it’s not just invading white colonists. When we’re not fighting over there, they fight themselves. And they’re doing it again.

Anyway, how’s that for a rabbit trail?

The cheese level of Rambo III is up there with some of the most cheesy movies of all time, like Commando. In First Blood II, the cheesiest part of the movie is the idiotic sound effect they use every time Rambo shoots his bow. They have this whip cracking noise go off and it’s distracting and annoying. Bows don’t sound like that, and Rambo uses it because it’s silent. In Rambo III, you can enjoy cheesy lines, humor, and if your DVD tries to supply you with Russian subtitles, you can giggle at the completely stupid conversations going on in the background. I don’t think the Russian was ever supposed to be translated . . . or maybe whoever did the subtitles did a really bad job. It is awful. I got to a point where I had to stop reading them altogether. Russian soldiers greet one another with questions about dinner only to get answers about the dogs, or guard duty. At one point, they yell “Charge, charge, charge” in a scene where charging made no sense and no one was charging. You can tell that the director just wants Russian background chatter and never intends (or, shouldn’t have intended) for anyone to actually know what the Russian soldiers talk about.

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There are some themes in Rambo III that echo in Rambo (4) just as there are echoes of First Blood II in Rambo (4). We see the concept of a rebel uprising against an abusive tyrant in both III and 4, but Rambo (4) uses this idea to much greater effect.

In many ways, this is the movie that could have been left out. The only application that can be made from it is no man left behind, even if that means going in alone. But that’s just an outflow of self-sacrifice. If I may make a suggestion? Skip this movie. They had plenty of room to show us Rambo’s inner battle and set the stage for Rambo (4) but this gets lost. What could have been another powerful film in this saga, turns into a cheese fest worthy of Mystery Science and the Riff-trax.

Next up . . . my favorite movie, not just of the Rambo series, but of all time: Rambo 4. The story, and Rambo, come full circle.

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I swear Rambo is almost smiling. Rambo doesn’t smile.

 

Writing Lesson: Suffering

I’m a storyteller. You put me in a group of people and I’ll tell stories to avoid awkward silences. You leave me alone and I’ll write, read, watch, or make up my own stories. About the only time I can get the story part of my brain to shut off is if I’m listening to music, and even that is no guarantee.

My husband is analytical. He’s the researcher, the studier, the teacher in the family. He taught himself how to program computers and now he’s teaching himself to be a preacher. He loves to analyze everything. We’ve had lively discussions about Star Trek, Chuck, Rambo, Godzilla, the Apprentice, Metallica, Downton Abbey, and of course theology.

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Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

Both of us are Metal Gear Solid fans. That’s a video game, fyi. As far as I’m aware, this story started in the 90’s with Solid Snake as the main character. He appeared in five games. His father, Big Boss, was the villain in several of those games. Big Boss is the main character in 2 games, a demo, and the up and coming Phantom Pain. The story is complex, riveting, unique, and moving. As you play, you start to put the pieces together of how Big Boss became the bad guy you face as Solid Snake. You realize he wasn’t always evil. In fact, he was an honorable and good man for many years until one too many betrayals by the US government and people he trusted drove him to the dark antagonist we encounter as Solid Snake.

Being the fan boy and girl we are, we have spent hours playing this game and hours discussing the plot, characters, and unraveling the complex threads of the story. I stand in awe at Hideo Kojima’s ability to move me from anti-Big Boss to feeling very sympathetic towards him and what he becomes. As his story unfolds and you see everything he goes through, all the men he loses, and the betrayals he faces, you begin to understand how and why a man could become such an antagonists.

Discussing our favorite video game, my husband said this: To tell a good story you need great characters, and to have great characters you need great suffering, and to have great suffering you need context.

Big Boss context is war. From WWII, to Vietnam, to the Cold War, including children soldiers, his context is the battlefield. He suffers betrayal by his government which leads him to kill his mentor. He’s betrayed by everyone he counts a friend. He loses soldiers in useless battles. He has been trained to be a weapon and then is shunned because he is that weapon. This betrayal is his suffering. This context and this suffering creates a great character. Big Boss has three sons. The least of his three sons goes through similar sufferings at the hand of his government, but he is able to overcome them in the end. This creates a juxtaposition between Solid Snake and his father Big Boss. This allows you, the viewer, to see a mirror image of one man going bad and one man going deeper and stronger.

200_sTheir story reminds me of Lore and Data in Star Trek:NG. Two brothers created in the exact image of their father, one is evil and one is good. Big Boss and his sons are that way. Solid Snake is forced to destroy both his brothers who take on the evil of their father.

As a storyteller, I found my husband’s analysis of what makes a good story to ring true. A good story has to have good characters. But what makes a good character? Suffering. It is what they go through and how they react that we are interested in. We want to see them suffer because that’s something we can all relate to. From a child who loses a parent, is bullied, bullies, to soldiers, mothers, and growing old, we have all suffered. That suffering and how we react to it is what makes us who we are. Whether good or evil, it’s suffering that paves the path we are walking.

That suffering needs a believable place to happen. That’s our context. It’s not so much about being in space, or on the battlefield, or traveling through time, as it is creating the suffering which makes sense. A princess forced to live a life of ease is not suffering, but a princess trapped in a betrothal to a man she’s never met is suffering. A boy adopted into a wealthy home after living on the streets isn’t suffering. But that same boy now in a new home who discovers his friends aren’t all they seem, and then finds himself in a battle for his soul is suffering. Context enriches the suffering of your characters. It gives you a structure to guide suffering the rest of us can get.

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Think about the stories that stick with you. Think about the characters that stick with you. Harry Potter sticks with us because every year of his life the suffering ratchets up a notch. The Hunger Games don’t just deal with suffering at the hands of oppressive governments, but the psychological suffering of Katniss as she becomes a darker and darker character. To this day, I’m haunted by Henry in The Time Traveler’s Wife. He suffered his whole life and even suffered in his death. In real life, we think about the Holocaust. Those stories of great suffering continue to reverberate through history. Think about the haunted look on a soldiers face in Vietnam when his country couldn’t back him. Look in the eyes of Marcus Luttrell knowing he was the only one of his buddies to survive. Suffering is what connects us.

Do you use suffering to help us bond with your characters? Are you afraid to put your characters through the fire? Remember the Bible teaches that we are refined in a fire to clear away the dross. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ. Suffering burns away pride, self-reliance, and hardness leaving soft gold shimmering behind. In antagonists, suffering brings bitterness, blame, self-protection, and self-love creating a monster.

Suffering is one of the best ways to create believable characters, both your protagonist and antagonists. I’m pretty good at making my heroes suffer, but I think I need to start working on my villains a bit more.

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Just an FYI:

Metal Gear Solid is rated M for mature.

Harry Potter is PG – PG13.

Hunger Games is PG 13.

Time Traveler’s Wife is rated R.

Star Trek: NG is PG.

Chuck is PG-13.

Rambo is R.

Godzilla is PG-13.

The Apprentice is PG-13.

Metallica is PG-13.

Downton Abbey is PG-13.

Writing Journal: Introducing Sisterhood

492599If you follow me around in real life, on FaceBook, and or read my Blog, you will quickly realize that one of my favorite concepts in stories—right after the idea of the Undeserved Rescue—is Brotherhood. I love action flicks with a core group that would kill for each other. I love stories about enemies becoming inseparable friends. I love stories about cops and their partners. I love war stories because of the brotherhood concept. Band of Brothers is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, but I feel like you see this same idea play out, to lesser degrees, in StarTrek: NG, Firefly, Sherlock, and Chuck. It’s all about the person next to you. It’s all about the guy willing to spill blood to defend you, even his own. It’s what I love about Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. It is what I love about Lord of the Rings.

With all that said, it’s not surprising that my Fairytale has at least two brotherhoods forming in Book 1. I’m diligently working on a brotherhood within the antagonist’s army and a brotherhood centered around my protagonists. Since brotherhoods tend to form in the middle of intense situations like combat, and since I’m a bit conservative and think combat should be left to men, and since it typically has been left to men so men are the ones forming these brotherhoods, my protagonist is a male. In fact, most of the books I’ve written have a male protagonist.

Why?

Most of the books I enjoy reading have male protagonist. It’s not that there aren’t books with lead females out there. It’s not that women don’t have adventures. It’s just that I never find books and stories with lead females as interesting or as fun as I do the ones with lead males. This started back when I had a choice between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Can you guess which one I picked? (If you guess Nancy Drew you need to start this article over and try again. 🙂 )

Why is this?

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I’ll be honest, and a bit hard on my own sex, I find stories with lead females a bit annoying. Either the woman is doing something completely ridiculous in some vain attempt to prove that she’s just as big and bad as the guys are, or she’s standing in a corner screaming with a phaser not three inches from her hand while her man gets beat to death, or she’s eye candy. There are very few stories where the woman is a woman. And the ones where she is being a woman can be a bit harder to make interesting because they can end up catty, manipulative, and self focused. I just don’t think they’re as fun as male driven stories. (And yes, if you’re wondering, I was a Tomboy growing up.) What it really came down to was boys had adventures and girls had boyfriends. I would rather have an adventure.

Me and my Bestie!

Me and my Bestie!

Then, a dear friend laid down a challenge. She pointed out the many wonderful relationships I have with other women. I’ve been blessed with a wise mother and extra mother, grandmothers, sisters, sisters-in-Christ, wise older women, and a very dear best friend, and many nieces. I have more dear women than I can possibly name in my life right now. I have women who are going before me into old age and widowhood, I have young women coming up behind me into marriage, life, and adulthood. I wouldn’t trade these women for the world. I love each and every one of them. My dear friend, who is a woman, asked me why I don’t have more of those types of female relationships in my books? They are some of the best friendships I’ve had, why don’t I mirror the brotherhood concept with a sisterhood concept? If I hated women being written just to have boyfriends, why was I doing the same thing. (Don’t read this the wrong way, I think loving a man and being loved by him, being married, is one of the most wonderful and rewarding relationships you can have.)

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I was floored. I couldn’t believe how long I’d missed the opportunity to share something that has always been a part of my life. Facepalm.

Again, I find myself beholden to a woman while I write about a man. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be: Women supporting women who are helping men? So now I’m weaving women together. I have a mother and now I have a GateKeeper and a few elements who are women, plus some other girls. I’m shooting for a story that has brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and also some marriages.

I hope to show the positive sides of women and sisterhoods without reducing them down to catty relationships. One of the things I hated most about the Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan was his sisterhoods. Every woman in the book constantly manipulated the men around them for their own ends. It grew very frustrating. It was like watching all that is the worst part of you instead of being encouraged to be better. I want to have a story more like Lord of the Rings that makes you want to be a better person when you finish reading it.

With this challenge accepted, I will be working on my female characters. I will be exploring what makes women and men different and how those things compliment each other. I have some good books to read, good movies to watch, and of course some interesting personal experiences to draw from. Plus, I have a whole host of Godly women ready to help me! I’m gearing up and ready to go!

 

Writing Lesson: Angst vs. Agony

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Seal Team 10: Murphy, Dietz, Axe, and Marcus.

Angst and agony are sort of related, but also two very different things. They often remind me of the difference between romance and love. One is a passing feeling and one is an act. Angst is often self-focused, selfish, and fades unless perpetually fed. Agony is something horrible which happens to us. It can be empathized with by others even if they’re not in the situation, even if they’re only an observer. Angst is an emotion. Agony is an act. Twilight is angst. The Time Traveler’s Wife is agony. As much as I love it, the Breakfast Club is angst while 3000 Degrees is agony. Listening to your brother firefighter’s last transmission over the radio knowing it is his last is agony. Agony is Marcus Luttrell’s fellow SEAL, Dietz, shot and killed while Marcus held him. Then, having Murphy scream Marcus’ name, scream for help, when Marcus couldn’t reach him. Agony is looking Axe in the eye as he dies before a grenade blows him apart and flings Marcus off a cliff. That’s agony. Just like love, agony involves an act. Love involves generally gaining something we desire. Agony generally involves the pain of losing something we desire. (This can be used, just like love, to build believable protagonist and antagonists.)

Angst is a sappy, repetitive praise song pleading not for God, but for our emotions to increase. Agony is “it is well with my soul”. Angst is griping because of a mixed up Starbucks order, agony is having your church blown up by a suicide bomber. Angst is feeling misunderstood. Agony is dying on a roman cross. See one isn’t always true. Angst could be just your point of view and a far cry from reality. Agony, real agony, can’t be missed. You’ll know it when you feel it, experience it, hear of it.

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The firefighters who died in a fire on Dec. 3, 1999.

I don’t like angsty things. They tend to annoy me. I do enjoy reading about agony. Agony reminds me to look beyond my relatively easy life and see what’s been sacrificed for me. Agony keeps me thankful, humble, and willing to serve. Agony, either my own, or read about, helps me think about others. It floods me with pity for both the seen and unseen pain of those around me. I have yet to see Angst do that in any way. Angst, from what I’ve seen, shuts people off. It closes them away, trapped by what they think is bad in their life until they can’t see beyond the end of their own nose and their own suffering. Angst makes those who dwell on it more selfish.

It’s not that angst is wrong. It’s no more wrong than romance. What’s wrong is over indulging in them, and making it more important than their far more significant counterparts: Agony and Love.

See, I don’t want Christ to experience angst for my sin any more than I want Him to have a passing romance for me. I want Christ to suffer agony for me, not because I’m a sadist, but because that’s the only way I’m going to be saved. I want Christ to love me, not as a feeling of warm fuzzies, but as an act, a choice.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but as writers it’s very important that we split those hairs and understand the difference. It doesn’t work if you don’t handle the difference between romance and love correctly. It doesn’t work if you mistake angst for agony. Say you have a character who is being belittled, not bullied, just belittled, and another who is tortured. Don’t equate those. Being belittled isn’t the same as being tortured. But, if you know the difference, then you can start having fun. You can have the person who has suffered physical torture overcome that through strength of character and you can have the belittle person cave under the pressure of what he has mistaken for agony. Only when you know the difference can you start having fun mixing things up.

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This can also help you define the difference between heroes and villains. Villains are quite often those who don’t handle agony, angst, love, or romance well. They mistake them, mix them up, give them more weight than they deserve. They never overcome the hurdles thrown at them. Loki has this bit of angst mixed in with him while Thor is more agony based. Loki is the bad-guy and Thor is the good-guy. Loki complains about his adoption, while Thor learns from his mistakes to control his power. In Labyrinth and Legend, the heroines are both wrapped up in angst which leads them to experience some real agony and helps them become the great characters we all love. That’s good storytelling. You can have someone start with love and add in romance. That makes for really powerful stories. Arrange a marriage that turns into true romance. Or maybe have a husband/wife duo that rediscover their romance due to circumstances which have to be faced together. You can have a character suffer agony and then spiral into angst only to suffer a greater agony which pulls them out of the angst and sets them on a path to help others.

Legend

Legend

So much can be done when you see the difference between agony and angst. It keeps you from giving incorrect weight to one or the other. It keeps you from encouraging something which is totally unhealthy—read between the lines here and interject 90% of YA fiction. It gives you more tools in your tool belt for storytelling. It may keep you from writing the next fad, but it will help you write something which will resonate with audiences far longer. Lord of the Rings sold second only to the Bible in the 20th century. If the book had been angst and romance instead of agony and love, do you think it would have echoed through the masses, crossing cultural and linguistical lines? Do you think we, the elect, would be saved if Christ just felt really bad about our sin, kinda stressed out, and really really liked us? Nope. It took death on a cross. It took bearing the wrath of God. It took real agony driven by real love to save sinners.

Agony and angst are different. This is a good thing.

Can you think of other similar, closely aligned concepts often mistaken for one another? Comment below with your thoughts!

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

Lone Survivor

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Let’s get this out of the way first.  Deanna, you can’t see this movie, though I wish you could.  Second, prepare to put on your Christian-colored glasses. Ready?  Good.

I think war movies are important.  I think they help us civilians connect with the men and women who are fighting and serving.  I think they help civilians realize the cost to our soldiers in a way a dry history book never can.  Don’t get me wrong, you should read about the great sweeps of history.  The changes in power, the wars won and lost, the how and the why behind those victories, but you don’t want to lose the human element.  You don’t want to forget that while one country is winning a war and the other is losing, someone’s son, brother, father, husband, nephew, grandson is out there bleeding and dying.

More importantly, I think war movies have great value in a spiritual sense.  We are in a spiritual battle.  We are called to spiritual warfare.  Do you know what that means?  Do you have any sense of what war takes?  Do you understand the training and dedication needed to fight a war?  Paul and the other apostles didn’t pick their language at random.  The Holy Spirit inspired them.  He chose the language of war to describe our fight against sin, both inside us and around us.  Watching war movies and reading warrior stories helps flesh out that illustration. It helps you understand the bond we are to have in our local churches.  We are soldiers, brothers and sisters, together.  We should act like it.  Don’t let yourself be removed from war and warriors in some vain attempt at earthly peace that will never happen.  See the illustration, and be strengthened by it.

There are a few movies I have found helpful in fleshing out some of the emotional sides of history, and expanding my understanding of spiritual warfare….or, maybe these are just my favorites:

Band of Brothers – This series follows Easy Company, who suffered devastating losses during WW2 to their ranks, from basic training to the end of the war.  It gives you a sense of the way war broke these men and the bond between soldiers. I actually recommend you watch the series before reading the book.

Saving Private Ryan – This was the first war movie I saw in the theater.  I watched it the night before my brother shipped out.  After seeing that movie, I begged him not to go, but he’d already signed the dotted line.  I’m glad he didn’t listen to me as an 18-year-old.

We were Soldiers – based on the book with only a few historical inaccuracies, this film features one of our greatest American heroes at his finest, Hal Moore.  It shows his dedication to his troops and his skill in battle.  This movie doesn’t get into the Vietnam argument – should we be there or not – but focuses the viewers’ attention on the families left behind as the boys fight and die.  It shows Moore’s dedication to bring his boys home, dead or alive.  I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Black Hawk Down – Vietnam was over by the time I was born.  Obviously, I heard about it, it was still being widely discussed and all those broken men were coming home, but it wasn’t my war.  The fight in Somalia was the war of boys a few years older than me.  I didn’t really learn about this war until a few years after it happened.  This movie shows how quickly things breakdown on the battlefield.  I watched it while my brother-in-law was in Marine basic and my brother was still deployed.  I prayed a little more faithfully for them after watching this film.  Again, I highly suggest reading the book as well as watching the movie.

Lone Survivor – The movie for my war.  I watched those towers fall on 9/11.  I watched President Bush declare war on terrorism.  I listened and prayed as my fiancé, now husband, seriously considered joining up, and my brother, now home, expressed frustration at being home.  This was a war I saw.  But I saw much of it through the eyes of the media, and through the eyes of a happy girl busy planning her wedding and getting ready to run her first business.  I also wasn’t into military history just yet.  That came a few years later.  So, I watched this war from the sidelines, never really affected by it, other than to be proud of our troops.

About a week ago, I went on a father/daughter date with my Dad to see Lone Survivor.  Now, you may recall that I’ve already read the book by the same title, and loved it.  I followed all the news I could get my hands on about the movie for the last few months, and familiarized myself with Marcus Luttrell’s story.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The movie is gritty, as accurate as it can be for a movie, moving, well filmed, well acted, and even has Marcus as a background SEAL, which I almost yelled out in a movie theater, but instead just whispered to my Dad.

When you watch a war movie after reading the book, it’s like getting all the highlights of how someone you know died or was broken.  The book gives you insight into the heart and mind of the soldiers it’s about, and then the movie gives you the visuals.  It’s a rough way to learn about war, but I find it works well for me.  The men involved and the events stick in my brain when I’ve both read the book and watched the movie.  My Mom(in-law) asked me if I cried when I saw Lone Survivor.  I told her yes, but not through the whole film, just the beginning, middle, and end.  I mean the thing opens up with a corkboard covered with pictures of Murphy, Axe, Danny, and Marcus.  The real guys, not the actors.  The real heroes.  How could I not cry?

Lone Survivor wasn’t filmed like an action flick.  There were very few slow motion scenes, massive explosions, or acts of ridiculous physical gymnastics.  What it did show was how difficult it is to hold things together once the bullets start flying, how important the bond between our SEALS is, how well trained they are, and how heroic this team was.  The movie is violent, but I don’t think it’s indulgent.  It wasn’t violent just to be violent.   It was violent to help the viewer see and know what these boys suffered.

I think just about everyone needs to see this film, or read the book, to know and understand modern warfare.  It’s gonna make you mad.  It’s gonna make you proud of some Texans.  It’s gonna make you proud of our SEALS.  It’s gonna help you understand the cost of war.  They lived it.  They died in the fight.  These are the real American Heroes.  Not actors, not entertainers, not athletes.  Soldiers.  These soldiers.  Murphy, Luttrell, Axe, and Danny are the Heroes of my generation and my war.  Don’t forget them.

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“Never out of the Fight”

For two hours, I sat tensely in a movie theater unsure of the emotional impact of seeing four men I’ve read a lot about actually fight for their lives.  I’ve read about their parents, their friends, their wives and fiancés.  I’ve read the accounts of their families waiting to find out if they were alive or dead.  I’ve read about the funerals given for these men.  I’ve read Marcus Luttrell’s own account of being on Murphy’s Ridge while his brothers died around him.  I was tense and armed with lots of tissues.  But I thought it was important to see this film.  I thought it was important to remember them.  I’m thankful for how many people are aware of them now.  To be honest, I might have been a little more excited about this film, than the Hobbit.  Why?  This story is real.  These are real, earthly, flesh and blood, American Heroes.

What did I take away from it?  Go see it!  I can’t wait to see it again.  I respect our military more than ever, and wish our media did the same.  If they did, we might not have lost those men that day.  But, deeper than that, richer than that, more long-term, more enduring, I dovetailed Lone Survivor with the message preached the Sunday before:  ” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  The church is commanded to love the members of its local congregation.  Love the person hardest for you to love in your church family.  If you want an earthly, visual example of loving one another, go see this movie.  Be inspired to get back in the fight, to stand, back to back, shoulder to shoulder with your fellow soldiers, your fellow church members, and fight against sin and the evil one.  We have a greater war to fight, the only good war.  We have a greater captain to follow, the greatest Captain.  We can’t see this war.  We can’t see the wounds, battle scars, and bullet holes in one another as we sit in our pews and live our lives, but they’re there.  We’re never out of the fight.  Love your brothers and sisters sitting next to you on Sunday morning.  They’re your family.  They’re your brothers in this war.

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Sniper One and Lone Survivor

“It was all just people trying to pay their last respects.  The same everywhere.  And I am left feeling that no matter how much the drip-drip-drip of hostility towards us is perpetuated by the liberal press, the American people simply do not believe it.  They are rightly proud of the armed forces of the United States of America.  They innately understand what we do.  And no amount of poison about our alleged brutality, disregard of the Geneva Convention, and abuse of the human rights of terrorists is going to change what most people think.”  – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

Most of my Modern Military History reading has centered on WWII and Vietnam.  The ghosts of all that went wrong in Vietnam still haunt the edges of my generation brought on by whispered stories from fathers and grandfathers.  Like a toothache, we continue to poke at it and explore it trying to figure out what went wrong.  WWII shines like a lighthouse in the dark history of war.  It was the good war.  The war we were right to fight.  Light and dark.  WWII and Vietnam.  But I have yet to explore much about the Korean War or my own generations war in the Middle East.  Another blogger, who has since passed away, reviewed Sniper One on his blog around the time Chris Kyle was murdered spurring me to add more modern warfare books to my reading list.  Reading only two modern warfare books so far, I have come to two completely unsubstantiated and personal observations.

If you get tired of all the political correctness that saps the courage from our moral fiber, read some modern warfare books.  These soldiers don’t mince their words in their personal observations about how our wars are and aren’t fought.  The politically correct ruling class imposes sometimes-impossible, often frustrating, rules on our soldiers when they’ve never been in combat.  It’s a fact.  They haven’t reexamined the Rules of Engagement (ROE) that US and British soldiers operate under in the context of fighting terrorist.  Terrorist known our ROE and use them against us all the time.  They use them to kill our soldiers while the ROE and the media – waiting to cry ‘Barbarian!’ at the drop of a hat – tie our soldiers’ hands by behind their backs.  This is the rub in both the books I read on our war in the Middle East.  What was meant for good has ended up costing us many lives.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #1)

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Sniper One by Sgt. Dan Mills is the story of a British sniper unit besieged in Iraq in 2004.  They go in on a peacekeeping tour and end up fighting for their very lives.  This book is great not only for its exciting and amazing story, but also for the historical perspective it provides.  At one point, the unit, while out on patrol, visits an ancient cemetery where they find the tombs of English soldiers from forgotten wars.  It was eerie to realize we have been fighting over the same dusty plot of land for hundreds of years.

Sgt. Dan Mills never apologies for being a soldier in Sniper One.  These men trained to fight.  No apologies.  These English soldiers love what they do and believe they are doing the right thing.  They’re not out to hurt everyone they can.  In fact, they spend a fair amount of time worrying about a family stuck in the line of fire and a dog they adopt.  But, they don’t think the way to handle terrorist is with kid gloves.  It’s refreshing to read about men being men and doing what men do without apologizing for a job well done.  They took the fight to the terrorist and won with superior training, weapons, mentality, and a little help from the USA.  These men were dedicated, well-trained warriors.  I’m thankful for men like them.

My only caveat for this book is that due to it being written by an Englishman it lacks the moral lines we favor here in the USA.  You expect a bit of language when you read anything military oriented, but this book didn’t pull any punches.  (Part of it could be that I’m not used to British cussing, so it really stood out.)  It also didn’t pull any punches about what men do in the down times between battles.

Have I just had my head in the sand for too long?  Most of the books I’ve read about WWII have a certain carefulness to not indulge.  They will mention a few cuss words, or a few illicit meetings, but it is always mentioned in passing, or not at all.  It’s not the point because it’s not appropriate.  (The joys of reading older books!)  Books about Vietnam are not that much different.  Every war has its ugly parts.  You can’t escape that.  And I don’t mean just killing innocents, or bloodlust, or sociopaths.  I’m talking specifically about the language and sexual dalliances that go along with warfare.  Many books on warfare don’t focus there.  They might mention them in passing, but they’re only in passing.  Sniper One didn’t pass.  It dedicated a whole chapter or two to it and it was a bit disconcerting.  Are all modern military books so immoral, I asked myself?  Am I going to have to bypass anything written about the War in the Middle East because modern writers don’t know the line between history and gossip?

The answer, so far, is no.  (Unsubstantiated, Personal Observation #2)

After reading Sniper One, I read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.  This book has a little bit of language and none of the other problems.  Americans, on some subconscious level, still cling to the idea that a good story, true or fiction, doesn’t have to be quiet that earthy to be ‘good’.  We all understand that life is not clean, it’s full of sin, it’s gross, indulgent, and full of lust, but that doesn’t mean we need to bathe in it every second.  I think it’s important for someone to know the sinful struggles faced by our military….that someone isn’t me.  For this reason alone, I enjoyed the modern American military story better than the British one.  I respect the British military, no doubt, but I don’t want to read that kind of stuff.  Does it make them seem more human and less heroic?  Yes, which can be good.  It keeps us from naïvely idolizing them.  It also borders on gossip – indulgent, tantalizing – we just don’t need to know.  There are other, better ways to show the humanity of our soldiers.  I think Marcus Luttrell does this well. He talks about his fear, his pain, his confusion, and what he views as his moment of cowardice: when he puts his gun down in combat and covers his ear because he can’t stand the sound of his dying fried screaming his name.  That’s humanity.

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Lone Survivor.  Now there’s a book.  I first picked it up while my husband and I were on vacation last August.  I had a passing knowledge of Operation Red Wings from a Facebook fan page dedicated to the American hero Michael Murphy who died during the Operation.  I knew it was going to be a rough, emotional story.  Marcus – the only SEAL to survive – starts the story with his visits to the families of the other three men who died up in the Afghan mountains.  Talk about instant tear-jerker.  I put the book down for a few weeks, just not ready to emotionally deal with it.

When I picked it up again, it became my workout partner.  I read it on my Kindle and boy-howdy!  If you want some motivation to work up a sweat, read about Navy SEAL training.  It makes you proud of them and it makes you feel like quite the wimp.

Lone Survivor detailed out the battle fought on Murphy’s Ridge between four Navy SEALS and about 100+ terrorist.  It’s a heart-wrenching story.  Marcus, the only survivor, fell down mountains, was shot, and blown up, before he’s taken in by some friendly Afghans.  They protected him, at the cost of their own village, for several days before a group of Army Rangers found him.  Marcus explained how his buddies fought and died beside him, how he agonized over them, went back out to retrieve their bodies, and came home to his family still haunted by their screams.

The more light-hearted side of this book, the part that brings a smile to my face, is Marcus is a tried and true Texan.  He’s politically incorrect and conservative.  It’s refreshing to read a book like Lone Survivor where your beliefs are appreciated instead of disparaged.  It’s refreshing to hear President Bush spoken of in a positive light.  It’s refreshing to know men like this fight for us on foreign soil.

“Before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, the United States demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden for masterminding the attack on U.S. soil.  Again the Taliban refused, perhaps not realizing that the new(ish) U.S. president, George W. Bush, was a very different character from Bill Clinton.” – Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell

If you want a great story with great heroes, read Lone Survivor.  If you feel the need to uproot your “first-world” problems just a bit, read Lone Survivor.  If you want to understand what it’s like to be a Texan, read Lone Survivor.  If you just want a little reminder that there are a few moral people, under God’s common grace, still out there, read Lone Survivor.

I would love to have my nephews hear the story of the Battle for Murphy’s Ridge.  Someday, when their older I’ll share it with them.  Sniper One is a good story, but I would want my nephews to be much older, maybe in their late teens or early twenties before I would recommend it based totally on the level of inappropriate content.  (If you’re a parent with a son joining the military and you want the harsh reality of the temptations he will face, you might consider reading Sniper One to help you have some frank conversations with him.  This is the only good I can think of from reading those parts and not skipping them.)  On the other hand, Lone Survivor would be a great companion to modern military history studies for boys in high school.  (As always, this is purely my thoughts.  You, as a parent, need to know what you want your kids to know and what they can handle.)

My two unsubstantiated and personal observations remain just that.  As far as #1 and the ROE, I can do little about that but try to understand the history going on around me.  #2 and the lack of morality in modern warfare writing remains to be seen, but I’m more hopeful for good stories about our brave soldiers that don’t reduce themselves into blood baths or gossip.

Here’s to the Navy SEALS who died in service to our country.

(This article is dedicated to Steve at Imagineer-ing who suggested Sniper One but passed away before I could share my thoughts on the book.  Thanks for all your support, Steve.)

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