Sunday Thoughts: Matthew 18:6-9

If you were to see us not in our Sunday best, but in our spiritual armor, in our TrueSelves, what would you see? A congregation of beauty? Coiffed and pampered? Polished plate, gleaming and shiny? Our swords sheathed and our guns holstered? Maybe clean, on parade soldiers, unsoiled and unspoiled by war?

No, my dear friend, no.

You would see a congregation of scarred, maimed amputees. You would see intense listeners, leaning forward in their seats. We fight our exhaustion. We push through distraction. Our swords are in our laps, blades bare, guns drawn and ready.

Row after row after row of bone-tired warriors with missing eyes, fingers, arms, and legs, gather together. We wear dented, miss-matched armor covered in blood and gore. We’re broken, weary to the point of tears, hungry, and never out of the fight.

Look deeper. Look at our gossamer souls. Do you see the holes? Do you see the daily deaths we die to ourselves for one another? Over there is a battle with sin not going so well. Up front is a disfigured saint still gnawed at by a particular temptation. Back there is a weeping soul who fell yet again into the same trap. They bend under the weight of the battles they have waged this week. They stop their ears to lies and unbelief.

Do you see the dreams sacrificed? Do you see the wants set aside? Do you see the here and now given up? The prayers prayed during the dark of the night? The trials, great and ordinary? The hatred of sin? The suffering endured? The pain of refining? The constant ruthless severity with which each saint turns blade and bullet on his own heart and flesh to rend and fight the corruption within?

This isn’t clean.   

This isn’t pretty.

This is war.

Battle.

Look at us on the path to heaven. We have sacrificed beauty and ease here for glory there. We are the scarred, amputated, broken, weary warriors. We are the ruthless.

We are the loved.

There is Beauty Even Here: All the Light We Cannot See and Hamburger Hill

 

It seems odd to connect the book All the Light We Cannot See with the violent war movie Hamburger Hill. One is filled with elegant and gripping prose. The other reeks of dirt, blood, gore, language, and nudity. And yet, a beauty resonated within them both.

All the Light We Cannot See is the story of a blind young girl, and a smart, small boy caught up in WW2. Werner is a German and Marie is French. Their lives touch for the briefest of poignant moments. Instead of getting down in the muck of war, Doerr captures haunting horrors in words of longing, and broken grace. You know all that is happening is gross, mean, and destructive, yet you are removed from all that by a prose that takes you higher. And somehow this lofty view makes it all the more terrible. It paints death with beauty which only makes the death more jolting, more revolting. Your heart weeps at the loss of innocence, family, goodness. You see souls torn more deeply by the careful choice of each perfect word.

Hamburger Hill is as opposite as you can get. There are no majestic shots, no moving music, and no quotable dialogue. All there is is a handful of very young men cussing, fighting, and lusting. They are covered in dirt, sweating, and unattractive in every way. But, as the movie culminates, beauty blazes through. It is seen in the worst guy who hasn’t said one pure thing about a woman, hugging the other guy who’s girl just dumped him. It’s seen when a Lieutenant weeps as his men are mowed down by friendly fire, when a sergeant explains why he came back to Vietnam, when race is sponged away between white boys and black boys cause they’re all dying, when a private wipes his sergeant’s face, and when a man holds so gently his dying buddy. Great tenderness blooms between these men as they attempt to fight their way up a hill for ten days.

Beauty is found even here.

Two stories of war, as different as can be, and yet both show a light burning bright in the darkness.

Reading/watching these back to back was emotionally taxing, and yet it reminded me of why I’m drawn back to war stories over and over. I love seeing the light in the darkest moment. I love the beauty that blooms in battle. I love brotherhoods. There is something magical about men who have fought together that we’re losing in our feministic culture. I plan to go down kicking and screaming. I will be a woman who honors warriors without demanding to be one.

I love these stories because they capture the reality of my existence. I am not what I seem on some level. It’s true, I am a middle class, white, suburban housewife. But, I’m also a saved sinner, a healed monster, and a warrior in the battle against sin. War movies are my unseen reality and my church family is my band of brothers. I may not want women to be forced into the bond of battle formed between men, but I can also be part of that great friendship in the spiritual army of the Lord. When I see them fighting down in the dirt, when I see two children suffering all that war brings, I look with my Christian-colored-glasses and see the spiritual battle I engage in every day.

Life is more than it seems, both uglier and more beautiful.

Sometimes as a writer, I lose my way. I forget what story I’m telling when I’m in the middle of plot lines, time lines, and commas, but movies and stories like this help re-align me. They help me keep fighting. They help me to pray for my family. They remind me to hug and hold cause I don’t know the battle my fellow soldier may have engaged in this week.

There is beauty even here.

 

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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Sunday Thoughts: Constant Vigilance!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:6-9, ESV)

I love stories.  They add such a rich depth to our lives.  They flesh out our own experiences while letting us learn and grow from others who have gone before.  They give us hooks for truth.

Some of us – lots of us – remember things more easily in story form.  Why?  It gives us an emotional connection for Truth which makes it easier to see and understand.  It’s why well done historical fiction can be more educational in the long run than a timeline, and why Pastors and teachers use sermon illustrations.

Now, stories must be kept in their appropriate place.  I am by no means suggesting we get truth from the stories.  We get truth from the Scriptures.  They are our final authority and our judge of a stories value.  But, we can take our Christian-colored glasses and look at stories thru them, turning them into delightful tools and gifts to educate and remember.  Even ‘bad’ stories can aid us by helping us understand why Truth is precious.  We do need to be careful about what stories we consume whether you filter out the bad, or filter in the good.  This means we must practice Constant Vigilance!

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My Dad has been preaching through 1 Peter during his pulpit rotation for the last year or so.  As he expositionally goes through the book, I’ve been reminded of the Auror in Harry Potter named Mad-eye Moody.  He taught Harry, Ron, and Hermione that the only way to fight against the Dark Arts was to maintain “Constant Vigilance!”  In 1 Peter 5:6-9 we are called to be sober-minded.  In other places we are told to be ready in season and out, to listen to our elders, to repent, to not be surprised, to study – “for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”(Heb 5:13)  In other words, practice

Constant Vigilance!

The story of Moody teaching Harry to be vigilant against the Dark Arts helps me flesh out the idea of going to war against sin, to be guarded against lies, and to love my church.

Constant Vigilance!

I can take the minor story of how soberly Harry takes his fight against Voldemort and be reminded of how much more soberly I should take my fight against sin.

Constant Vigilance!

Don’t be deceived.  You are in a war.  You may not look like it.  You may not have weapons, combat training, or a working knowledge of how to look and be intimidating.  Don’t be fooled!  You are in a greater, bigger, and longer war with more at stake than any war we have ever fought.  Be a wise warrior and prepare!  Train!

Constant Vigilance!

How?  Know the tools the enemy uses just like Moody taught Harry.  Trust and love those in authority – something Harry is constantly learning.  (And I don’t mean the Ministry.  I mean Dumbledore.)  Pray for your elders!  Prepare yourself with the tools at hand – like the DA – by being at church on Sunday and Wednesday.  Be ready and willing to fight no matter what.  And read good books.  Find those hooks that help remind you of the truths of Scripture be it a song, a story, a picture.  Practice

Constant Vigilance!