By Joel Hess –
This past weekend I was moved by a movie in a way more deeply and permanently than I have been affected in some time. I saw “American Sniper” with some of my high school students. As many of you know it is a film about Chris Kyle the record holding Navy SEAL sniper who ironically if not poetically was killed by someone he was trying to help. Clint Eastwood, one of my favorite actors and directors, flawlessly portrayed Kyle’s tours in Iraq and difficulties assimilating in civilian life. It was not an artistic film. It was not Eastwood’s cleverest endeavor. No, Eastwood disappeared and simply let the story tell itself, which may be a greater accomplishment than directing with heavy Van Gogh like strokes.
When the film ended, no one in the audience said a word. As they credits rolled, they left silently like the end of a Good Friday service. Everyone, including myself, was blown away. And I am sure I am not the only one who asked the existential questions – ‘who am I?’ and ‘what am doing with my life?’ As Kyle lamented in between one of his tours as he rode with his wife to go shopping, “there’s a war out there and I’m driving to the mall.” This strange juxtaposition Americans enjoy really hit me square in the face. How can you laugh when people are dying? How can you waste time playing video games about war while people are risking their lives in real war! How can you relax while others are suffering?
Fortunately, before I began to drive to the nearest Navy recruiting center, I enjoyed an epiphany. This movie was not really about the war on terror. It did not glorify war, nor was its purpose to simply demonize terrorists (the true stories of mothers strapping their 10 year old sons with IEDs accomplishes that). The film wasn’t really even about being a soldier or a sniper. And finally it wasn’t a rah-rah thank God I’m an American and you suck movie. This movie was about a man who saw something that needed to be done and he did it! He saw an opportunity to serve his fellow man and signed up! Not for glory, a vision of grandeur, or to leave a legacy, but simply because it was the right thing to do. “God, country, family”, he told a fellow soldier who was doubting why he was there. For Chris Kyle there was no choice; his neighbor needed him. How fitting that he died not on the battlefield but at home helping out a mentally disturbed fellow soldier. Evil is everywhere, sin is everywhere, suffering is everywhere, people need help everywhere! You have neighbors going through their own war on terror as they fight cancer, or suffer abuse, battle their own sinful desires, etc. What are you going to do about it?
What I admire about Chris Kyle is not his marksmanship or various other skills, it was his love of his neighbor, his brother in arms, his wife and kids. I suppose on this day as we remember the work of Martin Luther King, the same can be admired of him.
This is the mark of heroism and valor that can be exercised by every one in every vocation! You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to be a hero. You don’t have to go overseas and fall on an IED to save your brothers to be a hero. You don’t have to tell everyone your dream on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Whatever you have been given to do, as I told the youth, “Chris Kyle it!” Do it to the best of your ability and do it to the end.
Of course, this points to a hero who single handedly served and saved both King and Kyle, Christ our Lord. He not only loved his neighbor, but even His enemy: you and me, sinners, blasphemers, part time heroes and part time cowards. He loved us to the end not for fame or glory, not to be praised or remembered, but to lift us up out of this war torn, lonely existence and into His promised land. This peace and salvation empowers us to stick our neck out, to take a risk in loving and serving others. For no matter what happens, we shall rise! We shall rise on the last day when Christ comes again! And that isn’t just a dream; that is reality already in motion! Come Lord Jesus.