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Posts Tagged ‘Saving Private Ryan’


Recently I had lunch with another pastor. Among the subjects we discussed was what I called the bodies in the backyard.

No, I’m not a serial killer though there a quite a few hamsters buried in our backyard.

Image result for cemeteryI referred to the losses we experience in the course of pastoral ministry. Lately the losses have been piling up: deaths, people who moved away, people who slammed the door on their way out or just slipped quietly out the back door. They are losses we feel, particularly if we pastor smaller churches (average churches in the big scheme of things).

As pastors we feel the loss, but often can’t stop to feel or grieve the loss. We must continue to fulfill our vocation. We have to perform the funeral, find the person to fill the holes in the ministry of the church. We have to compartmentalize to some degree to fulfill our responsibilities to God and His people. We can feel like Ezekiel who was commanded not to mourn after his wife dies (Ez. 24:15ff) as a symbolic act for when judgment came upon Judah.

We intend to go back and mourn those losses. But intentions aren’t always fulfilled. Life moves on and there are new plans to make, crises to attend to and people to shepherd (including our own families).

I’ve found it becomes increasingly difficult to go back and mourn those losses. The demands of ministry seem to forever get in the way. Vacations often don’t seem the time to do this. “Sorry kids, Dad needs to go off to a corner of the house and weep for 3 days” isn’t really how to approach it. As a solo pastor it is difficult to take those days off from administration, sermon prep and visitation to do it.

For instance, when I was in FL one of the elders passed away after a battle with cancer. In some ways that retired Navy captain was a father figure. He had a steady faith thru the trials of the congregation. He was steady as a rock when fighting the cancer that took his life.

But in the moment, I had to be there for his wife. I had to be there for a congregation that loved him deeply. I felt I needed to be the rock (not the Rock) for all of them. When I did go on vacation shortly thereafter I was cranky and aloof. Some old friends noticed and thought I was mad at them or something. No, I was needing to grieve but not realizing it.

This happens. We put them “in the back yard” hoping to get to it.

I once interviewed for a pastoral position that had a manse, and a cemetery behind the church next door. Sometimes I feel like I have one. There are epitaphs on the stones: Here Lies the Elder I loved. Here lies the person who couldn’t forgive me or other people. Here lies a family/co-laborer I was close to that moved away. There they are, calling like the blood of Abel.

Image result for saving private ryanI’m reminded of Saving Private Ryan when Captain Miller confesses with his hand shaking, “Every time I kill a man I feel farther from home.” The burden grows and we seem less of ourselves if we haven’t grieved those losses.

Thankfully the blood of Jesus speaks a truer word, a better word. He knows those losses too. Because of my union with Christ my loss is a loss to Him. He wants to bind our broken hearts.

He’s not condemning or chastising. He doesn’t raise His voice, break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoldering wick. That’s the key: to remember that sometimes (more than I’d like to admit) I’m the bruised reed and smoldering wick. He seeks me out so I’ll entrust that pain to him, and receive His comfort just like I’ve encouraged others to do.

Image result for smoldering wickLately I’ve found that I’m preaching to myself quite a bit, and a roomful of people are listening in. Even if they don’t realize it.

Pastor Appreciation Month has passed. But you can still appreciate your pastor, particularly for the burdens he bears with you, and those you know nothing about. Many pastors have a bunch of bodies in the back yard. They just don’t know how to tell you that. They can feel very alone with their pain.

Ministry includes suffering. The Christian life includes suffering (Philippians 1:29). It is in those moments Jesus invites us to come to Him with those burdens because we weren’t meant to carry them alone.

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I eagerly anticipated the movie Dunkirk. That was a pivotal battle in WWII, and it was directed by one of my favorite directors, Christopher Nolan (I’ll forgive him for Interstellar). So I went to see it on Saturday.

There was a confusing element I didn’t sort out until after the movie. It was comprised of 3 inter-related story lines but they didn’t happen simultaneously. They took place over 3 different periods of time but ended at the same time. Does that make sense?

He introduced the story lines based on location and then there was a period of time for each. The movie flipped back and forth between the story lines so the events were not portrayed consecutively.

The Mole (1 week) |———————————————————————————–|

The Sea (1 day)                                                                                                |————————-|

The Air (1 hour)                                                                                                                                |—|

As a result the story dealing with the Mole, the name of the “pier” they used on the beach, and the men trying to flee the German armies was compressed and told alongside the expanded story of one of the boats (fishing, commercial & recreational) sent to rescue the soldiers, and a trio of Spitfires that provided support in the Channel during the time just before the boats arrived.

So, this interesting way of telling the story was confusing until I figured what was actually going on. “Hey, why is it night time at the Mole but in the middle of the day in the Channel?” As a result, some events are retold from a different perspective (the Spitfires, then the boat and perhaps then the men escaping the Mole). Interesting film making.

I was surprised when the setting was described as “The enemy” cornered the “French and English armies” at Dunkirk. Not the German or Axis armies. The enemy, which is quite generic and possible designed to not ruffle any feathers. I don’t recall even seeing a German soldier. The closest was the shots of German planes. You saw the effects of soldiers, gun fire, but they were an invisible enemy. Or nearly so since the focus really wasn’t on them. It was really on the main characters of the story lines.

The Mole: You are initially introduced to the main character as his squad is ambushed. All are shot except him, and he gets within the perimeter established by the French forces. He then meets another soldier who is finished burying a soldier after taking his boots, to add some ambiguity to the story. These two men repeatedly try to get off the beach, only to fail with increasing measures of danger. At times they cut to the British Army and Navy commanders who discuss the bigger picture: Churchhill needs an army but can’t risk all the planes and ships due to the seemingly superior German air force and submarines. We see a number of ships get sunk by them.

The Sea: A father and his son, aided by a young deck hand, pilot a boat dispatched to rescue soldiers. They don’t wait for the men from the navy to commandeer the vessel but go so they can pilot their own vessel (some of the boats used in the film were part of the actual rescue- this is why you watch the credits). They were not the only civilians to do this. Along the way they encounter sunk ships and rescue men. The focus is on the bravery of ordinary civilians heading into a war zone for love of brother and country.

The Air: In the first encounter with the enemy the leader is shot down, and the focus in on a particular pilot, Farrier played by Tom Hardy. We only hear the voice of the other pilot until he is shot down. We see the courage of these pilots who repeatedly risk their lives in dog fights, or in running out of fuel, in order to save boats filled with soldiers.

So there is a contrast between the desperate fear of the guys who want to get off the beach (for good reason) and the bravery of those coming to rescue or support them. The same circumstances produced very different responses. This contrast is repeated at the end. The rescued soldiers feel like failures and in some cases cowards. But the crowds welcome them like heroes knowing they still have an island to defend and those men must do it. Their future is bound up in the ability and confidence of these shattered men. They soldiers even misinterpret some of their actions based on their erroneous perception of things. But then there is the media who laud the rescue effort but focus on the immanent threat of invasion such that it all seems like a failure.

This is an often intense film, aided by Hans Zimmer’s score. It is not flowing and majestic but often minimalist. It is not gruesome (like Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge), but tweens and teens may not be able to handle the intensity. There are men trapped in boats that are sinking. Men with no where to go as a German, or “enemy”, plane bears down on them dropping bombs and shooting bullets. While not as intense, or perhaps disturbing is a better word, as Black Hawk Down, the realities of war are in your face. [A friend asked me whether his kids might be able to see it.]

So are the vagaries of war. Who lives or dies. Which boat sinks or floats. The existential absurdity experienced by some of the men as every attempt fails despite being increasingly dangerous, despite getting seeming closer to safety. Each time the enemy foils the plan at the cost of many other men’s lives. You feel their frustration and want to say “No, not again!”

A great movie has you thinking about it after you’ve left the movie theater. Not thinking about the special effects or a few lines. Thinking about the plot, the story telling, the themes. This movie accomplishes that. I left pondering the courage of ordinary people in the face of the unpredictable horror of war. But it also left me wondering why there was a warning about distracted driving at the end of the credits. This is a movie worth seeing, and on the big screen.

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Fury, the newest war movie to hit the theaters, is an excellent film in many ways reminiscent of Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. There are many points of contact between the movie, and some major points of departure as well.

The time frame for Fury is a few months before VE Day. The U.S. forces have pushed into Germany and Germany has resorted to extreme methods like drafting women and children into the battle. This affects the plot, but does not drive the plot like D-Day does SPR. The plot of SPR has to do with saving the last remaining son of a widow in the aftermath of D-Day. Here we see a few instances of the cruelty and desperation of the SS, and the response of the main characters to the SS. In one scene, an SS officer is not allowed to surrender with the rest of the German “troops” (including teenaged girls).

Points of Contact:

Both movies focus on one unit. In SPR is is a Ranger unit sent to find Private Ryan. Here it is a tank crew. They don’t receive their mission until at least the mid-point of the movie.

Both units have a highly competent yet mysterious leader: Capt. Miller and Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt in his best movie in years). Yes, every crew member has a nickname. In SPR they keep guessing what his vocation in pre-war life was. Here there is no such game but they all wonder why he knows German. Late in the movie the mystery deepens when they discover his familiarity with Scripture.

While both leaders are highly effective, they are also secretly damaged. Miller’s hand would increasingly shake during downtime. In a rare moment of self-disclosure he admits “every time I kill someone I feel farther from home.” In the opening sequence, Fury is the only tank to have survived a battle in which they lost the assistant driver. Back in the camp, Collier finds an isolated spot for a “moment”. He hates the war and what it does to him but there is no escape.

Enter the newbie. In both cases it is a man who was not prepared for combat. In SPR he is Corporal Upham, a translator since they will be going behind the current lines to retrieve Ryan who was a paratrooper. Here it is a typist named Norman. He is not prepared for life in a tank or for combat. Much of the movie is about his struggle with the realities of war with which the other crew members are all too familiar. In his first two encounters there is failure that costs the lives of others. His sense of right and wrong have him ill-equipped for combat. But, as “Bible” Swan guesses, Norman is a “Mainliner” or liberal, nominal Christian.

In both movies the action scenes strive for authenticity. This means they are intense and graphic. They accurately convey the horror of war, and deepen your appreciation for the men who endured these circumstances.

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I’m a little behind on movies.  The Hurt Locker was one I’ve wanted to see for some time.  CavWife didn’t realize it made it to the top of the Net Flix queue.  In many ways it was Platoon in the desert without the Oliver Stone agenda.  I say this because it is about the struggle between 2 Sgt.s for the soul of a young soldier.  I’ll try not to give up too many spoilers.

Pearce from the opening sequence

The movie opens with the bomb squad  doing its job in the midst of Baghdad circa 2004.  The robot breaks down in mid-mission.  The team leader, played by Guy Pearce (dude, where have you been?), puts on the suit to set the charges to set off the IED.  The team seems to have some good cohesion.  They joke with each other to ward off the fear they all feel.  They like to play it safe.  The suit is a last resort.  These guys just want to get home in one piece.  But something goes terribly wrong, resulting in the team leader’s death.  Sgt. Sanborn seems able to move on, but Specialist Eldridge is left to pick up the metaphorical pieces, feeling guilt for an inability to prevent the deadly explosion.

Sgt. Thompson’s  replacement is quite different.  He’s not approachable, a bit caustic.  Over time we learn he’s a Ranger whose disabled well over 800 bombs.  We also learn that he loves this.  The movie opens with a quote about the addiction of war.  It refers to Staff Sgt. James.  The rest of the team soon realizes that he loves the suit.  We don’t see the robotics again.

Jeremy Renner as Staff Sgt. James

The team has only 38 days left in their deployment.  The film focuses primarily on the missions during that time frame.  But the scenes in between are telling.  James is a confused man who only finds clarity in the suit.  But he often puts his team at risk, which has Sanborn less than upset.  But not everyone is.  David Morse plays a Col. who loves the craziness of James.  He too is addicted to the rush of adrenaline.  They are like kindred spirits, and Sanborn just doesn’t get it.

Sanborn is not a coward, by any means.  He’s just not into unnecessary risk.  At one point he and Eldridge are watching while James heads back to a detonation site to get his gloves.  They are in the middle of the desert to destroy some ordinance.  Sanborn entertains the idea of setting off the bomb to kill him before he gets them killed.  Accidents do happen, after all.  It is a chilling moment- he hates what this man represents and the fact that he places them all in jeopardy.

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I was a little surprised when CavWife said she wanted to see Taken.  I had heard of the brutal torture scene (yes, though extracting information it was torture and tainted by revenge), and thought she wouldn’t be interested.  Ironically, while watching a preview she commented “that’s just about revenge.”  Nevertheless, while at Redbox, I picked up Taken and a Val Kilmer movie I’d never heard of, Columbus Day.

Liam Neeson plays a former CIA “preventer” named Brian Mills.  His casting in this role seems less likely than even Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.  Perhaps I should be cast as Mitch Rapp.  But, I’ve never seen Liam in person so I have little context for this assessment.  Perhaps he’s stronger and quicker than I imagine, but I think it is largely the result of quick shots and editing.

Anyway, his teenage daughter Kim travels overseas.  She tells her father she’s going to Paris to see the museums, but he discovers she’s really going to follow U2 around on a European Tour.  Shortly after arriving in Paris, she and her friend are taken by human traffickers.  Brian uses his skills to track the traffickers and retrieve his daughter.

There is not much of a plot besides this, and it moves at a rather quick pace.  He’s working against the clock, and he’s been trained to compartmentalize so he’s not agonizing over any of this.  But he kills and maims his way around Paris to find his daughter (granted, more noble than Bourne’s escapades in Europe).

As I lay on my bed it came to me- this was a picture of grace (granted, a stunted one).  I realized this when I reflected on the fact she didn’t deserve it.  To be rescued (yes … I’d rescue my daughter, perhaps even creating similar carnage).  She lied to her father and manipulated him.  She was also lied too by her friend who put her in such a dangerous position.  But she was essentially a spoiled, ungrateful child who disobeyed and betrayed her father and placed herself, by her selfishness, into the arms of human flotsam.

That is me.  I didn’t deserve to be rescued from the mortal danger I’d placed myself in.  Romans 5 says that Jesus died to save us while we were ungodly, sinners and enemies of God.  We do not deserve this, nor can we earn it (as Capt. Miller told Private Ryan to do).

Perhaps that is why she exclaims “you came for me!”  Maybe, while being to be sold as a sexual slave she realized how selfish she had been.  Some days I need to recapture the amazement that “He came for me!”

Unlike Brian Mills, He didn’t rescue by taking out the even more evil ones.  Oh, that will happen later.  But Jesus came to rescue by offering His life in our place.  This is why I say the redemptive theme in Taken is stunted.  Brian Mills only risked his life, and offered to pay a ransom.  He wasn’t the ransom.  Jesus was.

But, as I lay on my bed after a sin-filled, selfish day, I was reminded how undeserving I am, what grave danger I was in, and that He came for me.  Yes, a picture of grace.

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