The film American Sniper neither idealizes nor demonizes Chris Kyle–and that’s a good thing. He comes across as a real human being who has ideals and courage and yet who pays a high price for both. That’s all interesting on a personal level, of course–but the bigger statement of the film is surprising: war can be prosecuted in different ways–there is a moral difference between the values of a terrorist sniper and (in this case) an American sniper. The reason I say “in this case” is that Chris Kyle (the character in the film, and I hope the man in real life) had a conscience that guided him. He didn’t kill for glory or joy (he didn’t exult over his success even though others did); he hated what he had to do and only did when it was necessary to protect others; though he didn’t lose a limb or an eye, he paid a high price in order to serve as a defender.
I suppose Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper intend this as a model–they are holding these principles up for our admiration, so that when we are forced to prosecute war, we do so with restraint and reluctance, yet with determination.
The moral foundation of this story is refreshing and surprising given the relativism our society swims in: in many films about war everyone is stained, corrupted, monstrous, as if there were no way to make war without becoming morally equivalent to the terrorist. That’s of course possible, but not necessary.
Richard Sibbes left this world 380 years ago, yet he continues to speak “comfortable words” to me:
We must know for our comfort that Christ was not anointed to this great work of being our Mediator only for lesser sins, but for the greatest of them, if we just have a spark of true faith to lay hold of him. Therefore, if there is anyone who is a bruised reed, let him not make an exception of himself when Christ does not make an exception of him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden” (Matt. 11:28). Why should we not make use of so gracious a disposition? We are only poor for this reason: that we do not know our riches in Christ.
Let me quickly get off my petty chest my few complaints: poor editing, which I hope is corrected in future printings (typos and grammatical errors, as well as some confusing messes in the copious end notes). And please, please tell me they will add indices (subject, people, scripture references) in another edition. That’s really all I can pick on. Everything else in the book ranges from good to great to fantastic. Some people might find its scope to be overkill, and I suppose the interaction with medieval mysticism and eastern meditation techniques might seem to others a tad esoteric. But he handles it well–and I encourage you to read all the end notes (which sometimes felt like half the book–and which contain some of the juiciest stuff).
But here’s why you should read this book: there’s nothing more important for you than your relationship with the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit, and the conversation of prayer and meditation is how the relationship lives and grows. Keller deals with most if not all the questions (both theoretical and practical) that you can imagine about prayer; he covers the theology of prayer (in a moving way); he teaches from the Lord’s prayer and the psalms; he distills the best insights from the greatest writings on prayer (from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and especially Owen, which of course pleased me); and he centers it all on the gospel.
Great stuff–and if you haven’t started it yet, what’s wrong?
Although there are many things to commend Birdman, I think I’m going to have to watch it one or two more times to determine whether I’m satisfied with it–and I fear that in the end I’ll only find it tragic. Loved the music–it was as perfect for this bizarre film as the scores for Remains of the Day, Out of Africa, and Gandhi were for them–yet this score is completely different. The acting was a strange delight to watch, even though almost everything the actors portrayed was painful to watch. (Tell me, how can that be?) The tracking-shot approach to the filming was perfect. The magical realism (or whatever you call the levitation and other hocus-pocus) was quirky and intriguing.
But I felt overall that this was a study of self-absorption, and every relationship with the main character was a primal conflict–including his relationship with himself, or his past, or whatever that alter-ego thing was.
So if I watch it again, I’ll try to figure out what the title of the play within the film means (What We Talk about when We Talk about Love), as well as the subtitle of the film (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). (Note: there was more than enough ignorance to go around.) Plenty of images to reflect on as well: the strut through the crowds in underwear and socks, his daughter’s heavenward smile, and so on.
Feel free to add your two cents.
… but you shouldn’t wait another minute to order a copy.
The author’s name is one I’ve never heard before (“Jonty”?), but his Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to his People amazed me. It also provoked me to envy: I wish I had written this book, because in only 176 clearly-written pages it expresses what I think the whole Bible teaches, cover-to-cover. (Well, it’s clearly written, except for those really odd Britishisms, such as “I’ve plumped for the right one.” What?)
Does that sound self-serving, to plump for (praise highly) a book because it says what I think? I don’t think so. We sometimes praise books (or essays or poems or stories) because they open new vistas for us, transform our thinking, or move us deeply. But sometimes they say what we think, and help us articulate and organize our thoughts–and that’s helpful, too. So although this book won’t change my life, it does provide a resource that puts in one place and expresses well what I believe is a sound, life-promoting view of our relationship with God.
Please read it.
Because I’m getting ready to audit an Ed Welch course through CCEF with some friends, I thought I’d prepare myself by reading one of his books, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection. Overall the book was good, though I wasn’t moved by several chapters–which probably says more about my mood or openness than it does about the book.
I will say, however, that chapter 26 was just what I needed. After presenting a brief case of a woman named Jen who lives in order to be valued by another person–the right person–Welch writes,
There is only one way out, and at first she won’t like it: she must rest in her association with Jesus rather than find value in her association with a mere mortal. Her past has made her vulnerable to being a value junkie. A kind word from a respected person and all is well. A snub from someone to whom she wants to be special leaves her alternating between anger and despair, with the emphasis on despair. She wants something tangible now. What she has in Christ feels distant and spiritual, which to her means he is not tangible or close. She doesn’t feel like she is asking too much. She just wants to be a valued person for once.
Of course, he goes on from there to address her struggle. Good stuff.
This is the cleverest thing I’ve seen in ages. Every Thursday a new Shakespearean sonnet–which is a rewriting of a pop song. Read some–like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Stayin’ Alive.” You will smile, perhaps even laugh.
–This odyssey is how I ply my trade;
among the spheres my livelihood is made.
[from “Rocket Man”]
Fortunately the first two Hobbit films prepared me for the disappointment of the third. It was ridiculous.