Friday, January 8, 2010

"The Church Locker"

One of the films receiving high honors from all the critics this year is The Hurt Locker. It is surprisingly viewable in spite of the fact that, instead of a story, it is a meandering slice of life from a place no one would voluntarily go in a situation no one would chose to live. Perhaps that is why it is being touted as the best Iraq war movie thus far. It simply shows the war without preaching. It captures the horrible and yet tedious experience that this conflict seems to be.

The thing that makes it more than just a documentary-like depiction of war is the main character it presents. James is a man who is, for lack of a better word, “addicted” to combat and danger. Others see it as an addiction to the adrenaline rush, but the viewer is able to discover that it is the importance of the role he plays—the fact that his decisions matter—that draws James to war. In comparison, ordinary life seems so meaningless.

Apparently a lot of soldiers experience this “addiction.” They come home from the war-zone and have a hard time discovering meaning in life that compares to the life and death stakes they were able to experience in war.

There is a similarity here to many people in Christian circles that are involved in cross-cultural ministry and church planting. Once a person experiences the value their lives can have in pioneer work, going back to a predominately Christian culture like the Bible-Belt can be a huge frustration. It is not unusual to find that good cross-cultural workers are actually uncomfortable around other Christians. They prefer the company of the lost. Some established churches and the Christians that attend there find this problematic, but it is understandable.

For many missionaries a return to their home church can be like the scene of James in the grocery store in this movie. He stands in an aisle facing innumerable options—all variety with no substance—and he is overwhelmed and frustrated. Church culture is often a case of filling our whole lives with empty, churchy things and forgetting that God wants us to be witnesses surrounded by lost people who need what we have to offer. That is meaning with life and death stakes.

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