American Sniper is a movie based on a book of the same name by Chris Kyle, and by some accident of circumstance I saw the movie on Monday, February 2, 2015, which was the anniversary of the day Kyle died, and is the day proclaimed to be Chris Kyle Day in Texas.
This is actually the best movie I have seen in a while, partially due to the budget available and the quality of the script, and perhaps that is also a quite different type of movie than I have seen for a while.
Regardless, it is perhaps normal, that whenever one sees a quality movie, there is a tendency to see oneself in the movie.
The movie centers on a theme, enumerated by Kyle’s father early in the movie: there are three types of people in the world: sheep who need protection; wolves who seek to destroy the sheep; and sheepdogs who seek to protect the sheep from the wolves. The question is then posed to his two sons: which one are you going to be?
Chris Kyle’s choice is clear: he is a sheepdog, first as the playground protector as a child, and then as the most lethal sniper in US history.
Enter controversy stage left.
Sheepdogs are important in protecting sheep from wolves, no controversy there. The controversy comes when one asks how do sheepdogs do this, and how do the sheep feel about the protection being carried out on their behalf.
Much of the hatred directed at this movie, though not portrayed in the film, is from sheep who are not fond of the idea of snipers killing people. But that is something we can certainly discuss, what means are used to protect the sheep from wolves. And for that, I am reminded of what Glenn Beck said after he saw the movie: how much restraint do we ask of our US soldiers when they are in such hostile environments, when even the friendlies are hostile?
Enter me, and perhaps you.
The US military is perhaps the clearest example of sheepdogs protecting sheep, but it is important to note that Kyle’s father actually gets this image from the Bible, where the sheepdog is first and foremost Christ, but also pastors.
Pastors do not have a sniper rifle, but they do have the hammer of the Law, a hammer which must be used when the sheep are engaged in sin and in danger of losing their salvation. A hammer that like Kyle’s rifle, can cause others to look and wonder if its use is really necessary at times.
And like those around Kyle, many of those around the pastor do not always understand what is going on.
While much of the movie is centered on Kyle’s 4 tours of duty in Iraq and the hunt for one particularly deadly opposing sniper; the lasting image is the effect using force and being in such hostile environments has on US soldiers, for as it turns out, even Sheepdogs need help.
Which is why this movie could just as easily be titled American PTSD.
One of the characters who meets Kyle says that his wounds are bad, he lost a leg, but others experience much worse in terms of the emotional and mental scars they carry. Incidentally, Kyle is one of those who carry unseen scars for all that he has seen and done.
It is interesting to note, that in the many conversations I have had with veterans of World War II, they all recount riding on a boat for 6 weeks from America to Europe and back. That is 6 weeks together with people who have seen and experienced similar things, the perfect detox in a sense. When Kyle is in the states, others, most notably his wife, cannot help him because they have not seen or done what he has.
Only when Kyle is surrounded by recovering soldiers is he able to adjust to civilian life.
Where does the pastor find himself here? Perhaps the best therapy for myself is in talking to other pastors at monthly winkels and study groups, at District conferences, and at the symposiums hosted by the seminary.
Sometimes the only people sheepdogs can talk to, are other sheepdogs.
I am not trying to equate myself, or any other pastor with Chris Kyle or any other member of the military. I am merely noting that there are several places where one might find a sheepdog; and sometimes, sheepdogs need to talk to other sheepdogs.
That being said, I am thankful for sheepdogs.
I am thankful for Chris Kyle, and the entire US military.
And I am thankful for pastors.
And I am thankful for this movie.