Just prior to the beginning of the war in Iraq (the 21st century one) I was working behind the hotel front desk and a group of guest (who obviously been enjoying their wine) were discussing that topic loudly. They were in agreement on the proper policy and on the fact that anyone that believed otherwise was either stupid or evil, but they left room for the possibility that some people on the opposing side might be both.
As someone who was, apparently, stupid or evil or both, I was tempted to voice an opposing position. But as an employee, I knew that entering that conversation wouldn’t be wise. Besides, I prefer to avoid conflict.
That topic of conversation continues to be, oh, what is the phrase…a minefield. Some people thrive on diving into such arguments and find a fierce debate stimulating. Some find any disagreement unpleasant and ulcer inspiring. It’s a personality thing.
“The Hurt Locker” is about a man who is looking for more danger than can be found in the thrill of debate. Jeremy Renner plays Staff Sergeant William James, the leader of an elite American Army bomb squad in Iraq circa 2004. James develops an addiction to the dangers of his job.
On assignments to disarm IEDs and other explosive devices, he takes increasing risks. He takes off the protective gear assigned him. He continues to work on bombs as the clock has been clicking too long. He risks not just his own life, but the lives of his fellow soldiers.
And yet, he can argue all the time that the risks he takes are to protect the lives and property of others, fellow soldiers and the Iraqi civilians. So is he taking the risks he takes for himself, or for others?
In one scene in the film, one of James’ barrack mates finds an odd box under a bed. It is full of fuses and detonators and timers. (It is the “hurt locker” of the film’s title.) James explains that the objects are souvenirs from bombs. He remembers the time and place where he acquired each one. He says they remind him that he is alive.
Many of us have hurt lockers. Our most vivid memories are those times when we were in peril. The Apostle Paul certainly had one. In II Corinthians 11 he wrote:
23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
But I don’t think Paul put himself in danger for the adrenalin rush. Unlike James in the film, or the married person who has an affair to feel the thrill of the forbidden or someone who picks verbal or physical fights just to “feel something”, Paul did what he did because God called him.
God doesn’t call us to live a safe life. But the risks He calls us to take are for the good of others and His glory, not ours. No need to look for trouble. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 assure us trouble will come. But if we trust in Him, He will give us the strength to face those troubles.
(“The Hurt Locker” is nominated for Best Picture and could well win. It is rated R for violence and language. “Lost” fans should be warned about an unexpected Evangeline Lilly cameo.)