Each August since Joshua passed has brought with it such a mixture of emotions, memories, and thoughts. And thankfully they are changing and becoming more hopeful and redemptive with each passing year. I have tried to honor him by carrying out some kind of special project each year that expresses love and compassion to others, carrying on life as he lived it. But this year circumstances have brought more than a few challenges and it has been all that I can do to just keep my head above water, this time more physically than emotionally. So, instead of a direct or tangible “Love In Action” project this August I am going to simply pass on a powerful truth God reminded me of last night (Aug. 24th) through a movie.
Surprisingly it was from a movie I thought I would most likely never watch and which understandably I haven’t been able to even think of watching during these last few years. The movie is entitled, Lone Survivor. I have some connection to it, however, as a friend read a review about it while visiting New York City, a few years after Joshua’s passing there, and relayed to me that the review said some things that reminded him of Joshua. And I have also come to know the author of the book, Demon Camp, about a soldier she met and wrote the book about who was supposed to be with the men sent to rescue soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan which is what the movie describes. That mission is the main plot of the movie. So there was some interest in watching it but I just didn’t think I would ever be able to. Then I saw that it was going to play on TV so I recorded it for some possible future viewing, thinking that it would most likely be far off in the future if at all. However, last night I felt a surprisingly strong desire to watch it as well as strong enough to do so. I jumped in, but holding my breath, ready to jump out immediately if I felt like I was going under. I was in for a surprise and a blessing.
What I found out is that the movie possessed a profound message that I believe did characterize Joshua’s life and beliefs, and what led him to live the life that he did. It is not about conscientious objection or a person who leaves the military to work towards peace and non-violence, as Joshua did. Quite the contrary. It is about a group of Navy Seals sent on a mission to ‘take out’ a leader in Al Queda in a region of Afghanistan. It’s a story of a mission gone wrong and an ambush which eventually took the lives of all but one man, Marcus Luttrell. (real name) Hence the title, Lone Survivor. But there is a reason that Luttrell survived several gunshot wounds, multiple injuries from jumping off of cliffs and rolling down rocky terrain, as well as near death from an Al Queda group in the midst of a small village in the mountains. And that is because of the care and protection of a ‘local’ man and his son, following the teaching of their religion which calls for its followers to protect at all costs a man from his enemies.
In the movie, when the soldiers were first found on the mountaintop overlooking the village by a small group of farmers including children, there was some discussion about what they should do with the group. It was Luttrell who, in opposition to others in his squad, stood up for humane treatment of the people, stating that it was not right to kill innocent unarmed civilians, needless to say, children in order to protect themselves from potential future harm, the possibility of one of them tipping off Al Queda of their whereabouts. The squad leader eventually agreed with Luttrell and let the men and children go. As feared, a young man in that group did tip off Al Queda leaders which caused the ambush. But miraculously Luttrell survived unbelievable odds until Mohammad Gulab (real name) and his son found him and took him to their village for safety. Mohammed and his people argued just as the Seals had up on the mountain whether it was too dangerous for them to keep him, as they too would become targets of Al Queda for helping the US. But like Luttrell, Mohammed also chose to protect this unknown wounded US soldier at great risk to himself and his family. Both men made humane choices and both would face consequences.
The two men seemed to be worlds apart in culture and religion, but turned out to be very similar when it came to matters of the heart. A message finally got through to the US base headquarters of their location and Luttrell was rescued by fellow US Seals. In the last scene Luttrell, being carried out by his fellow soldiers, turned and looked at Mohammed and his son and said “Thank You”. The son then ran up to him to embrace him and say good-bye. At the conclusion of the movie, displayed on the screen was a picture of a reunion of Marcus Luttrell and Mohammed Gulab in 2010.
The last scene of the two men looking at each other, everything stripped away between them but life itself, remains so vivid in my memory. And I can’t help but think that seeing another as part of our own humanity is what Marcus and Mohammed experienced because they both chose love and life over hate, self preservation, and death in those crucial moments in their lives. Their beliefs on killing and violence were circumstantially selective as the movie depicts, but the beauty of even their one choice was powerful and moving, showing two men who might have become enemies bonded for life by acts of love.
This over riding sense of humanity and the desire to choose love over hate is what I believe Joshua not only experienced in his interrogation booth in Iraq while talking with the young Jihadist, but finally saw as the heart and soul of the Christian message. When he saw himself in this young man, it was then that he realized that ‘enemy’ is a man-made label and it only has the power and meaning we give to it. How we define it is the difference between life and death and a more violent or a more peaceful world. When Jesus said to “love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us”, he did so knowing that man is not capable of doing so outside of the grace of God. He commanded us to do the impossible so it would draw us to Him in deeper and stronger ways causing us to become more like Him. It takes divine enlightenment and transformation to enable us to make the hard choices of love.
The movie was exceedingly inspiring and caused me to reflect on this truth and question:
Where would we be if God was like us?
“And while we were yet sinners (enemies of God) Christ died for us” (all of us)
Joshua looked beyond his reputation, acceptance, and even safety to follow Christ’s teachings, taking Him at his word to lay down the sword and choose to love becoming a peacemaker. Taking unpopular stands makes us vulnerable and open to the unknown as it did for Marcus Luttrell, Mohammed Gulab, and Joshua. And yet they all experienced a freedom that no one can ever take away…and that is the freedom to love…whether it ends up saving our life or costs us our life…But in the end we are assured that…
“Love never fails”
Love to you all,