I fidgeted on my stool, trying to focus in spite of the noise.
Off-duty doctors huddled nearby. They were glued to a Jason Statham movie, awaiting his next kill.
My stomach churned. Between the cigarettes and the high-volumed intensity characteristic of blown-out Iraqi speakers, I honestly couldn't take one more head-shot.
The one-liner is delivered and my friends rumble their approval, scooting their chairs closer to the flat-screen. I snapped my computer lid shut and retreated—nauseated—as more thunder echoed behind me.
Half an hour later, I stood in an O.R. filming doctors as they pulled blood from a beautiful baby boy named Abdul before his heart operation. In a way, Abdul's blood and shrieking made Statham's flick seem gore-free, but arriving in the O.R. actually helped settle my stomach.
Somehow this was different, and I began to realize it wasn't about blood.
It was the violence.
All of this happened on my fourth day in the city of Fallujah—the medical mission progressed, and spirits were high. But I couldn't stop thinking about my physiological reaction to that movie. It's hard to pin-point why, exactly, but my body and mind can no longer handle violent media.
Photo Credit: "Six Days In Fallujah", Atomic Games
In college, violent movies and games like Call of Duty never really affected me—they were just fun past-times. But something about being in Fallujah, with all its bombed-out buildings and birth defects... it got too real, too fast.
During research for a video I was making, I watched a ton of archived footage from the battles that happened in Fallujah. The helmet-mounted cameras made the killings almost indistinguishable from my favorite 1st person shooter games—except these were real.
The snarky comments made by soldiers, the way both sides treated prisoners and dead bodies, and all the blood. So much blood. Nobody was respawning after these fights—no 'extra lives.'
I want to be clear: this post is not about boycotting anything—I'm not saying we should all go tee up our action movies and XBOX games and golf club them to oblivion. I'm just asking a simple question: at what point have we lost touch with reality? At what point did I lose touch?
As a person who strives to follow Jesus Christ and his teachings, I look at the "Sermon on the Mount" and wonder how I got where I am. Jesus stood up and taught radical enemy-love, pain-absorption over pain-reciprocation, and the happiness of peacemakers. Am I training myself toward those things?
Am I preparing my heart to love the limbless family members who brought their sick, war-stricken children into the hospital for surgery? What if their child dies in the ICU and they blame or even try to hurt me—how have I prepared myself to respond?
Or what about the suicidal American soldiers—more of whom have died at home than on the battlefield—am I ready to love them, given the chance?
This is what we mean when we say "preemptive love," and, if it doesn't cost me anything, I have to wonder whether it's even real. During a recent gaming spree, my wife asked me, "Is 'Nazi Zombie Mode' just an excuse to kill things without feeling bad?" She was right, I want it both ways.
Writing endless blog posts that call people to love their perceived enemies while using a broken-off bayonet to hack mine to pieces in a video game really doesn't add up, regardless of whether or not the game is 'real.'
Photo Credit: Karim Sahib, AFP
When you think of Fallujah, you might remember the murdered mercenaries in 2004. How did you react when you saw the charred bodies?
With that in mind, don't you find it disturbing how excited my Muslim friends in Fallujah were by the heart-numbing gore on the screen in front of them?
Don't you find it disturbing how many Christians in America enjoy the same kinds of entertainment?
What can we do to prepare ourselves to love when it's difficult? I would encourage you to start by considering the paraphrased teaching from Jesus below—how far should we take these words? Then email me your thoughts, or connect with me via PLC's Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you disagree, please share why—I promise not to attack you with a broken-off bayonet.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves."