Interpretive Grid – The Gospel According to the Navy SEALs – Part One

I wasn’t doing well at all.

On a human level, the equation for “make life work” seemed pretty simple. And I couldn’t believe how much I was blowing it.  In reality, I had fallen under the spell that Chesterton calls the great calamity of the riddle of the earth:  I had forgotten who I was and the story in which I truly live.

And then came the rescue.  Over a few weeks.  First came a few (more) books on the training and tactics of the US Navy SEALs.  And then a prompting to watch the Lord of the Rings extended trailer again and again.  It was smelling salts.  I woke up and recovered an orientation that had been lost.  Something was righted deep in my soul. And as my hero Bart says, yet again, I became Dangerous for Good.

What Stories Are You Using to Interpret Your Reality?

It matters more than you might think.

As one mentor put it, the interpretation you use to understand your reality and your role in it will be the single greatest force in shaping what becomes of your next decade.

In the words of Dan Baker in What Happy People Know,

The stories we tell ourselves about our own lives eventually become our lives….The choice is ours.

Without stories like The Lord of the Rings and the Navy SEALs, I’d be at a loss to interpret and navigate my day-to-day life mythically from a Kingdom perspective.

The US Navy SEALs

Cade Courtley, in The Navy Seals Survival Guide, explains that in 1962 JFK commissioned the SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Division as the world’s premiere specialized military unit trained to successfully complete the most difficult military missions of our age.

To enter for a moment into the reality of the SEALs as best we can, let’s watch the trailer for Act of Valor. This film features real active duty SEALS, rather than actors, and is based on actual Navy SEAL missions.

Click here to watch.

You live your life by a code, it’s your shoreline that leads you home. And trust me, you are always trying to get home.

Simply put, you’d be hard pressed to find any brotherhood of men in the world who know better how to evade an enemy, survive in the most formidable of circumstances, and successfully accomplish the most harrowing rescue missions on earth.

What Story Are You Living In?

Movies like Act of Valor resonate with some deep place in the heart of men. After seeing American Sniper, the most recent film featuring the US Navy SEALs, I prayerfully asked my wife, Cherie, to join me in taking it in for my second round. I wanted her to see it with me in order to know me better, for I’ve not yet seen a film that more precisely explains the spiritual reality and predicament of my daily life. It portrays the urgency of the calling to give ourselves to a worthy cause as part of a devoted fellowship of men, but also the excruciating dissonance between life in war and life at home. I felt so deeply for Chris in this almost insurmountable dissonance. I cannot imagine what life is like for every member of our Armed Forces who has to contend with this tension. But unlike a SEAL whose deployment is precise and defined (at least in the physical realm), our lives as disciples of Christ are not so clear. Hour by hour it can shift from joy to battle, never knowing when and where our enemy might be prowling (1 Peter 5:8). For we live in enemy territory, carving out Kingdom outposts that are regularly breached. And it is in this context that we find ourselves wrestling with the deepest realities of our hearts as men.

I do want to be dangerous for Good and to accept the calling to fight on behalf of others. I want to be among those who can toast around the campfires of the Kingdom:

To those that have been down range.  To us, and those like us.  Damn few.

And if you are reading this, I am betting that you do, too.

But what does that calling look like in the living-it-out of the spiritual realm in our everyday life?

How do I handle my little princess getting multiple abrasions and trauma from falling out of a tree yesterday?  How do I reconcile the losing battle I fought for my youngest brother against brain cancer as I round the corner to yet another anniversary?  How do I navigate a truly intimate father-in-the-faith crossing over to eternity yesterday morning?  How do I navigate the daily realities of work and domain, providing and tending for my own heart and thirst for adventure as a man while being responsible for so many and so much? What do I do with the multiple marriages of dear friends that are hanging on by a thread?

How do I effectively navigate life’s reality of a spiritual war when our enemy is often unseen?

As one US soldier put it to me after a career of deployments to Iraq and a failed marriage,

I can handle any firefight and a 300-man ambush no problem.  My role and objectives in war are clear.  It is my life at home I can’t handle.  My marriage, my kids, my mortgage.  I’m failing.  Using case after case of beer to drink away the pain.  I feel like I live in Iraq and I’m deployed to Texas.

A World at War

In the novel Peace Like a Riverthe father figure in the story puts it this way:

We and the world, my children, will always be at war.

Retreat is impossible.

Arm yourselves.

To the cynics and skeptics in the crowd who were grumbling after He delivered a man from a demon, Jesus declared: “This is war and there is no neutral ground” (Luke 11:23, MSG).

Things are not as they appear. Behind the often benign facade of contemporary middle-class American life, our enemy is prowling, and he is incredibly cunning and capable.  One of his great tactics is to convince us of an interpretation of reality that is far different from the True Story into which we were born, the story that holds our divine destiny.

The world, the flesh, and the evil one bait us to settle for the smaller story of the quest for the happy little life.  But something deeper in us knows that a life arranged for a narrow sense of comfort, security, and personal happiness is far too small to hold the expanse of our hearts.

What story are you living in?

Our life will always be proportionally significant to the stories with which we choose to interpret our reality.

If you have spent any time considering the Larger Story, you have perhaps come to know the storyline by heart. As John articulates so incredibly well, it begins in Act I before the creation of the universe, with the heroic fellowship of the Trinity in whose image we are made.  And while Act IV and the Renewal of All Things (Matthew 19:28) is quickly drawing near, we are still living in Act III, in a love story set in the midst of a great and terrible battle. It is vital that we understand this if we are to interpret our lives and “understand the times.”  We must cling to the plot of God’s Story if we are to be adequately trained not only to live in it, but to help hasten its glorious conclusion.

John makes the point in Waking the Dead,

Until we come to terms with war as the context of our days we will not understand our life. We will misinterpret 90 percent of what is happening around us and to us.  It will be very hard to believe that God’s intentions toward us are life abundant; it will be even harder to not feel that somehow we are just blowing it.  Worse, we will begin to accept some really awful things about God.

God’s story is a love story, no doubt. A story of thrilling goodness, intimacy, and beauty. However, we live post-Fall, and though we are elaborately provided for by Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we must still battle to recover the treasure for which we were made: intimacy with God and others from a healed and whole heart.

Which brings me back to the SEALs.

Just as every great story borrows its power from the Greatest Story, the essence of the trial-tested strategies for their survival and success borrows its power from the truths of apprenticeship in the Kingdom of God. And gleaning from their strategies for survival has been a game-changer for me as I seek to learn from Jesus how to live my life as He would live it if He were me.

While many Bible translations geld the Hebrew name for God, Jehovah Sabaoth, as the “Lord God Almighty,” it is more accurately translated the “Lord of Angel Armies.”  We can conclude that the Creator filled the spiritual realm with the Kingdom equivalent of Navy SEALs for a reason.

The US Navy SEALs live out in the natural realm what many men are called up into in the spiritual realm.  Right here.  Right now.  Right where we find ourselves to be.

The writer of Hebrews defines the nature of faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). That which is Unseen is critically relevant to our lives. In fact, as Dallas Willard teaches in The Divine Conspiracy,

The most important things in our human lives are nearly always things that are invisible.

Ask Jesus to open your eyes to the Spiritual reality in which you live and give you mythic stories to help you accurately and personally interpret your life.

He assures us that if we ask, we will receive. As we ask, the Holy Spirit will pull back the curtain and we’ll never be the same.  We’ll begin to see Reality as Jesus sees it, and from there we can believe as He believed. Remembering more sage counsel from Willard: in order for us to live the life Jesus lived, we must hold to the same beliefs that He held regarding the nature of Reality.

And seeing as Jesus sees will change everything, for the good.

And through saying yes to this narrow road, hour by hour and decade by decade, we can be assured that we will stand one day among a heroic fellowship at the campfires of the Kingdom and toast together,

To those that have been down range.  To us, and those like us.  Damn few.

I’m doing whatever it takes to be among them.

I hope you will, too.

Father, I want to see as You see and interpret as You interpret.  I choose to be Your master student and learn from You directly.  I invite You to expose in me where I have built my life upon a set of assumptions that are inconsistent with Reality as You reveal it.

If reality truly is what we bump into when we are wrong, I confess that I’m worn out from bumping my head too many times.

I invite You to provide for me stories that direct my heart more deeply into the reality of who You truly are and how Your Kingdom operates.

Show me what stories I currently use to interpret my reality, for better and for worse.  Shine Your light.  Take me into that and reveal to me what You want to say in this place. I choose to pause and ask.

“Jesus, what are the stories You want to bring to my heart to best interpret Reality and my role in it?”

You are my Father and I am Your son.  Jesus, the Scriptures remind me of Your Reality.  You learned trusting-obedience through how You suffered (Hebrews 5:8).  I choose to agree with the path You have for me to become a whole hearted trusting son—obedient, from the heart, to the call of the Father upon my life.  I am willing to wade through the suffering, knowing that it will produce wholehearted integrity in me, as a man, and from that integrity, hope will rise and rise and rise again (Romans 5:4).

I receive a spirit of Sonship afresh today.  Teach me what it means to be a son.  

Let these particular interpretive stories You have for me shine your Kingdom light on the Reality of both Your Story and my role in it. Show me why and how Your deep encouragement to me to see my life as a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3-7) is a central path to navigate this world and find my way among the few around the campfires of the Kingdom.

You have my “yes” today. Amen.

For your consideration, here are a few book recommendations that can help your heart dive into the life of the US Navy SEALS.

Looking for more?  Here are two movie trailers that might serve as smelling salts regarding the story in which we live and the role God intends for us to play.


Tears of the Sun


Finally, if you want to return again to the Larger Story, we recommend these life-giving resources from Wild at Heart:


Larger Story

The Sacred Romance


Waking the Dead