We have this joke in my family about how my parents would not let me and my brothers watch the smurfs when we were growing up, but we could watch Rambo any time that we liked. This of course would strike some as a bit strange, but the reasoning behind it was that the smurfs had magic, which my parents discouraged (and rightfully so, in my opinion), but movies like Rambo were war movies and as long as sensuality, language, and “magic” was out, it was all the violence you could handle! I say that somewhat jokingly. We were never allowed to watch horror movies or movies with excessive gratuitous violence. But violence is a part of life, and particularly when associated with war, should not be shunned. Plus, with my dad being a former ranger and green beret, military life was really the McClellan way (we have family in pretty much every major war in America since the Revolutionary War). All of this to say, that Rambo, Delta Force, etc… was a common staple in the McClellan house.
We obviously laugh about this a lot in our family. I joke that it probably wasn’t until the 8th or 9th grade that I got on an airplane and didn’t expect it to be high jacked. That’s what happens when people get on airplanes in the movies I grew up watching. I would sit as an elementary school kid in the airport and profile, looking for the terrorists. Such was my childhood!
Looking back, now, years later, and as a father now myself, I am grateful for my father’s perspective on these things. I think it was guided by wisdom and by spiritual perspective. And as I’ve thought about it as a father myself, I want my boys to grow up watching Rambo and such movies as well. And I want them to grow up watching them for two very particular reasons.
First, I want my boys to be brave. Unfortunately we live in an overly feminized culture. Not to get into a lengthy explanation of the feminist agenda in American culture (maybe some other time!), but it has essentially created a growing number of weak men. I say this cautiously. Being a man doesn’t mean you’ve got to be Arnold Shwarznegger or Sylvester Stallone. But a strong, clear understanding of masculinity is something that has been lost in our culture as a result of how influential the feminist agenda has become. And this has spiritual implications for those in the church. For men, being a committed follower of Jesus will require courage on many levels. For some it will mean going into Iran for the sake of the gospel. This of course will prove to be dangerous. For some it will mean learning not to quit just because they got knocked down or hurt. For some it will mean doing what is unpopular when everyone around them isn’t. And for others it will mean leading and taking initiative when no one else will.
Stories throughout the Bible require great courage and bravery. Noah. Abraham. Moses. Joshua. David. Elijah. Jeremiah. Daniel. The disciples. Paul. The list could go on and on. The Bible is the story of people who were brave and defied the enemy. Paul uses strong warrior language in 2 Timothy, as he admonishes Timothy to remain faithful to his calling. Church history is the same. One of my heroes is Athanasius, the great Alexandrian bishop of the fourth century. Athanasius stood against the Aryans (those who rejected the deity of Christ, not Nazis!) in a time when it seemed there was no hope. The phrase was coined at the time in Latin: Athanasio contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world.” Athanasius would spend most of his life in and out of exile, living in the wilderness and in hiding, only periodically returning to Alexandria to care for his people. But, in the end, Aryanism would be defeated and the truth was protected. This is courage. There are untold numbers of stories of other Christians who did the same.
I want my boys to watch war movies because I believe it is one of the best ways to see and learn bravery and courage. Now, I understand that there are other outlets to learn these things to some degree as well. Bravery must be modeled to our boys in real life scenarios. Other movies may display and teach bravery. But there really is nowhere in the human experience where bravery and courage are more needed and more taught. War movies are, in my opinion, a superior medium for displaying and hopefully teaching bravery and courage.
Second, I want my boys to learn that there are things that are more important than death. Anyone that enters into a warzone knows that they may very well not make it out alive. Most enter the military and go to war knowing exactly what it may require to win the war and protect their families and their nation. Not everyone who met their end did so with dignity, but many did, knowing what was required of them when they put on the uniform. Soldiers fight for their country, they put something above themselves, and they recognize that death is not the worst thing. There are things worth dying for.
This is the story of the Bible. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not fear Nebuchadnezzar or the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel, and they acknowledged that God may very well not save them; they entrusted themselves to both the power and wisdom of God, even if that meant their own death, which they were prepared for. This is the story of the church. Roman Christians would sing praises to God as they were torn limb from limb in the Coliseum before Roman crowds. Christians would embrace death before they would deny their Lord. The words of Paul in Philippians ring true: to die is gain. Death is not the worst thing. There are certainly things worth dying for. War movies and movies that display sacrificial death are shadows of the Christian gospel and the story of God’s people. It is an excellent medium for seeing this principle portrayed.
I want my boys to be men of courage and bravery. I want them to believe that there are things that are worse than death, to know that there are things worth dying for. In a culture where boys are not taught to be men (not that these messages are not for girls in some sense too, however, biblically, men take the leading role here) in ways the Bible admonishes them to be, we must recommit ourselves to biblical manhood, to courage, to leadership, and to sacrifice. And I think they can learn these things from films like Rambo, amongst a host of others. That is why I want my boys to watch Rambo. For the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom.