Recently I spent the day speaking to firefighters about human performance with a few buddies—two retired Navy SEALS and one Green Beret. Afterwards, we headed to a pub for dinner and a pint. I always find myself humbled and thankful for the opportunity to share a meal with men like this, who have put everything on the line to protect my freedoms and way of life.
As we sat there in the noisy, outdoor pub, the Monday Night Football pre-game show came on. We soon fell to talking about the latest cultural hot topic—the president vs. the NFL. From there, the conversation turned to remembering friends who had not made it back from war, and then to those who did come back but found something missing in body, mind, and spirit. As I shared my observations of the spiritual and emotional scars I see so many people carrying around these days—both warrior and civilian—I watched confusion, sadness, and anger pass across eyes of these men, each of whom has seen the absolute worst that humanity can dish out. I wondered if the thoughts going through their heads were a lot like the environment we were in—loud, smoky, and a bit out of control.
And then something amazing happened. As the pregame show came to an end, a singer stepped up to the mic to sing our country’s national anthem. Suddenly, the loud, boisterous room became completely still. Everyone stopped talking, drinking, and eating. The waitresses stopped running around. The bartender stopped taking orders and stood, staring at the screen, his hand on his heart. Everyone was transfixed, listening to the anthem.
I slowly scanned the room, watching a group of people from all different races, walks of life, and socio-economic backgrounds united in an unexpected moment of solidarity. I couldn’t help but feel moved by what I was seeing. Feelings of love and gratitude—for the blessing of living in this country, for my family and my hometown, and for all the opportunity my children have in front of them—stirred inside me. I looked at the SEAL across from me and just wanted to hug him, tell him I love him, and say “I’m sorry you have to watch our people fight in the streets over the amazing freedoms you helped fight to protect.”
Then my thoughts returned to the conversation that had just been interrupted by this moment, and suddenly I wondered, Is it true that we are really so divided in this country? What is going on with these ever-escalating conflicts and issues, and where are they really coming from?
I recently finished reading the classic novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In the story, a group of coming-of-age boys survive a plane crash and are stranded on an uninhabited island without any adult supervision. Initially, they are excited when they realize they are free to do whatever they want in this island paradise. This quickly fades, however, as they realize they need rules and leadership to help them survive. Things start to fall apart when the boys start get the idea that there is some kind of violent monster on the island looking to kill them all. Arguments, dissension, and division increase as they try to decide how they’re going to kill the monster. The reality is, there is no monster there to attack them. They create it out of their own fear. This lie becomes bigger and scarier until they become violent towards one another and eventually begin to kill one another. They have become the monster—become what they feared. Thankfully, the story ends when an adult comes along to save them from themselves.
The “lord of the flies” is the father of lies, and he is our true enemy: “. . . the devil . . . was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:43-44).
The devil’s number-one tactic is to play on our deepest longings and fears and get us to believe things that aren’t true. When he succeeds, we become the monster and destroy ourselves and one another instead of recognizing him as the true monster.
As I looked into the eyes of the SEALS and Green Beret with me that night, I thought, These guys get it. When the bullets begin to fly by your head and your only hope for survival is to come together as a team, you fight—for your teammate and for yourself. You don’t fight each other—you fight the enemy. He’s the one who’s threatening your life and its ways, not your teammate.
We don’t have to be divided. That night at the pub, I saw a group of people putting their differences behind them and standing for something bigger than themselves—together. I don’t believe that we are merely a nation of scared orphans who know nothing but offense, slander, and self-protection. It’s time for those of us who know the truth to stand up for it—to stop degrading and pointing fingers at our teammates and putting our own agendas over the greater good. It is time to “reach across the aisle.” Yes, Washington needs to do that, but so do we, the citizens who make up this great nation. Our churches need to reach across the aisles. We need to step out from out of our own four walls and join together as “one nation under God.” It’s not about the ratings. It’s not about my success. It’s not about how many members you have. It’s not about the statues in the park. It’s not about you. It’s about us. It’s about the tribe. Can we start today by enjoying our freedoms and beginning to love, forgive, accept, cherish, and develop people?