Hard men

Some people think that Christians are weedy and weak. Well perhaps some are but not all. I’ve just come across a genuinely Christian hard man. Not someone who postures or tries to look big but someone who through genes, character, and relentless training is definitely a real life hard man.

When I finally got to my holiday I was exhausted so I wanted something light to read. Light as in not deeply theological anyway so when I came across this book I downloaded it onto my kindle before jumping on a plane to find some sun.

It’s called “Born Fearless” and is Phil Campion’s account of his life in the SAS and on the hired gun circuit. It was good stuff so I picked up another one, this time about the Navy Seals:

SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden. In it Chuck Pfarrer gives his account of the operation that lead to the killing of bin Laden.

Here are some bits that stood out:

On the nights of September 16, 17, and 18, 1982, Christian militiamen killed more than two thousand Palestinian men, women, and children in an orgy of destruction. The Israelis watched the murderers come, and then they watched them go. Israeli artillery units fired flares over the camps so the murderers could set about their work. It was one of the most coldblooded massacres in human history.

The images of Sabra and Shatila did more to fuel anti-Israeli and anti-American feelings than any other event in the twentieth century.

Osama bin Laden was not born to be a monster. He was raised in an affluent and moderately religious Saudi family. He was a soft-spoken, retiring, impressionable boy who lost his father at a tender age.

First in the manner of planning are the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why. In an intelligence package called a “target folder,” the SEALs are told who and where.

Courage, SEALs learn at BUD/S, is not the absence of fear. The absence of fear in combat is the result of insanity, 

He has strong opinions which makes for interesting reading so I got another of his books. Warrior Soul: The Memoir of a Navy SEAL gives his story about being in the Navy SEALs.

He gives leadership tips:

“Take care of the lads,” John used to say, “and the lads will take care of you.” Small, simple things were important: Eat last, and only after everyone has been served. Buy beer. Praise publicly, punish privately. Take the heat when things go wrong. Ask questions and solicit the opinions of the enlisted operators, and, most important, delegate subtasks within the mission.

His retreat from Atheism when he miraculously survived a mortar attack

This was the moment that I abandoned atheism. My conversion was not an epiphany; it was more an exercise in the scientific method. Until this moment, for me, God had been an unlikely hypothesis. That hypothesis had now been supported by an experiment. A mortar round had knocked me on my ass.

The importance of practice and training:

It is not enough to say that we practiced multiple-room clearance. In one year the operators of SEAL Six fire more bullets than the entire United States Marine Corps. We weren’t just good at multiple-room CQ; there is no one in the world who comes close.

He also writes about the hard men he worked with. Now the army and the Marines are pretty strong guys. But then you have the special forces, the cream of the troops if you like. But within the Navy SEALS there is a group called SEAL Team 6. They are the creme de la creme and they have a nickname. In typical American fashion these guys are called Jedi’s.

I was detailed to the third assault group, under the command of a hard-bitten gunslinger named Johnny King…one of my future boat-crew members gave me a heads-up in Spanish: “Es un hombre duro.” He’s a hard man. I was soon to learn this outfit had a talent for understatement…The other officer in my assault group was Ed Summers. He was from Florida and had been a former Professional Karate Association full-contact kickboxing champion…On his own, Ed would have been a hard-ass extraordinaire, but in the shadow of Johnny King, he seemed as affable as Mr. Rogers.

And here for me was the most exciting bit. In the midst of all the guns and training and sheer hardness of the Navy SEALS was a born again Christian.

The assault group’s chief petty officer was Chuck McGregor… Chuck looked like a twenty-year-old California surf dude. He was possibly the sole person on the Team who did not philander, blaspheme, drink, or use tobacco. He was a devout Christian, carried a Bible in his briefcase, and often said things like “Darn it.”… As you might imagine, a person like this might be subject to a bit of ribbing. In Chuck’s case, you’d be wrong. Chuck was plank owner, one of the original members of Mob Six, and although his personality and lifestyle might have been anomalous, he was here, quite simply, because he was one of the best operators in naval special warfare. He was the best athlete among a command full of triathletes; he’d climbed El Capitan twice; he’d served in Grenada; and he could outrun, outswim, and outshoot every one of his potential detractors. He was like a Boy Scout among a gang of cutthroats, and he would become one of my closest friends in the command. When we operated together, we used the call sign Chuck Squared.

For some reason I imagine someone like an American Bear Grylls in terms of character, but 100 times as hard.

Towards the end of the book, after surviving not only bullets but cancer, Chuck Pfarrer says this:

 I have a bit of advice to offer. Hold on to the people you are close to, and love them fiercely. Get up every morning and live like there is no tomorrow. Because one day you’ll find it’s true.

Surprisingly. God spoke to me through these books about courage, dedication, training and teamwork. The bible says the Christian life is a fight and these guys know all about fighting. In that sense their lives are a great encouragement but then I suddenly thought hang on, these guys are selected from thousands, possibly millions.

You have to be in the army in the first place, and very good at what you do. Then you have to be accepted for the rigorous selection process (BUD/S training) , during which most people end up dropping out or being dropped. Then there is a more training (26 week SEAL qualification training program) where more drop out. Then there is more selection and training before you get into SEAL team 6, the elite SEAL team. The ones that get through all that are the best that nature and nurture can forge. They are the ones that can quickly and efficiently soak up the training, take the knocks, recover quickly from injuries, have the mental and psychological ability to keep going through all the stress and pressure.

But what if you are not the best of the best of the best? What if you are one of the worst. Or just mediocre? What if your ability is small. As a Christian, I am not really like a navel SEAL. Most of us aren’t. We may have been given 1 small talent but it is our responsibility to steward it well. To use it and make the most of it for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom. In God’s kingdom small contributions, where they are costly and given with faith, count for a lot. God does not choose the best of the best of the best to do his work. In fact he chooses the week things of this world.  He doesn’t want people to put down the building of his church to nature or nurture but to his Spirit. He wants people to say “How could that have been accomplish by them?”.

When I think along these lines though the apostle Paul always comes into my mind. At first sight he seems to be a SEAL team six Christian. He was certainly very clever and well educated. But as I think more about what he said and did he does seem to have lived with a sense of weakness.

Here is a great article by Piper:

“Our fallen nature craves self-glory. We seek the admiration of others. We love the myth of the superhero because we want to be one. So we want our successes to be known and our failures hidden. And since people who achieve remarkable things earn the favor of others, we are tempted to believe that they earn the favor of God as well.

That’s the last thing Paul wants us to believe.

Paul knew better than most that it is not human achievements that showcase the grace of God. It is human helplessness.

Like us, Paul didn’t immediately recognize [his] thorn as a gift. He pleaded for deliverance. But Jesus replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This opened up a world of insight to Paul. God showing his strength through weak things was laced all through redemptive history, culminating in the cross.

That’s why Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30). He even went beyond that: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).


Anyway, here’s my next holiday reading:

Seal Team Six: The incredible story of an elite sniper – and the special operations unit that killed Osama bin Laden

It’s being made into a film I think. Here is another book/film about Navy Seals:

Lone Survivor


Film about Navey SEALs and bin Laden



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