Call of Duty

I love my country.  My voice cracks when I sing the national anthem.  Tears come to my eyes when an Air Force jet passes over a football stadium before kick off.  Seeing uniformed service personnel in airports, I walk over to shake their hand, thankful for their service.  A smile lights up my face when I think of my students who serve in our military.  And I loathe anti-Americanism.  Bowing before potentates, exchanging pleasantries with leaders who want our national destruction, or giving backhanded apologies for actions taken in just wars does not represent dependable gratitude for The United States of America.  No place is perfect.  But for years I’ve watched as people risk their lives to get from Havana to Miami for the privilege of our freedom.  And I’m still waiting for those who have decried our nation in the past to emigrate elsewhere.  To my mind, living in this country is a privilege, bearing the weight of responsibility.

Paul Ray Smith, member of the legendary “Rock of the Marne,” Third Army Infantry Division, bore that weight with his blood.  Sergeant First Class Smith received The Medal of Honor having risked his life above and beyond the call of duty:

. . . Fearing the enemy would overrun their defense, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier.  In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force.  During this action, he was mortally wounded.  His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. . . . “[1]

As then president George W. Bush recited at Smith’s posthumous Medal of Honor ceremony, “Scripture tells us . . . that a man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.  And this is exactly the responsibility Paul Smith believed the sergeant stripes on his sleeve had given him.”[2]

Responsibility to defend others in combat is born out of military discipline: a state of order, obedience, and responsibility in performing one’s duty.[3] But we live in a culture where the response, “Who?  Me?!” forms the cornerstone of our internal edifice.  “What?!  Take responsibility for my actions?!  Is that legal?!”  Bob Thaves in his “Frank and Ernest” cartoons[4] pokes fun at our inherent desire to pass the buck.  Genesis 3:9-13 is the epitome of finger pointing.  Adam and Eve’s emphatic response[5] to God’s questions is a guilt release.  “Don’t look at me!” or “That’s not my problem!” or “I didn’t know!” register our classic dodges.  Lost is a sense of responsibility born of discipline bound by duty.[6]

For years I have taught students the twin pillars that uphold all the rest of life: gratitude and discipline.  Without thankfulness, we acknowledge no authority outside of ourselves.  Without discipline, we exercise no authority over ourselves.  So, as a professor, I bear the responsibility of clear commitment to and communication of “true Truth.”[7] My students are accountable for the privilege of learning and to the providers of that learning.[8]

Gregory Roper had fallen into the practice of beating himself up because those enrolled in his classes were not studying.  He gave his heart and soul to his subject and students.  Yet he felt like an abject failure.  It was not until he realized that his students were inherently corrupt persons, who bore responsibility for their own learning that he began to come out from under the cultural spell against education: “it’s the teacher’s fault.”[9] Patrick Welsh, a public school instructor from Alexandria, Virginia, entitles his article, “For Once, Blame the Student.”[10] Welsh compares American-born and immigrant students.  The former have no sense of gratitude because of entitlement; the latter discipline themselves to accept more work for more learning.

“Why do I have to do this?!”  Similar cries can be heard in both home and school.  Scripture teaches that we are unwilling to learn because we are sinners.  After Adam’s sin God told humanity that work would be difficult.[11] Schoolwork is no exception.  Christian teachers should know that our natures are the largest roadblocks to education.  Molding the character of the student, then, becomes key to how children develop academically.  If I recognize that sin has tainted all of life, this galvanizes my resolve, prompted by The Spirit,[12] to overcome the difficulties of learning with hard work.[13]

If we believe people are inherently corrupt, we believe that education begins with character development—the interiority of the person—not with programs intended to address external issues of concern.  This view holds personal responsibility as paramount for what we do no matter our race, nationality, or religion.  Talk with any military personnel and they will say the same: discipline arises out of responsibility to do one’s duty.  It was Sergeant Smith’s personal discipline that motivated duty to country and the lives of his men.  Discipline, our willingness to sacrifice for others, demonstrates proper Christian response to my Commander in Chief—The King of Glory.[14]

“Under construction” is the label continuously affixed to Mark’s character.  He teaches the twin pillars of life at Crossroads Bible College.


[1] Caspar W. Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall. 2006. Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror. (Forge): 217-18.

[2] Ibid. 201.

[3] For both definition and practice see Mark Bender, Operation Excellence: Succeeding in Business and Life—The U. S. Military Way. (ANACOM, 2004) and www.military-net.com

[4] http://frankandernest.com/cgi/view/display.pl?96-10-06

[5] The normal Hebrew word order of verb, subject, object is obviously inverted in these phrases from the original language: “The woman you gave me” and “The serpent deceived me.”

[6] One has only to turn the pages of Scripture from beginning (“You may . . . you may not,” Genesis 2:16, 17) to end (“I warn everyone who hears the words of this prophecy,” Revelation 22:18) to see God’s requirements of responsibility, discipline, and duty.  Luke 14:25-35 produces the mantra to be repeated moment-by-moment “count the cost . . . count the cost . . .”

[7] Titus 1:9; James 3:1.

[8] Proverbs 23:12; 1 Peter 2:17.

[9] Gregory Roper. “Teachers’ Guilt.” First Things 127 (November, 2002): 21-22.

[10] http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20060308/oplede08.art.htm

[11] Genesis 3:17-19.

[12] Galatians 5:16-26.

[13] Against laziness: Proverbs 6:6-11; 24:30-34.

[14] Read Psalm 24.

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