Discipline and Discipleship


Discipline - Boot Camp summer 1975Army Boot Camp, July 1975

It was sunny and warm in Louisville, Ky. on June 28, 1975. That’s the day I boarded a bright yellow school bus at an Army recruiting station for a short journey to Fort Knox, where I was scheduled to undergo Army basic training or boot camp as it’s commonly called. Only a few weeks earlier I’d been a bright eyed college student receiving his associate degree in Munich, Germany.  My mother Phyllis and stepfather Ray were still in Germany—Ray was an Army officer and second in command of a tank brigade in Friedberg, about an hour north of Frankfurt.

I had departed Germany in early June to visit family in my home state Kentucky before attending boot camp.  The last stop was Louisville, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, Sarah and Carl.  At the end of that wonderful visit, it was Aunt Sarah who drove me to the induction station and hugged me goodbye as I began a nervous, one hour journey to Fort Knox.

After what seemed like hours, the bus turned into the main gate of Fort Knox. Entering the post felt very familiar, as I’d lived there during my freshman and sophomore years of high school while Ray was assigned to the Armor School. The familiarity helped quell my sense of dread that had been increasing steadily since we departed Louisville. The post was sprawling, hilly and hot. The eclectic mix of architecture ranged from a beautiful state-of-the-art hospital to drab three-story concrete barracks to the low slung, pale yellow wooden buildings dating back to World War II.

About ten minutes after entering the post, the bus turned down a side street and then swung into the parking lot of Delta Company, 13th Training Battalion, 4th Training Brigade, home of the ‘Delta Demons’. Peering out the window I could see two tough looking fellows wearing olive drab fatigues and the iconic Smoke Bear hats that identified them as drill sergeants. Their fatigues were starched stiff with creases that looked sharp enough to slice an apple. They fit like gloves. Their boots were polished to a mirror finish. Not a hair was out of place. All you needed was one look at these impressive gentlemen to know that they were pure badass!

The driver opened the bus door and we were greeted by a booming voice.  ‘Off the bus and line up.  Move it ladies’.  After a clumsy exit fumbling with our bags and bumping into each other, we managed to get into something resembling a line. The empty bus quickly pulled away, leaving us feeling isolated and helpless.  It was then that we were introduced to the two gentlemen who would fill the roles of father, mother, confessor and mentor for all of us in the coming weeks.

Staff Sergeant Hunter, the platoon sergeant, stood about five feet ten inches tall.  He was built like an NFL linebacker. Drill Sergeant Hunter was just tall enough that he could press the stiff brim of his Smoky Bear into the bridge of my nose as I stood at attention while receiving his instructions.  The assistant platoon sergeant, Sergeant Anderson, stood about five feet seven inches.  He was lean, wiry and just mean looking. They immediately commanded our attention.

These fine men, as I would learn they both were, taught us so much: military customs and courtesies; how to wear the uniform and properly groom ourselves; how to spit shine a boot; how to polish brass; how to make a bunk; how to roll our socks and underwear and store them in our lockers; how to make a barracks GI clean; how to get physically fit; how to do close order drill; how to march and sing ‘jodies’, those sometimes naughty songs marching troops sing to help them stay in step; how to fire and clean an M-16 rifle; how to fire M-60 and 50 caliber machineguns; how to fire a recoilless rifle; how to throw hand grenades; how to do fire and maneuver without shooting your buddy; how to take out a pillbox; how to use a field telephone and radio; how to give first aid; and how to doctor blisters on our feet.

But most of all, they taught us about how to be soldiers—about responsibility, self-discipline, and respect for country, Army, unit, comrades, family and ourselves.  At first we listened to them out of fear of punishment. One small misstep could lead to running laps around the compound holding your rifle above your head with two arms while yelling ‘I’m a s#!thead’ or the dreaded ‘Drop and give me fifty’, meaning pushups. Even worse, you could end up pulling ‘KP’ in the mess hall, peeling potatoes, dicing onions and mopping floors.   But there came a point in time when we listened out of a sense of respect for our drill sergeants and our fellow soldiers in the platoon.  In the end, a soldier’s sense of responsibility, respect and self-discipline becomes a normal way of life.

It’s easy to learn military discipline in Boot Camp, where you’re isolated, restrained, focused and under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant.  Sadly, developing discipline in one’s spiritual life isn’t so easy.  I often wonder why this is so.  I was the picture of discipline during my military career, yet my Christian discipline suffers. ‘Disciple’ is the root word of discipline.  A disciple is a student or follower who is trained by a teacher and subsequently spreads the teacher’s beliefs.  I had a lot of training and learning as a Christian, but have I ever really been a disciple?  I think not and I believe I’ve finally figured out why. 

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, the late Christian scholar Dr. Dallas Willard explains that self-transformation stems, in large part, from the practice of spiritual disciplines.  He cites many disciplines, which he divides into two broad categories of ‘abstinence’ and ‘engagement’.

Under abstinence Willard includes chastity, fasting, frugality, sacrifice, secrecy, silence and solitude. These deal with our physical bodies.  Engagement includes celebration, confession, fellowship, prayer, service, study, submission and worship. These deal with our spiritual lives.  The disciplines are the means to an end; just as we practice to learn a sport, we practice the disciplines to become more Christ-like.  Willard provides many scriptural references to the disciplines in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. The abstinence disciplines focus inward and help build self-discipline and restraint; they are about habits.  The engagement disciplines look outward, helping us become servants of Christ and others; they are about building Christian character.  

Using Willard’s criteria, a quick self-analysis reveals that while I’m strong in the engagement disciplines, I have a long way to go in the abstinence disciplines before I can become a true disciple of Christ.  I have a lot of work to do, but I’m going for it.  How do you measure up? Consider leaving a reply.

 

 

 

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