Basic instinct

I heard an amazing story on the radio today I wanted to share with you. I am sure manhy of you heard it also. It was about 23-year old U.S. Marine Dakota Meyer. Meyer was just presented with the nation’s highest honor for valor on the battlefield. He’s the first living Marine since the Vietnam War to receive the Medal of Honor. Meyer was serving in Afghanistan in 2009 when his unit found out that another nearby unit – made up of both U.S. and Afghan troops – had been ambushed by Taliban fighters and were under attack. Four times Meyer asked his commanding officer for permission to go in and attempt a rescue, and four times his request was denied. Finally, in direct disobedience of his orders, Meyer and a colleague, Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, commandeered a vehicle and drove into the fire fight to rescue the other soldiers. It is reported that Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez were able to save more than two dozen Afghans, a dozen U.S. Marines, and also brought out the bodies of four Marines who had been killed in the battle.

I found myself shaking my head in amazement as each new detail of the story unfolded. For me it is nearly impossible to relate to the level of courage and absolute disregard for personal safety that was in evidence through this story. My version of “risk” amounts to figuring out if I am bold enough to try and walk the dogs before the second half kick-off of the Chiefs game, or daring to drink the milk even though it is one day past the “Use before” date.

This story caused me to want to look more deeply into the heart and mind of someone like Dakota Meyer. I wanted to try to understand the unique combination of factors that allowed him to take that kind of action. Was this the result of his upbringing? Did the Marines do such a thorough and complete job of indoctrinating him that any consideration of his personal safety was simply trained out of him? Did the heat of the moment just overtake him and cause him to act without thinking?

I am not sure we will ever know the whole answer. Dakota Meyer might not even know himself. But one thing is certain: whatever it was that guided him out into the middle of those whizzing bullets was something that lived at the most basic and instinctual level of his being. I suspect that Dakota Meyer’s response that day was something that was an essential part of who he is rather than something he had to spend a lot of time thinking and wondering about.

Few if any of us will ever face the need to do what Dakota Meyer did. And yet, when we talk about something as harmless-sounding as “faith development,” it strikes me that this very “churchy” pursuit might share some key characteristics with Marine basic training… characteristics that aren’t always obvious. You see, I have never believed that studying the Bible was meant to be undertaken just so you and I could accumulate some interesting facts to know and tell our friends… or so that we could be brilliant conversationalists.

No, I am persuaded that the point of deepening our faith – whether through Bible study, through the spiritual disciplines, through corporate worship or Christian conversation – is so that we will be changed. It is meant to revamp and reshape our fundamental instincts and understandings about life.  To extend the metaphor of Dakota Meyer a little further, it is meant to embolden us to drive into the face of hostile fire and care for our brothers and sisters… regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other differentiating factor. When we embark on study and prayer with the full intention it requires, casual friends and acquaintances should have a hard time recognizing us when we finish. In our place, they should see a replica of Christ.

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