by Ron Kramer
Reprinted from the Summer 2017 edition of Shalom!
I WAS BORN to be a soldier. Unknowingly trained from birth by my dysfunctional family, I adapted to conflict, chaos, and pain. To protect myself, I ignored and stuffed painful emotions. The benefits were that I appreciated order, functioned well in crisis, and became very resourceful at accomplishing whatever was needed. The downside was starting life with a hard heart and buried anger looking for a socially acceptable way to be released.
I grew up loving the nobility, bravery, and fighting in the stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and the Alamo. Post-World War II movies like “Sands of Iwo Jima,” “Battle of the Bulge,” and “The Guns of Navarone” were my Saturday movie fare at the Fox Theatre. Playing “army” with toy guns and setting up plastic army men battle fields in the back yard to be shot with BB guns was a favorite activity for my friends and me. As I matured, I enjoyed hunting, martial arts, and varsity football and wrestling. Even as an Eagle Boy Scout, my honorary Indian name was “Battling Warrior.”
In 1972, at 17, I enlisted in the Marine Corps and left for boot camp three days after high school graduation, hoping to fight in Vietnam and kill “bad guys” who were opposed to freedom. I was a patriot, endeavoring in the noble task of defending our nation, and the Marines rewarded me with two meritorious promotions and numerous awards. Fortunately, the Vietnam War was winding down and I never had to fight, but I wanted to!
After considering a Marine career, I opted for college and obtained a B.S. in psychology and M.S. in counseling and human development. I think I was drawn to this field to understand myself, others, and the world around me. Religion was not part of our family so I was fascinated when, after college, I became friends with an Episcopal priest. He introduced me to the “church,” eventually “led me to Jesus,” and baptized me in the ocean. Through fledgling faith, which was actually very meaningful at the time, I became saved. Looking back, however, I certainly never developed any spiritual maturity. I don’t remember the concepts of obedience or discipleship ever being stressed as important. Generally, I just knew to attend church, confess sin, take communion, be forgiven, go back to living life. The way I lived life wasn’t good, and church didn’t change it much. When I moved for a different career, I also moved away from God and the church, becoming a prodigal son before ever really knowing my Heavenly Father. I stayed away a long time.
Ten years later, I went back into the military, this time in the Army where I became a nuclear missile officer. I was still a great soldier, and received more awards and accolades along the way as I advanced from second lieutenant to captain in three years. My new career was on the fast-track. Early on, I wrestled with the thought of killing everyone in an entire city with a nuclear blast, justifying it as “just doing my job.” I loved being a soldier and served the higher cause of protecting our country. After five years I left the Army to save my marriage, but that didn’t work.
My military leadership experience resulted in great success in the corporate world, but I had an emp; I was miserable. Finally, on August 9, 1997, I turned back to God. At 43, I lay in bed, desperate, and prayed, “God, if you’ll fix my life, I’ll be your man for the rest of my life.” Yes, it was a bargaining prayer, but I was 100 percent committed with a military resolution to follow Christ, if he would prove himself real. He did! The next morning, I awoke with a new clarity. I didn’t know exactly what had happened, but I was different. I knew God had done something in me. Acting on my commitment to faithfully serve him, I started attending church, reading the Bible, and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. The Holy Spirit was transforming me!
As a good soldier, I had to take and execute orders from a higher authority, whether I liked them or not. Now, as a servant of God, I had to do the same thing. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit were now giving me my orders through the Word. Jesus became my Commander, who I must obey. He is loving, strong, wise, just, compassionate; the Perfect Leader, the Perfect Parent, the Perfect Friend that I had been looking for my entire life. Now, as one who loves and obeys the Lord, I made every attempt to emulate Jesus. A paradigm shift occurred within me. As I learned more and more about Jesus, I came to understand that I, too, was to become a man of love and peace, like Him, who is “gentle and humble in heart” as it says in Matthew 11:29.
I was learning that while Jesus had the power to kill and destroy by bringing legions of angels against the Romans, in his meekness (which is power under control), he chose mercy and sacrifice. He deferred to his greater nature of love to heal and redeem. This was clearly the path that I was also to take. The Lord impressed on me from Romans 12:17-21 to not repay evil with evil, but to try and live at peace with everyone and have compassion for my enemy, not letting them overcome me with evil, but overcoming evil with good. 2 Corinthians 10:3 says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.” Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I made a free-will decision to change my mind on how I viewed participating in war and what kind of a soldier I’d be.
It seems clear to me that as a Christ-follower I am called to take the gospel to everyone in love, service, and sacrifice; especially to the unsaved, and even to my enemies. It is not consistent that I then consider killing the very people I’m now commanded to try and bring to the Lord. I am no longer a soldier of the world and of its wars. I am a soldier of Jesus and of his peace.
Ron Kramer is associate pastor at CrossRoads, a Brethren in Christ congregation in Salina, KS.