I have spent the last week at the Police and Fire Academy in Spokane. It is humbling to be in the company of all these dedicated chaplains, many of whom come from fire, police, or military backgrounds.
On Tuesday night we visited a crematorium. As he explained the various facets of his work, the funeral director explained to us what he does in order to make a body presentable to a family, especially in the a case of an open casket funeral service. I told him how his job was an important calling, as not only did he help facilitate an honorable goodbye for the families of the deceased, but he helped someone to say goodbye in an honorable way.
I was a little moved by the statistics of remains that were voluntarily unclaimed. It felt to me like a cowardly act of revenge. The thing that a death proves is that a life preceded it. A life full of all the beauty and/or all the ugliness that a life can contain. Some lives may contain more of one than the other, but for the most part, all of our lives contain a bit of both and therefore, that honorable part, however small it may be, needs to be honored. Honoring the dead is the most unselfish thing one can do. Whatever we do for them, they cannot smile to give us that feeling of satisfaction nor can they say “Thank you!” And if that can give any comfort, that gives a positive way to have the proverbial ‘last word!’
We talked about something else that day. Whether for the Fire department, the Police force, or the military, there is an organization that helps to honor the life of those who served the public. The pageantry of the Honor Guard not only helps give credit where credit is due in honoring those who sacrificed their lives in the service of others, but it also serves in lifting the heart of those they leave behind. May we never forget to honor these honorable souls, not only as they depart from us, but also in their lives with us.
A rich Englishman living in hilly area of the country needed to hire a new driver so he set up a driving skills test. He asked each candidate to drive in the safest possible way as close to the cliff on the right side of the road (Brits drive on the left side). Each candidate tried to drive as close as possible to the deadly ravine to their right until one finally drove as far as possible away from it, actually hugging the hill on his left. "That is the safest way to drive close to the cliff!" he said. “As far away from it as possible.” He was hired.
This wise driver presents with a very wise philosophy of life. Very often we find ourselves at bottom of a ravine dealing with an interminable slew of problems. These problems can be medical, financial, domestic, or professional. They can also be ethical, spiritual, or emotional. At that time, we can ask ourselves, “Did I think I was impervious to falling? Did I think I was such a great driver that I threw caution out to the wind? Was I driving too close to the cliff? “
We might need to ask ourselves what it looks like in our lives to drive ‘too close to the cliff.’ Is it being careless about our food diet or a lack of moderation in how much we drink? Could it be entertaining dangerous relationships or indulging in bad habits? Or maybe filling our minds and hearts with unhealthy media?
In life and at work, everything we do comes along with safety warnings. Problems are sure to happen in our lives, but let's make sure that we are not the ones provoking them by thinking we are too smart to heed them and thus, 'driving too close to the cliff.’
The ostrich, the opossum, and the surfer.
There is no denying it,--whether they be financial, professional, domestic, or medical,-- life presents us with many challenges. The quicker we realise that there is no way out of it, the better off we are. The only way to survive it is to learn how to handle each and every challenge we are presented with in the best possible way .
The animal world provides us with some examples. A myth developed about the ostrich who is often seen with its head in the sand. It even became a proverb about people who just try to pretend their problems just don’t exist and go on living as if nothing happened. While the ostrich is actually simply stirring its eggs in a hole it dug as a nest, many people do turn their back to their problems either by running from them or ignoring them rather than facing them head on.
The opossum gives us another example. When presented with confrontation, he falls into an epileptic-mouth-frothing trauma. This characterises those of us who just faint at the notion of difficulty.
I was telling a friend this week that problems are like the waves of an ocean; we can’t stop them from coming. We can attempt to stop them with a plank of wood but that would be quite unsuccessful. Instead, we can take that same plank of wood and surf the waves as they come hurling at us. As we do, the waves of problems we dread so much will propel us further and take us higher.
Here is a poem written by the very prolific writer: Unknown
The Oyster & the Pearl
There once was an oyster
Whose story I tell,
Who found that some sand
Had got into his shell.
It was only a grain,
But it gave him great pain.
For oysters have feelings
Although they’re so plain.
Now, did he berate
The harsh working of fate
That had brought him
To such a deplorable state?
Did he curse at the government,
Cry for election,
And claim that the sea should
Have given him protection?
No – he said to himself
As he lay on a shell,
Since I cannot remove it,
I shall try to improve it.
Now the years have rolled around,
As the years always do,
And he came to his ultimate
Destiny – stew.
And the small grain of sand
That had bothered him so
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.
Now the tale has a moral;
For isn’t it grand
What an oyster can do
With a morsel of sand?
What couldn’t we do
If we’d only begin
With some of the things
That get under our skin.
This year I am teaching a class on biblical astronomy at school I use a computer program called Stellarium. This week, as I was showing my class a section of the sky in the daytime on my computer screen, I wanted to show them the constellations that we couldn't see because of the sunlight. I used the option allowing to take out the atmosphere, and pronto-presto, we could the constellation of Pisces with all its friends in the sky. I then asked the students,
“If I turn on a lamp in the room, the closer I come to its light the better I see. If I light a fire, the closer I come to the flames the hotter I get. Why is it then that the higher I would go in space, the darker and colder it gets even though I am closer to the sun?
I will not tell their biology teacher but these teenagers were all dumbfounded at the obvious observation. I then explained to them that light itself is invisible, and that it needs something to reflect on in order for us to benefit from its effects; in this case, the atmosphere. I pointed out to them that it is the same thing with the heat of the sun; that it needs some sort of surface to heat up for us to feel its warmth, in this case also the atmosphere. As we go up in space, both the warmable surfaces as well as the atmosphere lessen so it gets colder. When we get out of the atmosphere, it is unbearably cold.
Then I told them, “It is the same with God. He is invisible and and people cannot feel Him except through the things that reflect His light and warmth: you and me!
And how do we reflect his light and warmth so people can see him? Through acts of love, care, kindness, and mostly living the way he wants to.
If you appreciate these articles, support their upcoming publication in a book called, "REFLECTIONS OF A FIRE CHAPLAIN"