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Between Boredom and Terror

I’ve heard pilots describe flying (and police officers patrolling) as hours of sheer boredom punctuated my moments of sheer terror. I had the same feeling when it was my turn to draw lifeguard duty at a summer day camp in those days when we invited the hot sun to turn our bodies various shades of brown. Yes, the hours seemed to drag … except for one terrifying moment I shall never forget when I pulled a swimmer out of the water.

Staying alert on the beach, in the cockpit, on patrol, at home . . . it can be a challenge, but some challenges do not allow a margin for error so how do we stay alert in the midst of the commonplace? Or said differently, in the midst of just another routine Wednesday, how do we avoid sliding into complacency?

In order to test the alertness and so the worthiness of its lifeguards, one city implemented a rather unique program. Once each week, and unknown to the lifeguards, a staff “victim” would dive into the pool with a black T-shirt under his arm. He puts the shirt on underwater and then resurfaces in a dead man’s float. The lifeguard must then respond within 30 seconds or receive a two-day “vacation” without pay. A second failure means termination. We can well imagine the intensity with which the lifeguards attended to their responsibilities. No complacency there.

A similar vigilance comes with church work. (Or more broadly, vigilance comes with our commitments to the greater good in the wider world.) Well we know that the life of the church (and all manner of service institutions) has a certain routine to its cycle of events and activities, and given the demands placed on us first-responders by the economic and environmental uncertainty and the political turmoil all tearing at the social fabric in recent years, we might rather welcome a little more routine in daily life.

(Incidentally, churches need to begin seeing themselves as first-responders.)

Maybe balance is the issue: our bodies cannot live on the edge of terror every waking moment—neither can our spirits, for that matter—but as we grow complacent we lose awareness of and sensitivity to the wider world and its needs and so we mute our effectiveness as persons who are committed to the greater good.

For people of God, our effectiveness increases as we remain ever alert to the ways we as co-creators with God give expression to the love with which God loves us.

Too vague, nebulous, elusive? Try this: That as people of God, we are to remain alert to the ways God calls us to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.