The Empty Room

One of the great joys of my life revolves around the act and art of communications. Each day, I look forward to reading the newspaper, watching the television news channels, and interacting with my friends and fellow firefighters. Like many among you...


One of the great joys of my life revolves around the act and art of communications. Each day, I look forward to reading the newspaper, watching the television news channels, and interacting with my friends and fellow firefighters. Like many among you, interacting with others forms a great part of my life. Whether it is sharing conversations, driving the fire company pumper here in Adelphia, or playing my tuba with a musical group, each day provides a new chance to interact with the people and things which provide love, excitement, joy, and pleasure in my life.

In line with this it was my good fortune to hear a very interesting question put forward in church the other day. Chris Van DeBunte, our associate pastor at the Colts Neck Reformed Church was preaching a sermon on the origins of the Lord's Prayer. During the course of his presentation, he spoke about conversations he had with a college roommate more than a decade ago.

It is my guess this was one of those probing discussions that friends have from time to time. The conversation was in many parts. It started as a discussion over why Chris got up so early on days when he could sleep past noon. It then went on to a question regarding why Chris went to church. As I recall, Chris's answer revolved around the twin concepts of faith and family. Still seeking to stimulate the discussion, Chris's roommate then went on to ask him if he would still go to church if no one else went.

I never did hear Chris's original answer to this query. My mind suddenly started racing in a direction that probably never occurred to our pastor. I pictured a pastor preaching to an empty room. I pictured a wealth of words being wasted upon a church narthex which was devoid of human presence and consumption. At this point my thoughts turned back to Chris's comments that preaching to an empty room would be very difficult indeed.

A wee, still voice in the back of my mind then began to recite the words of a Biblical imperative. That mental pronouncement was saying over and over that, "...there was a voice crying in the wilderness." The concept of a voice crying in the wilderness then began to take root within me. I imagined a solitary voice crying out and there being no one to respond to the message.

Why were these words so intriguing to me? Initially I could not figure it out. Then suddenly a bit of philosophical fluff drifted into my mind's eye. It was at this point that memories of the discussions held in my philosophy class at Brookdale Community College back in the 1970's began to flow.

I began to recall the many circular discussions regarding the old argument about the sounds created by a tree falling in the forest. You know that one. It goes something like, "...if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound when it strikes the earth?" To the best of my recollection there was no real consensus on the answer to that one. But as one who revels in the use of thoughts and words, I took full advantage of the moment.

During my part of the discussion, I stood behind the theory of sound waves and receptors. The absence of the second does not deny the presence of the first. I lost out to all of the touchy feely folks who felt that it was the importance of the interaction. Without someone to receive the sound message, there could be no message, it was felt. As a matter of practical necessity, I zipped my lip and settled for a "B" in that course.

However, the point of this discussion really is quite simple. How many of you out there in firefighter-land feel like you are preaching to an empty room? Forget preaching to the choir. How many of you feel all alone? Whether it is a problem with people, firefighting skills, budgetary matters, safety, or interpersonal relationships, how many of you practice for your time at the fire station by talking to the wall in your garage, or the mirror in your bathroom? How can you reach the people with whom you must interact and deliver the services of your fire department if you feel stranded on a desert island of despair?

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