The thoughts behind this visit with you have been rumbling around in my brain for nearly two weeks. A recent sermon by Scott Brown, our senior pastor at the Colts Neck Reformed Church, sent my thinking machine into overdrive. My mind was filled to overflowing with all sorts of thoughts about verbally smacking this person or that person.
There are those abroad in our nation I could easily have accused of lying to us. There are those who could have been accused of diverting resources away from our fire service, while telling us how much they loved us all. Many are the people in the world around us who, I felt, deserved to be tarred and feathered. Perhaps the feeling which I experienced during this time did not belong in the House of the Lord, but there they were.
Fortunately for me, there was a little voice whispering in the background about the need to temper my rage with reason. You might well call that still, small voice the Voice of Reason. Do not get me wrong. Luckily for me I tempered my rage and my thoughts. Many of the angry thoughts which came from the sermon on March 21 were answered by the calming thoughts which emerged from Reverend Brown's Palm Sunday sermon on March 28.
The people that I had intended to skewer richly deserved my rage, but I reasoned that short-term good feelings on my part may well have been overshadowed by a long-term aura of ill will and negativity. Scott's Palm Sunday sermon was entitled, "Who Are You Following?" Now for those of us in church at that moment, the answer was quite simple and obvious. We are following our Lord and Savior.
However, is this answer one which is widely understood in society today? Given the attacks on organized religion, one can only pause and ponder. Perhaps a simple rule could be developed which might allow us to better interact with our fellow travelers here on this crowded, blue marble we call earth. A simple thought which could guide our actions.
Try this one on for size. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Hmm, that seems like a winner to me. Yes my friends, it is the good old Golden Rule. If you truly espouse the belief that you are following our Lord, than acting according to the dictates of this axiom is just what you should do.
You must understand that not everyone in society operates according to your personal code of ethics. Unfortunately, there are many among us who operate according the dictates of a different rule: The Rule of Gold. Their "Golden Rule" is a bit different. These are the people for whom all streets run but one way: toward them. "Do as I say, not as I do" is the mantra which they chant each day.
Not everyone wants to treat people well. These are the folks who treat other people like crap and then expect those people to bow down to them and love them. It is my guess that this is just the way it is when you are dealing with politicians, public people, and their countless hangers on. You cannot always give voice to your innermost feelings because of the damage which your words might inflict upon other people. These people have memories which are so long that they get cell phone calls from elephants asking for memory advice. It was this thought which guided my actions over the past week or so.
This is an action which some selfish people never seem to truly understand. These are the people who would feel justified in yelling the word "fire" in a crowded public assembly. You know the type. They operate according to the following mantra: "You can't tell me what to do." These people hoot, holler, and harp until they run out of air in their lungs or are beaten to a pulp by people who do not agree with their views.
Thankfully my bad impulses were outweighed by my good instincts. Perhaps I would have felt better about accusing a number of people of being the modern incarnation of Judas Iscariot: Maybe not. Unfortunately, more bad feelings than good might have been the result of my verbal attacks. Let me break with tradition and say that while the truth might set you free, it also might allow you to get your butt kicked by a large, angry mob.
My friends, I guess that I am just fed up with being lied to and cheated by people in positions of public power and trust. Perhaps I am simply fed up with being treated as a nameless, faceless cipher by the people in power in Washington, DC and Trenton, New Jersey. Yes my friends, I am referring to the politicians who have seized control of our government at all levels. Let me suggest that many among you may be experiencing similar feelings.
But Harry, you might ask, were these folks not elected by the people to serve as their representatives? Yes, they were elected by the people to represent the people. They were not, and I repeat 'not' elected to do all of the thinking for the people. There now exists in our country a class of people who seemingly hold themselves out to the world as being better than the rest of us.
Let me pause for a moment in order to return to the title of this piece. Let me share a bit about one of the most reviled people in the history of the world: Judas Iscariot. We all know that he was the one who sold out Jesus for a few pieces of silver, but is there more which we need to know? Let me suggest that there is.
In his March 21 sermon, Pastor Brown spoke of Judas as a man who was stable and reliable. Wow, there are two traits which seem good on the face of them. People trusted him, and in return much was expected of him. He was a person perceived to be possessed with a great deal of potential. He was trusted to the extent that he became a de facto treasurer for the other disciples.
How did he betray this trust? To begin with, he began to pilfer the funds for the Lord and the other disciples. By now all of us should know that there was never a plethora of pennies in the pantry of the disciples. These men lived off of the generosity of the people whom they served. Why would one of the Lord's trusted advisors suddenly begin tapping the till? Was he shooting dice, chasing women, or drinking wine? I will never know.
Whatever the cause, we know the final outcome. Judas betrayed Jesus to the mobs which perceived him as a threat to the status quo. His payment was a mere handful of silver coins. Any thoughts which I might put forward are surely mere conjecture. There is no way that a citizen of the 21st Century can put themselves into the mind of man who lived so long ago. Or is there? Some human actions seem to be ageless in their ability to repeat themselves across the generations.
Lying, cheating, and stealing seem to have been around for a long time now. Perhaps Glunk the caveman was killed by his buddies Ja Bipp and La Boop for stealing their sautéed dinosaur wings. Or it might be that Ogg the community leader promised all of the villagers that there were many great and glorious resources available for the good of the entire group. Only there turned out to be nothing for the people and the villagers pounded the lying, stealing Ogg into a human omelet.
Think about it. Was it not Julius Caesar who was done in by his own buddies? We celebrate that little bit of treason each March. It is my belief that a streak of evil exists within the ranks of the human species. Let me offer another thought for your consideration.
How many crimes have been committed over the centuries based upon religious beliefs? Heck, the other day the FBI arrested members of a Christian Militia who wanted to start a war against the government. Now I must admit that there is much in our great nation with which I am unhappy right now. But the rule of law suggests that we must all be peaceable citizens within our communities.
How do these sorts of people square up their actions with the dictates of reason? In addition to all of this, a number of things which some people claim to be allowed to do in the name of their religion scares the living daylights out of me. (See also the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.)
There are basically two ways to go in our society. There are basically two sorts of people behind whom we can queue up. They are named in the title of this piece. You can choose to follow the honest, reasonable people who live by the Gold Rule. They work to take care of their people. They work to nurture and support them. They are the servants among us.
There is also another option. You can choose to follow those people who live every aspect of their lives according to the Rule of Gold. These individuals will invite you to do as they say, but then fail to allow you to do as they do (See also politicians). Let me stress to you at this point that I have not tried to extrapolate my thoughts to any one group in society.
It would have been easy for me to place labels on a variety of individuals and then lambaste them for the manner in which they have lied, cheated, and stolen their way to the top of their chosen fields. That is not my place. What I will do is suggest that there are people in this country who make a solid living lying to you and me. They will promise you what they believe you wish to hear. These folks will then proceed to do whatever it is that they want to do and the heck with you and me.
So just who are you following each day as you travel the well-worn road of life? Let me suggest that you options are simple and two in number. You can follow the honest, hard-working leaders who have the best interest of their people at the center of their soul. These are the people who choose to be the servants of their people. Or you can follow the prevaricating, obfuscating bums who make their own rules and lie to their people.
I would like to say that the choice is yours, but in many cases it is not. You get the boss you get. Either you will be fortunate and profit by the good fortunes which got you a decent leader or you get to curse the day that the no good, lying Judas of a boss you have was placed in a position over you.
If your leader is a good person, please say thanks for your good fortune and then work your tail off for them. Should you unfortunately be under the heavy thumb of a greasy-fingered blowhard of a liar boss, please keep a low profit and try not to draw attention to yourself.
At the end of the day do not let these joyless jokers ruin the fire service for you. Just because they hate you and life, do not sink to their level. Above all, do your job, protect the people you are sworn to serve, and leave your problems at the fire station. Your family deserves all of your love and attention, so do it for them, if for no one else.
Let me close by suggesting that the decision as to who to follow is still yours. I would suggest you choose Jesus over Judas, but then again, I know what I believe. Take care and stay safe.
HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. He recently published Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.