Last month, on August 8th, at 5:50 in the morning, I had a thought, a thought that I would presume goes through the heads of firefighters, EMTs, police officers everywhere. We got called out the Petro station for what was reported to be a fire at the gas pumps. And so I found myself in the back of 6015, struggling to figure out how to put my pack on and wear a seat belt at the same time (a new conundrum for me), when I had that thought: What am I doing? What series of terrible choices have I made in my life to end up where I am right now? I am not embarrassed (maybe a little embarrassed) to say that I was remarkably relieved to hear that fire was not only not at the pumps, but already handled.
We all make choices – all day, every day, whether we want to make choices or not. Having the freedom to choose one thing or another seems like a universal human right, at least here in the U.S., and Americans are loath to be limited in our choices. And yet, having too many options to choose from can be paralyzing. As Barry Schwartz wrote in his book The Paradox of Choice, “though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.” The classic example is when we go to the Acme and there’s 170 different kinds of cereal to choose from, anxiety sets in: if I choose the Golden Grahams, will I regret not choosing the Special K? (the short answer to that is a hard no)
There are, of course, bigger choices to make. “See, I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Moses had a way of narrowing down the choices, possibly to make it easier for his people to choose. Certainly they, and by extension, we, would choose life and blessing over death and curse.
Or…would we? Let’s remember that the entire Bible is, if read in a certain way, the story of humanity finding all kinds of new and exciting ways to choose death and curse. From forbidden fruit to golden calf and straight on through to the Cross, God reaches out and we bite the hand that created us.
But, of course, there’s a better way, a better choice. What does that choice actually look like? Surely God does not care very much if we choose the Golden Grahams or the Special K, but just as surely, there are choices that God cares about very much.
Moses said that God wants us to choose “to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Jesus boiled it down to choosing to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and choosing to love thy neighbor as thyself.
The interesting thing about these choices is that you have to keep choosing them. You can’t just choose one time to love God and neighbor and things go swimmingly; you must choose these things daily, sometimes many times a day.
Now we’re lucky, because we all know that in churches and certainly firehouses and squads everywhere, there’s never any fighting; no acrimony or disagreement, right? We always choose life and blessing over death and curse, right?
Perhaps not always. But I’m inspired and always have been by the choice made by our first responders, that first and continual choice to put the welfare of others ahead of themselves; the choice to sacrifice time and money and effort, more than most will ever know or appreciate; and the choice, as we put it in the Church, so seek and serve Christ in all persons, especially in the times of greatest need.
“See, I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” The choice is ours.