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Photo credit: Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.
When I went through the police academy all those years ago, I was given a top ten list – a list of ten mistakes officers have made that cost them their lives. Many officers taped the list to their metal clipboards as a reminder to not become complacent. It is a stark reminder of what the officer needs to prepare and watch out for on the street.
After witnessing countless personal tragedies off the street among law enforcement colleagues, friends, and acquaintances, it becomes quite evident to me that there are spiritual survival skills needed for the peace officer which are just as important as the physical ones.
Now, I was not given the list in the academy as an exercise in “Monday-Morning-Quarterbacking” of those who had come before me. Instead it was wisdom passed on so that I might survive.
Similarly, we are not offering this insight to “Monday-Morning-Quarterback” your spiritual life. Instead it is offered in the same spirit as I spoke about above; it is offered as, perhaps, some wisdom to help keep your soul in good shape in the midst of the foolishness and mayhem you deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
So, here, I’d like to hone in on #10 in the list: Dirty, Inoperative, or Unused Weapons or Equipment - Are your weapons clean? Will they fire? Do you carry and employ the proper weapon, ammunition and equipment? Do you wear your body armor? Do you keep your knowledge and skills honed?
I confess that while I enjoyed heading down to the firing range, cleaning my duty-weapon was not a favorite activity for me. But, it was driven hard for us that neglecting our weapons could prove fatal. I have found, from my own experience, and through observation of colleagues, friends, and acquaintances, as I mentioned above, that neglecting our security, our identity, and our meaning for our lives – for the core of who we are can also prove to be grave.
What follows is a list to think on regarding the basic need for keeping your handgun clean and your heart whole.
I. Manufacturer’s manuals are critical. While not all of them are detailed enough, but most are clear and some comprehensive, containing schematics, model specific maintenance guidelines and information on the weapon’s mechanical operation. Being a gunsmith isn’t required, but a working knowledge of your weapon is.
Spiritual Application: “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) Here, the term refers to the sharp, short sword used in close combat. Utilizing the user’s manual for your heart prepares you for the spiritual close combat that can bruise the soul in the varied human misadventure and mayhem you regularly deal with.
II. As the saying goes: “Cleaning postponed is often cleaning forgotten.” Often, I disliked the cleaning of my weapon after our in-service training and qualification because we finished with night fire; and I was anxious to get home. Nevertheless, the cleaning was done because I knew I would forget if I didn’t do it then; and I knew that the time to clean my weapon was NOW!
Spiritual Application: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Here, St. Paul, who started his career in serving warrants (cf. Acts 9:1-2), is imparting to us the importance and seriousness of God’s offer of Grace; that His favor is being offered now to you and me and that we should not take this lightly. Our very identity, security, and meaning are at stake.
III. Scrubbing too much and using too much lubrication is all too common, unnecessary, and can lead to greater problems. Scrubbing often comes from not giving your solvent enough time to work (or it may be inferior and need replacing).
Spiritual Application: The Ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus, addressed the officials of His day and their obsession with not letting the solvent of God’s grace do its work in their (and others’) lives. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26) These officials were more concerned with outward religious observances than with the heart and its ongoing battle with sin. Let the solvent of God’s grace work in your heart in the day-to-day battle against, sin, death, and the devil.
IV. Use single purpose cleaning products. “All-in-one” cleaner-lube-protectant solutions can be valuable – especially in a small kit in your ‘go-bag.’ But, they rarely are on par with cleaners, lubricants, greases, and protectant products that are singular in purpose.
Spiritual Application: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3) Here, unity is not uniformity; unity comes from within and is a spiritual grace ... each part of the body is different from the other parts, yet all make up one body and work together. Gentleness in fulfilling this vocation is a needed protectant because meekness is not weakness. It is power under control. In the Greek language, this word was used for a soothing medicine, a colt that had been broken, and a soft wind. In each case you have power, but that power is under control.
V. Use the best and most appropriate equipment. Coated or synthetic rods help to avoid marring barrels and chambers; right fitted cleaning patches are more efficient as they use fewer strokes than slotted tips. Use the right sized screwdrivers to avoid stripping and harm. Your life can depend on the quality of your firearm – don’t use tools that are ‘less than’ for something so important.
Spiritual Application: “Whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) Here the encouragement is that we continually hold fast to these virtues, which are the fundamental ideals of life according to God’s design; that we keep them in the forefront of our minds, in our very consciousness, so that they animate and accompany all that we do.
The Latitude of our Attitude
As a retired peace officer and yes, as a law enforcement chaplain, I want to encourage you to maintain your firearms and other equipment. Especially as a chaplain I (and surely the chaplain(s) for your department) want to walk along side you as you face the idiocy and folly that so often comes during your shift. I am not (nor is your chaplain) in this just to marry and (especially not) to bury you.
And so, along with St. Paul, I encourage you, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned... Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:3, 9-10)
Just as maintaining your equipment can ensure that you survive your shift, putting on the “full armor of God” (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18), staying situationally aware of and maintaining your spiritual wellbeing can help you survive this career and the life (in retirement) that comes after it.
Stay Safe and Watch your Six!
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto
Executive Director & Chaplain
Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.