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The further I get into mission and ministry the more parallels I find with my first career as a peace officer. So, I’d like to think that my previous career is a benefit to my current one; especially as I have a desire to see you who do this divinely ordained vocation of law enforcement succeed – not only on the job but in your avocations, and your relationships.
When I started at the seminary, I was told that “God makes theologians” and that one must move from theory to the practice of theology. Moreover, theological training involves spiritual warfare. As St. Paul wrote, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)
In order to engage in this spiritual warfare (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:18), the rookie theologian (and veteran as well) needs to understand that learning theology is a matter of experience and wisdom gained from experience. How does one travel this road of experience? For the theologian it is marked with oratio, tentatio, and meditatio. That is, prayer (seeking out the One who knows and cares for you), temptation (testing and trial), and meditation (study and reflection.) This has been sage advice for me as I have gone from seeing foolishness and mayhem in people’s lives as a cop and now seeing and dealing with its aftermath as a pastor and chaplain.
I think that God makes cops too. And He has made you for that aforementioned spiritual warfare that so often manifests itself in the tomfoolery you have to regularly deal with day-to-day. Thus, I pose here three spiritual insights that a rookie (and veteran) officer can use to not only to stay alive but to make them a highly effective and well-rounded peace officer. (Oh, and you chaplains, this maybe good for you too!)
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
Vita Extra Laboris – This is something every cop needs – life outside of work. This is not hitting the gym or going to the range with your squad mates. Those are perfectly okay to do; but, I am talking about being around people who are not in the police environment. Get with family and friends and activities that allow you to take your mind off of the job. Moreover, God did not create us to be loners but to live in community and I would also encourage you to develop – in community – your spiritual life as well, using His gifts of Word and Sacrament for your benefit.
It isn’t necessary to be a hard charger in each and every aspect of your life. I know that you get sick of answering cop questions from ‘civilians’ who don’t get it or don’t need a gun to go to work. Been there done that! One more ‘ticket story’ and I’m gonna strangle someone! Or, having to defend that cop with a “nasty attitude” who yelled at someone.
Listen, I really understand. But when cops let down their walls and get past the first few annoying occasions, they can find friends who help them stay centered. On one hand, caution is understandable because of the ‘dirt bags’ we often have to deal with; on the other hand, we’re all ‘dirt bags’ ... “All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:20 ESV)
When we spend all our time with other cops, we keep the on-duty mindset all the time. I still like the ‘gun slinger’ seat at the restaurant; but, if we can’t turn the dial down a bit, friends will be few and far between.
I can hear the objection, “Who cares, I only want those who bleed blue to be my friends.” Here’s a bit of advice from an old dog: “Having friends and activities outside of police work will ultimately make you a better cop. This is because you’ll have the experience of alternative viewpoints that we can use on the job.” As the saying goes, “Without compassion, courage has no focus.”
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV)
Exercitium (physicae, mentalia, Spirituales) – the latin here is ‘exercise.’ But, this is taking care of yourself as a whole person – physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is a lifestyle choice. Many bureaucrats don’t have a problem with extensive retirement packages for cops. Some really smart actuaries (bean counters) crunched the numbers and found that many cops drop dead within five years of retirement.
Exercise is the best known way to live a long life after 20, 25, or 30 years of cop life. Shift work, bad food, and emotional baggage will put you on the fast-track to the bone yard, especially if you don’t carve out time for exercise.
This can be a safety issue as well. At least anecdotally it is known that the ‘bad guys’ who are willing to fight the police have (even if momentarily) second thoughts when the officer in front of him appears fit and his uniform is clean, dry, and serviceable.
But, this is a ‘whole person’ approach. “Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.” (1 Timothy 4:8 MSG)
St. Paul mentions physical exercise in a positive light while encouraging us that investing in our spiritual growth has both temporal and eternal benefits. The implication is that physical exercise and discipline over our physical bodies is good, but that it only has temporal benefits. We should practice spiritual discipline (e.g. oratio (praying), tentatio (trials through experience), meditatio (contemplation & reflection) as well, as the benefits of spiritual health are great.
As the saying goes, “Without courage compassion wavers.”
“We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (Colossians 1:9 ESV)
Disciplina et Educatio – Training and Education – Education comes in many ways. Here the encouragement is not only to dive into every job you get to try on your department, but that you pursue wisdom. “Just the facts, ma’am” is not what we’re talking about.
Still, this does include formal education. There are too many ways to receive a formal education these days for cops not to have one. Even if you have no desire to be promoted in rank, taking on the pursuit of wisdom – increasing you knowledge, skills, and abilities - will make you a better cop.
Moreover, do you have a post law enforcement career plan? Again, not just golf and fishing (not that there’s anything wrong with those) but what might your second vocation be? For me, I had no idea that mission and ministry as a pastor and chaplain were in my future. But, early on, as I worked in our Child and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Unit, I returned to school to finish my undergraduate degree with an eye on helping victims of crime and that winding road ended up where I am now.
Education not only helps you figure out what might be ahead, but also prepares you for it. The writer of Proverbs shares, “Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:14 ESV)
So, for rookies, and the salty veterans that never got the memo: there is no shortage of instructors for safe traffic stops. But pursuing wisdom – life outside work, exercise, and education – will make you a well-rounded, more effective cop.
Finally, rest in the knowledge that your vocation is just that, a ‘calling’ of which the Ultimate Peace Officer, Jesus the Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9 ESV)
Stay Safe and Watch your Six!
Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto
Executive Director & Chaplain
Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.