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.”