Home > Soap Box > What Fire? Shut Up and Play! [***]

What Fire? Shut Up and Play! [***]

House on FireWe often have large fires during the summer here in southern California. They last for days -even weeks and months-, burn hundreds of thousands of acres of land, destroy hundreds of homes and other buildings, and even take a few lives. Every time such fires occur, large call centers are set up so that local residents can call and talk to people who know how to properly cope with the fire (both during and after the fire). Often times, the calls are along the lines of “I am at work but my home is on such and such street. Is the fire anywhere near there?” Other times, a caller might ask, “I can see the fire from my kitchen window. What should I do now?” During a recent wild fire, a friend of mine was working in one of these call centers as an operator when she received a phone call that went something like what I have detailed below. 

Caller: Hello, I am at my house right now, and I was wondering if I should leave or not.

Operator: Are you somewhere near the fire?

Caller: Yes, I think so.

Operator: Can you see the fire from your home?

Caller: Yes.

Operator: How close do you think the fire is to your home?

Caller: It appears to be a couple of streets away. I can see some of the other houses burning.

Operator: That sounds very close. Fires can move very quickly. You should evacuate immediately. You probably don’t have time to pack anything up. Just grab whatever is most valuable to you and is easy to carry and get out now.

Caller: Hmm… I have a lot of valuable things. Too many to carry. …but you know what. I don’t think I really need to worry about the fire. Are you sure I should leave?

Operator: Yes ma’am. You are in danger and you should leave now.

Caller: [Pause] I dunno. I would be leaving all this stuff behind. I don’t think I am in any real danger. I think I should stay. Do you really think I should leave?

Operator: Yes ma’am. Please forget about your possessions and get out now. Your life is in danger.

Caller: [Pause] I dunno. I think I should stay here.

Operator: No one can make you leave. That is your decision, but you should leave. Now!

The call ended with the caller still in the house. I have no idea what happened after that. Perhaps she came to her senses and left in time, or perhaps she didn’t! What would cause a person to disregard their safety, their well-being, and even their life in the way that this lady did? I have some answers, but before I get to them, here is another story of sorts.

I often travel on the freeways here in southern California. There are many billboards along the freeway advertising everything from mobile phones to weight-loss surgery centers. One such billboard that I see weekly is a large photograph of a scene and a large caption. The scene appears to be some sort of dance party where women are barely wearing any clothes and both males and females appear to be having a very exciting time. One man in the picture is on his hands and knees on the ground near the legs of two scantily clad women. He is looking directly at the camera with a facial expression that seems to say, “Is this awesome or what?! Come join the fun!” The caption on the billboard simply says “Shut up and Play”. There is some small print on the billboard that appears to name a Las Vegas casino, but it’s very difficult to read. The billboard suggests to me that we should stop complaining about our present problems (e.g. growing unemployment, tyrannical governments, faltering educational systems, death and sickness, failing relationships), and simply have a good time. In other words, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” 

Ironically, there is another giant fire blazing in southern California right now and it just so happens that if you can see this billboard you can turn your head and see the fire too. I wonder how many people are driving to and fro right now wondering if their home or the home of a loved one will still be standing at the end of the day. I wonder how many people driving to and fro are in between jobs frantically trying to make ends meet. I wonder how many senior citizens are out there concerning themselves with whether or not their government will try to euthanize them. I wonder how many men and women out there are suffering through a grave loss in their life, whether it be a divorce, a death, or otherwise.

When life gets tough, it is very tempting to avoid our problems by keeping ourselves entertained. Some people use drugs. Some people drink alcohol. Some shop. Some eat. Some work. Some collect stuff. Some exercise. Some have sex and/or relationships. Some fantasize about sex and/or relationships. Some watch television and movies. Some listen to music.

Several of the things I just listed above are good in and of themselves. All of these things, though, become bad when they become a means to extended escape. For instance, I don’t condemn drinking a beer or two at the end of a particularly long work day. But it is a problem when a man would rather down a pint of brandy than look for a job. We all need to work. We need to do things with our hands. But it’s a problem when a man spends 50 to 100 hours per week at the office and neglects his spouse, children, and other meaningful but problematic relationships. It’s good to have a house and other possessions. But it’s a problem when you would rather hold tight to your possessions than to flee from a fire that is destined to destroy everything.

There are lots of things that are wrong with mankind, our country, our peers, and our own selves. We adults are faced with so many problems that we all escape from time to time, for better or worse. Some of us have gone so far as to live in that place of escape. It’s not just addicts and alcoholics that live in that place either. Poor or rich, healthy or sick, young or old, we all have reasons to escape from reality for an extended period of time, to live in what I call Fantasyland. The woman in the fire story was living in Fantasyland. I speculate that her possessions made up that special place for her. Without her possessions, she just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “see” anything else. It’s the same way for an addicted gambler who can’t “see” a compelling reason to leave the card table long enough to relieve himself properly in the restroom. (That may surprise some of you, but yes, some gamblers do poop and pee in their pants.)

The world would suggest to you that when life gets you down, you should seek pleasure, avoid your problems, don’t worry, be happy, live vicariously through some television character (or actor), etc.

When we open our eyes long enough, it is plain to us all that the fire is in fact there and that it will get to us eventually. I am not just referring to the present life either. Indeed, many of us do need to face some problems in our life that we have been neglecting. However, there is a much more dangerous fire that the majority of the world simply refuses to see. As long as they are entertained and the pain of this world is kept to a tolerable amount, they see no reason to surrender their lives to the Creator of the universe. The road to hell is paved not with great sins but rather with petty selfishness, pride, and self-satisfaction.

“Since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the LORD,
since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
but whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Proverbs 1:29-33 NIV

also…

I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

Psalm 34:4-8,18-20 NIV

Wherever you are right now in your life, perhaps right now is a good time to kneel and pray. God is always available to talk with you.

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