A journey to Port Macquarie for a funeral, a trip to Mt Tamborine to speak at a convention and a return to Armidale, these trips have more than filled my lungs with smoke. I have a new app on my phone that tells me about fires near me. I have been delayed on flights and off-loaded from others to accommodate fireys heading home for a rest, while the choppers at Armidale Airport continue to take off for another round of water bombing. I have seen RFS trucks lined up on the side of the road and others travelling in convoy. While blue skies are hidden by plumes of smoke, rain seems a forlorn possibility and our inland communities suffer, I am inspired by those who would venture into the smoke to fight the flames.
None of us want fires and all of us are angered by the stories of fools who start them. In the midst of the fires, most of us think it’s not time for political rhetoric and point scoring. Issues of climate change, back burning, budgets etc., can and should wait for clearer days and clearer minds. And while I noticed on social media that the prayers of our Prime Minister were ridiculed, I wonder where those who ridicule go for answers when they have none. Our situation has reached the point where a nation should in fact be called to prayer, not just stopping in solemn moments of remembrance for things past, but stopping to solemnly pray for our present and future. Perhaps this too will come when the smoke disappears and we can see clearly what’s needed.
Everyone understands suffering and the grief that vents itself in anger but is there anything positive we can draw from this season? Can good come out of evil or calamity? Can a pessimist find anything to encourage optimism?
I commend to your thoughts the fireys, police, ambos and chaplains as well as the support groups, both church and secular, who provide food and accommodation. Why do they do it? Well the answer is obvious; they don’t want to see us, or the things we hold precious, burn. They come and enter into the battle because they know that some things are worth fighting for, including you and me. They know the value of helping people in need: of coming in behind, of standing beside them and of going ahead of them. It is very Christ like.
It is a striking thing that it sometimes takes a fire or a drought or suffering to bring out the best in people, to reveal the things that matter the most. The True Blue of John Williamson’s song called it “standing by your mate when he’s in a fight”. Jesus Christ called it “loving your neighbour as you love yourself.”
There is no doubt that our region has suffered enormously in recent times with the drought, with water restrictions and now with fire. My question is, “How can these things make us stronger and better?” I believe there are some very strange and beautiful treasures to be found and learnt in the midst of calamity if we have the eyes to see. Human courage, selfless service, rich generosity, thankful survivors, idolatries exposed, the value of trust, the privileges provided and even the prayers of a Prime Minister are but a few of these treasures.
To all those who have been serving our community through this smoky season I think I can speak on behalf of the whole community when I say, “Thank you”. I would also personally say, “God bless you.” And to our community, I would encourage us all to offer whatever support we can to those in need. We will never regret being of such service.