Mike's Sunday Letter

--with personal notes
  • We've enjoyed unseasonably warm weather around these parts for a few days.  But as welcome as it is, I just don't want the fruit trees to get confused, start to blossom, and then have the summer crop ruined by a sudden freeze.  It is exciting, however, to see postings by friends in the St. Louis area of the crocus blooming.
  • Went to see the movie, "Race," about Jesse Owens.  I knew about him, but I had never gotten deep into his story until the movie.  It's a good movie...and a good chance to think about the real heroes from our history.

February 21, 2016
Everything I Know About First Aid
I was having lunch last week with a young man who had recently earned his Boy Scout "Eagle" badge.  And it set me to reminiscing about my own days in the Boy Scouts.  I loved being in Scouts.  There was a sense of achievement in working my way up through the ranks.  There was pride in trying to live up to the scouting rules of character.  And there was adventure in trying to earn the various "merit" badges that were available. 
To earn badges and work your way up through the ranks, you had to learn some theories and develop some skills.  For example, you had to learn the theories of being "brave, clean, and reverent."  Among 12-year-old boys, "brave, clean, and reverent" are more imaginary than real.  But our leaders doggedly taught us the concepts, in hopes that some actual evidence of those traits might come along later. 
Of course there were other theories.  "Be prepared" is the Boy Scout motto.  We Boy Scouts were the only 16 year olds in our high school who knew that "be prepared" involved something other than a quick trip to the drug store before prom night.  In fact, when I was 16, I was such a nerd that I wouldn't have known what the second half of that last sentence meant entirely. 
And then there were the skills we learned...or tried to learn.  I myself earned merit badges for my prowess in such challenging activities as cooking, camping, nature, bookbinding, and dog care.  And then there was my merit badge in first aid.
I've been trying to remember what I learned in first aid back then.  Only five things still come to mind:  how to apply a tourniquet, how to suck the poison from a rattlesnake bite, how to resuscitate a dummy, how to make a splint, and how to adjust someone who is in shock.  These are all good things to know, I suppose.  But I have to confess this:  I've never had to actually do any of them, ever.  In fact, if you are in immediate need of a tourniquet, perhaps you should call someone other than me; my skills in that area have grown quite rusty.
There have, of course, been times I was called upon to deliver other types of first aid.  After all, I am the father of three daughters, a veteran counselor and director of a dozen church camps, a leader of multiple mission trips, and the lead guide of several international campouts.  Of course I have done first aid.  Plus...I have to occasionally work on my own body...as I manage to incur about two or three injuries a year...what with sports and misuse of tools etc. 
There was the time the high school boys in the youth group were playing basketball in the churchyard...right before we got in the van for a ten-day mission trip.  Their net and hoop sat atop a portable pole.  They decided to lower the contraption so they could feel like professionals.  Jake jumped up for a dunk, slammed the ball in successfully, and then caught his right nostril on the metal netting on his way down.  Rip...went the nostril. 
I tried to remember my Boy Scout first aid.  Shall I apply a tourniquet to his nose?  Probably not a good solution in this case.  Shall I just let him bleed out and wait for him to stop breathing, then give him mouth to mouth?  Nothing in that scenario sounded good to me.  So I just calmly announced that the game was over, and that our caravan was ready to pull out, and that our first stop would be the hospital emergency room. 
How do you keep a straight face when trying to explain to the emergency room nurse that the kid ripped his nose on a basketball hoop?  And how do you make your voice sound sympathetic when you are informing his parents over the phone...when the whole youth group, including Jake, is having a hoot in the other room?  Not in the Boy Scout handbook.
These days my first aid merit badge is lost in a box somewhere.  My only token of legitimacy is the Johnson & Johnson All-purpose First Aid Kit I keep in my car.  But the kit frustrates me.  Every time I open the box to try and help someone out, it never has what I need.  It does include burn patches, plastic gloves, medical tape, and hand cleansing wipes.  Oh...and it has 15 coupons.  There is something particularly untimely and bizarre about coupons in a first aid kit.
If I were to rewrite the first aid section of the Boy Scout merit badge book, I would probably stick to the five things that have come up most for me in the past 50 years:  1) splinters, 2) cuts, 3) sunburn, 4) bug bites, and 5) nausea.   For those five you can get by with a needle, some Band-Aids, a can of skin spray, and a bucket.  Oh...and a lot of sympathy, a know-it-all-attitude (to instill confidence,) and a bit of clowning are also essential.
Jesus was a healer, and he ordered his first disciples to go out and heal the sick.  We modern disciples are still under those orders.  My service in the church militant has yet to land me in the tourniquet platoon...or the resuscitation unit.  But if you need a Band-Aid, or a little sympathy...a distracting clown, or just a bucket...give me a call.  I've gotten pretty good at those.  --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS




J. Michael Smith | 2508 S. Cottage Grove | Urbana | IL | 61801