I recall being told once upon a time my name, translated, means ‘reckless bravery’. Is that why? So I ask. No, it’s because of my involvement with emergency services and disaster response. Ah, but what has courage to do with that?
While away on holidays I have heard the Word and took notice of the context. A young girl shot because she was going to school was called brave. A woman swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage was called brave. A bystander jumping into the sea to help a person who had fallen off the rocks; a rescue crew responding to a road accident; fire fighters responding to bush fires; a young child suffering a terminal brain tumour; a kayaker trapped on an island by a crocodile; a solo bicycle rider travelling around Australia on roads shared with B-triples; someone walking across the Great Sandy Desert to raise funds for cancer research… the list continues.
Being on holidays, I thought about these people and incidents (as you do on holidays rather than doing any writing or research). All involved some element of risk, an element of personal danger, and most included some sort of intentional action. But is there a difference between bravery, stupidity, and resilience?
I meet quite a few people riding bicycles across Australia, many of them totally ill prepared for the conditions, sometimes carrying only two litres of water because the map shows lots of creeks along the route. I’ve helped pick-up bits and pieces after riders have been sucked under trucks as they travel at high speeds. At my age, I prefer the airconditioned four-wheel drive outback. I admire bicycle touring – used to do it – but where is the line between pleasure, brave or stupid?
Jumping into the water to rescue a fallen person – now that is courageous. But I can tell stories where both victim and rescuer were lost. If both are saved, it is bravery, if one or both die, it is futile or stupid. How do we assess the difference in that instant when action is required?
The young aforementioned girl was brave to attend school in that environment, brave to persist in her determination to continue her education, and thank God able to do so. That I can, and do, admire. Swimming without a shark cage, kayaking in crocodile infested water – why, what for? Brave or stupid? Solo across a desert to raise funds for a worthy cause – at least there is a purpose and an enjoyment in the task. With proper preparation I guess it comes to weighing the economics of effort and return. Is brave a suitable description?
In emergency service, responder’s courage is a mixed blessing. In all training and operation procedures every effort is made to reduce and eliminate risk. Risk taking will usually have you removed from the scene, as too often it results in a further rescue with a reduced number of team members. By reducing the risk, can it still be called bravery? A child with a brain tumour, a family with their home and property destroyed by fire, a town with its major industry closed and residents unemployed, people who did not seek any risk, yet can face the situation with bravery. Does resilience, life skills, hope form a component of courage?
I returned home after the holiday to the lectionary reading, not on courage but mentioning stupidity. Luke 14:25-33, the man building a tower without doing his preparation, and the onlookers all making fun of him and saying “here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish” (vs 29-30).
In the context of the cost of discipleship, it helped me ask the question on bravery and foolishness. I looked up brave in the concordance, only one reference, from Isaiah 3:18, the word used translated better as ‘superficial display’ and is condemned by God. Paul talks about running the race with honesty and integrity. I recall something about ‘be brave, be honest, be true’, but I think that’s from the Scouts, not the Bible.
Bravery seems more to be doing away with superficial show and pretence, living in a way that consciously reflects our deepest commitments, counting the cost and preparing with God to meet whatever life throws at us.
Rev Rob Dummermuth, minister of the Word with the West Nullabor Patrol for Frontier Services, minister at Esperance Uniting Church and member of the Disaster Relief and Recovery Working Group. Rob has volunteered with emergency services such as the State Emergency Service (SES) and the Bush Fire Brigade for over 50 years.