As a retired hospital chaplain, I’m often pulled into discussions about near-death experiences.
Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are the spiritual stories people tell when they wake in the emergency room from being dead. They often recall meeting dead friends and family members or being guided toward a white light.
I have to admit that I’m inexperienced with that experience but a bit more familiar with what often leads to these NDEs. Medical folks call it “Risk-Related Behavior.”
In layman’s terms, risk-related behavior is the stupid things we do that may bring us to knock-knock on heaven’s door. Among the top four behaviors are: excessive drinking, illegal drugs, smoking and driving without a seatbelt.
The practice of any of these may well bring you to what I like to call Near (Dimwitted) Death Experience. They constitute the risks I’ve managed to avoid in my life.
In fact, during my early years of ministry, I carried Minister’s Life, a now defunct insurance company whose slogan was, “Ministers go to Heaven 23% slower.” I signed the Baptist pledge, not to smoke, drink, or chew or date girls who do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of heaven, but I didn’t really want to cut in line with risky behavior.
Of course, I have to admit that I’m blessed to have lived past the age of 13.
That’s the year I found a discarded .22 caliber bullet on my father’s disheveled workbench.
After a quick examination, I began to wonder how I might separate the bullet from its casing and use the gun powder to make a firecracker.
With all the engineering skill of an adolescent, I of course chose a hammer.
So I relocated the bullet on the sidewalk just outside our side garage door. Crouching inside that door, I reached around with the hammer and slammed the bullet several times.
After each strike, I recoiled again behind the flimsy door.
Somehow, I operated with the harebrained assumption that I could duck quicker than a bullet could fly. With one final blow, the bullet did what it was designed to do.
It exploded from the cartridge. I now presume that it landed safely, not likely achieving its 1.5-mile range.
Of course, that was only my first close call with death. Sadly, while .22 bullets are fairly quiet, this one woke my napping pastor dad.
My father brought my second NDE a few moments later when he bolted through the garage door asking what had happened.
As I stuttered my explanation, I read an expression on him that told me I might be closer to dying than I realized.
I expected him to remove his belt the way he’d done when I was a child.
But now in adolescence, I was becoming acquainted with something worse than his belt: his disappointment. I felt like dying. I’d truly surprised him with my dimwittedness and disappointed him in the worst way.
Later that day, when my mother returned with groceries, my dad declared me persona non grata when he told my mom: “Let me tell you what YOUR son did today.”
My father’s disillusionment with me taught me there really are things seemingly worse than death, like disappointing those who love you.
Since that little incident, my prayer has always been, “God, I know I have to die someday, just please don’t let it be doing something stupid.”
The Christian Scripture adds that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
If that’s true, I can only pray that the judgment pronouncement I hear following my death won’t be my family and friends mumbling over my grave, “Idiot! What an idiot!”
Syndicated columnist Chaplain Norris Burkes began his chaplain career with both the active-duty Air Force and the Air National Guard until his retirement in 2014. He later served as a board-certified healthcare chaplain at Sutter Memorial, Kaiser, Methodist and Mather VA hospitals and continues to work with area Hospice. His column is syndicated to more than 35 accredited news outlets. Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net.
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