I was only ten years old when my father told our family that his congenital heart problem would likely cause his death within the next twenty years.
His announcement prompted me to do some calculations– both mathematical and social. I already knew my times tables, so addition was easy. I would hardly be past thirty when he would likely die.
My sister’s social estimates argued that Dad’s death wouldn’t present much of a problem for me. “He’ll be here for your college and your wedding,” she promised. By that time I’d already met Mrs. Chaplain, but I didn’t yet see the possibilities.
That worry assuaged my immediate fears but started me thinking about how old I might be when I died. Fifty? Sixty? Or more? Would I live past that wondrous year of 2000, the date futurists predicted life would be filled with amazing things like space travel and pushbutton jobs?
Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I made it past my first few predictions, past the turn of the century and into my fifties. After all, I avoid all the “risk related behaviors.” I’m a monogamous nonsmoker who doesn’t drink, or drive without a seatbelt. OK, maybe I drink a little wine as Paul suggests for “my stomach’s sake,” but mostly only with poets or priests.
Given my current lifestyle, statistics tell me that I’ll live quite a few more years. And, as we all know, statistics don’t lie — statisticians do of course, but that’s another matter.
Now, as my 54th birthday approaches in October, (gift cards can be sent to my PO Box) I’m recalculating my odds. I’m twenty pounds overweight. I don’t commonly eat vegetables, unless you count corn, corn on the cob and cream corn. No, those aren’t the only veggies I eat. I also eat plenty of potatoes – fried, scalloped, and mashed.
Not only are my culinary habits likely to spoil my morbidity calculations, but they also constitute what the Bible calls gluttony — not exactly a favorite sermon topic of most ministers. After all, “fat-preacher” was a hyphenated word in the Baptist tradition I grew up in.
In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a story almost exclusively mentioned for its sexual debaucheries, the prophet Ezekiel quotes an indictment handed down by God for a much different kind of sin.
“‘The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury—proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.”
Zeke’s assessment sounds very much like the pronouncements coming from America’s health community. According to the National Institute of Health, two-thirds of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese while as many as 1 in 6 American children go to bed hungry.
The crusty old prophet was clear. Sodom is a town Americans might remember as we battle our bulge and balance our budget. Sodomites lived shorter lives, not so much because of their sexually risky behavior, but because they lived, selfish, lazy and gluttonous lives without ever extending their hands to help the poor and the hungry.
At the end of the day Sodom is a town that reminds me that I don’t want to be found counting down my days; I want to be found making my days count for God.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at (321) 549-2500, E-mail him at [email protected], visit his website at www.thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.