Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bonfire

video

It started out as a project to just clean up the beach of fallen trees and branches cast down from the wall cleaning project. We made some piles of wood, and naturally, the idea of burning it came to mind. I asked the fire department for a burn permit, but that season ended in April. Then the crew from the fire station came around to do their routine safety check to make sure brush and combustible fuels were far enough away from the structures. I pointed out my piles, innocently, to the chief, hoping for a tacit sign wink of permission.  He shrugged and  said something about a  "warming fire". Was that a wink?
I briefly considered just taking my chances and doing a burn some dark foggy night, but prudence got the better of me. I didn't think a wink would hold up in court if it came to it. So after a few days I went down to the station and asked about a "campfire" permit. "Sure, no problem" came the answer. "You have the right to keep warm if you're cold outside and camping." said the fireman, thus, the warming fire.
Soon I had a campfire permit in hand.
Then one of the firemen said, "Of course, if it's for religious purposes, you don't need a permit at all. If it gets out of control, though, it's on you." Ain't that always the case with religious purposes? I thought. Curious. Some vestigial remnant of independance left unregulated in modern America, the 'religious' fire. Not a Koran of course, or a cross or a church building or even an effigy. What, I wondered, would be the requisite qualifying attribute that would render my fire religious. A registered tax-exempt non-profit church camp or ceremony with credentialed affiliation with mainline denominational association? An ordained minister, clerical robes, organ music, Sunday morning, a coffee hour or potluck...? Perhaps. The fireman declined to suggest.
Oh well, it's moot now, I thought. I had the campfire permit, and any religious purpose I came up with now would be in vain, right? What a charade we as a society sometimes create with our rules and regulations! I have a right to keep warm by fire if I'm cold outside, and a right to burn a bush if God is speaking to me through it. But otherwise I need a permit from, not God, but the state. And if I have no religious intent between April and October, I need a campfire permit to burn the accumulated fallen wood littering the beach. It's good to know there are ways to render unto Ceasar as well as unto God.
It was a great evening, maybe the beginning of a regular observance, certainly the cementing of many friendships, all perfectly legal and permitted. Also, but don't tell anyone, the brush littering the beach was all rendered to ash and the tide washed it away.

Isaiah 43:2

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.