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Keeping the Fire Under Control

How to manage your passion (uses the 200th anniversary of the first test of the Davy Lamp for use in coal mines)

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To encourage students to consider the role that personal feelings play within their relationships and projects (SEAL theme: Managing feelings).

Preparation and materials

Assembly

Leader: For centuries coal mining was a major industry not only in the UK but throughout the rest of the developing world. The Industrial Revolution was largely powered by coal, the energy to drive increasingly complicated machinery coming from the ignition of this fossil fuel. Yet coal mining itself was an incredibly dangerous occupation. The problem was that coal was not the only flammable substance found down a coal mine.

Reader: Trapped within the seams of coal was a mixture of gases known as firedamp. As the coal was excavated, this firedamp was released. The major ingredient of firedamp was methane, a highly flammable gas.
Light for the miners was provided by oil lamps, each one with a naked flame. When the methane met the flame from a lamp there was often an explosion. Sometimes the explosion was so great that the mine shaft was shattered and many lives were lost.

Leader: Sir Humphry Davy, a leading 19th-century scientist, was given the job of inventing a lamp that was safe enough to use in conditions where firedamp was present. Following extensive experiments, the prototype Davy lamp was first tested 200 years ago, on 9 January 1816, in Hebburn Colliery in the north east of England. It consisted of a conventional oil lamp encased in a wire gauze tube.

Show image of Davy Lamp, if available.

The Davy Lamp worked safely because the gauze absorbed heat from the flame and also prevented methane gas from meeting the flame in significant amounts to ignite explosively. The gas was instead ignited slowly and safely, and was in fact used as additional fuel for the lamp. Because the gauze was full of holes, the light produced provided the illumination needed for the miners to work.

Reader: The result was beneficial in two ways. Firstly, there was increased safety for the miners. They could see to do their job and the number of fatalities was reduced massively. Secondly, the owners now had the advantage that mines could become deeper. Untapped seams of coal could now be mined, increasing production and profits.

Time for reflection

Leader: What are your energy levels like? I don't simply mean how long can you continue with a project. I mean what ignites you, what drives you on to success, what motivates you? Whenever we choose to commit ourselves to a task, there is something that gives us the desire to get involved.

Reader: For some people, it's because they possess a great desire to win. They will train, take the pain, ignore the setbacks and continue until eventually they succeed.

Leader: Others passionately believe that a wrong must be set right. They will campaign, argue, march . . . whatever it takes to persuade a government, council or public opinion to change.

Reader: Love is another motivator. In order to impress someone, to win their love in return, some people will, literally, walk 500 miles, or something similar.

Leader: One person may have the psychological need to take on new challenges: a 10k run leads to a marathon, which leads to a triathlon, and so on.

Reader: Finally, there are those whose religious or political beliefs inspire them to work for a better world. It's like the coal that fired the boilers to make the machines of the Industrial Revolution work. It's our passion.

Leader: However, passion can get out of hand. It can sometimes explode, like the methane that was released, and cause damage to ourselves and to others. It's possible to over-train, to submit to drug abuse, to hate our opponents in order to win.

Reader: Peaceful protest can turn ugly as frustration leads to violence.

Leader: Love can, sadly, often be blind, leading us into highly embarrassing situations.

Reader: As one challenge leads to another, there's always the question about where everything's going to stop. We can't go on forever.

Leader: Which leaves us with the religious and political fanatics. History books are full of examples of those who sacrificed fame, relationships and even life itself for a cause that was eventually shown to be flawed.

So should we all ‘calm down’ a little? I hope not. I'd like to see students and staff in this school who are inspired about what they're doing. I'd like to see winners, people who love, those who fight injustice and face challenges and who have deeply held beliefs. I'd like this to be a school driven by energy. But I'd suggest that we also know when and where to hold ourselves back.
Maybe this is a role we should play for one another, mentoring and monitoring so we don't cross the boundary. We would be a bit like the gauze that surrounds the flame, that doesn't merely prevent the explosion, but allows the fire to burn a bit brighter and a bit longer.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Thank you for the things that motivate us to get involved.
May we recognize what motivates us, and allow ourselves to filled with energy by it.
May we together move forward in ways that are constructive and helpful, without exploding and causing damage.
Amen.

Music

‘Light my fire’ by The Doors

Publication date: January 2016   (Vol.18 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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