When a recent reader left me a voicemail suggesting that I wasn’t worthy of my chaplain title, I shrugged. That’s OK, I thought, I’ve heard that before.
One of those occasions happened during the infamous “toilet week” of my 1999 Saudi Arabia deployment. I call it that because it’s the same week my deployment supervisor told me that I didn’t make the major’s promotion list.
“You’ll be reconsidered next year,” promised Col. Mike Bradshaw. “But trust me,” he added in his signature truism, “it’s really a one-chance-mistake-Air-Force.’ You won’t remain active duty.”
For the next few weeks my mind wasn’t in the game. I felt like I was a terminally ill patient who’d been told to get his affairs in order.
Then, one morning as I entered the men’s room stall, I completely lost it – my hat that is. I’d forgotten how I’d stored my hat in the traditional military manor, tucked into my beltline at the small of my back. When I stood to do my “paperwork” I noticed that “some careless fool” ditched his hat in my toilet.
First, I wondered, why hadn’t I previously noticed this? But my second and more sober observation was that this fool’s hat had a Christian cross on it. The fool was me.
Looking at my hat with the Christian cross affixed, I wondered if God was telling me that my chaplain career was in the toilet. If so, was the military my only path of ministry? Or were there other venues? I didn’t know that answer.
I had no choice but to go to the chapel office and ask our NCOIC (office manager) for a new hat.
As I unfolded my story, he folded himself in half with stroke-inducing laughter.
He then demanded I give him “one good reason” why he should issue me a new hat.
“Well,” I admitted, “yes, there are a few bad officers with a head full of crap. But don’t you think it takes a really good officer to admit that?”
Hearing my logic, he fell, hysterically beating the floor with his fist. “I give up, Chaplain,” he declared. “You got your new hat.”
The Bible says in James 5:16, “Make this your common practice: confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.”
I confessed my mistake — my sin — and got a new hat. But better than that, I got a new ministry.
For you see, despite my sinking feeling that my career was flushed in the crapper of chaplain careerism, I had a creatively hysterical moment in which I sent an email about my hat-full to dozens of friends. One of them was a newspaper editor who thought it was riotously funny.
In October 2001, the editor invited me to begin writing this column, Spirituality in Everyday Life. Now after writing nearly 650 syndicated columns about my life as both a hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard (Lt Col) chaplain, I can only say, “Trust me, Chaplain Bradshaw, God was never finished with me.”
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, email him at about:firstname.lastname@example.org