By Norris Burkes Ledger Jan 13, 2019

OK, folks, today I’m asking for your best Clint Eastwood impression by repeating these words aloud: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

If you did half as well as Eastwood did in his portrayal of “Dirty Harry,” you’ll likely have the room jumping.

The maxim gives solid guidance. However, it’s advice I neglected 15 years ago when I was deployed to an undisclosed location far out onto the sand dunes.

It was a blisteringly hot afternoon when I decided to take a stroll toward our perimeter defenses in hopes of making a morale visit with our Security Forces personnel.

As I walked into their camp, I found a group of cops anxiously unpacking ammunition boxes.

“What’s up, guys?” I asked, a little short of situational awareness.

“We’re a little too busy to chat, Chaplain,” said a perturbed sergeant.

I must have looked a little hurt because their officer appeased me with an explanation.

“Intel reports suggest an attack tonight, so we need to load ammunition magazines for our M-16s.”

“In that case, you’ll need all the help you can get,” I said.

“Agreed,” said an airman offering me a stool and a short tutorial on handling ammunition.

Gratefully, I was soon multitasking — loading magazines and facilitating the chat session I’d come for. I was a happy chappy with folks talking about food, families and weather.

After about 20 minutes, I heard someone loudly clearing their throat. I turned around to see an orange-vested officer standing on our perimeter.

“Chaplain, just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“Morale visit, Sir. Just chatting up our cops.”

“I mean with your hands!” he said pointing to the magazine I was loading.

Note: This is the moment where I disclose my previously undisclosed location – the dunes of Central Florida. This was a military exercise, a dress rehearsal for combat.

The irritated officer was an inspector.

“Captain Burkes,” he growled. “You KNOW chaplains are non-combatants and forbidden by the Geneva Convention to have anything to do with weapons — most especially during an inspection.″

Wowzer, I can tell you that a superior addressing a chaplain by rank is like hearing your mom using your middle name.

He was right, of course. Chaplains who violate this rule in a real deployment are subject to court martial.

I knew the rule applied to guns, but hadn’t given thought to magazines. Obviously I’d lost sight of my limitations.

As a military chaplain, I had to abide by certain rules of engagement that limited my religious freedoms. For instance, in addition to being unarmed, I couldn’t proselytize, nor could I bring parochial prayers to mandatory formations.

Some of my pastor colleagues balked at such restrictions. However, by knowing and accepting my limitations, I was rewarded the high honor of being present with servicemembers as they walked into harm’s way.

These limitations aren’t much different for many of you who carry your faith into workplaces. A teacher can’t preach to his students. An executive can’t thump her employees with biblical proclamations. A foreman can’t limit his hiring to those from his faith preference. These rules of engagement are about respect, not political correctness.

However, these limitations needn’t keep you from becoming a light in your field. The contrary is true. Keeping the rules of engagement should mean that your light shines ever brighter as it shows your esteem for co-workers.

By the way, I ran afoul of one other limitation that day. The Florida heat index shot up so high that 10 people dropped from heat exhaustion. When Slap Happy Chappy became No. 11, the orange vest declared, “ENDEX.” (End Exercise.)

All together now — “A man’s gotta know his limitations!”

Norris Burkes will be speaking at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation 3140 Troy Ave in Lakeland. More information at 863-646-3715. He is also appearing at 6 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church in Auburndale and will speak on “Lessons of Forgiveness from a Warzone.”

Contact Chaplain Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759 or leave your best Eastwood impression on voicemail 843-608-9715.