October 3, 2015

This week begins my 15th year of writing this column. The anniversary is causing me to reflect on the purpose of why I write this weekly column for you.

First, a bit of history. I began writing the column in October 2001 when then-Features Editor Tom Clifford of FLORIDA TODAY asked me to pen a spiritual response to 9/11.

Since then, my column has spawned two books and numerous speaking opportunities, and it runs in 38 papers nationwide — including the latest one in Montgomery, Alabama, where Tom Clifford now is executive editor.

So whether you’ve been reading from the start or began just recently, I hope you see that I didn’t set out to write a religious column. From the beginning, I’ve tried to write about spirituality among everyday people in everyday life.

Much of the time, I have done that through the stories of people I meet, but sometimes I do it through self-deprecating humor aimed at giving you a glimpse into the personal struggles of a chaplain.

Unfortunately, not all of my readers see the point of my writing about personal failings in such a transparent and public way. In fact, some have written scathing letters criticizing me for the faith flubs I’ve dared to share.

For instance, 10 years ago I was working as a chaplain when I wrote about the sensuous thoughts I had while getting a haircut from a female barber. An outraged reader called the hospital where I worked and left this voicemail so that all my colleagues could hear her say: “How can a 45-year-old minister have such thoughts? I thought you were a man of God. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

Nevertheless, I keep writing, because most readers tell me they gain hope from hearing about my flops in faith. I even get positive e-mails from atheists and agnostics who reciprocate by sharing their struggles.

As a Christian, I also try to help people see the human side of Jesus. In fact, as I once said in a column, “If you can’t imagine Jesus stepping behind a tree to relieve himself, then you’re not seeing him as human.” Yup, I was buried with reproachful emails.

It was this human side of faith that inspired Clifford to subtitle my column, “Spirituality in Everyday Life.” Because, in the month after 9/11, he saw what I took for granted — namely that if you can’t make faith work in everyday places where you live, work, and die, then what good is it?

I say none.

There still is one area of struggle that I share with most ministers — a fear of disappointing others. It goes with the job, I suppose. So at the end of my writing day, I try to remind myself of the Apostle Paul who said, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you … his good purpose.”

However, at the end of the writing day I mostly write to please two people, my editor and my wife. And it was the latter who asked me, “Don’t you think this column is a bit self-indulgent?”

“Pardon me?” I asked.

“Never mind,” she said. “I guess that’s what a column is — a moment of self-indulgence.”

“Maybe the editors won’t notice,” I said.

“Maybe not,” she said, just before adding: “Happy anniversary, dear.”

Send comments to ask@thechaplain.net or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain. Leave your recorded comments at (843) 608-9715. Visit my website at www.thechaplain.net where you can download a free chapter from my new book, “Hero’s Highway.”