Nov 18, 2016

Six years ago, I deployed to Panama with members of an Air Force construction squadron called Red Horse. Ours was a humanitarian mission to build schools and clinics along the swampland of the Darién Gap.

Since there wasn’t much call for my counseling or preaching skills inside a construction camp, I made myself useful mixing the mud the airman used to lay the concrete block.

My efforts got me noticed because one day, an airman confided, “You don’t seem like most ministers I’ve met.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said feigning offense.

“No, I don’t mean it in a bad way,” he said. “It’s just that some of the pastors I’ve met seem so . . .” his voice trailed in search for a word he could use with a chaplain.

“Stuffy? Unreachable?” I suggested, having heard this criticism of other colleagues.

“Yeah. That’s it,” he said, “You’re different, not stuffy.”

While he said “different” in a complimentary way, other folks haven’t been so kind to me with the word.

For instance, last month, readers reproached me about the tattoo I got to commemorate the two marathons I’ve run. Other readers have taken offense at my rare use of the word “damn” or “hell.” Readers have scolded me over my impatience, my “gambling spree” on the eve of my wedding, and even how I retrieved my soiled chaplain’s hat from a toilet.

Most of the faultfinders tell me that some of my practices make me way too “different” from what a “man of God” should say or do.

Nevertheless, I keep writing, because the majority of my readers tell me they gain hope from hearing about the human side of struggling with my faith. I even get positive emails from atheists and agnostics who confide in me about their struggles. That bothers my pastor a bit, but he understands I’m different.

Fifteen years ago, my column began under the name “Spirituality in Everyday Life” because editors saw what I took for granted. Namely, if you can’t make faith work in the everyday places where you live and work, then what good is it?

Faith that can’t be translated and transported into our everyday lives, like at a construction site, is unworkable faith. And I say we should leave that kind of worthless faith with those stuffy ministers that the airman mentioned.

Faith can be messy work, sometimes even harder than mixing mud and pushing it in a steep ramp in a wheelbarrow.

I suppose that’s why the Apostle Paul urged us to: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you … his good purpose.”

That means, like you, I must try to work out the rough spots of my faith; make sense of life as I can and find others to hold me up along the way. Like you, I must try to connect with my family of faith, and to do unto others, as I’d have them do to me.

I hope you too will try to be different. Because at the end of the day, folks won’t notice our faith because of our patriotism, public prayers, Christian movies, music, apparel, or even our bumper stickers. They’ll know we are different by our love. Vive la difference.

– Write Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.