I had knee surgery at Ft. McClellan. Alabama back in 1997. Later I came down on orders to move to Rose Barracks near Vilseck in Bavaria, Germany. This was a mechanized (they went to war in Bradley fighting vehicles) infantry unit and the standards for physical fitness were higher. As I trained up to meet their standards I developed an injury in the cartilage on the top of the main bone in my right ankle. This required reconstructive surgery and changed my life and career. Had this happened before 911, and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, I likely would have been given a medical discharge after only 10 years of service. However, once the wars broke out there was a shortage of chaplains and they opted to keep me and give me a permanent profile which meant I could replace the 2 mile run for the physical fitness training (PT) test with the 2-1/2 mile walk. This meant I could also stay in and deploy! My Doctor’s instructions were, “No jumping out of the back of 5 tons (a type of truck) and NO running. It went without saying that I could never join an airborne unit and jump out of an airplane. Still, they took my cast off, after wearing it for 6 months, and I deployed 17 days later to Operation Iraqi Freedom(1). My boss’s requirement for me to deploy was that I be able to wear my boots during the farewell ceremony and flight over to Iraq. I took my boots off upon arrival at the assembly area in Kuwait—because they hurt—and put on tennis shoes for the first few months, with the Doctor’s permission.
I knew the minute I had to work in Kuwait that…it was not going to be life as usual. My surgery had changed things for me and the remainder of my time on active duty in the Army. I could no longer run with the troops at morning PT or carry a heavy backpack during a road march. I could run to dodge some danger but that was about it. Doing PT with the troops is a great way for a chaplain to build repore (rapport) with them. Not being able to run with the troops was crushing because that meant I also couldn’t go on fun-runs where they ran together in mass formations—sometimes as big as a full Division of 15,000+ people–and chanted the cadence. This also meant that my career was topped out because every Commander wants a chaplain who can hang with the troops in PT and run. Nothing personal but that’s just the way the Army functions; it’s part of their culture. But this also meant that I would not get some of the choice assignments that could have furthered my career.
Why tell you this? Because my injury and subsequent surgery redefined my life and I had to accept a new normal. Things would never be the same. I had to plan for a new future and what I would do. Sound like something else we are all dealing with? Of course. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has and is doing this to the way we function as a church. I’m usually an optimists but it’s clear that the optimists have lost this one as deaths in the USA climb to near 100.000. Some people are still in denial and want to return to “The Way it was.” This is proving to be difficult and possibly impossible anytime soon. We are told that this pandemic will likely take 2-3 years to run its course. This has impacted everything from family gatherings and club activities to how we do our shopping and work. This will impact how we meet and how we worship. We will need to adjust to a new normal. This may mean any one or all of the following to include smaller groups, shorter services, more services on Sundays, the wearing of masks in worship, use of hand sanitizer, walk-by communion (instead of at the rail), etc. Some of these changes may not be comfortable or to our likings.
If our peace of mind for today is found merely in rituals, habits, the way we did it before, or what we are used to, then we will fight the tide of change but may also be caught in the rip-tide of it’s undertow; our desire to cling to the safety of human ways and conventions will be our undoing. However, if our peace of mind is bound up in Christ, in the forgiveness of our sins won by Him on the cross and in the sure hope of eternity, then we are safe; safe because He is our lifeguard. In the midst of today’s change it’s good to know that there is still a constant. The author of Hebrews tells the people in 13:8 that, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” The Lord tells the people of Israel by the prophet Malachi, “For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (3:6)” The Psalmist recites a prayer (possible of Moses) which reads, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (90:1-2).”
For those who trust in Christ, He calls them His sheep and He says of them in John 10:28-29;
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
This is the God who has called us to Himself through His Word and the washing of regeneration. This is the God who will hold us tight and get us through these difficult times. This is the God we can bank on and trust. Amen.