Norris Burkes: On 20th Anniversary, Chaplain Reflects on Faith, Humor and Charity | Chroniclers
This week, I celebrated my 20th birthday as a union columnist. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., I submitted 600 words to my editor – 52 weeks a year multiplied by 20 years. You do the math.
My column began in Florida Today on October 5, 2001, the month following September 11. Editor Tom Clifford asked me to write a witty response to the terrorist attacks.
“Of course,” came my sarcastic response. “No problem. I’ll just get this out.
But I settled in and wrote an article that ended with:
“If the fear of death prevents us from living, loving and aspiring to a peaceful future, then the planes that toppled the World Trade Center will also have succeeded in overturning the foundations of a peaceful society. Death is near, but life can be closer, and I choose life.
Clifford quickly titled the column “Spirituality in Everyday Life”. The theme seeks to prove that faith is useless if it does not work in everyday life.
My wife Becky often calls this column the best I have ever written.
My answer is always the same: “So everything has been downhill since?”
She rolls her eyes.
In 2002 I told you how she helped a student save a runaway pig in vacation traffic.
“Becky raised her arms faster than a charismatic in a tented wake-up meeting to brutally stop four lanes as the young woman chased after her pig. Cars whirled around and bacon squeaked as the young girl cornered her chase through the bushes by the side of the road.
In 2003, I shared the impact of gun violence on my depression. In the aftermath of the mass shooting in the schoolyard in Cleveland Elementary, I was asked to tell parents that they had lost a child.
“She didn’t cry,” I wrote of a mother. “Neither she nor her son even moved. But suddenly, in something that can only be described as some kind of emotional ventriloquism, her grief began to pierce her son’s eyes and a small tear made its way down his frozen face.
Everyday spirituality is also laughing at myself, so I didn’t hesitate to make fun of myself. I told you about dropping my military hat in the bathroom, dropping my pants in the gym, and accidentally stealing a packet of toilet paper.
In 2009, readers sent me packages and letters of support while I was chaplain at the Air Force Field Hospital in Balad, Iraq.
There, I wrote about a soldier who asked me to help him pray that “God will forgive the insurgents who killed my friend”.
“What would that kind of prayer look like? ” I asked.
“Do you know the prayer that Jesus said on the cross? he coaxed, as if trying to remind me of a forgotten password. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness continued to be a theme of my writing as I shared my struggle to forgive a former colleague in 2011.
“Over the years the pain in my head grew so much that I created something much bigger than it really was. In my revised version, it wasn’t just critical. He was a big liar to have me. He was paranoid. It was… blah, blah, blah, went my revised side of the story.
Readers have even followed me with reassuring support as Becky and I sold all of our possessions in 2015 to travel the world.
“We drew a budget line in the sand to state that we had more than enough stuff. We said goodbye to all the things that weighed on us. We saw the wisdom in Hebrews 12: 1 biblical exhortation to “reject all that hinders and the sin that gets tangled up so easily.” “
But the biggest reward of my 20 years is the way you readers have supported Chispa project, a non-profit organization started by my daughter Sara to establish libraries in elementary schools in Honduras. You have not only donated thousands of dollars in the past five years, but you have come to Honduras on a volunteering trip. Your response inspired the National Society of Newspaper Columnists to introduce me to the 2019 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.
On top of that, you bought my books, hosted me for speeches, and sent me hundreds of compassionate emails and letters.
I have been aiming for 25 years for 20 years. Hope you can join me.