MELBOURNE — Injecting humor into a message isn’t anything new for Norris Burkes.
The longtime pastor sprinkles it into his “Spirituality” column for FLORIDA TODAY every Sunday. And, when appropriate, he has employed it in his 24 years as a military chaplain.
But Friday night, for the first time, Burkes relied solely on humor to entertain more than 100 fans gathered at Florida Institute of Technology. Channeling a white-haired stand-up comedian like Steve Martin, Burkes shed the pulpit for a stool on a stage bathed in spotlights.
There was a message behind the talk, though: Laughing is a way to cope with whatever life has to throw at you. Through anecdotal humor, the former Space Coast resident who now lives in California delivered that message.
There’s laughing through life itself.
As a youngster, he recalled, he was issued a citation for impersonating a police officer after walking into a store with a Polaroid of his friend and asking people if they had seen this “wanted fugitive.” He then sent his friend into the store.
“We were good thespians,” he said. “That sounds like a bad word to a Baptist.”
There’s laughing through love.
Pastors, he said, would rather conduct funerals than weddings. They’re good at helping hurting people, but people getting married tend to be a little picky. One couple, for example, wanted the “until death do us part” portion of their vows replaced with “until love parts.” That was a deal-breaker.
“The first time you burn the toast, love will part,” he said. “But you’ve got to stay with it.”
There’s laughing through loss.
When he served as a chaplain at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the first five rocket launches he prayed for were successful. But the sixth was a failure, prompting launch managers to demand that Burkes step up his game with God.
“You have these losses at the workplace sometimes,” he said. “Life is just a series of losses. I lost my boyish figure.”
Burkes’ talk, “Laughing through Life, Love and Loss,” elicited a raucous response from the audience, such as Marie Hannah of Cocoa, who said, “I’m in favor of laughter all around.”
“I enjoy laughing,” Burkes said. “A preschooler laughs 200 times a day. Adults laugh seven times. Does that make me a preschooler?”
Contact Knapp at 321-242-3669 or [email protected].