By Norris Burkes Jan 31 2021

Working for a small county hospice in rural northern Calif., I’ve been privileged to get my first COVID vaccine.

The “Victory Vax,” as I call it, emboldened my wife to send me out for a haircut. “The peach fuzz around your collar is beginning to bear fruit,” she said.

I set course for the discount barber. This is the place where a man cites his preferred size of clipper guard (#2 on the sides, #4 on the top) and receives a facsimile of his old Air Force haircut with a half-inch top.

I’m not a big talker in the barber’s chair, but my twenty-something stylist soon had us talking about vaccines in muffled tones from under our masks.

“Will you get one?” I asked her.

“No,” she answered, as if broadcasting to her manager pacing outside on a smoke break.

“I don’t trust vaccines. I’ve even heard that some nurses are refusing them.”

“Maybe that’s because they know how to wear a mask.” I mumbled. 

“What?” she asked shutting off her razor. 

“Yes, um, I’ve heard that too,” I said.

When she stooped to cover my knees with my apron, I saw the tattoos that covered her arms. 

She obviously had no fear of needles, so I pressed her to say more. 

“I have a great immune system. I never get sick.”

Funny, I didn’t notice that she had a superman tattoo.

“I’ll do what’s required,” she allowed. “I’ll wear a mask, do the distance, but no shots.”

Like some in my foothill community, she was no-vax to the max.

At such a young age, she’d built up her personal knowledge base and had no room for more.

Her thoughts reminded me of a heresy that troubled the early church called Gnosticism. The “g” is silent, giving us our word “knowledge.” 

Gnostics distrusted the world, believing that all earthly authority was corrupt. They believed that their salvation came only through the acquisition of secret understanding.

Subversive in nature, Gnostics whispered a “clandestine truth” by which only a small group of elite knowers had the ability to see through the so-called shams.

Sadly, this group was very self-satisfied in their belief that their opponents would be banished to a clueless hell.

I’m sure you recognize this thinking among some of today’s intolerant churches. But have you noticed the thinking isn’t exclusive to them?

Anti-vaxers, like most conspiracy theorists, share the same quasi-religious sensibility as did the Gnostics. In this secular age, they use their secrets and their exclusive discoveries as a substitute for faith. 

The world is full of these secret-keepers of health and philosophy. They’ll gladly share their secrets if only you’ll buy their merchandise or books. They’ll only share their remaining secrets when you bring your family into their pyramid scheme. 

So, what could I say to my barber?

Should I tell her that, in service to my country, I’d taken every vaccine the military required of me? Should I mention that I restrained my small children while they took the same? 

Should I tell her that my brother had just expelled his last breath expressing his faith in this bat guano pseudoscience?

No. Instead, I calmed myself long enough to share the moldy old joke about the woman who sat on her rooftop as the flood waters rose around her. 

Soon a man pulled up in a small motorboat and offered to rescue her. 

“No thank you.” She replied. “I’m waiting on the Lord to save me.” 

Not long after that, a woman repelled from a helicopter offering to save her. 

She said, “No thank you. I’m waiting on the Lord to save me.” 

Eventually, the floodwaters rose above her home and she drowned. 

While standing at the Pearly Gates she asked, “Oh Lord, why didn’t you save me?” 

The Lord replied, “I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter. What else did you want?”

The barber gave a hiccup laugh, telling me she understood my meaning. Properly worn, the CDC-approved mask was our rescue boat. Properly tested, the vaccine can be our helicopter.

Take the Victory Vax, people. Despite the current shortage, my barber made me aware that there’ll be at least one extra dose out there.


Visit or Send comments to or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.