By Norris Burkes June 23 2019

A few times during my years in the Air National Guard, folks jokingly asked me how I became an officer without knowing how to play golf. Their questions finally challenged me a few years back to rectify my shortcoming with some lessons

With only a few years before retirement I was on my Annual Training in San Luis Obispo Calif., when I found an opportunity to play my first game with fellow chaplains.

Father John Love, Chaplain Mike Beyer and our chaplain assistant, Robert “Web” Webster reserved a foursome on the Morro Bay course, a breath-taking public course edged on the Pacific Ocean. 

I’ll not tell you about my first three shots, but somewhere off the fourth hole, I sent a ball soaring so far and hard that I thought it might sink a passing dingy. Amazingly, it plopped just 30 feet short of the hole.

To a new golfer, the shot felt like I’d just won the Master’s Tournament. I jumped up and down, screaming like a lunatic.

“What happened to the meek inheriting the earth?” asked my ever-helpful chaplain assistant.

 “Hey,” I said, “What’s wrong with, ‘He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shallnot be tooted.”

Beyer groaned at the tired old quote from the 20thcentury journalist, Damon Runyon.

I was ready to pop the champagne, but Father Love lassoed my big head and pulled me back down to the greens.

“Norris” he advised, “that was fantastic, but in golf, when you hit a superb shot, you must assume a humble quiet stance.”

“Like this,” he said, bowing his head and joining his hands together below his belt. 

“Then, you wait for it.”

“Wait for what?” I asked.

 “Wait for us to do our job.” He said. “We’re the cheering section. Not you.”

I did as I was instructed, dropping my head in silence.

On cue, Love and Beyer threw their arms to the sky, raving over the beauty of the trajectory, speed, and landing. Web, just folded at the waist, amused to see his chaplain humbled a bit.

Aside from teaching me golf etiquette, the guys were highlighting a tricky question we face in life when we reach a pinnacle of accomplishment. Do we toot our own horn or do we wait, head bowed, to be showered with accolades?

The Apostle Paul seemed to think we could do no wrong electing the humble stance. Eugene Peterson astutely paraphrased Paul’s words in the dynamic and highly idiomatic translationcalled “The Message.”

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life… — then do me a favor: …. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

It was a lesson I humbly took to New York this week where the National Society of Newspaper Columnists presented me with the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.

Now, before you say I’m tooting my own horn, you should know that this award isn’t so much to recognize me for my writing ability as it’s presented for your reaction to the writing.

In this case, the award recognizes your response to the columns I wrote about the Chispa Project, a humanitarian effort directed by my daughter Sara to start libraries in Honduras.

When the Will Rogers Writers Foundation found out that your donations have started dozens of new libraries in Honduras and, moreover, that a dozen of you flew to Honduras last year to assemble a library the Foundation thought it was time for a little PDA, Public Display of Appreciation.  

That means the award is not so much my award — it’s yours! 

But don’t get the big head! Just please bow.

Let me do my job as I jump up and down and tooteth for you!


Contact Chaplain Norris through his website at or email comment@thechaplain.netor 10566 Combie Rd.

Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain