By Norris Burkes, Oct 10, 2021
This week, I celebrated my twentieth year as a syndicated columnist. Every Wednesday, by 9 a.m., I have 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 after 9/11. The editor, Tom Clifford, asked me to write a spiritual response to the terrorist attack.
“Sure,” came my sarcastic reply. “No problem. I’ll just whip that out.”
But I settled down and wrote a piece that concluded with…
“If the fear of death stops us from living, loving and longing for a peaceful future,then the planes that toppled the World Trade Center will also have succeeded in toppling the foundation of a peaceful society. Death is close, 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 doesn’t work in day-to-day living.
My wife, Becky, often calls that column the best one I’ve ever written.
My response is always the same: “So it’s all been downhill since?”
She’s rolls her eyes.
In 2002, I told you how she helped a college student save an escaped pig in holiday traffic.
“Becky threw her arms up quicker than a charismatic in a tent-revival meeting to bring four lanes to a screeching halt while the young lady ran after her pig. Cars were careening and bacon was squealing as the young girl cornered her chase in roadside bushes.”
In 2003, I shared the impact of gun violence on my depression. In the aftermath of the mass schoolyard shooting at Cleveland Elementary, I was asked to tell parents they’d lost a child.
“She did not cry,” I wrote about one mother. “Neither she nor her son even moved. But suddenly, in something that can only be described as a sort of emotional ventriloquism, her grief shown in the eyes of her surviving son’s eyes. A small tear traced a path along his frozen face.”
Everyday spirituality also means laughing at myself, so I’ve not held back on self-deprecating humor. I’ve told you about dropping my military hat in the toilet, dropping my pants in the gym and accidently stealing a package of toilet paper.
In 2009, readers sent me packages and letters of support while I served as the chaplain for the Air Force Field Hospital in Balad, Iraq.
While there I wrote about a soldier who asked me to help him pray that “God will forgive the insurgents that killed my friend.”
“What would that kind of prayer sound like?” I asked.
“You know the prayer Jesus said on the cross?” he coaxed, as if trying to remind me of a forgotten password. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
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 hurt grew so much in my head that I created something much bigger than what it really was. In my revised version, he wasn’t just critical. He was a big liar out to get me. He was paranoid. He was … blah, blah, blah, went my revised side of history.”
Readers even followed me with reassuring support as Becky and I sold all our belongings in 2015 to travel the world.
“We drew a fiscal line in the sand to declare that we had more than enough things. We said goodbye to all the stuff that weighed us down. We saw wisdom in the biblical admonition from Hebrews 12:1 to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.’”
But the greatest reward of my twenty years is how you readers have supported Chispa Project, a nonprofit started by my daughter, Sara, to establish libraries in Honduran elementary schools. You’ve not only given thousands of dollars in the past five years, but you’ve come to Honduras on volunteer trips. Your response inspired the National Society of Newspaper Columnists to present me with the 2019 Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.
In addition to that, you’ve bought my books, hosted me for speeches, and sent me hundreds of compassionate emails and letters.
It’s been such a great twenty years that I’m setting my sights on 25. Hope you can join me.
Contact Chaplain Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, Calif. 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.