Norris Burkes: The chaplain answers some FAQs about his personal business | Columnists

Ruben Onsu

Before the quarantine, I often traveled the country, speaking for church and civic groups. Afterward, I hosted Q&As for audience members. I’ve not yet booked post-COVID-19 speaking engagements, so I thought today’s column would be a good place to share the answers to some frequently asked questions. Q: Why does […]

Before the quarantine, I often traveled the country, speaking for church and civic groups. Afterward, I hosted Q&As for audience members.

I’ve not yet booked post-COVID-19 speaking engagements, so I thought today’s column would be a good place to share the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: Why does my email come back as “undelivered?”

A: Dear reader, I’m not a mime and my first name isn’t Charlie. I mention that because chaplain is commonly misspelled as Chaplin, like the 1920s English mime. My title, C-h-a-p-l-A-i-n, has two As which spells the difference between, Chaplin, the silent actor, and Norris, the opinionated chaplain.

Q: How did you become a newspaper columnist?

A: In the summer of 2001, I took my son on a Boy Scouts camping trip where I met Florida Today editor Tom Clifford. After I shared chaplain stories around the campfire, Clifford asked me to send him some drafts for a spirituality column. It seemed like an easy gig until Tom asked me to begin by writing a spiritual response to the attack on the World Trade Center.

Q: How can I become a newspaper columnist?

A: Unless you know Tom, you’ll need to take your chances with a syndicate like Tribune Media, Hearst or Creators. 

Q: What kind of email do you get?

A: I get sad ones, mad ones and lots of sweet ones. The first two are those I remember most.

Q: Do you answer them all?

A; Mostly, just not always in a timely or coherent manner. However, I’m no Ann Landers, so I don’t offer personal advice or engage with political or theological issues.

Q: Are you Democrat or Republican?

A: I decline to answer.

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Q: How long does it take you to write your columns?

A: Which column do you mean? My first draft? Or the 15 revisions that follow? (The real answer is 12 to 15 hours.)

Q: Where do you get your column ideas?

A: From news events, family stories, chaplain experience or the Bible. Sometimes I don’t have any idea and that’s why I write columns like this one.

Q: How long have you been writing this column?

A: It’ll be 20 years in October.

Q: Do you live here?

A: Define “here.” I write for 35 papers nationwide from my home in Auburn, Calif.

Q: Can you come to our town to speak?

A: Yes. Like the Old West circuit-riding preachers, I’m a have-Bible-will-travel chaplain. I’m fully vaccinated and rearing to return to public speaking.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I have a double major in journalism and religion from Baylor University. I have a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction from Pacific University and I’m halfway through my Masters in Journalism from nearby University of Nevada, Reno. (No one ever asks that question, but I thought it would be fun to tell you.)

Q: What kind of minister are you?

A; I’m a “recovering Baptist.” I attend a 12-step group where we must acknowledge that there’s a higher power than the Southern Baptist Convention. The true answer depends on the day. I’m often a sad one, a confused one, a happy one or an empathetic one. But today, I’m just a wisecracking chaplain who hopes to have given you a smile or two.

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