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Norris Burkes

Spirit Matters Columnist

About This Author

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of the book No Small Miracles. He is a retired chaplain for the Sacramento VA Hospital and the Air National Guard.

Articles by this author

See No Evil

Not long ago I treated my daughter Brittney to lunch at Falafel & Shawarma Planet, a Mediterranean restaurant on Florin Road.

From behind the counter, the owner took our order and went back to prepare our food. The dining room was empty. We dawdled a moment to ogle the baklava display case.

The front door opened and a man walked up behind us.

“Don’t move,” the stranger told Brittney. “And don’t panic,” he whispered.

How could I not panic? I thought. We were alone with a “whispering mugger.”

I cautiously turned my head so I could describe him for police: light complexion African American male, 5-foot-6, average build, wearing athletic sweatpants and a jogging jacket.

Then I asked myself if I assumed him to be robber just because he was Black?

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More Than Facts

To be honest, I hate to hear someone begin a sentence with, “To be honest.”

The phrase seems to say, “Get ready, I’m really going to let you have it.”

Nevertheless, to be honest, I really hate coffee.

I know hate is a strong word coming from a spiritual columnist. But I think it’s best to be straightforward.

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Paws For Love

During my years as a chaplain for Sutter Medical Center, I usually flew solo for patient visits.

While I was occasionally interrupted by a well-meaning staff member offering an unsolicited prayer, or even an overambitious clergy pressing his or her theology, I was happy to yield my sacred patient space to Toby.

Like me, Toby preferred to work off leash. That’s because he was a therapy dog, a Queensland heeler, a pun not lost on our healing team. He liked people of all flavors, having never met a human he wouldn’t lick.

Part of my duties was to conduct a support group at Sutter Senior Care, a daycare support facility for elderly people.

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Wine Not?

In 2009, I was senior chaplain responsible for Sunday worship services at the Air Force Field Hospital in Balad, Iraq.

One Sunday, a few hours before our 10 a.m. service, I watched my sleepwalking chaplain assistant, Sgt. Peoples, fuss with chapel arrangements as if preparing for a pope.

He adorned the altar with properly colored cloths. He arranged the folding chairs, loaded with Bibles. Pouring the communion cups was his last job.

“How many cups should I prepare, Sir?”

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Sworn Testimony

If you can imagine how frustrated a preacher would have to be to swear a blue streak, then you might understand the old expression, “It’s enough to make a preacher cuss.”

I grew up in a Baptist church, so it’s safe to say I never heard a preacher cuss. But that changed when I began my Air Force chaplain’s career at Mather Air Force Base.

The Rancho Cordova base is now a civilian airport, but I spent three years there as a first lieutenant under the mentoring of five active-duty chaplains.

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