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Several 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 to rectify my shortcoming with some lessons.
With only a few years before retirement, I was on my annual training in San Luis Obispo when I found an opportunity to play my first game with fellow chaplains.
Father John Love, Chaplain Mike Beyer and Chaplain Assistant Robert “Web” Webster reserved an after-duty tee time on the Morro Bay Golf Course, a breathtaking public course edged by 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 Masters Tournament. I jumped up and down, screaming like a lunatic.
“What happened to the meek inheriting the earth?” asked Web, my ever-helpful chaplain assistant.
“Hey,” I said, “What’s wrong with ‘He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.’”
Beyer groaned at the tired old quote from the 20th century 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 raised their heads 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 translation called “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 recently 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 doesn’t praise my writing ability as much as it applauds your reaction to my 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 learned that your donations have started dozens of new libraries in Honduras and, moreover, that 10 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 a big head. Just bow, please.
Let me do my job as I jump up and down and tooteth for you!
Norris Burkes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento. Burkes is available for public speaking at civic organizations, places of worship, veterans groups and more. For details and fees, visit thechaplain.net.