Norris Burkes: Field trip leads to cultic understanding
In 1978, I took a cults class from James Leo Garrett at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. After several weeks of lecture, Garrett announced that the best way to explain a cult was to visit one.
His field trip of choice was a religious offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church called “The Branch.”
On the morning of the visit, he offered some “preflight” ins... Read on...
Before the parade, some facts first
Before you leave for the Veterans Day parade, there are five things I think vets would like you to know. Of course, I can’t speak for all vets, so I consulted the 2011 Pew Research Center poll of 2,500 vets and 2,000 civilians.
• First, most us would have you know we don’t like war. Yes, we train for it, practice it, and do it well, but we don’t like it. We know better than any legislator that war involves battle and as Col. Dave Hackwort... Read on...
When it became no laughing matter
In the fall of 1990, my ministry career transitioned from parish pastor to hospital chaplain, all by way of an internship at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
My one-year training involved multiple calls from the emergency room where, between the usual gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents, I learned to recognize the symptoms of ritualistic child abuse, the smell of maggots in infected wounds and the risks of using animals for... Read on...
Round of golf put me on mission from God
After taking a series of golf lessons this summer, I recently took my friend, Roger, to a championship course so he could help with my game. We arrived to find our Saturday morning tee time so busy that the starter teamed us with two strangers.
The golfers, in their mid-40s, introduced themselves as Bill and Vick. When I warned the hapless pair that I was a new golfer, Vick gave an uncaring shrug while Bill lit a cigarette and blew plumes into the cloudless day.... Read on...
Only the grieving know true cost of war
I can hardly attend a Memorial Day service without remembering the true cost of war. It is a cost I’ve counted during my visits to more than 30 community homes as part of a death notification team delivering news no one wants to hear.
When most people imagine these notification teams, they see them through the lens of their own social experience. They invent a three-bedroom house where Mom is making dinner and Dad is helping a younger sibling with homework... Read on...
Unexpected death brings lessons for living
In the aftermath of most tragedies, like the bombing of the Boston Marathon, civil authorities will often focus on improving the safety of future public events.
As a parent and grandparent, I will applaud these efforts — to a point.
I have always been a safety advocate. I raised my children with such an awareness of safety that they called me the “safety officer.&rd... Read on...
It's OK to pray for animals
As a VA hospital chaplain, I begin most weekday mornings by visiting patients with critical diagnoses such as cancer, cardiac problems or liver failure. However, a nurse recently stopped me outside a patient’s room with a critical prayer request of her own.
“Do you pray for animals?” she asked.
My eyes swirled with hesitant patterns. I couldn’t help but think of my dog, Toby. He&rsquo... Read on...
Sometimes silence can speak volumes
If you’ve experienced a major loss in your life, you’ve probably had people say to you, “I’m so sorry. I just don’t know what to say.”
So why is it that they somehow manage to open their mouths anyway?
Years ago, I was walking past the glass-enclosed surgical waiting room in the Houston hospital where I served as the chaplain. I stopped when my eye caught a surgical nurse w... Read on...
Don't assume that I make assumptions
When people ask me what the most important lesson I’ve learned from hospital chaplaincy, I say, “Don’t assume.”
The advice encompasses all walks of life, but in the hospital, there are three specific things I try not to assume: relationships, my own ability to comfort, and personal beliefs.
First, I’ve discovered that it’s best not to assume relationships. That’s why ... Read on...
Trouble, forgiveness comes in threes
Twenty-seven years ago, I was a newly minted Air Force chaplain when I asked my mentor, Chaplain Major Ron Kelling, to name the top three ways chaplains get in trouble.
Kelling, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot, had no trouble squeezing out a rapid-fire answer.
“It’s either money or women!”
He mentioned money because military chaplains ... Read on...