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 speaking engagements, so I thought today’s column a good place to share the answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
Q. Dear Chaplin Burkes. 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 A’s 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 Scout camping trip where I met Florida Today editor Tom Clifford, who is now Associate Publisher and Content Editor of Islander News. After I shared chaplain stories around the campfire, Clifford asked me to send him some drafts for a spirituality column he wanted to start. 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. OR approach your local newspaper with a proposal (and samples to show them). As the syndicates did with me, they’ll likely refer your proposal to Helen Wait. Meaning, “If you want your own column, go to Hell-n-Wait.” Newspaper editors are a bit more forgiving.
Q. What kind of email do you get?
A. Aside from one I’ll get from my mother chiding me for my potty-mouth answer to the previous question, 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. How much do you get paid?
A. About half as much as I did five years ago or a tenth of what you think I get.
If I gave an actual figure, thousands of idealistic journalism students would drop out and flood the fast-food job market.
Q. Are you Democrat or Republican?
A. In order to keep my meager salary, I decline to answer.
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 12-15 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 October 2021.
Q. Do you live here?
A. Define “here.” I write for 35 papers nationwide, including Islander News in Key Biscayne, 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. 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.