One of the guiding principles of my priesthood has always been: “If I have to choose between right thought/ dogma and right relationships, then I’ll choose right relationships every time.” Time and time again over the history of the church, official church dogma has failed us. It has always been the relationships that have endured. I’m pretty sure this is why Jesus put so much emphasis on us living into the Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s always been about relationships.
At the ripe old age of 64, I’m beginning to see a deeper understanding of living into the Great Commandment. Less stuff and more memories. I’ve always believed once you have food, clothing, shelter and transportation covered, then anything else is extra.
My wife and I have told our adult children we no longer want or need anymore stuff. Instead of sending us a gift, call us or send a card with a handwritten note for birthdays, mother’s day or father’s day. We cherish memories of those we love much more than we care for our material possessions.
It’s actually rather freeing to walk away from the stuff. If I give away the stuff, I no longer have to worry about taking care of it. If I decline the additions of more possessions in my life, then I’m free to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want.
This June 18th, I will mark my 28th anniversary in Holy Orders. By my counting, I’ve baptized more than 650 people (mostly babies), officiated at the weddings of more than 480 couples, and presided over the funerals for more than 500 souls. Each one of those is a memory that I care deeply about.
In my desk at the office, all four filing drawers are filled to the top with letters and notes that I’ve kept over the years. Most of them are personal thank you notes for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. I’m blessed to have a vocation where I am allowed to be present at the holiest times in peoples’ lives. As such, I’ve kept each of those notes, letters, and cards as a reminder of why I was set apart with my ordination.
There are those days when my heart is heavy. There are days when I wonder if the church and my priesthood can really make a difference for a world that is so divided and so broken. When that happens, I open up one of the four filing drawers in my desk. I randomly pull out a handful of cards and letters. Usually that is about a half a dozen of them. Then I open them up and begin to reread them.
Instantly, I’m transported back in time. I connect the name to the face; the face to the place and circumstances; the place and circumstances to the story of how we originally met. Whatever doubts I might have had about my priesthood, they fade quickly away. Those memories of people in my life bring me comfort and help me to focus and move forward once again. So now I can easily leave behind all the stuff. On the other hand, the many memories of a shared humanity where paths in life have crossed and touched our souls, those will stay with me forever. It has taken me a lifetime to get here, but you can keep all the stuff. I’m more than content to remain connected to people and my memories.