The most recent must-do thing is a decluttering process by Marie Kondo. It seems to equal throwing everything out except the bare essentials and happiness will be yours. Now granted, I’m all for getting rid of things I don’t need or haven’t got a use for right now, but, for one thing, she wants there to be a minimum or maximum of 30 books. I’ve got more than that on my Kindle, and I’ve got another couple of bookcases in the house that are needing a little bit of pruning but getting down to 30 books? And then there are kitchen gadgets. As soon as I get rid of one because I haven’t used it in a year, within two weeks, I’m back at the store buying another one because I need it. So how does this help? I’m just replacing old things that are already paid for with new things that I have to buy again. As the King of Siam said in the Broadway musical, “Is a puzzlement.”
I think about things that I hang onto because of sentimental value. I look at the wooden box with a bird on top that my mother had, a stuffed animal my best friend gave me, piece of clothing that I’m particularly fond of, or a couple of Kindle readers (in case one of them, God forbid, should fail). These are all things that I have that maybe I don’t really need, but I am very loath to part with. And then I think about ideas and beliefs, and thoughts. I hang on to those too.
I’m a great fan of tradition. I grew up in an area that was steeped in history, American history anyway, dating back to the Jamestown colony and through the Revolutionary war, not to mention the Civil War. It’s easy to see how things have changed over the centuries. A trip to Williamsburg would be an education for anyone, but for one who grew up there, it’s always a chance to learn more, and to see tradition in action, some of it good, some of it very bad. Still, it makes it easier to see the result of two opposing sides of the issues.
And then there are church traditions. I love the Episcopal Church for its traditions, even though there are some that I cannot wait to change or have changed. The acceptance of African-Americans and women and LGBTI folks as deacons and priests and bishops, to name a few. We need them, and we are blessed to have them in our leadership, but not everyone appreciates the gift of diversity that they can bring.
I love the traditions of the liturgy, but it certainly is good to hear Abraham’s name coupled with Sarah, Jacob’s with Rebecca, and Isaac with Rachel and Leah. It’s nice to listen to women’s stories in both daily readings and actual sermons. I remember when the only time I really heard sermons on a woman would be something to do with the Virgin Mary. Christmas was a big time for her, and then again we hear about her during Holy Week and Easter, and then she pretty much disappears. Now she has several commemorations during the year, we hear about her in various stories along with her forebears, not just those in her bloodline but also other women, named or nameless. We hear their stories; although it may not make a lot of difference to some in the church, it makes a difference to me. I’m glad to know more about women like Junia, Phoebe, Deborah, Mary Magdalene, Tamar (actually both of them,) and other women whose stories are not just thrown in for color but for actual teaching.
So if we are to use the Marie Kondo criteria, we would have to throw out probably most of the Old Testament or a good chunk of the Old Testament and a good bit of the epistles to get it down to 30 books. Think of all we’d miss by losing those chunks. It sounds crazy to even think about it, and it probably is, but still, it’s what happens quite often. We focus on certain scriptures and individual books whether or not they really have anything to do with how we live today. As cases in point, Numbers, Leviticus, parts of Paul’s epistles, and quite a few others come to mind. Yet we keep them in because we have something to learn from them and they are not books that we can easily replace.
We have changed some traditions in the church like using Marian blue during Advent instead of the penitential purple of Lent. That goes for candles as well as vestments and paraments. It makes a subtle but significant change in our thinking of anticipation and expectation rather than penitence and repentance. We are not afraid to go out on Palm Sunday and march around the block or through the city streets proclaiming our faith and probably attracting some funny looks. But we do it now more than ever, simply because it’s a way of getting people to ask questions and to follow the procession to see what’s going on. Like Ashes to Go on Ash Wednesday, it’s a way of doing evangelism in a new way, out on the streets and among the people, rather than just cooped up behind church building walls.
So what things do we need to change? What do we need to get rid of, and what do we need to replace? Perhaps one thing is the rather totality of paternal references to God in the masculine form. Granted it is a tradition going back to Old Testament times, but we do things like eating shellfish and pork, wearing mixed fibers, and accepting divorce as a legitimate thing now.
My mind goes off into so many different directions with subjects like this. It’s as if I’m looking for one answer that will bring both clarity and unity into focus and I’m not sure I will be able to find it. Now, I know if I follow the decluttering my house I will have more room, and I won’t stress so much about not being able to find something I won’t need again. But when it comes to my personal theology, my beliefs, and even some of my practices, there’s where I need to do clutter. I must not be afraid to try new things, but I mustn’t discard something simply because it’s old and traditional. Unlike a citrus peeler or a hand sifter for flour, I can’t go down to the store and buy a new set of beliefs, religion-wise. My theology has changed since I was a child and it’s still evolving. I’m grateful for that. It’s a good thing, but I want to be careful what I throw out because it might leave a gap that nothing else can cross.
So, I think I will tackle the drawers in the kitchen, just to see what I can really live without and what I can’t. And I think when I meditate and pray this week, I’m going to be thinking of what I need to declutter so that I have serenity, peace, and clarity in my faith. It’s going to be a busy week.
Image: WE_Empty_Nest, Original source: Flickr. Author: Virginia State Parks staff, uploaded by Albert Herring. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also estate manager and administrative assistant for Dominic, Phoebe, and Gandhi.