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A clergyman’s food for thought

Last Modified: September 22, 2023

People of Parkview


This post was written by Patrick Riecke, director, Dignity and Spiritual Care, Parkview Health.

For years, I have said the same thing. When I die, I want the front of my headstone to say “Rev. Patrick Riecke.” On the back, I want this sentence carved word for word:

“The world is much more complicated than I originally thought.”

Usually, I don’t use the title “Reverend.” This prefix only appears in official places like the newspaper, wedding programs and when I teach a class. But I want it on my headstone.


So passersby can see that a dead clergyman was willing to change his mind. Indeed, a pastor with two degrees in religion was often surprised in this world.

Because the world is much more complicated than I originally thought. Things are not as clear as I hoped. Ethics are not, after all, a set of rules that can be followed uniformly. The Bible is not always as clear as I would like. God is not predictable. One plus one does not always equal two. People who are reliable today will be unreliable tomorrow.

How do I know?

Because I have been both people. Certainty and stubbornness breed conflict and confusion. Curiosity opens my heart.

It’s funny. The most quoted Bible verse is “Judge not, lest you be judged.” It’s the only reason any modern person knows the meaning of lest. I am sad to tell you that we have entirely missed the point of this verse. The warning is not about God’s judgment on us. We can’t control God’s judgment. The warning concerns our judgment swinging back around and crushing our own souls like an eternal tetherball that we launched into our own faces.

Alas, the world is much more complicated than I originally thought.

Therefore, I can practice curiosity with those around me. “Could you tell me what makes you feel that way?” And I can practice compassion for myself. “I am doing the best I can, and it’s okay that I don’t have it all figured out.”

After all, if a clergyman can adapt his beliefs in a complicated world, perhaps there is hope for us all.

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