About twice a week, I jog past the burnt shell of a neighborhood house and wonder what the owners were able to save. If I were to lose my house to fire, I would at least rescue the three P's: people, pets and pictures.
But after that, I'd rescue the ordinary items I've learned to call "sacred."
First, there is the Gerber pocketknife my brother-in-law gave me 30 years ago. A newlywed at 22, I remember thinking, "This is a grown-up knife." Grown-up dudes like MacGyver carry knives in case they have to skin something, carve something or defend sweethearts against roving street gangs. As ludicrous as it sounds, you can't always choose your sacred things, they choose you.
I'd also retrieve my 1979 Baylor University class ring. My attachment for it has nothing to do with being true to my school. No, my affection for the ring comes from a challenge issued by my roommate as I struggled with a physics class assignment one afternoon.
"Don't worry about it," he said. "You'll never graduate. You're just not 'Baylor material.' "
From that day forward, I not only counted my remaining days with him, but I counted the days until I would become eligible to wear the ring. It was not just proof I could be "Baylor material," but a sacred reminder of my self-promise to finish what I'd started.
After graduating, my girlfriend, now wife, accepted it as a promise ring during a summer job I took in an adjoining state. She knew the ring was sacred to me, and therefore a sacred promise to her.
I'd also be certain to grab the New King James Bible that Susan Bradley, a parishioner, gave me in 1988. The Bible is the out-of-print Robert Schuller's Positive Thinking Bible with optimistic Scriptures highlighted in blue.
The Bible is special because Susan was special. She and her husband, Bill, floated the interim loan we needed between the sale of our first home and the purchase of the next.
While we weren't much of a risk, it was a lot of money. At the time, I knew Bill had cancer, but Susan kept her cancer a secret. A few years later, I read from her Bible while officiating at their funerals. The Bible is the tangible demonstration of sacred trust.
Finally, I'd save my trumpet. Funny thing is that this pawnshop purchase has never worked well. The internal valves shift to produce the sound of a wounded animal.
It's not sacred at all, for it never could replace the sacredness I knew in my boyhood trumpet stolen 30 years ago.
What is sacred is the effort my wife made to replace the trumpet on a newlywed budget. Seeing the hurt caused by the petty thief, my wife scrimped for six months, saving the money to replace it.
I keep it now for the sacred effort she made to protect me from the painful loss.Comment on this story
Sacredness isn't limited to religion. In fact, it may be sacrilegious to delineate between the sacred and the ordinary.
Sacredness is contained in the ordinary spaces and things we allow the love of God to permeate, enunciate and illustrate.
After grabbing these sacred things, I'd let my plasma screen TV and my computer burn. After all, I'm insured, and I'd do what any good man would do after a devastating fire. I'd buy a bigger TV and a faster computer.
Norris Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.