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How living simply is ‘the most radical level of freedom’

“To live simply,” writes Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk in New Mexico, helps achieve a “radical level of freedom”

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Jerry Johnston writes that one way his mother would keep things simple by setting up the mustard and ketchup on the table and say: “The red’s the ketchup and the yellow’s the mustard.”


Every day I receive a pick-me-up from Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk who runs the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I’ve been a fan of Father Rohr for more than 30 years.

Earlier this month, his little epistle stressed simplicity.

“When we agree to live simply,” he writes, “we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment and loss or gain of anything. This is the most radical level of freedom.”

For many of us, the past few months have felt like fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube while wearing boxing gloves. I’ve heard people call the world a “hot mess.” One columnist called it “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire.”

So, Richard Rohr says maybe it’s time to get back to basics.

It’s time to declutter.

It’s time to simplify our lives.

Back in the 1980s, a little book by Latter-day Saint educator Lowell L. Bennion called “The Things That Matter Most” caused quite an excited buzz. In 63 pages, Bennion pared down life’s priorities to the bare bones. “Health” was among them. So were “Learning,” “Faith” and “Love.” Bennion’s premise was “Don’t try to absorb it all, just keep your eye on the good stuff.”

Since reading Bennion’s book I’ve always had a soft spot for people who’ve learned to focus on the “things that matter most.”

A bishop I knew spent five years walking around in clunky, outdated shoes.

I loved that about him.

He knew what was important. And fashion wasn’t it.


Elder Neal A. Maxwell in October 2003

Deseret News archives

Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve had an original painting by Liz Lemon Swindle on his office wall. But even more prominently, he’d hung pictures painted by his grade-school grandkids.

And my mother, the queen of simplicity, used to set the mustard and ketchup in front of my brother Val (who had a Ph.D. in Polynesian languages) and declare: “The red’s the ketchup and the yellow’s the mustard.”

She liked to keep things simple.

She never let herself get distracted by a world run amuck.

Oswald Chambers, the famous minister, used to say we can’t simplify the world around us. The world will always be a crazy, mixed up place. But what we can simplify how we relate to the world’s Creator.

We can get down brass tacks. We can become that little child the scriptures are constantly coaching us to become.

In other words, we can get back to “the red’s the ketchup and the yellow’s the mustard.”

Any questions?

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com