The funny priest
It was the fourth wedding of the year I attended and I was sitting in church next to a friend of mine.
She told me that this priest was quite special: he was also a sexologist.
What!? A priest who was a sexologist. What a fascinating combination!
I didn’t have much time to think about it, because the lovely bride walked in and the party started. Yes, that’s right: the party. The whole ceremony was like a feel good show mixed with beautiful words. It must be the first time that I really heard all the words of a church ceremony and I could even take some meaningful lessons home with me.
He talked about connection, love and showing people their power. He put all of his passion in every word and made jokes like I had never seen a priest do before.
It was clear that I had to have a talk with him.
So about two weeks later here I am, sitting in his office. As we start the interview. The same passion I felt in church immediately shows in how he talks.
How did you decide on becoming a priest?
Four studies had my interest: business engineering, religious studies, psychology and history. Although I’m a rational person, during my first class in religious studies I just knew that was what I wanted to do.
Were you always interested in religion?
Yes, ever since I was a little kid, I was involved in religious activities. My family went to church every week and I was a member of a catholic and protestant youth movement. Me and my friends over there we wanted to be real world improvers. We swore to never grow up. We didn’t want to be a part of the settled, civil life and wanted to stay rebellious for ever. (laughs)
I heard you are also a sexologist. What’s the story behind that?
My parents allowed me to take on religious studies, under one condition: I was going to teach afterwards.
I did as promised and started to teach in a secondary school. Soon I had a lot of students coming to me for various problems: eating disorders, divorced parents, relationships and much more. I felt like I couldn’t properly help them, so I wanted to study more. A friend advised me to opt for familial and sexual sciences. That’s how I became a sort of marriage counselor as well.
We swore to never grow up. We didn’t want to be a part of the settled, civil life and wanted to stay rebellious for ever.
Your studies didn’t stop there?
No, I also went for psychology, law, arts in the word religions, finished my theology and learned Portuguese, Italian and Swedish. I’m interested in everything! In total I studied for 17 years and I won’t stop. Now I would love to study economy.
How were those first years as a priest?
Becoming a priest is a weird job. They give you a label and you have to find out a lot of things on yourself. These days there’s nobody to really explain things to you. And this job actually contains everything. People call you for various things: because they lost a child thirty years ago, to bless their house, because they’re poor, for a leek in their roof…
I slowly found ways to learn how to deal with all of these things. I also created a house together with a couple where people could live who had difficulties in society. But this got out of hand. Soon we found ourselves living in between criminals, drug users and refugees. The couple moved out and I cracked. That was it, I thought: I quit my priesthood.
I then bought a house of my own and realized that the priesthood wasn’t my problem. A space of my own is just really necessary to fill up my energy tank. So in 2013 I started again as a priest.
What is happiness to you?
For me happiness is not a psychological state. I’m not asking myself everyday whether I’m feeling happy or not. The bigger question to me is: is it meaningful what I’m doing? When the answer is yes, I’m happy.
Do you think we all have a purpose here on earth?
I think we’re here to receive a wealth of love. And then our job is to spread that love and to build an empire of love.
Is that where a big part of our happiness comes from?
Yes. I think that’s real happiness. That’s what Christians mean with heaven. In the Middle Ages this idea got derailed. Partly because of the plague, people back then thought: this is hell. So they placed heaven after death. I believe you can start building your heaven right here, right now.
The first creation story is that of the seven days. After every day there’s this Hebrew sentence: “… and he saw that it was tov.” That word landed in the Dutch language as “tof”, which means “fun”.
But actually it means more than that. It’s like an artist who takes a step back from what he created, looks at it and knows that’s how it had to be. That’s tov.
In the sixties we’ve made an emotion out of tov. What’s tov? It’s when you feel your belly is bubbling. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not enough to build a life upon. When I talk about happiness, I’m talking about tov. When you take a step back from your life and you know that’s how you were supposed to live it. And if there are a lot of bubbling bellies in that moment, that’s great, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
We are here on earth to build heaven. To build a world where people can be themselves.
People often think a wedding is more fun for me to do then a funeral. Maybe more fun yes, but there can definitely be more happiness in a funeral. It can do so much for people if you can guide the ceremony in a beautiful and respectful way. You can feel that they can feed years on what they received then to help heal the wound.
Where in the Middle Ages that placed heaven too much after death, now we placed heaven completely here. We want to wave napkins as much as possible to make sure we felt heaven. That’s tiring and empty.
We are here on earth to build heaven. To build a world that’s tov and where people can be themselves. Whether they are working, preparing food or visiting someone who’s ill. That’s all happiness for me.
I learned a lot from working with children in an institution. Now I tell them: I’m not only here for fun, but to share life with you. Happiness is found in that deeper connection.
Is it about finding our purpose here on earth?
In the Bible people get a name. Your name is both a gift and a task. But it’s important to first acknowledge the gift. To experience and feel: I’m here, I can be here. From that energy you can do anything.
When it’s only a task, you have to squeeze yourself and people will feel that. We need full people. Those can give. Whether they’re Buddhist, atheist or Muslim: with all those people I get along great! They don’t criticize others and don’t even have to get their right.
For me there’s no difference between someone who works in a bakery, someone who delivers the mail, a finance guy or a doctor. Every one of those jobs you can do full. That energy will vibrate from you.
It’s important to first experience and feel: I’m here, I can be here. From that energy you can do anything.
How can we be full?
By feeling connected to other people. For me nature, reading and music also fill me up. But that depends from person to person.
Full is also mystery. Painters and musicians who are full, where does that come from? It’s inspiration. It’s something bigger than us.
And once you’re full you can start looking for your purpose?
It goes together. But it’s important to not give what you don’t have. If God exists and we get in heaven, I have to have a word with him. Because it’s so dangerous that we have a credit card in our bodies. We can give more than we have. You then go in red and the problem is you liquidate with the people you feel safest with. You’re going into conflict with the wrong people. For example when you went over your limit at work, you’ll act differently to the people at home. They’ll think you have something against them, but actually you do it because you feel safe with them. You dare to show you’re other side to them. I think we have to pay more attention to giving what we have.
Do you really believe those stories from the bible are real?
The word “real” is a good word. Is it real? Yes it’s real. But you can never take your bike and go and look at it. That doesn’t make it less real. Imagine someone says “I love you” to you. And you ask: “is it real? I want the proof on the table.” The harder you knock, the more you lose it. But nevertheless it can be real. Without you ever being able to grasp it or to proof it.
When in the sixties they stopped preaching in Latin, people thought that from then on they were going to understand everything that was said in church. The error lies in wanting to understand everything. You don’t have to understand everything immediately. If you try too hard, you’ll lose it. Some things click after a while. Just like with poetry, the bible texts are layered. Someone gets touched by this, another by something else. But just like life, it’s not all transparent and clear.
Can people heal? Yes, that’s real. Is that a miracle? Yes, that’s a miracle, but life in general is a miracle.
The error lies in wanting to understand everything. If you try too hard, you’ll loose it.
I also think we stop way too early with teaching catechesis, that’s why most people get stuck on a childish level. Creationism, who still beliefs in that? No, we believe in the Big Bang. Ok, but that’s something else. If you’re talking about the Big Bang, you pull out your measure stick and start measuring how big it became. But then you still didn’t explain anything. The question what we’re doing here is still there. That’s what story of the creation is all about. Who is God? There’s a plan, there’s a dream. And if you get people to start building on this, you start to see something from that plan and that dream.
I love to be open for this view. Isn’t it amazing how much wisdom is there in the old stories? New books are being published every single day to solve our superficial problems. But if we dig into old stories, there are a lot of diamonds to be found. I also believe in this deeper happiness inside of us. That comes from real connection and a sense of purpose. And like he said, that doesn’t always mean directly helping people. You can be in finance and feel you’re exactly where you have to be. By being on your path, you’ll radiate and you’ll help a lot of people just by being YOU.