In ministerial school, and in conversations with other ministers, I’ve often heard the phrase “the minister is friendly with everyone and friends with no one.” The first several hundred times I heard this phrase, it sounded lonely, elitist and exclusionary. I’m hearing it differently now – and maybe not for the reason you think.
Think about who you see as a spiritual leader. Mother Theresa? Ghandi? His Holiness the Pope or the Dalai Lama? When you think of these people, do you think of them drinking just a little too much with friends or downing a gallon of ice cream all at one sitting? Do you think of them in their oldest sweat pants, lazing around their home, or even spending a whole day just sprawled in bed or on a chaise lounge, sunbathing? Doing laundry and cleaning their bathroom? Neither do I. I think of them as calm and centered, spouting words of wisdom from a place of deep compassion. I think of them being quoted, studied by spiritual seekers and interviewed by serious journalists.
Kick it down a notch. Never mind spiritual leaders, what does a regular spiritual person look like? Is that someone who gently pokes fun at him- or herself while sharing their authentic (but resolved) struggles? I think of someone who tells funny stories and might even put in some profanity, but still has an aura of peace and stability about them all the time. They never yell at their kids, fight with their partner or bounce a check because they miscalculated their bank balance. They would never consider standing over the sink and eating Lucky Charms for dinner. Sometimes, spiritual people are those folks who always wear loose and flowing clothing, who speak in a wispy, high voice and use all the catch phrases instead of regular words (and never swear!). These are the perky, affected, fake folks that we secretly poke fun at and try not to be caught in a car with on a long trip. I judge them as scared, inauthentic and very likely to annoy me eventually.
This is why that opening phrase – a minister is friendly with everyone and friends with no one—has changed its meaning for me. It’s a statement about good boundaries, but it’s more than that. “A minister” is a role, a career and even a calling. It’s an edited version of the whole person who is actually committed to ministering to people. As a minister, it’s appropriate that I carefully consider what I say and how I say it. As a minister, I’m less likely to share personal opinions about other people’s foibles. In my role as minister, it’s appropriate to listen with the ear of counselor so as to discern what the prayer will be at the end of the conversation. It’s appropriate to refrain from profanity or politics, especially from the pulpit.
Now substitute the words “spiritual person” for the word minister. Or even just “person”.
As a person, I’m in sweats and downing Triple Caramel Chunk (and, no, I won’t share). As a person, I have strong and sometimes offensive opinions about the state of the world and the folks in it. I eat meat, even veal, and non-organic fruit. I am judgmental. I swear, inventively and loudly, when I’m truly angry. Of course, that’s an edited version of me, too. I’m a person who likes to keep a budget and who loves her cats and her family. I’m a person with a favorite color (blue or green) and a particular taste in entertainment (reading scifi or fantasy, or watching British TV).
To be all of who we are, and call that spiritual, is a better way of looking at it. The highest virtue becomes acceptance of what is, rather than striving for perfection. I get to be whole, instead of perfect. I can be a real person, who sometimes steps into the role of minister, and likes doing that. I have no need for you to maintain a façade, because I see you as a whole person, too. The same can be said about anyone who is a spiritual seeker. Your spirituality is a beautiful part of who you are, and no other part of you cancels out your spiritual side. Which means I can see you as a whole, perfect and complete child of God….and still not share my ice cream with you.