The role of the spiritual leader is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.
I first heard that adage fifteen years ago from Rev Gary Simmons at a conference on ministry models. Maybe because I am a natural born smartass, “afflicting the comfortable” particularly resonated with me. I seem to have mastered the art of shaking things up; pulling the rug out from under people; and just generally pissing people off. If you are sitting complacently in your boat, I will rock it. If you show me a loose thread, I will gladly tug at it.
Unequivocally there is an important place in the world for upheaval, especially in our outmoded institutions and organizations. There are some boats which desperately need to be rocked, and many a thread is begging to be yanked clean out. But I have learned (and am still learning) not to capsize everyone I see. They might not be ready to swim.
Recently a friend confided in me that at periods in her life her biggest aspiration was to make it through the day without seriously contemplating suicide. I thought to myself, it’s a good thing she didn’t happen to run into me on a day when I was in an “afflicting” mood.
No matter what level of comfort anyone appears to have, no matter how cozy they seem to be in their old belief system, they too are afflicted in one way or another. If nothing else we are all carrying around this condition known as Human. And we all need some comforting along the way.
In my journey of Unity Consciousness my intention is to break down the boundaries between “me” and “not me”. In doing so, I find myself increasingly prone toward compassion. Oneness consciousness naturally leads to the desire to be kind and loving – for it is kindness to one’s own being. (How selfish!) And conversely, the practice of compassion increases Oneness Consciousness. Every act of kindness dissolves the illusion of separation.
I turn to my niece Samantha for inspiration. She too is a smartass born from a line of smartasses. At a very young age she is already demonstrating an affinity to rock the boat. She can find your buttons and push them with a devilish grin. Yet she balances that with unconditional love. There is a deep wisdom, acceptance, and caring for all beings which shines through.
As it turns out, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” was originally referring to the newspaper business. At the end of the 19th century Finley Peter Dunne coined the phrase about the role of reporters. I am rather keen on that. In my current ministry I am writing blogs, making videos, and interviewing a variety of characters about spirituality and creativity. Via the Buddha Brunch and Spiritual-Improv I am part investigative reporter, part teacher, and part entertainer. In YOUR ministry (yes I know you have a ministry) do you need to do more smoothing things out? Or perhaps for you it’s time to do more shaking things up. I invite you to join me in seeking the balance between afflicting and comforting. Yes let us pull the rug out from one another, AND remember to wrap each other in a soft blanket.
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