Psycho-Minister – Imperfection as a Path to Peace

Our Hardest Work in This World

The mystical poet Hafiz wrote “Our separation from God – from Love –

Chama al-Din Muhammad Hafiz, author unknown

Chama al-Din Muhammad Hafiz, author unknown

is the hardest work in this world.” I think Hafiz was onto something.

Mystical teachings tell us we can never truly be separate from the Absolute Reality of Love because the Absolute contains everything. Yet we create obstacles to Love. The most persistent obstacle I’ve observed is a sense of unworthiness. I have counseled numerous people who tell me they feel like “damaged goods,” and therefore believe they are unworthy of Love.

Another word for unworthiness is shame. Brene´ Brown, PhD states in a viral TED Talk, that shame thrives on three things: secrecy, silence, and judgment. We hide what we do not like about ourselves in the hopes that no one will see – or maybe it will just go away.

Dr. Brown also states that the one thing shame cannot tolerate is empathy. So in the spirit of dissolving secrecy and invoking empathy, I’ll share a story from my ministry that makes me look bad.  I’m embarrassed to tell it – but here goes.   

The Peace Song

I’ve asked many spiritual teachers, “What’s your biggest regret in terms of leadership?” Nine times out of ten, they say “The times I was unkind or impatient with someone.” Personally, I feel that I should be kind to everyone but when I was new in ministry I struggled with critics. I couldn’t always find the grace to recognize the person criticizing me as “Christ in a distressing disguise” (Mother Teresa).   In the early days, I encountered a bounty of critics because I was clueless about running a church.

For example, we used to close the service with The Peace Song — “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” One day I blithely took it out of the service and replaced it with a song called Namaste (the divine in me blesses and honors the divine in you). I thought it was a great plan.

Not everyone was on-board with my abrupt brilliance.  A woman came to my office to tell me that this was a bad decision. She launched into an angry tirade that led to a doctoral thesis on all my other failures as a minister.   It was a blizzard of criticism.

I did consider the irony of someone yelling at me because of the Peace Song.   I barely resisted the urge to go over the lyrics with her – “Let there be Peace on Earth and let it begin with your whiny-bad-ass-self.” I’m afraid I rolled my eyes several times and I’m sure I got defensive. Then as the tirade went on, I had a really bad thought.

 Blunt Force Trauma

While rolling my eyes, I saw a prayer-stick sitting on my bookshelf.  I had made it in a spiritual workshop. It was a thick piece of driftwood, twelve inches long, with a written prayer wrapped around it, decorated with bird feathers, ribbons and beads. I glanced at the prayer stick and in my head I heard the screechy music from Psycho. I had a fleeting visualization of the shower scene. I saw myself as a comical Norman-Bates-wanna-be, inflicting blunt force trauma with my prayer stick. It was in jest, I know I smirked as I thought of it, but that’s my confession. I creatively visualized whacking a congregant.

The conversation ended and we could not come to a resolution. She left feeling unheard and I felt ashamed. I wallowed in my office, wondering, “What is wrong with me?   Why didn’t I have the skills to handle this confrontation in a loving way?   What kind of a minster visualizes the Psycho shower scene?”

I looked at my wall and saw my pictures of Lord Krishna, and the Buddha, and the Blessed Virgin.   I sighed and spoke out loud to them, “Do you think Billy-Freaking-Graham ever fantasized about bludgeoning his congregation?”

They stared at me in silence and I saw accusation in their eyes. Clearly, I did not deserve to be in the same room with them. Clearly, I was guilty of impersonating a spiritual leader.

The Perfection of Imperfection

I don’t know what changed – maybe it was Krishna, or the Buddha, or the Blessed Virgin, or maybe Grace itself – but suddenly something informed me that I was not called to be a spiritual leader because I am so perfect. I was called because I am so flawed.

All of us, not only ministers, are here to “learn to bear the beams of love”  (William Blake). Unconditional love is only beautiful when there are conditions to overcome. So our shameful conditions, our imperfections, when held in Absolute truth are in reality a pathway to inner peace.  Our shortcomings are a doorway to love beyond logic.

It’s a paradox that was a paradigm shift for me…

These days, I don’t get as much criticism as I used to, probably because now, on a good day, I know how to handle it.   Of course it helps to listen, to express empathy, and to see the person before me as someone wearing a distressing disguise.

What helps more though, is to own my own shortcomings – to actually be present to my weaknesses and recognize that criticism can’t really undo me. If I acknowledge my “flawed abundance,” (Wayne Muller) I don’t have to become defensive. When I’m present to my humanity, my self-empathy extends to the critic before me.   And somehow through willingness and grace, everything that was once “wrong” with me becomes part of what is “right” with me.

Call it humility, call it amazement, call it Love – a greater mind than ours placed each of us here to be painfully real, vulnerable, exposed, human, and divine. We are born to be simultaneously stressed and blessed. We are summoned to be full of crap and as deeply sincere as everyone else is. Together we stagger in astonishing ignorance, groaning in the excruciating joy of an existence too beautiful to behold.  Now that’s a Peace Song. And so it is.

** Featured Image – Psychedelic Peace Sign by p.Gordon.

Questions to ponder and share responses if you like:

Have you ever experienced a moment of grace when you realized that what is “wrong” with you is part of what is “right” with you?

Is there any action you can take today to awaken to the fullness of both your humanity and your divinity?

14 thoughts on “Psycho-Minister – Imperfection as a Path to Peace

  1. LadyoftheLatte

    OK, but did you go back to singing the “Peace” song at the end of service? 🙂

    Appreciate your honesty, humor and the reminder for my ministry, too.

    Flawfully yours,

    1. Bonnie

      “Flawfully yours” – you have a way with words Ms. D. We kept Namaste because a lot of people liked the change. But one tends to focus on the critics, right? And that’s not such a bad thing, because I learned that it would have been preferable to make the change in a more inclusive manner Live and learn!

  2. Verna Rose

    Hi, Thank you sooooo much. I really needed to hear this today, very well expressed. Yesterday I had a similar experience with my cousin, a blizzard of criticism. I have been beating myself up this morning. So I am now feeling so much more at peace and will consider her words. There is always a kernel of truth in others words pertaining to oneself. love Verna

  3. K E Lynch

    thanks for being on the cutting edge of spiritual insight… dare to go where no one has gone before… we’re with you…

  4. James Polk

    Thank you Bonnie for a wonderful post. I’m moved by your honesty. I’m moved by your words: “I was called to be a spiritual leader not because I am so perfect. I was called because I am so flawed.” If we all only recognize that we’re a bunch of flawed beings sharing our lives on this planet, then maybe this planet would become a better place.

    About feeling of unworthiness. I am a writer and I often feel that way. Feeling of unworthiness comes not only about me as a writer but also about what I write. I often think, “What I’m writing is worthless.” But out of that dark place, as long as I have a spark of willingness to try harder, I hear my inner voice, “How can I write something worthwhile?”

    About criticism. I recall a story I once heard about Buddha. I cannot recall exactly how it was told, but this is what I remember. One day a man vehemently criticizes Buddha. He points out all that he thinks is wrong with Buddha. Buddha just listens, not interrupting the man. The man, without getting any response from Buddha, grows tired of speaking. “So what do you have to say to all that I said?” the man asks. Buddha says, “If someone brings me a gift and if I do not accept that gift, then to whom does that gift belong? Does it belong to me? Or does it belong to the person who holds the gift?”

    Your post made me think of many things that are important. Thank you.


    1. Bonnie

      Hi James – thank you for your kind words and for reminding me of that Buddhist story – love it. You know, James – even the way you write feedback and blog comments is beautiful and meaningful to me. Plus, I subscribe to your blog because I like the way you express yourself. You cover topics I don’t often consider and my horizons broaden because of your work. It seems to me that your character shows up too. I find that your writing is deeply considerate of your readers — your stories flow logically and there’s something wise and soothing about your voice. So while I clearly understand doubt, unworthiness, resistance and all that – I also believe in you as a writer. Thank you for writing and thank you for making me think as well. Warmly, Bonnie

  5. vanevic

    Bonnie what a beautiful post, I enjoyed it so much. It reminds me of a poem from Juan de Dios Peza, a Mexican writer. Its called “Reir Llorando” (Laugh Crying); it’s about Garrit an English actor considered by all as the funniest, happiest person capable of curing anyone’s sorrows with his artistic grace. At the end of the poem you discover that Garrit suffers from the deepest sorrow and despair and is unable to find anything to cure himself. He is a man who finds strength and power in his own flaws to help others.

    1. Bonnie

      Hi Vanessa – thank you so much for YOUR beautiful response. I really appreciate the reference to the poem and I most certainly relate to it. “See” you soon – Warmly, Bonnie

    1. Bonnie

      Hi Nomtai – thank you for your kind words. I have a very open and forgiving congregation which makes it easier to show up perfectly imperfect. 🙂 I look forward to reading (and following) your blog soon – later this weekend I’ll check it out. Warmly, Bonnie


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