Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Embracing Our Marshmallow Buddha

My laughing Buddha & Marshmallow Buddha stole

"Laughter is the language of the soul." - Pablo Neruda

It was my first day of seminary and I was wondering what in the world I had done with my life.  I had traded in my suit and briefcase from the corporate world for the blue jeans and backpacks of the Berkeley world. I had uprooted my family, jeopardized our financial well-being, and we were living at my mother-in-law’s while we looked for a place to live.  Why had I done all this?  Because I had been called to a new life. On that first day of school I wondered if the call had been to a wrong number.

In a fog of doubt and uncertainty I walked into my first class, “Minister, Ministry and Identity.” The class appealed to me because I figured it would help me figure out what kind of minister I might become.  My anxiety level increased when I saw that almost everyone in the class was in his or her third year of school.

The professor asked us to close our eyes and settle in for a guided meditation.  As I relaxed into my breathing, he invited us to imagine ourselves as ministers and picture what we would be doing.  At first no image came to me but soon a very clear picture became fixed in my mind.  It was not a picture I liked at all.  The picture I had of myself as a minister was that of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.

For those of you who may not remember the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man, he is a 35- foot tall marshmallow monster who terrorizes New York City in the movie Ghostbusters.  If you cannot picture what the Stay Puff Marshmallow man looks like, imagine the Pillsbury Dough Boy on steroids.  It is not a pretty picture, especially if it is the picture of a minister.

I began to sweat and tried hard to change the picture in my mind.  The harder I tried to change the image, the more pronounced each rippled marshmallow muscle became.  With all my psychic will and energy, I watched the Stay Puff man slowly transform into the rough image of a 35-foot marshmallow Buddha.  Before I could transform the picture into something more respectable, the professor brought us out of our meditation and asked us to share what we  had envisioned with the rest of the class.  

I frantically wondered what I could say about my image that wouldn’t have me kicked out of school for being a fraud.  I sat on my hands when he asked for volunteers.  My sense of embarrassment and stress grew as I heard my classmates eloquently describe visions of people like Jesus, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr.  People saw themselves serving food to the hungry, fighting social injustices, and offering love and healing to those in need.  The thought flashed in my mind that I should excuse myself and admit that I had made a big mistake about this ministry thing.

When it was my turn to share I decided to tell the truth and live with the consequences.  I recounted my meditative tale and said that I thought a marshmallow Buddha was actually a great image for my ministry because I was someone who believed humor was as important to the spiritual journey as any other spiritual practice.  And, I added, one of the main questions I brought with me to seminary was how, if at all, humor and laughter could be incorporated into religion and the serious profession of ministry.  My new colleagues were gentle, even supportive of my vision, and I learned an important lesson about ministry - and life - which I try to remember every day.  

Honesty and authenticity count.  A lot.  So do laughter and joy.  I keep the laughing Buddha on my altar and occasionally wear my marshmallow Buddha stole when I preach.  I often practice a laughing meditation which helps as well. All of these remind me of that first day in seminary and the most important thing we bring to ministry and calltrepreneurship - our whole selves.

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