"Walking on a Wilderness Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Over the past several days there have been a number of news stories reporting a very tragic incident that occurred recently in Baltimore, Maryland. A drunk driver ran over and killed a 41 year-old bicyclist - the devoted father of three beautiful children. The driver then panicked and left the scene of the accident; but eventually came forward and has now been charged with manslaughter and is facing up to 20 years in prison.
This story was so prominently reported in the national news because that drunk driver was a bishop in the Episcopal Church.
I have been following this story about that bishop for some days now, especially noting the comments about this incident that have been flooding various social media sites. Many people have expressed profound sadness over the death of that bicyclist and grief for the family he leaves behind. There have also been cries of outrage and anger over the fact that a prominent bishop could have committed such an egregious crime.
One particular comment yesterday especially caught my attention as someone offered an online comment; "If a bishop can't live up to higher moral standards, then what hope is there for the rest of us?' This one little comment was very telling for me -exposing a major flaw in how so many people understand "leadership" on the spiritual journey.
In the Christian tradition, bishops are at the top of the hierarchical ladder, they have reached the pinnacle of their careers. They dress in purple, wear flowing robes, don a hat that looks something like a crown, and walk with a "pastoral staff" that often resembles a kingly scepter. The "average" person in the pew often expects that somehow bishops are more exalted than they are, closer to God, more spiritual. But then again that's how "average" people often think of ordained clergy- sometimes even treating them as the professionals who are paid to live a "holy" life on behalf of everyone else.
So I guess I can understand the outrage, anger, frustration and disappointment over a bishop driving drunk, killing an innocent victim and then fleeing the scene of the accident. If a bishop does this kind of stuff, "what hope is there for the rest us?"
I am reminded of something the Buddha taught to his disciples:
Everyone must strive, the buddhas only point the way.
Actually Jesus taught his disciples the very same thing. He never asked that people worship him, only that they follow in his path.
Gurus and teachers, venerable monks and holy mystics, rabbis and imams, bishops and priests are all "buddhas" - guides along a spiritual path. They are not the"way" nor can they walk the way on anyone else's behalf. The buddhas are simply the guides that point a path that others might follow.
The thing is that sometimes guides fail, they lose their way and can point in the wrong direction. So on a spiritual path of any kind we always need to be very careful not to blindly follow anyone or invest any buddhas with too much power. Otherwise we may come to the conclusion that "if a bishop does this kind of stuff, what hope is there for the rest of us?"