Monday, September 2, 2013

On being a hermeneutical, symbolic guru

In seminary I had some business cards worked up. I had no business so I put on it: dad, banjo player, student body president, hermenutical person. For those non-theological nerds; a hermeneutic is an interpretation, a lens by which we view the world, and also texts, like the Bible. I was keenly aware then, and even more now, that the life of a minister is essentially to help people interpret their lives in the light of the gospel.

Being a symbolic person can be fraught with problems and opportunities. A few years ago, a community that I belong to began to tell a different kind of story about me and began to invest me with authority, there was even a special ceremony when one of the leaders of my community prayed to God to, in some way, inhabit my life and make me a priest. It's called ordination.

Since then I have settled into a job as a spiritual leader, a preacher, and a pastor to a community of faith in Charlotte NC. I almost always wear a special uniform that signifies to all who see it that I am a representative of the Church. When I go in public, most people do a double take when they see me. Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend and we lamented the necessity of small talk. I suggested that we wear a signifying article of clothing whereby it would tell the world that we were open to deep conversation, and were willing to get to it quickly. Now both he and I wear a collar. When people come into my office they usually start crying. I usually don't say anything more than, "So what's on your mind?" They cry, I think, because I'm listening. I'm listening, but also I represent and symbolize a larger reality. and they are primed to have their lives interpreted and plumbed to see where God is moving.

Sometimes I see that being a symbolic person means that for some of the people in my community that I stand as a proxy for their own faith; "I may not have faith, but my priest does." There are some priests who support this sick notion so that they can hold more authority; but to hold ourselves up as the paragon of faithful living will eventually take its toll. The Pew research Council has shown that this kind of thinking has a debilitating affect on clergy health.

The film maker, Vikram Gandhi has pulled off an amazing experiment. As a young student of religion, the U.S. born Indian-American became disillusioned with religion and especially the gurus of his family religion, Hinduism. Gandhi decided to become a guru himself, cultivate a teaching and a following, and finally reveal himself as a charlatan. This is no spoiler of course, since the first few minutes of his documentary, Kamure, show him anxiously rehearsing for the "Great Unveiling."

One might question the ethics of one who would purposely dupe the naive but that would miss the point of Gandhi's intentions. Gandhi and his teachings as his "ideal self," Sri Kamure, is that each person has within them what they need to cultivate their own happiness. Indeed, as Kamure's students grow they develop as their own gurus and even teach their teacher their own individual teachings. It is this convolution which makes the film and the man, Kamure, so charming.

What I find so fascinating about this film is that the teaching is so overtly anti-guru; which garners him more and more devotees. His students even routinely look into the camera and earnestly talk about the non-necessity of gurus and then look longingly toward the reluctant objection of affection.

Alan Watts said that a guru is someone who will pick your pocket and then sell your watch back to you. Kamure, the guru and the film, do just that.

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