Who’s Your Guru?

People ask me how I can be so prolific at writing, and I really can’t answer, except to laugh at myself. The real question is not how I manage to be such a prolific poster, it’s how I ever make myself shut up. I love words, and I have always wanted to be a published writer (probably since the moment I realized real people could write things and get published). I have published articles in magazines, but this is easier and has that instant gratification thing going for it.

I have so many things to write about bubbling away inside my head that sometimes the hardest part (after knowing when to stop and push the publish button and walk away from the computer) is choosing one of them at a time. Sometimes I read something somebody else has written about a topic that has been simmering away in that that bubbly brew in my brain (if the picture in your head is sort of like a soup or stew, stop, rewind, and picture instead some lovely to some strange and giddy combination of iridescent soap bubbles and tickle your nose soda bubbles and fizzy sparkling apple juice bubbles). When that happens, it makes it easy to choose what to write about.

And so today I’ll tell you about something I’ve been thinking about which somebody else has just blogged about, and so now I just have to unloose my thoughts on the topic.

That topic is the tendency we have to put people up on a pedestal just because they are public figures of a sort or they excell at doing something we admire, whether that be singing, preaching, acting, writing, making money or public speaking.

As a preacher’s kid I know better than others how oft our authority figures have feet, legs, torsos and even souls made of clay, so I’ve always been disinclined for hero worship. It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for them. Respect for genuine, God-given authority is one thing, but fawning hero worship is another.

Fawning, as opposed to respect, is stultifying to both worshiper and worshippee. Should we look up to people as minor deities long enough or in large enough numbers, lo and behold, they begin to think more highly of themselves than they ought, and sooner or later they fall, and how the mighty are fallen. It’s sad. And yet, we do it again and again.

All the Gurus in the world are really just people. Trust me on this. They are all deeply flawed human beings just like you and me. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. That does not mean they lack wisdom, insight, and experience from which we can learn. Certainly they are far ahead of us in some area or another. But just because somebody is an expert, and even right smart about one thing, it doesn’t mean they warrant adulation, and we should be chary of giving them a free pass in every other area.

Here’s an example of it going to their heads. Once upon a time I was going to be living in the same area as a ‘guru’ in a particular field. A mutual friend thought the guru and I had a lot in common, and that it would be good for us to meet and become friends. The guru had also expressed a need for contacts with a particular asset (I’m really trying to be circumspect here, because if I named this guru, most of you would know that name, and if I said what she wanted, many of you would recognize somebody you’ve heard speak- so let’s say this guru had expressed a desire for something mundane, like free-range chicken eggs). My friend, a smart, witty, really awesome person, gave me the contact information and I called the guru explaining who I was, why I was calling, and where I’d gotten the contact info from. The reply went something like this:
“Oh, yes, lovely person! My spouse and I were really able to mentor that family and help them out. They were so blessed by our help that they wanted to help us out with our projects, so whenever we come to town they just love to do little tasks for us. Mentoring is so rewarding. So how can I help you?”

You can imagine how far that relationship went. Lasted as long as the phone call, that did. I offered the “free-range chicken eggs” (free). I was made to understand how very busy the guru was, but that when there was time for more personal contact, we’d certainly get a phone call. I left my number, but as I expected, that phone call never did come.

Funny thing was the guru continued, in public and private, to express a real desire for those “free-range chicken eggs,” even though they were only a friendly phone call away. I happen to know I was not the only local person who was willing to respond helpfully to a friendly phone call, too. The guru had made the request other places, and friends of mine had offered and been rather rebuffed as well. It was even part of the guru’s public spiel from time to time, about how even the lives of gurus were not perfect, and wasn’t it sad that no matter how much the family prayed about it, God’s answer was consistently no, and see, even Gurus have to learn to listen to God’s no.

The Guru was a gifted public speaker, very gifted, and popular in a particular field. It was a field where anybody with an adequate grasp of public relations and a reasonable speaking ability could quickly become a guru. I went to listen to such a public performance once, and while I was enriched in several areas, that is also how I knew that the guru publicly lamented this unfulfilled desire for “free-range chicken eggs” while I knew (and so did the guru) that at least three members of the audience had offered the very thing the guru claimed was unavailable, and that those offers had in every case been ignored. I’m guessing that rather than “free-range chicken eggs,” what the guru really wanted was a touching little illustration for a speech.

During that public talk the guru complained further about how much criticism the public directed the guru’s way. It is possible. It is true that people can be unpleasantly critical and quite often unjustifiably so, especially towards any semi-public figure. I must say, however, that I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about the guru. Perhaps the criticism was directly to said guru, which is how it should be. But what the guru complained of was just this: “I don’t know why (funny little laugh), but people just love to criticize their leaders, so of course, we come into a lot of criticism. But that sort of critical spirit towards your leaders isn’t healthy…”

Guilty, I guess. Except… what makes the guru my ‘leader?’ The guru isn’t in a position of authority in my church. The guru is not an elected official. The guru isn’t in a position of leadership in a company I work for, nor is the guru ordained, elected, or appointed to any sort of office. The leadership seems to consist of charging money to people who want to hear the guru speak and selling books the guru has authored. That’s a resource, and quite often a good one. But it’s not a position that merits the title of ‘your leader.’

How did the guru reach this hubristic point? I don’t know of course, but I suspect too many people for too many years fawned all over the guru until the guru reached a false conclusion- ‘these people seek my autograph and ask my advice in areas where I have no authority because I am wise and wonderful and God wants me to tell others what to do.’ The correct conclusion is that ‘these people fawn all over me because I have said some things that were helpful to them, and because people have a tendency to place other mortals upon a pedestal higher than is good for any of us.’

No guru has it all together in any area. Just as you can learn about sewing from one person (and that person will surely not be me), and learn about baking from another, while finding yet another a wonderful resource for all things childbirth related, while yet another person is the go-to person if you want the title of a good book, so, too, one person may be more mature in the gift of generosity, while another is further up the road of life in patience, and yet another has much to teach us about being bold for the Lord, while yet another can help us learn when and how to have a gentle and quiet spirit. We can learn all these and other things from others without turning them into two dimensional gothic saints with halos around their heads and their pointed toes keeping them floating above the earthy stuff where the rest of us walk all day.

As a smart new (to me) blogger I found through the homeschooling awards said:

There’s wisdom in that old saying: “Every man puts on his pants one leg at a time.” Everyone has an unflattering side; everyone has weaknesses and annoying habits, whether it’s leaving his toe-nail clippings on the bathroom counter, speaking harshly toward others, or always making himself the center of attention. Just because someone can whip up thought-provoking, astute text day after day does not make him immune to bad habits and unattractive behaviour, nor does it mean he deserves special treatment or is too lofty to be approached. In fact, James says that the way we ought to govern our relationships should be undertaken with a view to treating others as ourselves. I try to do that, whether the person is “famous” or not. I don’t always succeed; but I do try.

Don’t make a guru of her, but if you haven’t read Kim at The Upward Call before, give her a read. Make a comment and it could be mutually edifying.

Updated 3/13 for clarification and punctuation

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