kw: book reviews, nonfiction, celebrities, religion, values
The kind of spiritual leaders I like best didn't go to any seminary, and usually haven't been ordained by any organization. God's way as seen in the Bible is for a prophet to appear from the wilderness, make a huge impression on his generation, and pass on. Though a "school of the prophets" will often rise up, none of its graduates exhibits the gift or power of its namesake. Moses is the prototype: well educated, though in the Egyptian way, at the age of forty, he suffered a terrible failure, and spend the following forty years watching sheep eat "in the back side of the wilderness," somewhere in Midian. Once God decided he'd learned his lesson, and was ready to be a more effective shepherd, he called Moses from the burning bush.
Often the best preachers are the secret ones, those who can put God's lessons into you without seeming to touch on religion at all. St. Francis strove to be one of these; he said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. When absolutely necessary, use words." Fred Rogers, TV's Mister Rogers, is my favorite of this genre.
Marcia Z. Nelson, who writes about religion in a number of venues, has found such a "secret preacher" in Oprah Winfrey. She has influenced people worldwide for twenty years through her TV talk show and the publishing empire that has grown up around it...and I mean publishing of all kinds, for it is her Web site, www.oprah.com, that has the greatest impact.
Though Oprah Winfrey was raised a Christian, she has been accused of being "New Age" because of her nonjudgmental approach and emphasis on self esteem. While I prefer to emphasize self respect over self esteem, I understand her approach, and appreciate it. I am a Christian teacher, and I find nothing to offend me in her method.
Ms Nelson's new book, The Gospel according to Oprah, shows a double handful of ways that Oprah gets her message across without being preachy. Two are of interest to me, the 5th and 10th of ten chapters: "Oprah teaches gratitude" and "Oprah is a reminder service."
We are frequently exhorted in the Bible to exercise thanksgiving. The Psalms are primarily expressions of praise and thanksgiving to God, and the rest of the Bible contains many "secret psalms" such as Isaiah chapter 12. Gratitude in our attitude makes everything go better, as Oprah reminds her audience frequently.
Also in the book of Isaiah, God's people are called "God's remembrancers," even called to remind God (and themselves in the process) what His plans are. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit's major task would be to "bring to remembrance" the things He had said, and what His disciples had read. This is why we need to read the Bible; it gives the Spirit something to work with. For those who have never read the Bible, and perhaps wouldn't be caught dead with one in hand, Oprah reminds us what values and virtues really are, and why we're happiest when we're best.
Dale Evans once said, "The way we behave may be the only Gospel some people ever see." I don't know if Oprah knows that aphorism, but it is clear she is living it, and asking us also so to do.