I like Oprah a lot. I have liked her a lot for a very long time.
Way back in 1998 when I graduated from the Master's program at Wesleyan University, she was the commencement speaker. Apparently, one of her nieces was graduating as well, so Oprah came and spoke. Before the ceremony, instead of hanging out on the platform at a distance from the crowds, she, Stedman, and Gayle (her other Gail...) came and mingled with the graduates. I thanked her for her constant support of stay-at-home mothers. She looked directly at me and said, "You're welcome." Not willing to let hers be the last word, I approached her and asked if I could have my photo taken with her. She readily agreed; downstairs in our family room is a photo of yours truly with my arm draped over her shoulders, both of us in dark sunglasses, one of us firmly standing on Cloud 9.
I like Oprah. I like how open she is about her struggles with her weight. I like how open she is in her stand against child abuse, poverty, and bad fashion. I like how she takes millions of her own dollars and invites her viewers to add their own money and builds homes for the homeless, schools for the uneducated, provides assistance for so many who are in deep need. I like how she reads hundreds of books each year and recommends her favorites to her millions of viewers.
Have I joined her in every stand against poverty? Have I read every book she has recommended? Have I agreed with every stance she takes on topics as varied as dieting, exercise, travel, food, wine, shopping, and religion? Absolutely not.
Apparently, she is now leading an online class based on a book entitled "A New Earth." Apparently some people think this is yet another attempt by Oprah to turn millions of people on to yet another "new age" religion that will draw them away from The Truth. Apparently lots of Christian radio stations, television stations, Bible schools, websites, and others have decided that yet again Oprah needs to be punished for choosing this book and putting this course online.
Let me be clear: I have not read the book and don't currently have any plans to read it - not because I am condemning it (how can I condemn a book I have never read?) but because I have far too many other books to read at the moment.
However, I have read another Book that talks about the passing of the old earth and the coming of a new earth. I have read another Book that talks about how people will seek to hear what their itching ears want to hear.
In that same Book, I have read a lot about Someone who, instead of condemning and criticizing everyone around Him every chance He got, reached out and touched them. He asked them what they needed. He asked them what they wanted Him to do for them. He told them stories that their itching ears wanted to hear and then He listened to their stories. He sat in their homes and ate with them. He walked along hot, dusty roads and talked with them. He invited them to come with Him, to follow Him, and to spend time with Him. He invited them to lay down their burdens and take on His much lighter yoke.
Did He yell at some people? Did He criticize some people for their snobby, condemning, ostracizing, belittling, unforgiving behavior towards others? Who were the ones He got mad at?
Let me ask that question another way: who did Jesus not yell at? Not the woman caught in adultery. Not the woman at the well who had had four or five husbands. Not the woman who was bleeding for twelve years or the people possessed with demons running around naked and foaming at the mouth. Not the lepers or the blind people. Not the outcasts or the seekers. Not the thousands of hungry people who dared to follow Him out into the wilderness to hear His stories.
He yelled at the people who claimed to be followers of the Law. The ones who believed they were better than everyone else. The ones who were quick to point out the fallen ones, the sinners, the addicted, the lusty, the lost, and the diseased. He yelled at them for making the way so difficult for the ones who were already lost - and who admitted to being lost. He yelled at the ones who were incapable of admitting their own faults, but were always ready and willing to speak aloud about the faults of others. He condemned the people who stood up in the temple and proudly prayed through a list of the kinds of people they were glad they were NOT.
I challenge those of us who say that we embrace the Gospel of Christ: before we jump on yet another bandwagon and accuse Oprah of leading thousands astray yet again, let us carefully consider what we are doing as we walk along this life journey. Are we, like Jesus, coming up alongside other folks on the road and asking them what they are talking about as they walk along the way? Are we asking them what they are seeking? Are we asking them what kind of new earth they long for? Are we listening to their answers without preparing an answer that will challenge and correct every word they say? Are we telling them about the new earth that is promised to all of us?
Are we telling them about our own struggles and about The Book that we are reading, the Book that is providing much-needed answers for us? Are we sitting with them in the wreckage of their lives and crying with them or are we trying to figure out ways to point out blame and separate ourselves from them and their lives? Are we sharing with them the great stories that The One Who Came told us? Are we sharing the great love that He has shown to us? Are we living our lives in such a way that others will want to know what makes us so different?
If we aren't living out what we read in The Book we claim to love and want to obey, if we refuse to live out the radical Gospel of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and leper-touching that we say we believe, then what choice does anybody around us have but to find another book, read it, and follow its teachings? What choice do people have but to follow the Gospel According to Oprah or Dr. Phil or Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly or Nancy Grace or Anderson Cooper or Ann Coulter or the current president or the one to come? What choice do they have?
Here's the thing: We are all sick of the mess that this world is in. We are all searching. We are all looking for answers.
Here's the question: Whose Gospel are we gonna teach and live out? Oprah's or Somebody else's?
PS. Before you fire off an email and accuse me of being a liberal, too tolerant, and completely blinded by the glare off of Oprah's diamond earrings, read on.
I proudly confess to being a liberal and pray desperately to be more liberal every day: liberal with my love, compassion, and tenderness, liberal with my money, my material goods, and my forgiveness.
I hope to become increasingly tolerant of my own faults and the faults of everyone I know. Furthermore, I pray for the strength to walk unswervingly with and beside them as we together seek out ways to be healed and transformed.
As for Oprah's earrings, they are amazing, aren't they? If they were mine, I'd sell them and give away most of the money to feed the hungry and provide for the poor... And then I'd use the rest to buy myself a smaller pair of diamond studs. I won't tell a lie; I do like a good pair of earrings...