Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Oprah Winfrey may have gone too far in exploiting and distributing the teachings of a questionable New Age writer.
On Monday night, Winfrey conducted her weekly Web "event" seminar with New Age writer Eckhart Tolle. His message: "Life is the dancer and you are the dance."
The seminar was No. 7 in a series of 10. On the first 90-minute Webcast with Tolle, Oprah extolled the author’s virtues, calling his best-selling "New Earth" book "one of the most important books of our time," the seminars one of "the most exciting things I’ve ever done."
Imagine that Winfrey considers her conversations with Tolle, a man with a shady and un-checkable background, more important than her schools in Africa and Mississippi for underprivileged children, more important than her Angel Charity network or her zillion-dollar syndicated TV show. Tolle must be something else!
But it’s not like Winfrey is endorsing Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison, serious, educated artists with portfolios. Tolle is more like Kilgore Trout, Kurt Vonnegut’s science-fiction crackpot alter-ego.
And what’s different about the Tolle connection for Winfrey is that for the first time in her much-applauded Book Club’s history, she’s gone into business with the author. And the author is not one of a novel, memoir or cookbook; he’s the mysterious creator of a philosophy that Winfrey endorses and suggests her readers live their lives by.
But is Eckhart Tolle an appropriate spiritual leader? He told an interviewer that he stopped going to school at age 13 and didn’t resume any education for at least a decade. In the same interview he says he graduated "with the highest mark at the London University."
The press rep at the University of London says there’s simply no way to verify that. "You might as well say you graduated from here," joked the person I spoke to. Clever.
He says in interviews that he had a personal epiphany in 1977 at age 29 after a life of suffering from suicidal depression. For the next 15 years, no one knows much about what happened to him, and he’s not saying. He says he spent time wandering and sitting in London’s parks, with "no relationships, no job, no home, no socially defined identity," but a sense of "intense joy."
In seminar 1, Oprah’s new guru tells her: "I was living in England, and I had this strong impulse one morning … I had to move to the West Coast of North America without knowing why … So I moved to Vancouver and then I took a Greyhound bus to California, knew only one or two people, and I said, 'Why am I here?'"
"Three weeks passed, somebody put me up in a room near San Francisco, and suddenly this came. I bought a notepad and suddenly the strong stream came through and I wrote, 'What Is Enlightenment?' The beginning of 'The Power of Now.' The moment I wrote that, I knew this is the book that wants to be born. So rather than me wanting to write a book, there was a book that wanted to be written."
And so on.
Oprah’s response to this: "It’s like Michelangelo says the angel’s in the marble and he just cuts away the marble."
Well, not quite.
His books, "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth," are the same gobbledygook as most New Age stuff. They’re all about self-empowering and how to find out who we are. "Awakening" is Tolle’s key word. Tolle is very busy enforcing moments of silence and showing his readers how to find their "pain-body."
Nothing new there. And nothing new for Oprah, who’s now so wildly wealthy that she’s exceeded literally any famous person she might interview. Parade magazine puts her 2007 income at $260 million, the most of any celebrity and $150 million more than Steven Spielberg, the most successful filmmaker of all time. So what can she do besides anoint presidential candidates or start a religion?
Indeed, Winfrey already has flirted with several cult-like New Age deals. She’s enthusiastically embraced the Scientology celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. She’s even gone into business with Kirstie Alley, whom she’s planning to give a forum in her own talk show.
She’s also promoted televangelist Marianne Williamson’s kooky "Course of Miracles" and a book of New Age clichés by Australian Rhonda Byrne called "The Secret." (There’s a good piece on the latter at salon.com.)
Winfrey is nothing if not gifted at recognizing what’s already popular in the culture and exploiting it. But her association with Tolle is way over the top. It involves sponsorships with General Motors (Chevy), 3M Corp. (Post-Its) and Skype Internet phone service. In one broad stroke, she’s managed to accomplish what Scientology never has achieved: bringing corporate America’s implicit approval into religion.
What’s interesting is not so much Tolle, with his German accent and blank stare, proselytizing his nonsense. He talks a lot, literally, about looking at flowers and trees in a new way, much like Chauncey Gardner in "Being There."
It’s more about Oprah herself, free associating, selling out her own world as she gushes over those flowers and trees. For example, in seminar 1, she socks it to Hollywood, the source of 50 percent of her guests. This is the same Oprah who does a live special the day after the Oscars and often plugs the worst films just to get ratings.
In that segment, Oprah seems to forget who she is to score points with Tolle, or rationalize why she’s involved in this beyond the corporate money being reaped:
"Everyone complains about the media and the movies. I mean, if you just look at the Academy Awards this year, and the kinds of movies that were made this year, and it’s all a reflection of who we are. You say in the book," Winfrey says to Tolle, "that we’re the species that will go and watch people be maimed and killed and murdered for our entertainment."
We can assume she wasn’t talking about "Juno," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "The Savages," "Enchanted," "Atonement," "La Vie En Rose," "Michael Clayton," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "Into the Wild," "Away from Her" or "Charlie Wilson’s War" — all films that had nominations. Just three films featured overt violence this year — "No Country for Old Men," "There Will Be Blood" and "Sweeney Todd."
But it’s the zealous excitement in Winfrey’s eyes when she says it that makes the difference. Those three films are now the whole Academy Awards, and therefore "the media." You can already feel hearts pounding! She’s right! Hollywood had better look at flowers and trees in a new way.
What makes Oprah’s seminars even more creepy are the "study groups" she has lined up for Tolle at bookstores and other locations around the world. They’re all hooked up to the seminars through Skype, and the members can ask questions. They all have that same glazed-over look as people giving testimonials on late-night infomercials.
"I consider this to be a sacred moment when we can all come together … and share in this work," Winfrey says at the start of seminar 6. And why not? You’ll notice that she, not Tolle, has the sole copyright on the broadcasts. Ka ching!
But don’t worry about Eckhart Tolle. His "power of now" is all about his store. All roads lead to his merchandise, which is prominently featured on his Web site and accessed from Oprah’s.
His is a costly philosophy. Books, tapes, DVDs — all of it becomes quite expensive when added up, making Tolle no different than Scientology, Kabbalah or any other shiny new religion. Tolle even sells teaching tools "for professionals" — "A Guide for the Spiritual Teacher and Health Practitioner" — even though it’s unclear what is the basis of his own educational background.
Are we supposed to take this seriously? As Tolle, himself, says to Oprah, "It’s better to laugh at madness."
Posted by Pastor Dave at 12:07 PM
Friday, June 20, 2008
Most people don't think. Okay, that may be a bit harsh. We DO ponder things like what we will have for dinner, what movies we might watch, what political candidate we most likely agree with. But we DON'T think about the things that we believe. When you are speaking to a friend about the change that Christ has made in your life you are likely not using Jesus' name very frequently. You hem and haw around the subject. You speak of how things have changed "since you started going to church' or now that you have found "faith". But many people have faith in some crazy stuff! And there are lots of churches to attend. So in a way you are distracting your own argument. What you need to be saying is, "Hey, Bob, the craziest thing happened to me. I went to church and really felt something! It seemed like God was calling out to me. Did you ever have that?" Suddenly, Bob- your unchurched friend- is asked for his opinion and confronted with the possibility that God might actually be speaking to both you and HIM! That is important because Bob never thinks about God. And he certainly never questions why he is so unfulfilled in his present faith relationship that he never attends church. He, in fact, in scared of God and is really afraid of surrendering to his will. (He might end up a missionary in Africa!)
Real conversion begins with the thoughtful processing about what we believe and why. This world view assessment is crucial for repentance. God spent much time trying to get Israel to examine their deeds and lifestyle choices. He even brought judgment for the purpose of turning back the hearts of his children to prayer. The thinking process isn't an easy one. I demands of a person the ability to say I have been wrong up until now. This rarely happens in older people. They are afraid to admit that they have made mistakes walking the wrong way in this life. Sad really. That our faith is trapped behind the formidable doorway of our pride. For the believer, God has permission to crush your pride, in the interest of your soul. But for the unbeliever our evangelistic job is to prod them with questions and thoughts that the Holy Spirit can use to get them to think.
After thinking that there just might be a God who is trying to get my attention I am open for an expereince with that God. If he turns out to be a loving, caring and benificent God then I am more likely to fall in love with him.
Someone asked me the other day if I get defensive regarding the gospel. Well the truth is I know it is TRUE. And since that is my mental stance, I find myself less threatened by the bloviation of the "other side". See, I was on the other side when God reached down to me. So how about you, are you sure you are walking in the truth?
Posted by Pastor Dave at 3:15 PM
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
So you think I am crazy! Every year I take my boys fishing with their uncle and cousin and we "enjoy" the arduous workout of paddling a canoe for some 20-30 miles to camp on some mosquito infested island. It is hard work. This years trip was more arduous than most. We traveled between 45-50 miles round trip. We went through bogs that were deeper than our waistes, we climbed hills (Heart attack Hill!)for what seemed like hours, we portaged an 80 pound canoe over a mile on one portage, we descended down slopes that scared me without a pack on my back, and we got cold, wet, and rained on. The mosquitoes are worse than in the Costa Rican rainforest. The black flies were flying into our eyes and mouths all day long. Fun, eh!
At 50, I am personally challenged by the outdoors. It stands challenging me to persevere, to overcome, and to rise to the occassion.In that way, it is like life. Life has significant challenges that cause many to shrink back in fear. I have friends that turned back in fear at various moments of their lives- failed to pursue the goal of meeting the challenges. To me, to turn back in fear or to fail to meet the challenges is like dying. If life is a challenge- death is failing to meet it. And I ain't dead yet!
True enough, I am more tired when I return from those kinds of vacations. It takes a little recuperating time. But if you notice there is a smile on my face. It is satisfying to face the obstacles and come out on top. Tired yes- but more alive than ever before... Inspite of the fact that I have to eat my own cooking!
Posted by Pastor Dave at 4:34 PM
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
"Yes, Pastor we would love to come and speak at your church," the email read," our customary fee for (Big Name Speaker) is $7500 for 4 one hour sessions..." My jaw dropped. Now I am not the best at math, but I think that $2000 an hour to speak a warmed over message on marriages is a bit crazy. Please realize that housing said speaker, flying them in, and feeding them would (of course!) be in addition to the fee.
What is going on here? When did the minister start charging $2000 per hour? Now don't get me wrong - this guy has some good material. I have read his book. But I can't imagine this price!!! Who knows if he practices what he preaches? Too bad because we desperately need his message!
So in addition to the book royalties that he is recieving, he is making $400,000 per year? Not bad work if you can get it. Not only will I not have him in, I won't recommend his books anymore either. This is a Big Problem.
What these guys need to remember is that there will be a judgment on those who merchandise the anointing in such a manner. Church- there is a big problem here. And the time has come for judgment to begin in the house of God. So I am asking God to deal with it officially in this blog.
God, you have a renegade in your house. As you would expect me to do to a pompous little teenager in my house, I am asking you to do to this brother. I rebuke the greedy materialistic spirit that he is operating in right now. Please- bring humility, balance, and compassion for real people with real problems to him. In the Biggest Name of all. Amen.
Posted by Pastor Dave at 5:22 PM