Countless people have calculated—or rather, miscalculated—when the world would end. For many Oprah Winfrey fans, that apocalyptic event arrived at precisely 4 p.m. Eastern Time yesterday (Thursday, May 26, 2011) when, for the first time in two and a half decades, they sat in front of their TV sets and got the local news instead of their daily dose of wisdom and inspiration from the indomitable “O.”
The Oprah Winfrey Show ended its 25-year run this past week with three farewell episodes that combined to capture all of the grandeur, sentimentality, and congeniality that have come to epitomize the show and its iconic host. The first two final episodes featured a star-studded surprise guest list that regaled Oprah and thousands of her admirers who packed out the United Center in Chicago. The last show—episode number 4,561—was done in a much smaller, more intimate setting back on her usual stage at Harpo Studios, where she spent her last hour thanking fans, sharing thoughts on God, and recounting her best learnings from her years on the show.
Though I am not a diehard member of the Oprah Winfrey fan club, I must admit that I got a little misty-eyed watching the final episodes of her long-running talk show. I haven’t been a regular viewer of the show for many years now, only occasionally catching an episode whenever she had a must-see topic or guest. But in the early years, I was among those who were glued to the tube, checking out this fascinating woman—whose hair, lips, nose, and hips looked like my own and those of the other women in my family. For this black girl, transplanted from the inner-city to the suburbs, the idea of a black professional woman with the charisma and influence that Oprah wielded was foreign. She seemed larger than life. And in the minds of millions of people today, she is.
As her mentor and friend Maya Angelou would say, Oprah is a “phenomenal woman” who exemplifies the spirit of an over-comer.
The first black woman billionaire, Oprah created a veritable media empire in the span of just one generation. Besides her Emmy Award-winning, top-rated talk show, Oprah has started her own television network, a magazine, a bestseller-making book club, produced major motion pictures and TV movies, and even launched the careers of other household names, like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Suze Orman. A bighearted philanthropist, Oprah has raised millions of dollars through her Angel Network to send deserving children to school, financed college educations for hundreds of young black men, built schools in Africa, and more. She has blessed millions of people with her servant’s heart, extreme generosity, and her uncanny ability to bare her soul and profoundly connect with just about anyone.
Over the years, Oprah has consistently motivated people to live their best life ever, teaching that anyone could achieve success regardless of past or present circumstances. She empowered people to pursue their calling in life, and encouraged them to look for life-changing “aha moments” and to be their authentic selves. If you want to make it happen, all you need to do is look within yourself, work real hard, and you will get it. That’s the Oprah way.
For that, people truly love Oprah—and some of that “love” borders on Oprah worship, according to many critics.
Many evangelical Christians have condemned Oprah for her brand of church-free spirituality that focuses heavily on self-empowerment, leaving very little room for the God she claims to know. In fact, Oprah has been called one of the most influential spiritual leaders in America because of the way people respond to her views on life and spirituality. And her talk show has given her the perfect pulpit from which to preach what some have referred to as “the gospel according to Oprah.”
Despite repeatedly giving thanks to Jesus Christ for her many years of success—including on her final show—Oprah has publicly advocated a pluralistic view of salvation that says all paths lead to heaven and God. That means that whether you accept Christ as your Savior and Lord or prostrate yourself before the Buddha, in Oprah’s way of thinking, you can be saved. Clearly, many biblically minded Christians take issue with that perspective, since the Bible teaches salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Though Oprah never intended to become this maharishi to the masses, it is what it is. And many still worry about the impact of her spiritual vagueness and emphasis on seeking a God-consciousness on the eternal souls of her followers.
Very telling is the fact that audience members have had what looked like real religious worship experiences on her shows. They’ve done the ugly cry, shouted, danced for joy, praised their guru, and raised their hands in a fashion very similar to that of worshipers at a Sunday morning church service. One woman dissolved into tears as she shared how putting on an old pair of Oprah’s shoes (purchased at a charity garage sale) keeps her from slumping into a depression.
That’s a mighty powerful influence—one that I doubt will end simply because the show has. Oprah is so embedded in the hearts and minds of those who follow her that they will simply pursue her into her next phase of her career—and whatever else she decides to do after that.
Whatever it is, Oprah clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be a good person (maybe even a better person than some Christians) without being explicitly “Christian” in the evangelical sense. She has done what none of her peers could do. She has risen beyond superstar status to become a true American idol. And, whether you are fan or foe, you have to recognize that Oprah has it going on and the lives of millions of people will never be the same because God allowed a little black girl from Mississippi to pass their way.
Stacy Hawkins Adams
Ever wonder what your life would be like if you had made different decisions? I know I have. I’ve done some downright crazy things in life and have spent many days wishing to erase them from my memory. Unfortunately, that is the nature of life. We all have events in our lives that didn’t go exactly the way we planned. We find ourselves wondering if we had chosen a different college, career, or spouse, would our lives be better. Would we have found that elusive happiness we longed for?
Stacy Hawkins Adams explores this scenario in The Someday List, the first book in her Jubilant Soul series (which continues with Worth a Thousand Words and Dreams That Won’t Let Go). Before becoming an award-winning novelist, Adams was a newspaper reporter and columnist for 14 years with the Richmond-Times Daily Dispatch. Hawkins has published six novels covering women’s issues and faith. She has also written a nonfiction book called Who Speaks to Your Heart?: Tuning in to Hear God’s Whispers. Several of Adams’ books have appeared on the Essence Bestseller List.
The Someday List is the story of Rachelle Covington, wife of a handsome surgeon. She lives with her two children in a perfect house and community. She has all the material trappings that come with her station in life but she is far from happy. Her perfect life becomes a prison of unhappiness.
After a tense outburst with her husband, Rachelle reaches her breaking point. She takes advantage of her husband’s mission trip and her children’s stay at their grandparents to get away and to see a dying friend. That visit shakes her, making her question her life. She returns to her hometown, Jubilant, Texas. There she faces her past, namely Troy Hardy. Seeing Troy again forces Rachelle to deal with her past, and her decisions will greatly impact her future.
Adams does an excellent job portraying the struggle between wanting to change the past and accepting the life we have. Rachelle is torn between her miserable life and the fantasy of righting a perceived wrong from her past. She spends much of her time wondering how things would’ve turned out if she’d made a different choice.
Regret is a powerful motivator, as Rachelle and Troy’s actions show. It keeps us in our past, relieving moments that we can’t change. The most damaging side effect of regret, however, is not recognizing the blessings God has given us now. The gift of the present is sacrificed for the regrets of the past.
The novel also depicts how the decisions we make now can negatively or positively impact the future. The characters’ choices make the story engaging, with some making decisions that eventually cause great hurt and pain. Others, like Rachelle and her husband, lead them down a road of great self-discovery.
The other characters in the book lend themselves to the reader’s introspection. We see ourselves, and our bad decisions, in them. We see the power of choice and how it impacts our lives. We also see how it only takes one bad decision to cause a great amount of pain and the truth that “good people” are not exempt from the consequences of bad choices.
Regret is only one of the themes of the novel. Greater than regret, Adams chronicles the power of having a dream. The importance of dreams cannot be stressed enough. Without them, life seems stagnant. Adams presents the Someday List much the way we think of “Bucket Lists” (things we want to do before we die). Her portrayal is not as morbid as “Bucket Lists” but they both aim for the same result: the realization of dreams.
Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve stopped dreaming until we are faced with death. Rachelle’s dying friend challenges her to create a someday list and causes Rachelle to take a fresh look at her life. In Rachelle’s case, a terminal illness drives her to introspection, but any type of loss has a way of making us reconsider our lives. The important lesson to learn is to make the most of every opportunity. Loss has a tendency to cause us to take stock of our lives. It reminds us of our finiteness. In order to ensure that our lives are filled with meaning, dreams are necessary. They become a guiding force through the tough times. They give our days a sense of forward motion.
Find out more about Stacy Hawkins Adams and her books at her website.
By now, everyone knows this is the final week of Oprah Winfrey’s iconic talk show. And anyone who saw Aretha Franklin sing during yesterday’s broadcast of Oprah’s farewell celebration from Chicago’s United Center knows that spirituality is inextricably tied to the Oprah experience. In recognition of her last week on the air, Christianity Today has re-posted journalist LaTonya Taylor’s classic, 2002 “The Church of O” feature story about this Oprah’s undeniable spiritual impact on our culture. A few compelling pieces from the article:
Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare for more edifying content, and 1998, when she began “Change Your Life TV,” Oprah’s most significant role has become that of spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.
“Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope,” noted a 1994 Vanity Fair article. Indeed, much like a healthy church, Oprah creates community, provides information, and encourages people to evaluate and improve their lives.
Oprah’s brand of spirituality cannot simply be dismissed as superficial civil religion or so much New Age psychobabble, either. It goes much deeper. The story of her personal journey to worldwide prominence could be viewed as a window into American spirituality at the beginning of the 21st century—and into the challenges it poses for the church.
Check out the full article now at ChristianityToday.com.
Image from Wikipedia.