Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Why I Cringe

Oprah Winfrey NetworkOn New Years day Oprah Winfrey launched her very own television network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and I cringe, more than I would if someone took a piece of blunt chalk and scraped it on a board for 10 hours.

In numerous interviews and articles I’ve seen Oprah define her goal for the network to revolve around people being ‘all that they can be.’ Finding the potential inside of you. Becoming everything you are.

I cringe at all of this because I find it incredibly shallow and fluffy. That’s not because I’m a man. My wife agrees with me. It’s not the crying or the so-called straight-talk that bugs me, it’s all this you, you, you stuff that’s mixed with a thorough ‘works’ and ‘formulas’ view to a better life and even salvation, with the latter end promoted by a shallow mystical spirituality that Oprah tends to really believe in, evidenced by her quote where she says she has asked God to “Use me… use me until you use me up.”

Oprah finds support because she appeals to something that is hardly new and has been around with us and has been the cause of many (or perhaps all) of our problems: this idea of ours to be the master of our own destinies, to be the gods of our own lives, where God’s main purpose in all of this is to bring us a better life, and our way of attaining God’s favour is doing all the right things.

Oprah’s many shows on her network represent all the formulas. We’ve got some phsycoanalysis with Doctor Phil, who might be a straight-talker and I can sometimes appreciate his way of dealing with things, but the whole vibe glorifies the West’s therapeutic culture where we are, in some way, a victim and ALL things are easy for us to overcome, if we just do it right. We needn’t worry about God’s grace or His Spirit (even though there might be talk of His Spirit in Oprah-land, but more in a way where its all about us and not about the Spirit), we just need to follow the formulas. The same idea even comes out in Oprah’s sex show. Good sex boils down to right formulas, even formulas for relationships, and formulas save us — not God.

You might say I’m taking a narrow and very conservative, gun-ho Christian fundamentalist attitude, but let me show you why I don’t believe I am. Oprah’s message resonates with many Western Christians and churches, liberal or conservative, precisely because it’s so formula driven. Even conservatives, who may say in one corner of their mouth that Oprah is some form of false prophet and New Age and whatever else, will go around saying that if we do thing’s “God’s Way” then we will find ourselves living in freedom. We need to raise our children “God’s Way”, or run our businesses “God’s Way” to enjoy a better life. In principle I might agree, but in experience even doing thing’s “God’s Way” doesn’t provide a ‘better life’. The problem is that the goal of a ‘better life’ may not be what God wants for us after all.

Both of these views rely on formulas to get what we want — a better life. But there are two problems here. Firstly, why do we think the point of living is to get a ‘better life’? And secondly, why is it that there are so many formula’s out there?

Christian teaching talks about grace, how we need God’s grace to have eternal life. The difference here is joy within circumstances, not joy because our circumstances have changed. The difference is also trusting God for salvation, salvation in this life and in the next age; not trusting formulas. So both Oprah and high conservatives I view on the same side — they’re both just selling different formulas that will get us to the same old myth; the same mirage; of a ‘better life’. Neither of them can promise joy in our circumstances, because that’s not really what we think we want. The goal is a better life now. And whoever can sell their formula the best, wins.

But joy in our circumstances — rather than our circumstances taken away — may just be what we really want, because it seems that these formulas work for some, but not for others, and I for one refuse to live my life going from one answer to the next trying to make it work. I’ve been there, done that. None of the formulas I was taught worked for me, and none of those I taught myself have consistently worked. Rather, I’ll rely on God’s grace, not to make life work, but to sustain me with his joy, peace, and love through the hard times — which can’t be avoided and <i>will</i> come.

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Anne Rice Interview: Why She Quit Christianity

For those of you who don’t know Anne Rice, she is best known as the author of The Vampire Chronicles including Interview with the Vampire, which was translated into a movie some time back, starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Christian Slater. She’s a great writer.

A few years back (I don’t really know how long ago) she became a Christian, a Catholic in particular. But recently she has announced that she has quit Christianity.

This is a great interview (only just over four minutes) where she explains a little more about why she quit Christianity and what she means by that. She also briefly explains her new work focused on angels. I found it interesting, especially since I am a writer myself and a Christian.

(I can’t get the embed code to work properly, so please watch it here)

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Do We Know How to Ask?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened … If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

I write this in a time when I am doing a LOT of asking God for things, many of which I have been trusting for for years now.

In our modern McDonalds fast-food culture, we can get confused with scriptures that tell us to simply ‘ask’ and we will receive. Attempts at making this easier to understand by including the idea that we must ask what God wants can sometimes just aggravate us, because many things we ask for (such as health or a healing) seem to make sense to be God’s will, both biblically and logically.

But the kind of asking the Bible talks about is different. It incorporates these other two actions as well — seeking and knocking. The knocking can, quite clearly, refer to a persistence and the seeking to a knowing of what God’s will is, but I think there’s more to it than just that (as profound as those might be).

We don’t just seek to know His Will but we seek to know Him. We seek His presence. In our asking, seeking His presence is a huge part of the whole thing. We don’t just want to know what God wants, we want to know who he is. And we want to keep knocking on the door where we keep asking, “Who are You Lord? Show me who You are!” If we seek we will find, if we knock the door will be opened.

Do we know what asking means? Do we know how to ask? God is not a McDonalds, clearly, we don’t do much seeking and knocking when we pick up our double cheese burgers. Neither are those double cheese burgers very nourishing. As we seek and knock to know Him, we find ourselves nourished, with peace, joy and such things; the very core need of any of our prayers.

God wants us to ask, seek and knock at the same time. See, God is not one who is quick to reward, but when he rewards, he rewards richly.

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Why Theology is Important for Social Justice Pt 1

World religions, theologies and spiritualities

I think theology is a highly important topic. That’s why I write about it so much. Our theology (or lack of one) is important because it influences the way we live, and therefore it influences the way we see justice and how we take action.

Justice, or social justice, is a big topic these days. Everyone’s talking about it in some form or another, while fewer may be doing something about it, and even fewer can get to do something about it full-time.

If you’re a pantheist (the belief that God is everything, and everything is God, basically) or a panentheist (the belief that God is IN everything, and everything IN God) I think social justice will be a challenge. If God is everything, God is also the evil people of the world, and he is also that instinct, that tendency, to do evil. If God is IN everything, he is also IN that tendency, and IN evil people (and they are IN him).

Pantheism and panentheism is a very interesting and romantic way of looking at the world. But I think it can lead to problems of justice. I think Taoism is one of the most mature pantheistic philosophies out there, but a core tenet of Taoism is not to disrupt the flow of things — as the Beatles sang: “Let it be.” Evil and death can seem so natural because it’s all we’re used to, but if we believe we must not disrupt the ‘flow’ of things, then how could we be passionate about social justice? I don’t see any logical way that we could.

Now I would like to be fair to pantheism and panentheism and not write it off just like that with a few words. I’d be open to debate it as I think it would make an interesting discussion. But even pantheism’s modern cousin (a kind of spiritual environmentalism) presents the same problem. Even its strange cousin (a sort of atheist pantheism, which we’ll talk about) presents problems for justice.

Our theology influences our worldview, and our worldview influences the way we live. We’ll expand on this through a series of posts.

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God’s Glory is not a Laser Show

(Image from here)

What is God’s glory, exactly? What do (some) Christians mean when they talk about the ‘glory realm’?

Well, I think for a lot of Christians God’s glory looks something like a laser show, metaphorically speaking. For them it’s about bright flashing lights, angels appearing, the skies cracking open — THAT’s God’s glory for them. It’s all about the eyes — it’s all about seeing something amazing.

But Christianity can not and should never be relegated to that. This isn’t a laser show. This is about hearts changing. The fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. When people talk about God’s glory why don’t they ever talk about that? Is God’s glory about seeing something amazing, experiencing something out-of-this-world? Or is it in the simple day-to-day reality of becoming a person that reflects Jesus — a person who produces those fruits in a real rubber-hits-the-road kind of way.

A lot of people get stuck in hype rather than reality. Flashing lights are cool and all but they last only a moment. The Spirit producing His fruit is a lifetime thing. God’s glory is in the quiet un-hyped transformation of hearts. I recall Elijah’s experience when there was an earthquake and a forceful wind — yet the Lord was not in them. Rather, he was in the small, still voice. (1 Kings 19.)

Perhaps the reason for this disparity is when we don’t understand how glorious God’s creation actually is. The earth is glorious, and so are we — God’s creation, made in His image. Heaven and Earth met in Jesus when he walked this planet and now meet in us, by His Spirit. And, surprise surprise, most of that isn’t a big light show.

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Not About Being Independent

(Picture sourced from here)

The general philosophy of this world is often about independence. We must be independent; we must stand on our own two feet; we must make things happen.

But God says something different. Rather than be independent, we must come under His protection; under His wing; and find our shelter there.

And just enjoy Him too!

That’s real freedom.

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Can God Enjoy the Soccer?

With soccer / football fever having hit South Africa, and having enjoyed the incredibly tense opening FIFA World Cup match last week between South Africa / Bafana Bafana and Mexico, the thought occured to me: can God enjoy the soccer?

Why this thought? Well, the thing about sports is that there are so many unknowns. This is part of what makes sport so exhilarating — almost anything can happen. Will the other team score an equaliser goal? Will my team be able to keep ahead? If only the ball swayed a little to the left, that would be a goal… and so on.

If God knows everything about the future, though, can He enjoy the soccer? Can He enjoy sport?

Someone might say it’s a little carnal asking if God can enjoy sport, but many times us Christians claim God enjoys our music and our creativity. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say He could enjoy sport, after all it’s also a creative act; so perhaps He does.

But can He really if He knows everything? What if God chooses to forget the future during a match, just so He can enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen? Is that possible? And what does that mean when we think of God’s foreknowledge of other things? Is there any place in the Bible where it seems God might not know, absolutely know, what’s going to happen or what choices people will make? Hmmm…

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Faith Like a Child

(Picture from GettyImages)

I’m sure many of us have heard of the phrase “have faith like a child” or “have childlike faith.” I think the phrase is helpful and true, although it is not said directly in the Scriptures like some think it is.

In Matthew 18 Jesus said we need to be as humble as a child, and in Luke 18 he says we must receive the Kingdom like a child. He never uses the phrase ‘faith like a child’, but talks about receiving the Kingdom like a child.

However, we can make a link between receiving and having faith, as there is certainly a link there. Also, perhaps humility can teach us something about faith. Furthermore, God is our Father, as the Scriptures say, so there is always an element of us being his children that is true.

When I was a child I used to wake up in the morning, go downstairs and have my breakfast without really worrying if tomorrow there would be breakfast on the table. Sure, my experience may be unique when we look at the thousands of street children today, but there’s still a powerful picture here in my opinion.

We ought to just know that our Father is taking care of us, like a child in a safe home knows their parents are taking care of them. If that promotion hasn’t come by yet, no worries, it will when we’re old enough and ready for it. If that increase hasn’t come yet, it will when we’re old enough and ready for it. We need to be humble and obedient to God’s instructions, so that when he says this or that we do it rather than rebel. It’s for our own good anyway. That’s being a child.

And can I tell you there’s something about getting to be a child again that is exceedingly comforting. I have a Father who will take care of me. He can bear the burdens of life while I can just enjoy my life, like I did when I was a kid, without having to worry about the nitty gritty details. God will take care of that. I don’t need to perform, I don’t need to be constantly driving for this or that; the burden is on God’s shoulders.

I think that this blogger really gets it. Have a read. It’s so encouraging.

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How Ambition Makes Me a Bad Friend

I have this issue with ambition that I regularly struggle with. You see, I want to go places, do things, live my life! So in an effort to get there I ignore the here. I look to the future, a thing that the world says I must do, but by doing I so largely ignore the present.

This is known as unhealthy ambition. And it makes me a very bad friend and son to my folks. This is because it gets me to always work towards the goal. For me, the goal is to become a full time novelist. So I’m working at my writing career from all angles to get there, so that one day I’ll “have the time to spend with those I love.”

The problem is that that time will never come. I mean, I know one day I’ll be a full time novelist, but what makes me think I’ll then have the time to spend with those I love? I have to keep my career going then.

Most of us work our lives away so we can enjoy our retirement. But when our retirement comes it’s short lived because our health, and our relationships, suffered so much in the process.

What we really all want is joy, peace, love and a bit of adventure. At least that’s how it is for me. And I can have that all pretty easily by just looking for it in the right place.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure hidden in a field. God is the source of real joy. That’s where I need to go looking for it. But why do I get sidetracked so easily, and so miss the very thing I’m looking for?

Rather I keep chasing after fleeting dreams which, even though they may be good in themselves, are tainted by this unhealthy ambition to get me there.

I’m know my experience is not unique. If you’re like me, let’s look to God as the source of our joy and hope and let our ultimate ambition be to truly know Him.