(Stick with me. The title is true.)
I have this viewpoint on God and religion that a lot of people don’t have. For the most part, and there are ENORMOUS exceptions, I believe most of us are just trying to talk to God. Religions are like languages, different ways of talking to Him. I use Christianity, but I don’t judge someone who uses Buddhism because I find that though our languages differ, we’re saying the same things.
Now, to suddenly and without warning become far more shallow…I love Oprah.
I love her.
I think she is annoying and real and hilarious and a terrible interviewer and a wonderful interviewer and SO heart-centered in everything she does and an honest-to-goodness human being who is just doing her best and doesn’t mind if you watch her THE WHOLE TIME. I sincerely love the woman. I watch her TV channel, OWN, so much that Bear might sometimes secretly request to God himself that the cable go out. These sometimes self-indulgent television shows fascinate me because I feel the common thread O is trying to sew through all of them. (What? I call her O. She’s doesn’t care.)
While watching an episode of something that made me cry recently on the OWN channel, I said out loud, “I just want my job to be watching the OWN channel and then talking about what I watched while crying.” You know. Logical stuff.
Cut to a week later.
A client I’d done some writing for called me VERY excited that she had an AMAZING opportunity and she wanted me to help her. Excited by her excitement, and always being impressed by her projects, I turned on my listening ears. And do you know what she asked me to do?
Spoiler alert: YOU KNOW WHAT SHE ASKED ME TO DO.
Oprah created a new series on religion called Belief. The series will be 7 nights long and she wanted to know if I would watch the episodes now, respond to them, and then help create a conversation live among her clients online when the actual series ran.
She wanted me to watch OWN and then talk about it while crying.
She invited me to join The Belief Team, a grassroots group of people headed up by O herself looking to share the beauty of this series. No mass marketing. No uncomfortable sales pitches. Just a bunch of people who happen to believe what I believe: we can all believe different things and still welcome each other with love and compassion.
I’ve watched three of the Belief episodes and wept through every single one of them. I am SO blown away by the beauty of each faith, and it only STRENGTHENED my own faith. I’m so excited about the live launch on October 18.
And then, tonight, I got to be on a phone call. With Oprah’s producers.
It was a conference call to drum up excitement among a community of thought and faith leaders. And I was allowed to be on the call.
Like. No one kicked me off.
I was there the whole time. Squealing.
I wasn’t brave enough to raise my hand or post a question. But as I sat breathless listening to leaders of all faiths come forward and share their love of this series, their love of their own beliefs, and Oprah’s response to it all. I felt like I came out of my body.
In short: Holy. Shit. I sat in on a conversation tonight. With Oprah. Winfrey.
She spoke for a moment about the series, and then some of the more prominent leaders on the call were offered the chance to ask O a questions. What did I do? I transcribed her answers like a squirrel at a keyboard COVERED in nuts because I was freaking out that I was listening to O speak from her bedroom in a comfy chair with a cup of tea in a bath robe (NO I DON’T KNOW WHERE SHE WAS OR WHAT SHE WAS DRINKING OR WHAT SHE WAS WEARING BUT I GOT TO BE ON THE CALL WITH HER SO I GET TO PICK ALL THOSE DETAILS).
I’m posting all the questions and answers because I assume everyone is like me and you want to know EVERYTHING SHE SAID.
What does God feel like?
O: God feels like life. Every breath that I take and every moment that I’m allowed to touch, feel, taste, and experience life. It’s my favorite bible verse, Act 17-28. It’s…when I was on trial in 1998 for saying something bad about a burger, in Amarillo, TX, I was going into the courtroom and my friend and mentor Maya Angelou told me to look above the juror’s heads and see the Lord’s salvation and repeat to yourself as your mantra, “In God I move and breath and have my being.” I did that so much on the witness stand I literally had this feeling that the presence of God was so with me that I felt exalted! I’d been two days on the witness stand and after 2 days of testifying from 9-5, I said to the next person who was going to sit on the witness stand, “Oh my God. You’re gonna love it!! You’re gonna love the experience! Lean into the space that is God and let that space carry you wherever you need to go. No prosecutor…no harm can come to you.”
It was one of the most challenging times of my life. Because we all go through trials, and depending on where you are in your life they show up in different ways, and literally sitting on the witness stand I thought, “Oh gee, I live such a big life that I would actually BE on trial! The whole purpose of the trial is to help you lean into the space that is God. In god I move and breath and have my being. God is this space and entity in which I’m allowed…that is in me and around me and through me at all times.
How do people without faith connect with the Belief series?
O: One of the reasons we wanted to do this series was for people who aren’t connected, or to have an array of choices and ideas and approaches to looking at faith. That they can see what may or may not align with their own or just to choose to see the spiritual thread of love and compassion that connects all of the stories. That’s why we tried to be inclusive of Adam, the mountain climber story, who doesn’t believe in anything, doesn’t call it God, but he believes in life and living in the present moment and going throughout the world and trying to be a decent person and contributing to humanity through his work and his passion, and his pride in climbing. So I think there’s something in the series for everybody and I think that people who may or may not be as aligned with a particular faith will have particular interest in the series because it opens up that door to be inclusive for everyone.
What was your favorite moment of the pope’s visit?
O: I was so moved by his visit here, and my favorite moment was after he had spoken to Congress and he was standing on the balcony. It speaks to what Bob just said. When he said, “Pray for me, and if you don’t believe in prayer, just send me good wishes.” I just thought Wow. We have this pope who acknowledges that there are people who don’t pray, but that if you don’t pray, that’s ok. Just send me good wishes! I’ll accept those, too! I thought that statement, his example, was one of the most inclusive things I’ve ever seen. It was a way of opening up and being inclusive without saying, “…and now I’m going to include all you sinners!” More than what he said throughout his visit here, his countenance, the very essence and spirit of him…the way he walked, the way he moved through the crowds, the way he acknowledged other people, and even in his calm moments, I’ve never felt so clearly that Wow. That is a man of God. And the peaceful space from which he seemed to speak and move and have his being was what touched me the most. I watched him and thought – I want some of that! Whatever you’re doing pope, I want some of that!
Which faith was most surprising while creating the series?
O: I wasn’t aware of the ritual of the Changing Woman. I wasn’t aware that…I’ve seen so many rites of passage in the Jewish faith and even the African community as well, and I didn’t realize that that was such a strong tradition and part of their culture and faith. And so I was particularly…it was one of those Woah! I never knew that! Never experienced that.
Also that Jain nun who was in the Indian Army and let to go from the army to being a nun. And not just a nun but a JAIN nun, and having ever hair plucked form her head in the town square. I think what all of these stories do, to an extent, is… would I be willing to do that for my faith? I’m glad my faith doesn’t require me to have every hair plucked on my head, but I admire the courage and discipline and devotion to faith that I experienced in some of those stories. I felt strengthened by them in my own way, as I hope everyone will. That’s why the series isn’t preachy or “This is how you should think” or “What we want you to think or feel is…” It’s however it touches you. And when you leave audiences with that light touch, you have the greatest chance of opening up that heart space for people.
O: From the depths of my self, and this is what I know for sure (otherwise you wouldn’t take the time on this call or be a part of the Belief Team), this is how we change the world. We all, in our daily lives, look at the news and experience the world and talk about how terrible things are. But this is how we change it. One person at a time. One bishop, one pastor, one rabbi, one imam, one buddhist, one sikh. Through our experiences, we get to offer a piece of healing, and your being a part of this is part of the chain of healing. It’s what Bishop Walter Scott Thomas said…too often the religious expressions of the world hunker down in their own bunkers or cocoons and don’t have a clue of the religious world outside their walls and then they start to believe that they’re the only one who’s right, and many go on to believe their rightness means they can hurt other people or undermine other people…
But in my life experience, I truly believe this series could serve mankind as a great corrective of that mindset: i you can find the true character of God in any faith as evidence through the tenants of faiths shown in all of them:
Compassion and kindness and love.
Whenever you can find that and affirm it and praise it and bless it, wherever you see the character of God, you see the glory of God.
And there it is. That last line…it’s final proof to me that maybe my way of thinking isn’t so crazy. Maybe there are other people out there who are OK if you just practice compassion and kindness and love in your way. And what a lovely world it would be if we cared less about the language we use and more about what we’re saying.
Also…Oprah and I are best friends.