The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Best this month


The Gospel According to Oprah by Marcia Z. Nelson examines the spiritual dimensions of the work of the talk-show host, film producer, philanthropist and initiator of the largest book club in the world. In 2004, the U.S. audience for Oprah’s TV show was 10 million. Her magazine, begun in 2000, has a readership of 2.7 million. And her Web site contains advice for personal growth, better health and much more.

Nelson, who writes for Religion News Service and The Christian Century, says Oprah is a compelling spiritual teacher for several reasons. She is very human; she acknowledges the reality of suffering and wants to do something to relieve it; she provides community; she is easy to understand; she teaches generosity by highlighting and encouraging role models; and she explores forgiveness and tries to demonstrate it is possible.

We’ve been pleased with the ways in which this charismatic African American woman has helped people see the value of the spiritual practice of gratitude. Millions have kept gratitude journals and become more attuned to the operation of grace and overflowing goodness in their lives. Oprah has also challenged viewers to practice kindness, compassion and justice. Nelson has written a spiffy and edifying book that makes clear the importance of Oprah Winfrey’s espousal of everyday spirituality (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005; available from www.amazon.com).


The Family Stone is a yuletide morality play that focuses on the harm that can be done when we judge others harshly. In our contentious culture, it’s often difficult to avoid the habit of evaluating everything and everybody. In this family drama, Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) to meet his family in New England at Christmas. She is an uptight New York City career woman with a rigid set of likes and dislikes. Everett’s outspoken younger sister has already met her and has a low opinion of her. Meredith is so upset by the chilly treatment she receives that she takes a room at a nearby inn and winds up asking her younger sister (Claire Danes) to come give her moral support. Although all six members of the Stone clan are liberal and open-minded about most things, they do not have a spirit of hospitality.

This well-acted family drama is overflowing with telling moments of genuine emotional vibrancy. Writer and director Thomas Bezucha reveals the nasty pleasure it gives individuals to judge others and to take them down a notch or two. But he also salutes the value of picking people up and making them feel good, as demonstrated by one of the Stone siblings. The Jewish sage Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said long ago: “Be like God and don’t look for people’s shortcomings and weak points. You will then be at peace with everyone.” What a fine way for all of us to truly incarnate the true spirit of Christmas (20th Century Fox, PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, drug references).


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February issue


Embracing diversity