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GUEST COLUMN

Is televised self-help taking the place of religion?

I think God is a large black woman, and She sent Oprah down to spread the love. The last guy She sent wasn't too media savvy, so this time God decided She would send us a sound byte specialist, a master marketer to help us shape up.

Truth be told, very few of us are living up to our true spiritual or emotional potential. Most of us are wandering around so disconnected from our own souls, we've forgotten how wonderful we actually are.

When the Oprahs, Dr. Phils and Dr. Joys of the world give us a new insight, they're simply tapping into the universal truths our spirit already understands.

But is televised self-help taking the place of religion? It very likely might, if churches can't stay true to the missions they were founded on. People turn to self-help, meditation, religion, and even drugs for the very same reason: We have a hole in our hearts, and we want some help in filling it.

New faiths form when people become tired of the oppressive, restrictive forces of the current infrastructure and start rumbling for a change.

The serfs of Rome risked death following a long-haired, anti-establishment guy named Jesus. Historically, nobody hangs around long when their group ceases to provide emotional connection. Yet, have you ever seen someone who truly embraces their faith with all their heart? They shine. But simply going through the motions of religion with just your head never creates that inner glow.

As human beings, we crave rituals and even rules. Meaningful ceremonies and established codes of conduct can free our minds from the mundane and help expand our understanding of the universe. And religion can provide us with a structure to deepen our personal connection with the divine.

However, many of us turn away from organized religion. We find it boring, meaningless and unenlightening. But is it religion that causes us to disconnect? Or is it the people running it?

We're drawn to leaders who accept us as we are, and who give us the opportunity to grow into who we want to be. Yet we can't grow by blindly following rules created by someone else. We have to examine things with our own minds and make decisions based on our own inner compass before we can accept who put the compass there in the first place.

We know in our hearts that we were meant to live in love, not fear. And we have an inner longing to comprehend our role in the universe at large. True messengers of God understand the fine art of providing group spiritual direction while at the same time encouraging personal self-discovery.

Whether in the pulpit or on TV, they come to us in the time and places we need them most. Their words and deeds may not be perfect, but their wisdom prompts us to question the status quo. They help us move beyond the crazy restrictive ideas we humans get into our heads by tapping into the emotions lying dormant in our souls.

God wants nothing more for us than what we secretly desire for ourselves-a life of meaning and love. So She sent down one of her best girlfriends to support the effort.

Excerpted from "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear (April 1, 2007, Jefferson Press). Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, speaker and syndicated humor columnist.

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