What Oprah and My Wife Taught Me About God and Male Privilege

I‘ve never known much about Oprah. That shouldn’t shock anyone, after all I’m both male and a nerd. Oprah’s demographics appeal skews decidedly female, and my nerd sensibilities work to make me clueless about most things that are popular in society. Oprah is about as popular as it gets.

But then Oprah went on tour with Rob Bell. I suppose it's more accurate to say "Rob went on tour with Oprah," but I'm a lot more familiar with Rob. I love Rob, and I love his work.

I asked a few people who’d been to the event if it was worth checking out. There's a lot of pavement between Tallahassee and Miami, and I didn't want to make a drive like that for anything less than amazing.

My friends told me that I shouldn't miss it. One friend went so far as to say I owed it to myself, as someone who often speaks on stage, to go and see Oprah do what she does.

Really? We're talking about someone who entered my awareness by shouting, "You get a car!" on television.

I mentioned the idea to Jenny, and her reaction was powerful. My wife is neither male, nor nerd, so she often sees things differently. She seemed to think a trip to Miami was well worth it. When my pastor (another non-male, non-nerd named Betsy) heard about the trip, she decided to join us. They both assured me there was more to Oprah Winfrey than free cars.

So, we hopped in our (not-free) car and drove from Tallahassee to Miami to see the most powerful woman in media. I'm told that's not hyperbole.

Betsy, Jenny, and me. (I'm the one with the beard).

Betsy, Jenny, and me. (I'm the one with the beard).

I’ve been on a pretty amazing journey the last couple of years. It's like my moment on the beach with God started a wind that always fills my sails. My life has an enchanted quality, and I feel like all I have to do is keep the sails up and the Wind will do all the work. I'm just along for the ride.

Jenny does not feel that way at all. She’s been stuck in a pretty cynical place about God for a long time—she got to experience the full brunt of my doubt, but she hasn't had a moment like I did on the shore of the Pacific. I don’t want to make it sound worse than it is. We’ve been in a good place together. But, in terms of God, Jenny’s boat was being towed behind mine.

I've taken her to some of the places that moved me, and introduced her to people who have been transformative in my life. I thought it may raise her sails, but it never really did. She liked meeting some of my other friends, and she understood the work I was being called to do. But that’s it.

I noticed there was a lot more excitement in Jenny’s voice about this trip than any of the other things we’ve done together in the last couple of years. I wasn’t sure why until about five minutes into Oprah’s story. Then it clicked.

Oprah’s not some vapid media personality. She’s a profound person of depth and wisdom. I know that sounds ridiculous to people who know her work. But my main understanding of Oprah came from the pronounced antipathy many Evangelicals hold toward her. I've been told for years that Oprah was a dangerous spiritual force in America.

I think those people have it all wrong. I say that because Oprah didn't espouse some sort of generic, self-help spirituality (and I'm not sure if there's anything wrong with that anymore). Oprah's language was certainly open and accommodating, but the substance of her talk was unmistakably Christian in character. She spoke fondly of Jesus, and this post by Christa Black goes into greater detail about that.

That's some stage.

That's some stage.

Anyway, I was blown away by her story and the powerful way she communicates and holds a room. 13,000 people strong, and I know the back row was completely dialed in to everything she said. But Jenny, wow, she was enthralled–like I’ve never seen her.

The next morning, Jenny meditated with Deepak. She’s never meditated with me. It's funny, I'm somewhat of an expert of meditation, but I can't get Jenny into it. She’s humored me a couple of times, but it’s never worked for her. But in a crowded, noisy stadium she was able to do it.

Then she listened as Liz Gilbert talked about finding herself on a hero’s journey with tear in her eyes. As she did the exercises in the program, she and Betsy kept whispering to each other.

I was analyzing and learning, but Jenny was changing and growing.

When Rob came out, it seemed like Jenny connected with his work for the first time. I was puzzled by this, until I realized the obvious—this was a safe environment for women. There were not enough men to bluster and dominate. We were in a hive of womanhood. There was perhaps one man for every 30 or 40 women in the room.

I was just a guest at their party. Here, in an arena full of other women, my eyes were opened to the depth of male privilege for the first time.

I’m pretty progressive about gender. Actually, that’s just false modesty: I’m a male feminist. But, I’d never really understood male privilege really looks like until that moment. When men are present in suitable numbers, women have to either fit the mold of social expectation, or rebel against it to break the mold. Neither of those are an authentic representation of self.

Jenny was crying at the end. Jenny is not the soft, sentimental crier I am. It takes a lot to move her needle so to speak.

We drove down, so we had to drive back. It’s 7 hours. Betsy had a conference in Lakeland the following week, so we drove there first to drop her off. Something was stirring in Besty and Jenny, something powerful. Spiritual awakening. The voice of God was speaking.

God came to me through Rob Bell and the waves of the Pacific, and  God came to Jenny through Oprah and the Trailblazers and a 7 hour car ride.

Jenny has good days and bad days with God. She's not prone to the same obsessive introspection and fact-finding that drives me. But here, after Oprah, Jenny seemed comfortable with God again. She prayed in the car—and she started to get a vision of the work she wants to do with God.

Not how she wants to support my work. She was already there. I’m talking about her work.

After 14 years of marriage, and I mean 14 absolutely SPECTACULAR years, we clicked in a new, more powerful way. I saw new things in her, and she saw new things in me, and God came and just laughed as drove home together.

All that because my wife had the space to listen for God in the company of other women. I'm more convinced than ever that men have a vital role to play in a society–and a faith–that supports women as full equals to men.