A few years back I walked barefoot across a 2 metre pile of red hot burning coals.
I was at an Anthony Robbins seminar. A friend of mine, an Anthony Robbins fan, had arranged a ticket for me, and so I found myself at the Sydney Entertainment Centre with 3000 others for a three day seminar with one of the world’s leading self-help gurus.
It was self-help meets rock show and the undoubted star was Anthony Robbins. The climax of the first night was the coal walking experience. After hours of a very charismatic, passionate and entertaining Mr Robbins exhorting us to believe we could achieve whatever we set our hearts to we were ushered outside to row upon row of red hot coals. By walking across these coals we would see that we could do amazing things if only we could overcome our fear. With African rhythms being belted out on the drums and the urging of my new found buddies I took the plunge and walked across the coals. My feet were not burned.
Having convinced us we could do anything, even walk across burning coals, the next day Robbins introduced us to his foolproof plan for achieving your life goals: set clear goals, develop a plan for achieving them, be prepared to make dramatic change to implement the plan, evaluate your progress and if necessary adjust your original plan. Hardly rocket science but something a lot of us find difficult to do.
To successfully implement the life goals plan it was necessary to let go of our limiting beliefs (eg I am not worthy of love) and replace them with empowering belief. (Eg I am worthy of your love). Extended guided meditation exercises got us to imagine our lives 10, 20 and and 30 years down the track if lived by our limiting beliefs and lived by our empowering beliefs. We began with the limiting beliefs. Having guided us into a future in which we were weighed down by our limiting beliefs, Robbins asked us to let out sounds that expressed how we felt. For the next half hour it was like being in the pit of hell. People were wailing, sobbing and some even howling. How powerful then when Robbins then asked us to imagine our future selves with those limiting beliefs replaced by empowering beliefs. At the end of this session there were tears of joy, howls of laughter and with the music pumping through the loudspeakers we all joined in euphoric dance.
I made a decision at the start of the weekend that I would leave critique until after the workshop. Withholding judgement til later I would invest myself full in it, see what I could gain from the experience.
So what critique do I offer? It seems to me Robbins offers the ultimate in a secular religion. His techniques for helping people change their lives were not rocket science, but they were quite brilliantly and powerfully implemented. The problem was it was up to the individual to define their life goals, their limiting beliefs and their empowering beliefs. This made them amoral, literally godless and often devoid of reality. Rather than shaping my life goals around Jesus call to seek first the reign of God, I was free to chart my own course, whether that be to be the world’s best conman or the world’s greatest philanderer. And with no checks upon my empowering beliefs, I got the feeling there was an air of unreality. No matter how many times I try to tell myself ‘I will be an Olympic athlete’ it ain’t gonna happen.
But before I am too quick to take a speck of sawdust out of Tony’s eye, let me address the log in my own. It struck me that Tony Robbins was more intentional about helping people change their lives than I was as a pastor. I could be very busy preaching, leading worship, running home groups, visiting, doing administration but lose sight of the fact that faith should help people become the people God wants them to be. In my preaching I was good at pointing to the destination, but Robbins showed people how to get there. I think we need more of that in the church. More walking across hot coals.