Saturday, February 23, 2008

Joel Osteen Comes to Town

I am not a strongly religious person, even though I attend church pretty regularly. Like many, my skeptical brain can not accept all the contradiction, hocus pocus and the chasm-size leaps of faith inherent in Christian faith. I do, however, believe that someone named Jesus Christ lived, was the most radical revolutionary in all of recorded history, taught a primitive, animal like society how to live in peace and ignited human capacity to love. Thus I go to church to hear this philosophy and try to adapt it to my life. The hocus pocus and literal interpretation, that is for the Baptists.

Thus sets the scene for a somewhat surreal evening I spent with 18,000 others in the vast Kemper Arena listening to "A Night of Hope" a program by the current reigning monarch of TV preachers Joel Osteen. My friend Greg was going and asked if I wanted to join him. Curiosity is a powerful motivator so off I went. The promised treat of Rosedale BBQ before the show (or whatever it is) was the clincher for me.

Osteen is interesting, a bit of different animal than many of the evangelical nuts polluting the airwaves and pulpits of the world. Because of his difference, Osteen has been criticized for preaching too frequently on positive thinking and "the prosperity gospel" which focuses on good health and financial abundance for the believer. His lack of hitting one over the head with out of context Bible verses and hellfire and brimstone is refreshing in the current crop of TV preachers. Now, I am all for being positive; my training in clinical psychology demonstrated to me that our thoughts and beliefs can be powerful motivators and inhibitors. But, it is not the simple catch-all cure-all that Osteen preaches.

Human behavior, both group and individual is much too complex for the simple answers Osteen preaches. As much as I tried to believe and ask to be a millionaire and an end to my diabetes, tinnitus and aching back, I don't think it is happening. That is a bit simplistic in itself, and Osteen and his family say to be cured one has to take your medicine. You see, Osteen even admits he is not so much a preacher but a life coach, using Christian principles for his background. Osteen in fact does not have a degree in theology but rather a degree in Television production, which is telling in and of itself.

Anyway, it is still preaching, it is still Christian Pentecostalism, if it looks and sounds like it, then it must be. Rock concert slick, Jesus would be out in the halls overturning the high priced merchandise tables, chock full of books, t-shirts and CDs. I just couldn't take much of it. Slick (a word I keep coming back to), scripted (I am sorry but I doubted Osteen's crying jag a the mention of his late dad) and with make-up worthy of the Hollywood Westmores (Mrs Osteen has to have had work done), the whole thing just collapsed for me under the weight of the production.

I thought maybe this guy was different. Greg enjoys him and Greg is not a fool by any means. But alas, the simple message, the trappings of wealth and power, the whole prosperity gospel message (God wants you to be RICH!)just grated on me. But by the time we left (early) I could only see the private jets, limousines, fabulous houses, etc. The images on the screen showed largely white, happy, warm climate suburban, hetero families surely not representative of the world I see out my urban window.

Accumulation of wealth and material goods has been and continues to be the major hallmark of this movement, thus counter to much of what I see in Christian teaching. Where is the helping of the poor, quietly and without material reward? Where is the preaching that the accumulation of wealth for one rests on the back of someone else? Humility, service, turning the other cheek? It was all too Amway for me.

At least Osteen is not kicking people in the teeth (at least publicly) like many preachers. But he is really not all that much different and I predict he'll end up irrelevant in Branson someday along with all the others.

(Note the tongue-somewhat-in-cheek tag of "Theatre Reviews I attached to this entry!)


Anonymous said...

I would have to disagree with your post. I went to the event lastnight and found it very appealing. Joel is the one who brought me to Christ about 4 years ago. Following his ministry ever since has had a great impact in the lives of me and my 5 year old daughter. I left the show lastnight more connected with God than I ever have before.

Anonymous said...

Could you get your friend Greg to post a review on how the show went the other night. I'm interested in hearing what he thought about it.

Don said...

From "Greg": I told the story of "Joel" to Sara, to whom I had given the two extra tickets, today. I said: "after the overly loud music and the meet the family, and the third time the white bucket went by in front of me, I began to think differently about the "show". The thirty minute, Sunday morning message was nowhere to be found. He wasn't the same person. He doesn't ask for money but his sister does; acknowledging that the first 10% should go to your home church. The lights come up and the bucket goes by the third time, I am ready to leave. I don't know if I'll watch him on Sunday or not.