Big Veda

In Hinduism, a Veda is a knowledge or truth writing. I don't pretend that this stuff is anything more than rumination. But through writing it I find a bit of knowledge or truth. Hope you find some truth too. PAX

12.7.05

Self-Help Myopia

I am in receipt of the Religion section of the July 9th Dallas Morning News. The headline article is regarding Lakewood Church in Houston and their new meeting facility (I refuse to call it a sanctuary) in the Compaq Center, the former home of the Houston Rockets. Joel Osteen, the heir to his father, John Osteen's, empi... uh, I mean church. The article goes into detail about the Osteen edifice Complex which seems to be hereditary. It also addresses Joel's best-seller, "Your Best Life Now". To consider this book inspiring is to put lipstick on a pig. Admittedly, I have not read it and have no intention of reading it especially after choking down the pablum quoted in the DMN article. I submit to you the following "seven simple, yet profound, steps to improve your life" from Joel's book:

1. Enlarge your vision
2. Develop a healthy self-image
3. Discover the power of your thoughts and words
4. Let go of the past
5. Find strength through adversity
6. Live to give
7. Choose to be happy

The writer of the article accounts some of the book's many admirers:

Chuck Norris (Walker: Texas Ranger)
Max Lucado (Over-exposed Christian Author/Institution)
Drayton McLane (Owner of the Houston Astros)
Rudy Tomjanovich (Former Houston Rockets coach)

Consider, for a moment, the people who admire Joel Osteen's book. You have a Hollywood Actor, multiple best-selling Christian author, filthy-rich entrepreneur, and professional basketball coach. All of these men (and may I point out that they are all men) are people of considerable influence, power, and means. Reading the seven simple steps through the eyes of the aforementioned people makes me understand why they are admirers of the book. To consider these steps biblical principles or Christian ideals is not only foolish but quite possibly the most myopic view of life that I can fathom. They are, at best, American principles and more specifically, modern ideals perpetuated by a self-absorbed boomer mentality. As you might have guessed, I am by no means being objective about my criticism. However, subjectivity is precisely what gives one clarity to discern the wise from the foolish.

Consider enlarging ones vision. As I examine history and my own experiences, I find that those who enlarged their visions built empires. Alexander, Ginghis Khan, Constantine, Saladin, Napoleon, and numerous British monarchs (to name only a few) enlarged their visions and trampled on the backs of entire nations to bring to fruition their inspired vision. All of these people proceeded with the conviction that they were doing all for the good of mankind. Conversely, Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and MLK had great vision for a small group of people and while helping their respective people, they touched the world and made it a better place. Is it important to have vision? Yes. Is it important to enlarge that vision? No. If God tells you to build a house, he's not calling you to be a commercial real estate developer. If your vision is to help people in dire physical need, be a doctor. That doesn't mean that your vision will only be fulfilled when you have become chief of surgery. Your vision is fulfilled when you have begun helping people in dire physical need. No religion is established with the goal of building an empire. It is human pride that compels mankind to build empires.

Develop a healthy self-image...

A quote from Joel Osteen's book is as follows: "You cannot prevent negative thoughts from knocking at your door, but you can control whether or not you're going to open the door and allow them to come in."

Are you kidding me? You have no control over the presence of negative thoughts. Thoughts don't enter from the outside. The develop from the inside. One need not concern oneself with keeping negative thoughts out. One should embrace the thought as being valid. Shunning negativity does not develop a healthy self-image. Negative thoughts are by-and-large diagnostic tools that tell us that there is friction between us and others. Exploring the negativity is how we discover if we're screwed up or if the other person is just an asshole with an attitude. Healthy self image is not gained by choosing what to chew rather by choosing what to swallow.

Never, I repeat, NEVER let go of the past. The past is the essence of who you are. There is nothing more dangerous than anesthesia. When we are numbed or unconscious we have no way to know if we are sick. When we constantly seek to find out who we are today, without concern about who we were yesterday, we are no different than an actor who plays a role for a time and then decides to take on another role. Is it any wonder that we adore movie stars so much? Is it any wonder that they have the relationship struggles they have? We have no choice but to let the past dictate who we are today. I will accept that there are things about our pasts that we shouldn't endorse. We make mistakes and we all have regrets. I regret that I used people in the past and that I lost touch with them before making amends. But if I let go of the past, I learn nothing from that experience. It is ever before me and I am ever aware that I have the capacity to use and consume people. The past does define me as a person with the history of and capacity to use and consume others. I submit that we are NEVER to let go of the past. For without the past, we have an uncertain present and no future.

I cannot fathom a person of Osteen's considerable social (raised as the child of a prominent minister) and economic (lives in a $2m home) status telling people that they must choose to be happy. Another quote:

"Choose to be happy; live with excellence and integrity, and put a spring in your step. Put a smile on your face. Moonwalk if you want, and let the world know that you are enjoying the life God has given you."

I'm on board with Joel. We should live with an sense of excellence and integrity and contagious optimism. But is it incumbent on us to let the world know that we are enjoying the life God has given us? I think a more basic question to ask ourselves is whether the life we are living is one given to us by God? Do we owe our position and wealth to some blessing from God or have we attained status and money at the expense of people that we had to walk on? Osteen equates happiness with living the life God has given us. We all suffer living the life God has given us. And putting on a happy face does nothing to satisfy suffering. In fact, it only prolongs suffering. Humanity has been endowed with a range of emotion and we are to use those emotions; all of them, to relate to our fellow humans. Nobody in history has enjoyed suffering. Christ himself did not enjoy suffering. He asked "let this cup pass from me." Not words anyone would associate with enjoying life. To suggest that we can (or should) simply choose to be happy is unconscionable.

I am in agreement with Osteen on the points of the power of our words, strength in adversity, and living to give. But do we really need ANOTHER book to point out the importance of these things? That a book can become a bestseller peddling what is the stuff of junior high Sunday school curriculum says more about American Christendom than it does Joel Osteen. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Osteen is a charismatic personality. He makes you want to spend time with him. He seems like the perfect fishing buddy. For a guy who dropped out of college and had no formal training in pastoral care, he manages to inspire his followers to do the work of the church. His congregation is hardly a model of a second-century church. It (as well as several others) is what church-goers in the US are increasingly drawn to as a worshiping community. I only wish that Joel Osteen would stick to leading his church and leave the writing to those who are inspired enough to teach Christendom something new.

PAX

1 Comments:

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