Yes, we must confess: We’ve fallen under the sway of Joel Osteen, and we can‘t get up. Off of the floor, that is, where we can (and do) lie for hours in front of the TV, letting Brother Osteen’s lulling cadences wash over us, easing all anxieties, letting us know that we, too, are loved --- despite all the incessant, humming “junk” in our heads, as he sometimes puts it, the junk that keeps us from reaching our Championship Potential, or just remembering to pay our electric bill on time.
It’s not something we can easily explain, this attraction to the Minister to the Multitudes, the New Lord of the Compaq Center, the Conqueror of the New York Times Best-Seller List. It’s been building for two or three years, but it reached a sort of bang-out Hegelian resolution with what amounted to our All-Osteen Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, when Osteen’s Lakewood Church opened its new sanctuary in the former basketball arena we never stopped calling The Summit.
Sure, we stand in awe of Osteen’s business savvy, his deft marketing and promotional abilities, his tending and building of the church his Dad and Mom started in a feed store into a national and now a global phenomenon.
We also like the way Osteen smartly steers clear of politics. (Was that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., we saw in the audience for Lakewood’s grand opening? Yes, it was! And wasn’t that ex-mayor Bob Lanier and his lovely and apparently ageless wife Elyse, looking a tad uncomfortable as they queued up to be interviewed by that hyper-happy Holy Joe on the Trinity Network? Yes indeed. And what about Councilman Mark Goldberg? Yes, he was there, too, and was even singled out by Osteen from the pulpit [is that what you call the place where the preacher stands in a former basketball arena?] for casting the decisive vote when the City Council leased the Compaq Center to Lakewood.)
And we truly admire the honest-to-God diversity of Lakewood, an apparently spontaneous, unforced mixing of the classes and races that was achieved without the finger-wagging dictums of academics, journalists and affirmative-action compliance officers.
Yes, it’s all that, but it’s something more. With allowances for the much-diminished mainstream Methodist churches in which we were raised, and which we still haunt infrequently, we’re wary of organized religion, especially an organization that comes with such descriptives as “megachurch,” charismatic” and “non-denominational." We’re cool, of course, with whatever you believe, as long as you don’t push it on us, or try to kill us just because we don’t recognize yours as the One True Religion. But we just don’t have time for all those smiling Holy Joes, with their gleaming teeth and pompadoured hair and blazing eyes, the ones that always seem to be trying to lift our wallets.
But Joel Osteen is different. Yes, we like his message: No judgment, no condemnation. A mother-in-law joke to warm things up. Some feel-good therapy, a little self-help, a few gentle admonitions about personal responsibility, He’s still clinging to The Book, it’s true, but he also stresses good works. His is a modern, inclusive faith, one that subsumes so many church traditions and schools of American thought that it makes our head swim.
But mostly, we think the attraction is Osteen himself. Outside of maybe the Dalai Lama, we can’t think of another public figure who radiates such decency, such kindness, such warmth, such largeness of spirit. Ordinarily, we’d run screaming from such Unalloyed Goodness, but Osteen’s smooth delivery has us mesmerized. We can’t change the channel. We've sworn off the Wellbutrin, tossed our zafu out with the heavy trash.
We’ve even considered visiting the new Lakewood. But that would entail traveling from here to there, negotiating the traffic, finding a parking place, and jostling with the throngs for a seat (just like when we saw Bruce there back in ’78!) It’s a scenario that leaves us feeling agitated and anxious, which could lead to rage, and in that state we couldn’t really love our neighbor as our self. So we’ll lie here on the floor, remote in hand, waiting for Osteen. We know he'll come again real soon.