I opened up Wednesday’s paper and about puked. There was Joel Osteen (Christianity’s very own Ken-Doll, complete with fake smile and plastic hair) and his wife, Lakewood Barbie (Okay, oh k-a-a-a-a-y! You’re right, that was harsh. I hear you loud and clear: “Let’s dial down the attitude just a smidge, honey.” Fine. I’ll just simmer. Still hot, though…you’ve been warned) all coifed and irritatingly…happy…with their well-lit sets, cameras, theme songs, product placement and lights-camera-action, puh-raise Jesus.
And Mark Freaking Burnett. Who is giving these people a reality television gig.
I wish I was making this up.
Mark Burnett is an Osteen devotee, and these two geniuses thought it would be a marvelous idea to create a reality tv show centered around Joel and the Lakewood Gang’s selfless (Snort…whatev…) and benevolent mission trips across the country.
Just like all the rest of the morons who are the stars of their own reality shows, the Osteens don’t want to make “just another reality show.” Oh, no. Smiling Joel wants to inspire us and make us better. (How nice of him.) In typical drown-us-in-artificially-flavored-syrup fashion, the Smiling Preacher is marketing this abomination as the Christian answer to Extreme Home Makeover (do we really need a “Christian” version of everything we wish we’d have thought up first? And of a reality tv show, no less? Why do Christians want to be within ten square miles of a reality tv show? Ugh.) “It’s another way to take our message of hope and inspiring others to another venue” he says.
Now, I am all for Christians doing nice things, getting their hands dirty making this world a better place, having a bonfire and singing some songs with some new friends. I like to see folks that need help get it. What is sort of sickening to me (ok, uh, seriously vile) is the disgusting exploitation of the needs of people, the gospel, and the name of Christ for ratings, the promise of future book sales and a big DVD promotion at the end of the season.
Jesus had an opinion on such things:
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.”Matthew 6:3-4
Here is a concept that Mr. Osteen and these other market-driven ministers could stand to take a gander at. All of our service to God and all of our service to man on His behalf is an offering. When offerings are made, they should be made with the singular motivation of pleasing God. If these mission trips are offerings of service and time to God alone, then why is it the Reverend Osteen feels the need to put it on tv, sell ad space, and have the Neilsen folks calculate the percentage of Tuesday’s television viewers they will entertain?
Why does he think it would be a good idea to place the dramatic setting of a mission trip into the hands of a television producer who brought us wonderful blessings like Richard Hatch?
A USC Expert in American Christianity (poor guy), Richard Flory tries to explain (quoting now from the Houston Chronicle article): “It turns mission trips into an entertainment model, where you feel good watching it and Joel Osteen gets exposure. In an era where media exposure is the Holy Grail, this is to be expected.”
Sigh…this man actually compared media exposure to the cup Christ drank from. I’m amazed more people aren’t flocking to atheism.
This morbidly obese church has ladled conflicting motivation upon conflicting motivation onto their already full platter, drowned it in gravy and praise and worship music, and call it “Not hiding their light under a bushel”. I can’t imagine the gut-wrenching grief this brings the Holy Spirit.
The mega-church, in my opinion, is the Wal-Mart of Christianity: everything seems to be about controlling the ever-expanding waistlines of the crowds of lemmings in the lines and marketing whatever’s on sale this week. The more traffic the better. The music is there simply for manipulation. There’s no personal service, no real substance, very little actual value, and the greeters really just wanna tell everyone to take what they came for and get the heck out. Osteen’s Mega-WalMart is located in the Summit, a venue originally built to host professional basketball games, concerts, and boxing matches in the fourth largest city in the country. Osteen’s mission trip programs generally involve several hundred people at a time. I wonder if those they are seeking to help ever just feel like they have been invaded. No matter how one slices it, all of the church’s programs and ministries are geared toward drawing crowd, regardless of the pure motives of some of the individuals who find themselves on the crowded escalators.
The Mission Trip is a weird thing, and very few in my experience go into them with the correct motivations. Most people who sign up, take a week off work, and pay their $800 genuinely want to help others, and that is commendable, but what that usually ends up meaning is “We will now show you how your lifestyle, traditions, and customs are all sins, and teach you to look, sing (but good God, not dance, you godless heathens), dress, talk, act, and smell Just Like Us, for we are holy, and wouldn’t you like to be holy, too? But we’re only staying a week-you people are living in the stone age, and we’re missing the X-Factor to be here. Oh, and we’ll dig you a well or build a barn or something.”
As it turns out, often the participants are involved mainly for what they can get from the experience spiritually, not what they can give to the people they came to serve. Testimony services nation-wide on the Sunday evening after the groups returns often include stuff like this, “God blessed me so much by allowing me to go to Wisconsin on this mission trip. The people were so happy to see us, and so grateful to us. They live in such horrible conditions and I am so happy we were able to bring the blessings of Christ to them. (Read: flannel graphs and our very best hand-me-downs.) I just am so overwhelmed with how God worked in my heart this week.” Their focus remains on themselves, what they did, how God seemingly fell all over Himself to thank them for helping Him out, and most of them (with a few precious and beautiful exceptions, who usually return to the scene of the crime and are never heard from again) can’t remember the names of the natives with whom they spent such a life-changing five days when you ask them about it the following week. For reasons beyond human comprehension, decent Christian people think God is is on the edge of His throne itching to bless this sort of behavior.
These mission trip participants don’t realize the self-centeredness of this thinking. It never occurs to most of us in relaxing in our Laz-e-Boys that God can bless us by breaking us.Why is it only a blessing if we feel God giving us a warm fuzzy pat on the head and makes us feel real good about ourselves? Why can’t we see the blessing in the broken heart who can’t bear to attend the service that night, because she knows that the orphans she left are now confused about their ancient culture, struggling with a new religion, a new God, a new set of rules, a lot of new guilt, and a new-found dissatisfaction they can’t understand.
Now, Joel Osteen will further muddy these waters by adding in the conflicting human desires for attention, money, fame, and power. Osteen and Burnett are going to bring in hair and make-up crews, the wardrobe department, an irritatingly manipulative musical score, and an attractive and (hopefully) witty host to the mix. The Osteens have been flirting with more television exposure for awhile, tossing around other ideas for reality shows, along with a talk show idea or two, but the timing wasn’t right, or the probability of success was not worth the gamble. Apparently, sweet-talking 38,000 folks a week and another seven million via the airwaves about Having Their Best Life Now (two years on the NYTimes bestseller list, thankyouverymuch) isn’t enough.
When Christians genuinely love one another as Christ intended, they do it one on one. They sooth a crying baby in the nursery. They weep with a young widow. They spend time with a hurting teenager. They cook dinner for their family. They secretly mow the grass or plow the snow of the elderly couple next door while they are away. They listen intently to their friends. They give to a struggling family anonymously, so as not to embarrass them. They get an extra job to save for a child to attend college. They pray, for hours, in quiet dark places alone and unseen by everyone save God alone.
And when God rewards them openly, they don’t think they deserve His blessings.