Sunday, March 06, 2005

Osteentatious Ruminations

Many people see their lives as an audition before God. And like all auditions, each of them has a different way of playing the role of the righteous. Some suck up, playing God for a narcissist, yearning for constant praise. For them, it is never enough. Some do the goody-goody shtick, figuring that God needs our help in sorting out what's gone wrong with this Earth God created. Some see themselves as gatekeepers, setting God's rules for him/her and keeping the ins and the outs in ways that -- surprise, surprise -- empower them and disenfranchise others. They don't have much material to work with, so they make it up as they go along. And the good ones play your insecurities and hopes something beautiful.

In the end, they are all racing away from what eschatologists paint as some kind of reckoning. Regardless of whether you think its all real or bullshit, one thing is for sure. Every second you live is a second that cannot be recaptured, relived, redone, reanythinged here, in this life. It's there and then it's gone.

You can't recapture the approximately forty-five seconds it took you to sit there and read the last three paragraphs. I hope it was worth it.

I was reading the paper this morning with the TV on in the background. At one point, when I looked up, the pompadored pastor in a $1000 suit named Joel Osteen was big-tooth grinning his way through a sermon about diligence. I'd seen Osteen's teeth and hair just a few days before on a book at Barnes & Noble the other day. I've also read about him and the massive church he's building in Texas, the diverse group of adherents.

Osteen's not really a gatekeeper. The money's he's bringing in is not really going out to help anyone, so he's not doing goody-goody. He sweats God, yes, but there is something expedient about it. No, he's more of a sheppard. Trying to guide people through this finite life.

His cheery attractiveness to believers has always struck me as being somehow subversive. As I mentioned above, his sermon today was about dilligence. Working hard. Noses and grindstones. I am not so sure how that matches up with any of Jesus' teaching's in the new testament, but encouraging everyday people to work hard is certainly music to the ears of an IBM manager.

What is his secret? How does he reach so many people? I listened today and finally figured it out.


I took notes this morning and this is his sermon about diligence boiled down to its essence: "Don't be complacent." "Keep on keeping on." "Be Dilligent." "Work hard." "Be determined." "Stick with it." "Get the job done." "Give it your all." "Dig you heels in." "Inspiration backed by perspiration."

It left me wondering whether some of the things Jesus said were cliches a couple of millenia ago.

Mark 9, verse 50: "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." In ancient Isreal, saying "that salt has lost its saltiness" was perhaps a way of saying that somethings not as wondrous and fun as it used to be. "Man, when I first got together with Hannah, it was great. But, the salt has lost its saltiness, if you know what I mean."

Mark 10, verse 25: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" A famous statement by Jesus. Back in the day, the "camel/needle" line was probably pretty common. "You think I'll be able to outrun the centurions when they come for me?" "Man, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for you to outrun a centurion, you dig?"

John 12, verse 35: "The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going." Probably a common cliche back then, and probably the truth. I think one of the Dead Sea Scrolls was about the travels of Peter the many times he walked off in the dark and got lost. The tales of his time in Persia (he'd taken a wrong turn at Jericho) are especially weird. Even weirder than Jonah being swallowed by a whale.


Blogger tequilita said...

i don't think anything about Jesus was cliche back then.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

Probably not. I wasn't talking so much about the substance of Jesus' message, which was revolutionary in many ways. Rather, I was touching upon two issues. The first is an epistemological one: how do we know that what the gospels record as his word was exactly what he said? After all all of them were written some decades after Jesus died. If there was some ad-libbing, perhaps some common phrases were used to paraphrase. Secondly, how do you communicate and connect with the masses if not through common terms and expressions to which they can relate?

11:13 PM  
Blogger tequilita said...

"how do we know that what the gospels record as his word was exactly what he said? After all all of them were written some decades after Jesus died."

i've gone round and round about that with myself...i guess the bottom line is, you choose to believe or you don't. of course, if you do, according to your first paragraph, that either makes you a suck-up, a goody-goody, or a gatekeeper.

it never occurred to me to wonder whether the gospels utilized the cliches of the time. dunno. Jesus used parables to make his point. kinda the same thing?

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not so sure that Joseph K's list of "audition roles" in the first paragraph was exclusive. I mean, perhaps there are other ways to establish your righteousness beyond the normal ways people try to. Maybe the normal ways are flawed or miss the point somehow, and we have to rethink our relationship with the divine. Maybe that's his point, but I'll let him speak for himself.

8:41 AM  
Blogger tequilita said...

joseph's pretty good with words. not sure what he meant, but he came off a little self-righteous there...leaving no room for good people (flawed as they may be) trying to find the truth the only way they know how. you can find fault with anything and anyone if you try hard enough. people should be made to re-examine their truths and themselves, that's why i don't mind so much when people paint us all with the same broad brush, but it still stings a little. i'll shut up now. i really thought this was a compelling post.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was an interesting post. I think we have to distinguish concepts from the words/expressions that we use to communicate such concepts.

Several things come to mind:

If a cliche is an overused term or expression that's lost its orginality, then Olsten's pronouncments are definately cliched. But, the ideals that his words convey are very powerful, especially in a society that places so much value on the work ethic.

Therefore, it may be that the sayings attributed to Jesus were cliches at the time (they are certainly now), but that didn't/doesn't undermine the power of their message.

What do you all think?

2:48 PM  
Blogger Joseph K said...

I probably am a little self-righteous. Mostly because I think that organized religion tends to be corrupted by the humanity of those who claim to speak on behalf of a particular faith. Anonymous #1 got it right as to what I was getting at. I am not as agnostic as I may have come off.

9:50 PM  
Blogger tequilita said...

religion is a human institution, sometimes we are shamed by its humanity...sometimes we are exalted by it. Jesus was a practicing member of an organized religion...a religion that was corrupted by its officials, but He still practiced His faith. i can understand disillusionment though. i am digging out of it.

12:27 AM  

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