Monday, July 7, 2014

Joel Osteen’s Tweets Inspire Me and I Don’t Want to Hear Any Shit and I Don’t Give A Shit

By: Ben Seeder

Consider all of the messages that are sent to your brain through social media every single day. At their core, they will be boiled down to one of the following categories:

“I’m angry!”
“Here are pictures of my food!”
“Do you see how well I am doing?”
“My life is falling apart”
“Other people are idiots and I am not!”
“I’m sad!”
“The universe is one way and I want it to be the other!”
“I have friends!”
“Here are pictures of my children!”
“I’m having so much fun!!!!!”
“My life is definitely, definitely not falling apart”
“The Top 15 Roseanne moments you DON’T remember and why it COULD cost you your diploma”

In the end, almost all these different categories are in fact sub-categories stemming from one single underlying, unending message:

“Validate Me.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, and when I post things I’m absolutely no different. Nobody is.

Now, amongst this vast ocean of sadness and despair, imagine a man from Houston calmly transmitting these messages to you...true, and clear as a bell:

“Today, choose to be happy. Choose to be grateful for the day. Choose to look on the bright side.”

“Even when it’s uncomfortable, even when you don’t like it, stay in peace. When you do that, God will use it to your advantage.”

“God has made you a masterpiece. Start seeing yourself strong, healthy, accomplishing your dreams, and living.”

“As long as you’re comparing yourself to others, you will never feel good about yourself. Run your own race.”

“God knows how to get you to your destination. Take your hands off the wheel and let Him take you where He wants you to go.”

“You’ll be fine when you know that you don’t have to impress people.”

“If you keep replaying your hurts and bad breaks, you’re never going to heal. It’s time to change the channel and think positive.”

“The first place you lose the battle is in your own thinking.”

“If you’re alive, you’re not an accident. No matter how good or bad your situation is, God has a destiny for you to fulfill.”

…and, my personal favorite:

“You were never created to live an average, get-by life. You have royalty in your blood. Winning is in your DNA.”

Certainly when walking the streets of LA there is no overabundance of people accusing me of being a masterpiece or having winning in my DNA. Nor are there people encouraging me to take my hands off the wheel and let God drive. But these tweets tell me otherwise, and they are a welcome and inspiring change of pace from the cesspool that is normally dumped into my brain by the truckload every time I check one of my accounts.

The man I have to thank for this foresight and wisdom is in fact Houston gentleman and mega-church televangelist Joel Osteen. To this day, I can’t recall how his tweets were first brought to my attention. It’s possible that one of my friends ironically re-tweeted him as a joke and I followed him from there, but it’s also possible that one of his tweets were sponsored and ended up in my feed that way. Possible even still is the chance that they were sent my way by divine intervention. Regardless, what began as a joke has quickly taken on a meaning of much deeper significance. They relax and inspire me and I find myself checking in with them often.

But who actually is this strange Osteen whose philosophies now guide my moral compass, what with his teeth and messages of hope, acceptance and perseverance? A brief look at Joel’s Wikipedia page gives a by-the-numbers but nonetheless interesting account of all the major milestones of his life and career.

Texas born and bred, Osteen began preaching the week after his Dad died. Very quickly amassing a following with his natural charm and smooth delivery, Osteen opted for a more positive, uplifting approach to The Word as opposed to the fire and brimstone methods so in vogue with preachers in east Texas at the time. Fast forward some years and three best selling books later and Osteen will not be stopped. He’s preaching in the old Houston Rockets stadium in front of tens of thousands and being transmitted to hundreds of thousands more worldwide. He’s preaching at Yankee Stadium and selling it out. He’s advising the President on a regular basis. In short Osteen is on fire, but he’s also got a tough line to walk. He’s got to be liberal enough for the masses, his publishers, etc., but conservative enough for his grassroots congregation back home in Houston.

Osteen has come under criticism for welcoming gay members into his church while at the same time referring to homosexuality as a “process to be freed from”. Osteen has also dodged accusations of promoting material gain as a reward for being a good Christian, further prompted by the ten million dollar mansion he and his family currently live in.

To me, what’s particularly interesting is to think about all the creeps and charlatans Osteen has undoubtedly had to deal with, if only at surface level events like dinners, fund raisers, etc. At some point during his meteoric rise to international mega-church dominance and televangelical superstardom he, without question, had to be around something ultra shady, and I want to know what it is.

I wonder if he ever met and/or associated with Ted Haggard, the fire and brimstone Colorado Springs pastor who condemned all homosexuals to burn in Hell for eternity while quietly sneaking off for methamphetamine-fueled male prostitute bonanzas. Or Jimmy Swaggart, perhaps the biggest and most flamboyant televangelist in American history (and, interestingly enough, first cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis) who got taken down for repeatedly ordering prostitutes in the areas he knew he would most likely be recognized and caught. I can’t imagine Osteen ever being up to anything quite as sordid as those two clowns, but either way, there’s no chance he hasn’t been around at least something and I began to think about it more and more.

I’m not naturally inclined to take advice from televangelists or anyone from Houston, and you don’t become head of an empire by being a good person, so I began to feel conflicted about my enthusiasm. Then it occurred to me that one of the only other people whose quotes have been collected into a Twitter feed that I check with regularity was another thoroughly devout Christian and my main man, Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. 

Comparing these two as writers is like comparing Michael Jordan to Craig Ehlo, but let me hit you with some of my favorite Tolstoy jams:

“Don’t despise or overly respect anyone”

“You think the person you’re angry with is your enemy, but your main enemy is the anger toward your brother that’s in your heart.”

“Do good in secret and be sorry when someone finds out about it and you’ll learn the joy of doing good for your own soul.”

“Do not make great plans, or think too much about what will result from your efforts, which seem to me as the efforts of an ant or a tiny insect. All you have to do is live your life, avoid the bad, and try to do only what is good.”

“Even in the most trivial matters, you must not allow yourself to lie.”

“The longer a person lives, the more his life will be revealed to him. The unknown becomes known, and this happens until death. At the moment of death, everything is revealed and we can understand all about this life.”

...and finally, the quote that ideologically divides these two men who are otherwise delivering such similar messages:

“A rich man lives an uncomfortable life as he is always afraid to lose his riches. The wealthier he is, the more worries he will have. A rich man can meet and be friends only with the rich, because he cannot be a real friend to the poor, for then the sin of his wealth will be too obvious.”

Towards the end of his life, when he was rich and internationally famous, Tolstoy had a hall of fame crisis of faith that lead to him contemplating his own suicide night and day, arriving at the conclusion that all of life is ultimately meaningless. He realized he was one of the smartest, most celebrated men in the world and he was miserable. Gradually, it dawned on him that the wealthiest friends he had were also the most miserable, as they were often the ones with the most idle time on their hands to sit and contemplate the inescapable and infinite black void of death that awaits us all. Meanwhile, the happiest people he knew were the serfs who worked on his land from morning until sundown. Tolstoy wondered how this could possibly be, so he disguised himself and lived amongst his serfs to see if he could figure it out. Tolstoy eventually discovered that since these serfs’ lives consisted almost exclusively of toiling the land, resting at night and observing the Orthodoxy, they were by default the closest ones to the Earth and therefore the closest to God. Once Tolstoy had this epiphany, he immediately freed all of his serfs, renounced himself from the state-officiated Orthodox church, and absolved himself of all his riches, giving much of them to a world class pile of shit named Chertkov.

Now, I’m not saying I wholeheartedly endorse all of this. If you don’t have any money bad things happen, and I don’t suggest Osteen should live in squalor to legitimize his message. Tolstoy never had to live in modern Los Angeles. And for the sake of argument, lets examine the other side of the coin. Tolstoy got to exist in a time before religion had become big business, and before a box of cereal cost seven dollars. Also, it’s necessary for the Osteens to live in a home with a more complex (re: expensive) security system to protect themselves from unwanted visitors who would be numerous, uninvited, and would certainly show up unannounced if given the opportunity. Besides, who’s to say Osteen’s not entitled to enjoy some of the benefits from writing three best-selling books? There can’t be any shortage of ambitious young pastors attempting to publish books on how to live, only in Osteen’s case people actually purchased his. I’ll additionally say that he seems harmless enough and like a really nice guy. It’s an interesting contrast though.

I stole part of the title for this piece from a line of dialogue from “Glengarry Glen Ross” by David Mamet. One of his lesser known but equally exceptional plays, called “Speed-the-Plow,” is about two Hollywood executives, one much more powerful than the other, and how they behave when things begin to fall apart. It’s hilarious and frightening and fantastic. Anyway, the paperback version begins with a passage from Thackeray that includes this:

“Which is the most reasonable and does his duty the best: he who stands aloof from the struggle of life, calmly contemplating it, or he who descends to the ground, and takes his part in the contest? each some work upon the ground he stands on until he is laid beneath it.”

I suppose at the end of the day, Joel Osteen’s just a dude. I should continue to read his tweets because they help me and not worry about the things he’s done or the people he’s had to associate with on the way up, especially since I couldn’t know less about it. And above all, I can’t begrudge him taking part in the contest.

You should read his tweets though, they’re fucking fantastic. For real.