Sunday, August 17, 2008

Nothing "Lite" about Lakewood

Surely, Barbara Ehrenreich of The Nation meant no compliment to Joel and Victoria Osteen when she referred to their brand of faith as "Christianity Lite."

And I think I resent that jab.

Whatever Ehrenreich - or anyone else - thinks happened aboard that infamous Continental Airlines flight in December 2005, the Osteens have earned a tremendous amount of credibility with me and tens of thousands of others who have passed through the doors of Lakewood Church in Houston.

Let's share: During a really rough stretch in mid-2005, I found myself looking for something, anything that might renew my belief in myself and in the goodwill of others. It was a really, really low point in my life. Maybe the lowest.

So, one Sunday, virtually on whim, I decided to try out the megachurch that had recently moved into the old Compaq Center, once home to my beloved Houston Rockets. No Biblical scholar myself, I simply was looking to feel better about my prospects, feel better about myself and maybe hear The Word.

It worked. I did this, ahem, religiously, for about six months until I moved away from Houston. Occasionally, I would come home for the weekend and stop by Lakewood. When I couldn't make it back, I'd watch Pastor Osteen preach his "power of postive-thinking" doctrine on TV.

Through it all, I was never under the illusion that Joel Osteen was some great, learned, Bible-thumping pastor. Occasionally, the sermons could be a little soft, a bit weak. I know plenty of other Lakewood parishioners who felt the same way. But, in the end, Lakewood was my gateway back to belief and spiritual health.

Understand, I'm far from a devout Christian. This is neither a boast nor a off-handed moment of self-deprecation. It's simply the truth. I'm just not hypersensitive about criticism of the church or The Church. I'm dealing with my own skepticism, you know?

But I do know this: Pastor Joel and the Osteen family open the doors to Lakewood, encourage people to accept themselves and work to change their circumstances and enjoy fellowship together (even with gays, my goodness), and thousands of people leave happy every Sunday. This can't be a bad thing.

And no matter what Ehrenreich might have people believe, there was nothing "Lite" about any of that.

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