Miley Cyrus, Joel Osteen, and Jesus

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of either Joel Osteen or Miley Cyrus. I just want you to know that up front. I also want you to know that this blog has taken me a lot longer to write than it probably needed to because I wanted to be careful about what I said and how I said it.

The news may be old, but the nonsense is ongoing.

Let’s start with the Miley Cyrus nonsense. I don’t watch award shows, so, of course, I did not watch the VMAs. I do know that MTV’s latest VMA aggravated some people. (I won’t say shocked; if you’re shocked by something on an MTV awards show, you’re new here–welcome to the planet.) I also know that there were groups like the Parents Television Council who took issue with MTV and Ms. Cyrus for a raunchy performance clearly not suitable for the young teens for whom the show was rated appropriate. I appreciate the PTC’s efforts in holding networks and their stars to agreed-upon rating standards. A good deal of what’s on television today isn’t suitable for a stray dog, much less a developing mind. Since my mind is still developing, I usually avoid anything reminiscent of a strip show.

Yeah, so my reluctant trek into the recent VMA fiasco began when I got wind via social media that there was something post-worthy happening on television. I teach high school English; this could come up in class. Grimly, dutifully, I read commentaries and watched clips. I was prepared for the discussion.

There was no discussion.

When I finally broke down and asked a group of sophomores what they thought about Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance, I discovered they thought very little about it. As in, it barely crossed their minds. Other than admitting amusement at some well-publicized audience responses, they were non-plussed by the act’s baseness. None of them claimed to enjoy the act, but none of them seemed horrified at it, either.

When pressed about their take on things, this was the sum of it: Her outfit was tacky. A giant finger? Gross! Those teddy bears were lame. I can’t believe I used to own a Hannah Montana t-shirt. She should stick to country music. She cannot dance.  And her hair…! Nobody mentioned Lady Gaga’s soft porn performance. (Anybody else think the terms soft and porn don’t really belong together?) Nobody mentioned Cyrus’s twerking companion. And where I had been embarrassed at the freakishly pornographic debacle, my students were responding to it like callused critics. Where I had been saddened at this young woman’s tragic metamorphosis from fresh-faced role model to vampy pop star, my Bible-belt-born-and-bred students were poking fun at her attempt to be sexy, not because it was the wrong thing to attempt but because it wasn’t well executed.

This wasn’t a ratings issue. This was a (hardened) heart issue. And from whom were these adolescents taking their cues? Not the media and not their peers, though they certainly contribute to the problem. No, research shows that children learn from and mimic the behavior of the very people they were intended to. Who is it that shapes a child’s character? To whose conversations are children most frequently exposed? From whom do children learn gaudiness, graciousness, humility, haughtiness? The adults in their lives: parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors…

Which brings me to the Joel Osteen nonsense.

I have a habit of listening to preaching as I get ready for work. On occasion, I’ve listened to Joel Osteen. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or sound combative or emphasize sin. Ever. And while his demeanor is a refreshing break from that of some televangelists, I’ll admit I have criticized his lack of boldness. His messages may not challenge me, but I happen to know his physician-turned-missionary brother’s mother-in-law (four degrees of separation?), so I know a bit about Pastor Osteen’s medical outreaches and applaud his commitment to “the least of these.” In short, while Joel Osteen may not be my cup of tea, I haven’t sighted him dancing around a campfire with the devil.

Apparently, I missed that video. But I heard about it when–yep, you guessed it–a link to an article startlingly titled “Joel Osteen Rebukes Apostles Paul, Peter and John” began popping up in social media. You gotta be kidding me.

I read the article. It was, in fact, a joke. Not a joke as in funny, ha-ha but joke as in poorly written and completely misleading. Here’s the first paragraph of the article as it appears in the original:

According to Joel Osteen – Pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston,Texas, these first century apostles are wrong and outdated and he has come out boldly to infer indirectly that Apostles Paul, Peter, and John whom wrote much of the New Testament were wrong and need to be corrected.

I didn’t need to read any further to know this was a waste of time. The minute I saw a dash paired with a comma to set off an appositive, boldly juxtaposed with infer indirectly (which is a contradiction, a redundancy, and a usage error), and all this followed by the use of whom in the subject position, among other grammatical and rhetorical atrocities, I was satisfied Osteen wasn’t an apostate. But I forged on for the sake of truth.

The thing only got worse, but I won’t belabor that. You can read the piece–no, I won’t be linking it–and draw your own conclusions. I will say that several paragraphs in was this admission: “While he [Osteen] did not come right out and say Apostle [sic] Paul, Peter, and John were wrong in so many words, his inference is clear to any who pay attention to what he’s saying.” Um, no, his inference is not clear. What is clear is the intentionally inflammatory implication made by a tacky title.

Still, I had to wonder what drove this guy’s vehement outcry against Osteen, so I kept digging (for “digging” read “Googling”). It turns out the badly-written blog was a response to an interview Osteen did with Larry King about seven or eight years ago, and the blogger was not Osteen’s only resulting critic. One well-known minister was so angered at how Osteen conducted that interview, he actually said he wished he could have “gone through that TV set and punched him out!” This rant, which was aired, went on for several painful minutes, often to the glee of the offended minister’s audience, er, congregation.

Wow. I needed to watch that Larry King interview. So I did. Then I watched it again. And again. And again. And all I could hear was Joel Osteen sounding a lot like Joel Osteen always sounds: some polite responding, some light gospel, some refusal to be drawn in. Nothing new and certainly nothing overtly heretical.

Maybe the smiling pastor didn’t handle King’s questions the way I, the angry ministers, or those sharing negative posts about him would. Maybe some of us would be firmer in our convictions, harder hitting when it came to sin and its eternal consequences. Or maybe we’d fall apart like a one-egg pudding. And maybe it doesn’t matter because we’re never going to be interviewed by Larry King anyway. One thing is certain, if I were important enough to sit in that hot seat, I’d make some people mad, I’d disappoint some people, I’d find my remarks twisted and spun.

Maybe I’d be treated to a blistering blog or an on-air diatribe. Maybe someone would want to punch me out, which is fine, I guess. I can take a hit; I’ve been punched before. As in, before I joined the Body of Christ. Not sure punching each other out is listed in the Great Commission, though. I’d better reread that.

You know, this Cyrus/Osteen/pick-apart/punch-out nonsense is starting to remind me of something.

I remember a story about another woman being thrown at the feet of the WWJD crowd. Her partner(s) in crime had been given a pass, also. But there was this man–this patient, humble man–who refused to take part in the trash talking or stone throwing. He just knelt there in the dust of her desperation and wrote a story about love conquering condemnation. It made an eternal difference to her.

And I remember one night that same man was tried by a court of his most contentious critics. He was hated for being way too nice to sinners (see above), for breaking some really dumb rules, and for ticking important religious people off.  Though found guilty, he remained innocent, he remained patient, he remained humble beneath the cross of his condemnation. Love won. It made an eternal difference to me.

This incredible man said some things I’ll never forget, things about eyeballs and specks and planks, things about being unified, and this thing:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Yeah, so…

That’s the Word, and I’m a witness.