Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joel Osteen and Mac & Cheese

Joel Osteen and Mac & Cheese

When I was unemployed, or living what I call the “Summer of Jon,” I put on about 15 pounds because I was eating macaroni and cheese for breakfast. I loved it. It felt like a very adult moment. Instead of waiting until dinner or even lunch, I’d just heat up a couple packets of easy mac and eat the day away. Good times, good times.

But something I read recently about Kraft made me lose faith in one of my all time favorite foods. It seems that Kraft has found sales dwindling as a result of specialty cheeses and Wal-mart brands. On the high end of the scale, consumers are trading up for fancy imports that offer a more distinct taste. On the low end of the scale, consumers are buying cheap cheese from Wal-mart. Kraft is stuck in the middle.

Instead of addressing these problems by experimenting with specialty cheeses or lowering their price, Kraft is doing something called “Value Engineering.” Basically they are raising profits by lowering the manufacturing costs of macaroni and cheese. What does that mean? For one thing, it means that Kraft no longer puts cheese into macaroni and cheese. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Years ago, there was real cheese in there but now it’s just whey and cheese culture. The crazy thing is that Kraft still calls the product, “The Cheesiest.” Their website is “thecheesiest.com” and they love pretending there’s tons of cheese in the box.

The Wal-mart brand on the other hand has real cheese in it. They know Kraft doesn’t so they celebrate that fact in large letters on every side of their box, “made with real cheddar cheese.” And the irony of it all is that Kraft costs more. You pay 27 cents more for a product with lower quality ingredients.

So what does that have to do with Joel Osteen, the smiling mega pastor from Texas? Maybe not what you think, because I’m not going to make an easy comparison to how cheesy he is. What I think though is that Osteen, much like Kraft, has done a bit of Value Engineering with the concept of God.

I think that in some ways, he’s played a little with the ingredients of God. Maybe not on purpose, maybe not even in a desire to deceive, but somewhere along the way Osteen has created a product that is easier to sell to people. It feels like the difficult parts of Christianity have been removed. The suffering, the persecution, the trouble and pain that come along with Christianity are no longer present. Gone is any sense of brokenness. Gone is the idea of being refined by fire. No longer is there a sense that sometimes being a Christian is about living in the deserts of life. In its place we are called to have vision and lean upon our rights and privileges to victory. We are encouraged to look to a God that wants us to be wealthy and healthy.

In describing his church, Osteen touches on this a little: “It’s not a churchy feel,” Osteen, 40, said. “We don’t have crosses up there. We believe in all that, but I like to take the barriers down that have kept people from coming.”

Joyce Meyer also presents a similar case with her thought on how we present God: “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” (It’s weird that she mentions being ugly, as if being a Christian makes you hotter.)

Maybe they’re both right and the ingredients they’re putting into their message are perfect. Maybe suffering and the desert and pain are concepts best left out of the Christian message. But one of my favorite chapters of the Bible makes it hard for me to believe that God is all sunny and rainbowy all the time.

In Isaiah 30 it says:
“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,” and “the LORD binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted.” Wow, that’s a hard message to make sexy. Would you want to worship a God that bruised you and wounded you and fed you the bread of adversity? Probably not, but at the end of the day, that’s the God I know. One that loves me enough to discipline me. One that cares enough about me to put affliction in my path to strengthen me and grow me. One with enough compassion to teach me through adversity and prosperity.

God is the God of untold blessing. I believe he wants great things for us. I believe Osteen’s message of prosperity is probably small in comparison to how much God wants to give us. But that’s not the whole story of God. That’s not every ingredient, because I think that God is also the God that according to Voddie Baucham loves you enough to “take you out behind the woodshed.”

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