Pondering the Imponderable
Since selves are very hard to help I am amazed daily with the latest self help books “baptized” with a smattering of Bible verses which are marketed to the hungry hordes that inhabit our Late Great Planet Earth. At the risk of offending everyone who knows and loves these books and yea verily even patterns their life after them as if they were the Scriptures themselves I have decided to write about this subject. I have seldom discussed this with anyone outside my wife, the Abby Normal Abbess and a few brother miscreant Priests and un-named heretical co-conspirators. As heretics who buck the party line we generally keep these conversations among ourselves in order not to offend the brethren and the sisteren. But today I just decided to say the heck with it all and be bold, yet hopefully funny in looking at these phenomena.
What really drove this was seeing friends Romans and countrymen flock to these baptized self-help books as if they were the latest editions of the Word of God printed in heaven and distributed by the Archangel Gabriel himself. Now this may be a bit of an over-reach on my part for literary purposes but I think in some cases it is not far off the mark. I don’t for a moment presume that everyone who finds meaning and value in these books has crossed this line into obsession but I am amazed with the almost cultic hold that they have over some people and ministries. I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me as a Priest if I have read….fill in the blank. Since my theological or inspirational reading usually deals with Church History, Ethics, Christology written by German theologians whose names start with “B” as well as books by Henri Nouwen or one of the plethora of Father Andrew Greeley “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mysteries that I own, I have to no recourse but to say “no” as my interests lay elsewhere. Another line that I might use is that I’ve heard from people that name the book is supposed to be good. In either case I am being honest. This being said the next line from the person asking me is “well, you should, you’d really like it” or something similar. I am always polite as I genuinely hope that they are getting something good out of these works and that the Deity Herself is using them in their lives. I would after all patently hope that they have not wasted their hard earned money in light of our current economic difficulties.
What gets me in most cases is not the actual content of the books in question which especially in the case of the Purpose Driven Life or the Five Love Languages to be pretty benign, though I have heard some folks really hammer these books and their authors. My concern is the almost hypnotic grip that these and other “method” promoting books have on their readers. I have seen places where there are extended classes and seminars that go through the Purpose Driven Life or The Five Love Languages or any one of a number of other books where week after week people drag out their notebooks, Palm Pilots or whatever means of electronic note taking that they have and studiously listen and share about the book in question. While Bible study is an ingrained feature of Evangelical Protestant life, it seems to me that these books are almost replacing Bible study with the study of what someone says that the Bible teaches. Now this isn’t new at all as one only has to look at the number of books on the Rapture and Second coming by the multitude of “prophecy experts” to see this. Again, I say that I find the contents of the Purpose Driven Life and the Five Love Languages to be rather benign, my concern is the importance being given to them which sometimes to me seems to border on cultic.
My feeling in regard to the Prayer of Jabez industry is another matter. This is simply narcissistic prosperity gospel teaching repackaged for a new audience. This book takes an incredibly minor prayer by an equally minor character (1 Chronicles 4: 9,10) and turns it into a revolutionary means of getting God to bless us. It has spun off a whole line of targeted versions for kids and even a women’s Study Bible. Likewise it has spun off an array of merchandise apparently modeled on Yogurt’s marketing of Spaceballs merchandise. The merchandise could be found in the “Jabez Junk” section of your local Christian book, music and novelty shop and included key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist’s conception of Jabez himself. A line of jewelry was introduced in 2002. I found the whole thing deeply offensive and felt it to be a crass attempt by the author and the publishers to make money off of the flock of God. I knew of pastors who spent years with their congregations dealing with the Prayer of Jabez. I wonder what they would have accomplished had they actually been teaching their congregations actual Christian doctrine, ethics and responsibility.
Fortunately for me and maybe unfortunately for others I have a rather twisted way of looking at life, which some of kindred spirit find amusing and those not find offensive. I cannot for the life of me get around odd thoughts that occur when I see these books which is nowhere more evident than when I hear the words the Five Love Languages. Unfortunately my mind goes to the movie A Fish Called Wanda where Jamie Lee Curtis (who I have always found to be hot) plays an American in England who is let us say sexually excited by her lovers speaking in foreign languages. In the case of the movie Kevin Kline speaking faux Italian and John Cleese who speaks Russian. Thus when my office mate in Iraq was running a series of Five Love Language seminars for Marines and Sailors who were stationed at the base that I operated from I had a hard time keeping a straight face. The chaplain was a very good guy and eventually I confessed what had been running through my mind and he did have a good sense of humor about it and began to laugh when he recalled the movie. I guess my five love languages would be German, Dutch, Gaelic , Klingon and Romulan, I’ll have to try them sometime.
Until then I’ll just have to wage a battle in my mind to discover the purpose that drives my life while I extend my tent out to cover the five love languages on this the late great planet Earth.