Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | November 7, 2011

Joel Osteen and the Art of WuWei; Zen

Joel Osteen might not know it, but he’s on the path of becoming a taoist or zen master, using the tai chi technique or way, the art of wei wu wei, or doing by non doing. A friend gifted me with Osteen’s latest book after I mentioned hearing him on a radio interview(god acting in my life, reaching out to me through the people in my life?), Everyday A Friday. I must admit I don’t watch Pastor Osteen on TV, and when I’ve seen him, I’ve passed by the channel after listening just a few moments. But I’ve enjoyed reading the book, and I’m almost done with it.

Joel Osteen pretty much in a nutshell takes the philosophy of the power of positive thinking and overlays it on Christian belief. He encourages us to retrain our minds to think positively, to make positive choices, to decide to be happy, to look at the glass half full, to not let circumstances ruin us or get us down, but remain hopeful that good is just around the corner, that it’s always darkest right before the dawn. Some of it is platitude, some of it is like, well yeah, I’ll decide to smile while my house is burning, but, you know, deciding to be positive, to retain both the outer countenance of a smile and the strength of the inner smile, does make things go better for you.

The danger, I think, of the power of posiive thinking, is two fold. First, some people may not drill deep enough into it to fully understand it and simply use it to fake themselves out or live a disengenuous or unauthentic life. It is absurd to deal with traumatic or tragic events as if they weren’t happening and to tgrapse off in a happy go lucky way. It does make sense, to be somber and to accept that although bad things happen and that we do have to deal with them and take responsibility, that we can do so in a positive, life affirming way, and decide to bring joy back into our lives.

The second danger, as is with all philosopihies and religions and ways, is that people misinterpret the concepts into thinking that in some way we will learn the magic code to manipulate people, events, and nature in order to control it and make miracles happen and change the course of events. This is rarely the case, if ever, with any of the above “ways.” People who try to become wizards, let’s say, have taken it to the wrong level.

What I initially liked about the book is that Joel did not start out making promises. He makes it very clear that if you want to live a trouble free life, it ain’t gonna happen. What he’s offering is a way to negotiate the good times and the bad. Just like the I Ching and Zen or Taoist thought! The I Ching teaches us that the way of things is change, and we must approach life with balance and equanimity, act when the time is ripe, retreat when it is dangerous. The I Ching teaches us to be positive, joyful, happy, act with integrity, act and live with modesty and innocence. Joel Osteen and the positive Christian message teaches us the same thing.

Like a Jungian analyst, Joel encourages us to explore the people in our lives, why they are there, although he attributes this to God acting in our lives. A Jungian would say we attach the meaning to it. Either way, it is an excellent exercise. To think about why you are where you are, to look at the “seasons” in your life, what lessons are you learning now, what has this or that person come into your life for, to teach you something, or perhaps to learn something from you, giving you the opportunity to learn something.

What grabbed me in the interview and one of the parts I like about the book is the section where he talks about “blooming where you are.” Take a look at where God has placed you in this season in your life and instead of grousing about having to go to work, or having to live somewhere, explore what it is about this place and this time and these people in your life that makes sense, as if God has purposely set this up for you.

As the book has progressed, Pastor Osteen does begin making Christian promises, reiterating that God is in control, that he is involved in your life down to the nitty gritty, and that God keeps His promises, that if you are positive, if you are good, if you are forgiving, God will repay you double. God will heal, God will get you the next job if you remain in faith and trust in Him. This is where I struggle, not just with Christianity but with Zen and Taoism. If Iam modest, if I act with ointegrity, if I am balanced and in the flow of the tao, will good things happen? If I am “zen,” will the universe arrange itself in my favor?

I will also say that while I have fallen away a bit from my Christian beliefs, the ineffable mystery of the presence of God and the Holy Spirit is still very real for me, and there are times when I do want to just take a knee in tears and praise God. I want to return under His wing and aegis of protection.

I sometimes like to think that God set up the paradigm(and maybe even He is responsible for setting up the paradigm of the taoist concepts of wuji, yin yang, the i ching diagram of life’s changes. I am not so sure God micro managing our lives. This is” the tao de ching,” or the way things work, now have at it. Maybe that’s what God says to us. “This is the game and this is how it works. I’ll give you some hints, if you are positive, if you are joyful, if you look at the people and places in your lives and discover why they are there, if you are balanced, have equanimity, are joyful, love, have compassion, are innocent and modest and truthful and act with integrity, if you are centered, and if you have a smile on your face and in your heart, you’ll negotiate the game a lot better.”

There are no promises. A zen master or taoist adept or pastor of a church can all step out into the street and randomly get hit by a bus. It happens, no matter how much they are smiling or are positive. But it’s certainly better to go through life deciding to take the joyful approach than to be a miserable rotten unhappy human being.

Joel Osteen affirms in his book that God settles all accounts, that God keeps His promises. He encourages us to “get on God’s payroll.” I’ll settle for developing the outer smile and the inner smile, each reflecting the other, and I’ll work to be zen, allow the universe to arrange itself while I hold to the center, not allow extremes to pull me off center and scatter my energy to the winds, and I’ll go through life with the innocent smile of joy and hope, looking to learn the lessons from the various seasons of my life



  1. Beautiful!

    Love Tai Chi, Zen, and Joel Osteen!

    Thank you for your nice post!
    Many blessings to you..

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