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Osteen is slick, but he doesn't look slick. He has a goofy, toothy smile and wavy black hair that flows a little too far down the back of his neck — a corporate mullet. He would almost be too creepy-looking to be the most popular pastor in America were it not for his Texas accent, which suffuses his words with a warm, down-to-earth, Clintonian charm. When he tells a joke or makes an exactingly timed self-deprecating remark, it is impossible not to like him, at least a little bit.
"A Night of Hope" is a family tour, with Osteen's mother; his wife, Victoria; their son, Jonathan, 17; and their daughter, Alexandra, 13. The kids came out early on and performed a praise song. Alexandra sang (kind of), and Jonathan stood beside her, wearing khakis and a slick vest, rocking out on a Stratocaster. In the darkened corner of a stage, a much larger band did the heavy musical lifting. Above, a massive screen projected mundane images of everyday kindness. Song lyrics — God is with us, God is on our side, He will make a way — ran along the bottom of the screen like at a karaoke night.
Osteen spent 10 minutes working the local angle, giving handpicked area pastors a minute to spout platitudes onstage. We watched a video about poor kids in the Dominican Republic and Africa. White donation buckets were passed around. I ventured out onto the concourse. "I guess you guys probably aren't serving beer?" I asked the concession person, who shook her head sternly. Doughnut sales at the pop-up QuikTrip appeared robust. I did a lap and returned to my seat.
The theme of the entire evening was a variation on the old chestnut that everything happens for a reason. God has a plan for you. Your shitty life? There's a reason that it's so shitty. You just can't see it yet. The neighbor's kid who got run over by a bus? That's just a part of his journey, and passing over into heaven is just the next part of that journey. Osteen spoke to modern plights: health problems, financial difficulties, legal issues. Watery piano notes trickled along in the background.
"This is the year you are released from your debts, your worry, your fears, everything troubling you," he said, and everyone nodded.
You cannot argue with a statement like this, not really, which is the genius of motivational speaking. Osteen and his wife told a story about how, when they were a young couple, a tax attorney had screwed up their returns. It was a financial setback. They ended up hiring a new tax attorney. He straightened them out, got them back on track. Years later, that second lawyer was instrumental in Osteen's expanding his church. So, you see, if there hadn't been that initial hardship, which looked like bad luck at the time, Osteen wouldn't be prosperity-preaching on Hakeem Olajuwon's old basketball court today. Case closed. God exists. All bad things are actually good things in disguise. Keep on eating shit every day. At some point, your life won't suck anymore.
At 10 p.m. on the dot, following a different, 25-minute story rehashing this same idea but with different metaphors, the Osteens bid us goodnight. Outside, the cyborg preacher was gone, and the temperature had dropped. A Bon Jovi song was blaring from McFadden's, and I was so desperate for anything resembling fun, I almost walked up to the door. But then I figured, Why not suffer just a little longer?