Blessed Lives 

Wilkinson, instrument of God (?); Buell, instrument of rock gods (!)

The Prayer of Jabez

By Bruce Wilkinson

Multnomah, 92 pp., $9.99

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xplain to me the inexplicable. A minor inspirational tract of no literary value from a publishing house no one's heard of about a one-sentence prayer issued by an Old Testament "hero" no one's heard of gets nicely packaged as a gift book, hits bookstores, and, through word-of-mouth, through gung-ho marketing, through creepy missionary zeal, manages a year-long spot on the bestseller list at a measly 10 bucks a pop and to the very good fortune of God's reverend, Bruce Wilkinson, who wrote The Prayer of Jabez.

But the bucks don't stop here because now you can sink your cash into the business of sidelines: a devotional, a journal, a 2002 day-to-day calendar, a Bible cover, a Bible "study," a "pocket reminder," a key ring, a paperweight, a magnet, and something called a Scripture Keeper. This in addition to the standard, lucrative spinoffs: The Prayer of Jabez for Teens, The Prayer of Jabez for Kids, The Prayer of Jabez for Young Hearts, The Prayer of Jabez for Little Ones, and the latest stone upturned by this publishing company's resourceful marketing department, the forthcoming The Prayer of Jabez for Women.

Now explain the astonishing popularity of this simple prayer, in which Jabez first asks for God's blessing then asks that God "enlarge [his] territory," that God be with him, that God keep him from evil, all so he doesn't end up causing "pain" (a neat trick since the name "Jabez" already means "pain"). And guess what. "God granted him what he requested" (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). End of what we know of Jabez. Until, that is, Wilkinson brought him to the attention of a waiting nation. Make that nations, because Jabez has gone global based on the prayer's capacity to work "miracles."

Example: Wilkinson, "physically and spiritually spent" after a hard week's work preaching at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (76 students counseled, "to be exact"), gets on a plane, finds his middle seat, and prays the Jabez prayer. He's "completely worn out" doing God's work, "can't cope with temptation." Immediately, the male passenger on his left pulls out "a pornographic magazine." The man on his right pulls out his own "skin magazine." Wilkinson silently seeks divine intervention: "Lord, please chase evil far away!" And good Lord, He does! The men out of nowhere let out a curse and promptly put up their magazines. Wilkinson calls this a miracle. You'll call it rank impossibility: two guys in public on an airplane in the same aisle, each, without embarrassment, dipping into porno. Don't believe.

Want more evidence of "what God's grace and Jabez praying can do"? In 1998 Wilkinson began WorldTeach, "birthed from the womb of the Jabez prayer." Target: Earth. "An exciting fifteen-year vision to establish the largest bible-teaching faculty in the world," WorldTeach wants a Bible instructor for every 50,000 people on the planet. Your buying into Jabez buys into that mission. It comes with the territory. Hold on to your 10 bucks.

Rebel Heart

By Bebe Buell, with Victor Bockris

St. Martin's Press, 372 pp., $24.95

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Victor Bockris -- professional hanger-on, biographer to downtown '70s scenesters John Cale, Blondie, Patti Smith, Andy Wharhol, Lou Reed -- must have known he had his hands full with Bebe Buell, so it was essentially hands off this ex-Catholic schoolgirl and ex-Elite model, ex-Playboy centerfold and ex-Max's Kansas City regular, ex-bedmate to skinny-assed rock stars Todd Rundgren, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello, Stiv Bators, et cetera, ad nauseum and ex-failed rocker herself, mother to actress Liv Tyler and still pretty as a picture thanks to Zoloft and Ritalin.

But one thing Buell thinks she isn't is a groupie. One thing Bockris and St. Martin's must have known she isn't is a writer. Hence: Rebel Heart, her autobiography, courtesy of Bockris, which reads like Elizabeth Taylor barking inanities into thin air or in the direction of Joanna Shimkus in Boom! : close to 400 pages of incoherent self-absorption masquerading as self-revelation and all of it stomach-churning. Translation: perfectly page-turning, so long as you check your brain at the door and don't mistake raw confession for the truth of the matter.

Example: Buell writes (or is it shouts?), triumphant at age 45, "I think that I have always been an instrument, I have always been a vehicle ... . I am one of those people who generate art, inspire it. ... I see myself as a powerful woman-man who can perform and who can channel all her favorite people, dead and alive."

Well, for "favorite people" (who are alive, so why are they being channeled?), that means Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, and assorted drag queens. If (it's true?) Buell did inspire Elvis Costello to write "I Want You," hey, she did accomplish something. But she needs to be thanking her lucky star, Steven Tyler, who is Liv's father, and Liv Tyler is going to be the one with the final handful: Bebe Buell when she hits old age and the self-delusion gets really ugly.

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