The Right Side of Things, or, Waiting for the Jesus Bomb

I keep an open mind about new ideas, so don’t mind experiencing situations where my values are questioned. This job provides these experiences daily. Today, in Waukee, IA (a Republican suburban town just outside Des Moines), I set up my Wheel of Fortune at their Fall Fair. My first players, from Des Moines, loved our message and even signed up. Throughout the afternoon, three different families walked away from the game while I was in mid-sentence. The word “Pentagon” clicked the ignorance gene in their minds. Or maybe their reality blinders lowered from their halos.

I want to talk to these folks, and see why they don’t agree. When I do speak with them, I get into arguments where we just talk in circles. Or we fall into illogic where their comments just don’t make sense:

“The whole budget [pie chart] should be the pentagon!”
“Even if they’re wasting our money?”
“Who cares. They know what’s best for our freedoms!”

“The Pentagon is wasting billions on a submarine we don’t need.”
“We all need a submarine.”
“You never know when there’ll be a suicide bomber around the corner.”
“So we need a submarine to protect us from suicide bombers?”

“We wouldn’t have any of the other [budget] slices if it wasn’t for the military!”
“We aren’t advocating to dissolve the whole Pentagon budget. Just to cut the wasteful spending.”
“So, we should spend more on the Pentagon.”
“Even if the other slices keep give us good education and keep us healthy?”

I think Des Moines has about five Christian radio stations on the dial. I scan stations often for fun while stuck behind the wheel of my van. I listen to the Christian stations, usually during the news or a talk show. Truthfully, Christian music sucks, with the songs that are remotely interesting angering me with their deceptive Jesus-friendly lyrics. But I keep an open mind and try to sit through it.

During the Lebanese-Israeli war, every Christian news segment I caught never mentioned the Lebanese that were killed or displaced. The angle consistently spotlighted rockets crashing on Israeli houses and the deaths from those rockets.

The talk shows always give incorrect facts that can easily be corrected by a simple Google search. I’m amazed, but not surprised, at the ineptitude of the “specialists” they have on their show. Earlier this week, an embassy guard was on a local show, answering questions like “why do they hate us?” and “why do they kill themselves?”

Tonight, I reached my limit in Christian ignorance. Flipping channels as I ate my late dinner, I came across a travel show where two white Americans walked in a remote Chinese market looking for cheap winter gear. Over and over they keep complaining about the cold, complaining about not finding yak jackets, while being cutely patronizing to the locals they run into. Aired on Trinity Broadcasting, I kept waiting for the Jesus bomb to drop. Instead, they shop and brag about how the locals “love to haggle” and how cheap their winter gear is.

Then, they get up early the next day to take a bus 15,000 feet up into Chinese-occupied Tibet. Do they mention the occupation? Do they talk about the brutal Chinese policy? Do they say that the Dalai Lama was in exile? No. These coy-smiling Americans complain about how cold their feet are and how they are headed into uncharted territory to “do God’s work.”

They arrive in Tibet, tour the city full of smiling, praying Tibetans, complain about the overpriced yak jackets, and pray for God to open a door for them. A Chinese man happens to show up and speak perfect English. He’s heading to a remote Buddhist monastery, and invites the two missionaries to go with him.

At the monastery, they show beautiful shots of the monks praying. They try to portray the idols as menacing, but the artistry shines through. The monastery has mandalas on doors and other Tibetan wonders. I watch this in wonder, thinking “these guys are in occupied Tibet, filming a monastery that has most likely dealt with decades of terrorism on behalf of the Chinese government.”

A monk who speaks broken English takes them into his own living quarters, feeds them, and shows them around. He gives them bedding to sleep on, and makes them tea with yak’s milk. I feel like I’m being let in on a secret, but am still waiting for the Jesus bomb to go off.

Tim and Will, very white Americans who star in this Xtreme Xtian reality series, Travel the Road, do not disappoint me. They have only one thing on their minds: they want to bring the word of Jesus to these heathen Tibetans. Clearly, the language barrier creates a problem for the young mavericks. Their monk host doesn’t quite understand that they want to pray for the sick in Jesus’ name. The monk understands the word pray, and puts his hands together in front of his heart, just like the Eastern traditions most likely taught Jesus himself to do.

“You American. Me Tibet man,” the monk says. “I think we meet. Is karma. Karma.”
“It’s the Lord’s will.” the missionary replies. The monk doesn’t understand.

The next day, Tim and Will meet the lama who runs the monastery. They are welcomed into his private quarters, given tea, and the lama gives them a prayer scarf. The missionaries show him a painting of Jesus. Again, the language barrier makes this critical moment seem surreal. After all the openess and hospitality they have received, Tim and Will’s only goal is to pray for him.

Well, that’s what they ask him. “Can we pray for you?” Instead of a selfless blessing, thanking them for their hospitality, their compassionate hearts, their sincerely warm culture (so many smiles in the video footage), they pray for him in the only way a proselytizing Christian can. Tim and Will, laying hands on the lama, ask that he take Jesus into his heart and lead all of his followers [insert footage of smiling Tibetans] to the true path of salvation.

As my open-mind began to vomit from the absurdity of this very real occurrence, the show ended with this:

“There are 6,000,000 Tibetans living in China.”
“Only 150 are Christians.”

And then they put the call for strong-willed, young Christians to brave the cold and cheap winter gear to come to Tibet and covert the heathen Buddhists.

Sometimes I can only take so much of the other side of the world. Where I see beauty of a culture that refuses to get snuffed under a totalitarian capitalist regime, gentle-smiling Tim and Will see raw souls ready to convert in Jesus’ name. If Christopher Columbus had a film crew, I guess his reality show would look a lot like this one. Except that the small pox and massacres wouldn’t get put on Trinity Broadcasting.

OK, so I dig a little on their web site and see that they discuss the occupation of Tibet and the exile of the Dalai Lama. They only set up the situation so that their army of young ministers can brave the elements and save a few souls on the plateaus of an ancient land “which rarely hears the Gospel, [and] is certainly a region in need of dedicated missionaries and fervent prayers.”