Most people—from all cultures and worldviews—try to be accepted by the world at large. They put on a façade of inclusiveness to make it look like they are like me and thee. I’ll tell you of two experiences I had twelve years ago in a much different culture …
Five days out ofKunming, my three friends and I arrived at Zhongdian, the home of Gedan-Songzanlin, the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple inSW China. We ascended the 146 steps to the main prayer hall, the route devout Buddhists take on their knees and foreheads every year. Prayer wheels lined the great hall. Each spin of a wheel supposedly sent a prayer—somewhere. Since most Buddhists don’t accept the supernatural, I wondered who they were praying to.
Monks ushered us into the central temple. After several rounds of yak butter tea, Nick Burt, who led our team and also spoke excellent Mandarin, asked them about their work at the temple. He said it must have been hard during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-67. Yes, it had been. Nick was a sympathetic man and I’m sure they sensed this.
Then he asked if they knew of Jesus. At once, they became very animated and took us over to their collection of “all the religious books.” Proudly, they pointed. There, on the shelf with scores of other tomes—a King James Bible. Unfortunately, it was coated with dust and had probably never been opened, much less read. The fact that they had included our religious book seemed to mean they accepted us as being religious people. Almost the same as they.
Not quite. We thanked them for their hospitality; after all, we were their guests for those short hours. But we knew we were an entire worldview apart from what they were.
Two days later, we arrived by bus in Deqin—20,000 Tibetans and 2,000 yaks. Nick led us to the Mei Li Alien Hotel, where he had stayed before. Like most other hotels on the Chinese frontier, the entire place reeked of urine. I never got used to that.
Time for dinner so Nick located a place not far from the hotel. He inspected their kitchen and ordered for us. Four Tibetans sat at the next table. One displayed a 15” dagger in his belt, a not uncommon sight among the minority people. Nick commented and showed them his Leatherman tool. They passed it around as if it were a precious jewel. I pulled out my Swiss Army knife; they really got excited when I demonstrated all 17 tools. We’d made friends.
Soon, Nick asked about their religion. No surprise, all were Buddhist. He asked if they knew about Jesus. Ah yes, Catholics have Jesus; we have Buddha. By their norms, they could carouse and drink with either religion. Nick smiled and shared the gospel with them. Uh, uh, Christianity is too hard; besides, it comes from the West.
He told them Jesus is the Son of God. They replied that they’ll be reincarnated into a better life. Nick suggested that they ask the reincarnated if they’ve escaped the troubles of this life. Our new friends dropped their eyes. Nick explained Christ’s sacrifice and forgiveness for sin. They shook their heads; no one is interested in talking about sin. Nick tried another tack and emphasized that Christianity is for here and now. They threw up their hands. No more talk about religion.
The meals were served. Perhaps the four Tibetans considered Nick’s words; we do not know. But they did not pretend to be like us.
Later, I thought how interesting: the religious ones, the monks, pretended we and they were somehow cut from the same bolt of cloth. They deftly sidestepped the issue of Jesus. On the other hand, the Tibetan peasants made it clear that they were not ready for Jesus. I hope they changed their minds. Certainly, those four working men were closer to being of our ken, our worldview, than that temple full of religious professionals. They were honest with us.
Next week, I’ll have a guest blogger. Stanley Baldwin is a friend and an accomplished writer, with four best-sellers of over a quarter-million copies each. You won’t want to miss his posting next Thursday.