Americans Have it Pretty Rough

November 15, 2010

This weekend, I saw The Execution of Christ.

No, it’s not a new film you somehow haven’t heard of.  It’s an art installation.  It was happenstance and unexpected, really, that I saw it while out and about running errands. 

The artists the Chinese Gao brothers, whose father died in a re-education camp under Chairman Mao.  (Official reports are he killed himself, though it’s more likely he was shot to death.)  The whole exhibit centered around the brothers coming to terms with China’s identity crisis in the decades after the Cultural Revolution.

The centerpiece is an illustration of Mao’s policy of stamping out religion in China.  Six life size bronze Chairman Maos take aim, firing squad style at an emaciated, nearly naked Jesus.  To stand behind Jesus and look down the barrels of six rifles was one of the most affecting religious experiences I’ve ever had…and in an art museum, no less.  I left the room in silence, as if I were in a sacred place.

If this exhibition is coming to your city, or even your state, you must see it.  But reflecting on the exhibition got me thinking about a few things in our own culture.

Chairman Who?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my generation knows one blasted thing about China’s Cultural Revolution.  People don’t know how teachers and professors were rounded up and tortured publically, forced to crawl on broken glass before being sent to re-education camps.  Or how children were encouraged to report their parents for reading religious texts, who were then arrested or killed.  Or how children were indoctrinated with slogans like, “Mother is close, Father is close, but none are as close as Chairman Mao.”  People don’t know that after the missionaries were kicked out, Christianity exploded in China from a few million to perhaps a hundred million, all because of illegal house churches.  That’s the biggest numerical revival in history, with no Western influence or money.

My college political science professor covered every major world power from Iran to China, as if every government is equally just, moral, and sustainable…except the United States, of course.  This was a guy who’s old enough that he should know better.  But he also showed up to class most days with his fly open.  Still, most of the shrubs in that class lapped up his ridiculous rantings, willingly let themselves be indoctrinated, by a guy with his fly open, like he were speaking brilliant gospel truth.

Oh and the two of you who caught that the last subtitle was a chuckle-worthy pun on the name of China’s current president, Hu Jintao, give yourself a gold star.

Americans have it pretty rough, you know

While I was standing, frozen behind Jesus, about to be executed by the Chairmen, a thought popped in my head.  Americans throw some pretty harsh words around awfully casually.  We accuse our leaders we don’t like of being “war criminals,” and “dictators.”  We compare them to Hitler and other horribly evil people.  People say this because they like to have the facade of being “compassionate” and “peace loving.”  They like people to believe that they are educated, intellectual, and righteously outraged, and they should be listened to. 

What they really reveal is their profound ignorance, hubris, self-centeredness, and small mindedness.  If people really knew what horrendous things war criminals and dictators do, they would know just how they sound when they compare an American leader to such people.  The casual way those words are thrown around is thoughtless, careless and downright offensive to the rest of the world’s plight.  Take the American president you hate the most, the one you absolutely detest with all your being, and tell a Chinese counter-revolutionary why that guy’s so bad, and get back to me, that is if said counter-revolutionary doesn’t quietly refute your argument with a five point palm exploding heart technique.

Brainwashed to complain

Have you noticed how much we complain?  We’re programmed to complain, brainwashed to complain, like we’re obedient citizens of a totalitarian government of complainers.  We watch vacuous reality stars and bridezillas whose lives mean nothing complain about their stupid problems that no one cares about…and then we do likewise, as if brainwashed by propaganda.  We’re programmed to complain about the economy, despite the fact that even on a bad day, our economy is twice the size of China’s with just a fraction of the people. 

We complain about our leaders and our country and “losing our rights,” as if our piddly little suffering is comparable to the truly oppressed in the world, as if the vast majority of us who, like me, are civilians with no military relatives have actually been affected by war, insurrection, or oppression recently.

And we are programmed to love revenge.  The movies we gobble up the most eagerly are those delicious revenge flicks.  Everything from Inglorious Basterds to The Karate Kid is our fantasy of giving people what they deserve.  I’ll admit, I love those stories too.

Meanwhile, these Chinese artists have no revenge fantasy for the man who killed tens of millions of people.  Their only fantasy is that in some alternate universe, Chairman Mao would feel remorse for the suffering he caused.  They depicted this fantasy in the life size bronze Mao’s Guilt.

When all these attitudes swirl around, we can’t be truly thankful.  There’s always that piece of our mind that’s always saying, “I’m thankful…except for this and that and that.”  That’s not gratitude.

What are you thankful for this year?  Do you enjoy revenge movies?  What’s your favorite?  Most affecting art you’ve seen?  What are you going to stop complaining about, or what should we all stop complaining about?

39 responses to Americans Have it Pretty Rough

  1. I had a bit of a humbling experience about complaining last night. For no apparent reason, the tap water where I live cut out for a few hours. I was about to get on facebook and complain (or at least seek pity) until I realised that this is what much of the world lives with all the time, every single day..

    We also should stop complaining when some non-Christian media outlet or personality says or does something mildly offensive or blasphemous. I’m sure Christians in many parts of the world would love it if the worst they faced was TV shows they don’t even watch saying somewhat offensive things. Why are we expecting non-Christians to speak and act in line with Christian ethics anyway?

  2. this morning i was reading in colossians. 2:14-15 — “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

    it seems the proper response to living in a crooked generation — when leaders are doing what we deem unfair or improper — is to continue living out our salvation, refusing to grumble or complain. funny that we think the proper response is nearly exactly the opposite.

    i lived in china from 2001-2004. and i shared meals with adults who were children in the time of mao. i heard their stories about family members being sent away or killed (or both). i listened to them tell about how their schools shut down so they could gather metal all day long, while their teachers manned smelting pots. i spoke with college students who don’t believe anything bad ever occurred at tiananmen square — the still visit it because of all the good things that happened there. i was there during sars, when newspapers informed my students that there was no such thing as this disease; the american journalists and pharmaceutical companies had made it all up in an effort to sell more papers and drugs. and i was there during sars when it became known (by those same students) that there were several hundred confirmed sars cases in beijing; they went from one day not believing it was true to the next thinking it was a huge coincidence that americans had been able to accidentally predict a horrible disease. [they honestly believed those 300 cases came overnight.]

    and these days i live in tanzania, where members of parliament — or even local officials — will charge ngo’s elaborate amounts of money just to get them to come to a meeting they’re supposed to be at anyway. a company wanting permission to do hiv education or a reforestation project will have to pay the equivalent of a month’s salary just to sit down and have one of these officials sign a paper allowing them to start their project. these are men who will extort money from groups wanting to give away mosquito nets or start orphanages.

    and, so, it too bothers me a great deal when i hear americans complain about our own greedy dictators. i’m not so naive to believe we’ve got it all right in the states. but i also know my responsibility is to live Christ without complaining and grumbling.
    JamesBrett recently posted..obedience by magical charm

    • The level of corruption and bribery that goes on in the rest of the world is amazing. We found that out when we sent my Dad to Sudan as a missionary. It’s at a level even the residents of the most notorious US cities can’t imagine.

      • I worked for a missions board that built a radio station in Gracias Honduras for the sole purpose of spreading the gospel to the Lenca–a forgotten people group. We never caved to it, but it was amazing how long the licensing process took because we wouldn’t “pay off” officials to do what they were legally required to do.

  3. I’m going to print this post and hang it on my fridge to read whenever I feel like complaining. I’d love to see this art exhibit. The photo itself takes my breath away.

  4. Great post. Both those sculpture pieces were powerful, but that second one actually moved me even more. I imagine him on his deathbed, and wonder if he thought he had really done good or evil.

    There’s a movie…I think its called The Violin, that details the Cultural Revolution pretty well.
    mo recently posted..Bonus- Old Friends or Baloney

  5. One could not improve on what you say here, Matt.
    vanilla recently posted..Petula

  6. First I want to know how many guys checked their fly? I did. 😉

    What are you thankful for this year?
    I have a high paying and secure job, an amazing wife, 4 kids doing OK in life, a deepening relationship with Jesus, spiritual gifts and church that I get to use them in, green lights at rush hour, flowers… and I could go on.

    Do you enjoy revenge movies?
    What’s your favorite?
    The Witness with Harrison Ford

    Most affecting art you’ve seen?
    I was in Ft. Wayne some 20 years ago, and there was a sculpture of crucifix that had crashed through a stained glass window. It was a statement about the state of the organized church; the wreck it had become. Many Protestants are used to seeing the post-resurrection cross. Somehow it insulates them from the violence of it all. Years later Mel Gibson depicted it in The Passion of Christ. The one sculpture caused me to have days of reflection – I think I finally started to understand that fact that Jesus took my place on the cross.

    What are you going to stop complaining about, or what should we all stop complaining about?
    Not having enough – take a trip to the slums of the Philippines, or Brazil, where garbage picking is like grocery shopping.
    David recently posted..5 1-2 I Need Something New – Like a Phone or a Church!

  7. I live in South Africa, which is supposed to be one of the more progressive African nations.
    Just today I read that police in some parts of the country are arresting nationals of one of our neighbors and extorting money from them (regardless of the validity of their travel documents).
    In another survey over 2500 respondents admitted to bribing local law enforcement in the past 3 months.
    A friend from Rwanda (who lost his whole family in the genocide there a few years back), says that whenever he needs to apply to get his refugee status renewed he has to ‘pay’ to get in the doors of the Home Affairs offices.
    And as one of the articles states that is “just the tip of the iceberg”

  8. Good thoughts, Matt. Tossing in my own here:

    1. “Green Street Hooligans” is a fascinating film. Not really a great film, but an interesting look at the modern revenge culture of UK football.

    2. It’s true: We don’t really have it bad here. But there are always things that threaten to turn that tide. We should be aware of the things that are shifting our nation to where the evils of the past could be replayed today in our neighborhoods. This is not a sensationalistic warning, but rather a reminder that people like Hitler didn’t come to power by setting themselves up as the most evil person in the world… but rather as a way of setting things right and saving their people. Speaking of movies, perhaps “V for Vendetta” should be on the menu as well…

    Luke Holzmann recently posted..Cool New Tools for You on Sonlightcom

  9. Great post, Matt. With Advent coming, it is time to reflect on what I want to be doing when Jesus returns. I don’t want him to find me whining and complaining while surrounded by so many blessings. Not complaining will be my goal this Advent. (I may as well start practicing now, though :-) )
    Helen recently posted..Shes Back- Shes Bad

  10. The western church has so much to learn from the rest of the world. I remember Brother Yun (“The Heavenly Man”) coming to speak to our church. When asked how we can pray for the persecuted Christians in China, he told us not to pray for their release from prison, or for their suffering to stop, but rather that they would be strong in the face of their pain, and that they would not deny Jesus.

    I am quite sure I wouldn’t have the courage to pray like that for myself or those I love, were we in their circumstances.

    We Americans need to regain a theology of suffering and learn how to consider it all pure joy (James 1:2).

  11. One of your best posts, man. There’s serious power there.
    Jason recently posted..You complete me- Dan-o

  12. I’m trying not to complain about elected officials, because even though I may have voted for someone else, that doesn’t give me the right to complain about the winner(s). As a follower of Christ, respect for authority has to trump my right to free speech. (I know someone will say, “What about Hitler?” but as you pointed out, we’re not talking about Hitler here. We’re talking about run-of-the-mill politicians with whom I may disagree on points that do not rise to the level of genocide.)

    I have to keep reminding myself about that over…and over…and over. Criticism is a tough habit to break.
    Margaret @ Single and Sane recently posted..More Than We Can Imagine

  13. I would very much like to see this art installation, but I sincerely doubt it’s coming to Juneau, AK. That’s okay. I’m with you though. Not that I’m blameless, but the immediate jump to hyperbole gets very, very tiresome. Good post, Matt.
    jasonS recently posted..Praying for Honest Kids

  14. i actually gasped out loud when i saw “mao’s guilt.”
    its quite powerful.

    i’m not sure what i would do if that were real. would i show mercy? or would i still want revenge? it doesn’t change the fact that he killed millions, but now he has acknowledged his guilt? just wow.

  15. Hello Matt, Good points again.
    I believe we should never stop complaining. Really.
    But we must be more selective. Complaining about too many people shopping during the holidays – wrong! Complaining about “nothing to eat” in a full refrigerator – Wrong! Complaining about what your government is doing – right! I agree that comparing our government to radical dictators is inappropriate sensationalism. I also believe that our responsibility is to complain and make noise and BE the masses that question our government’s motives for all time.
    That is one small part of what makes our system, well, work. True, you and I may not agree on how our leaders handle one situation or another; but know we are in a better place today because of the complainers of yesterday.
    Mardra recently posted..this is why they achieve greatness

  16. We were just talking about this this weekend. There have been news stories ad nauseum about poor affluent people who were on a cruise ship that lost power and had to be towed back to shore. Nobody got hurt, no one starved, but apparently they weren’t able to enjoy their vacation and they didn’t take daily showers. They got reimbursed and then got free vacations so they can do it again. The news coverage and the reactions were like they had been kidnapped and beaten rather than had a couple of days without power.

    I do believe we complain a lot here, partially because we’re so used to hyperbole “bad” doesn’t mean anything, it has to be “horrendous” before we’re moved. Partially because we’re so convinced of our own entitlement that we don’t believe we should have anything unpleasant or unplanned happen. I suspect that we all have a continuum from perfect to terrible and if nothing really bad is happening, we take the worst we have and put it on that end of the spectrum. That’s why education should help us understand the real extremes and save us from our own drama.

  17. There’s an old joke about a man who wanted to emigrate to the U.S. from a communist country. “Were things so terrible in your country?” they asked. “Eh,” he said, “I could not complain.” “So why do you want to come to America, then?” “Don’t you see?” he said. “Here, in America… I can complain!”

    (Most affecting artistic experience is probably with music, and I’m going to go with Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen. It sounds like heaven.)
    Eric recently posted..God’s Prescription for Your Discouragement

  18. Great post! I just finished reading _Safely Home_, which is a very moving fictional story about the very real current persecution of the Chinese church. It was very humbling to read.

    I am thankful for a God who stays with me, no matter how disloyal I sometimes am to Him and who promises to love me no matter where I am, what I do, or how I feel about Him at any given point in time. I am also thankful for the people He has put in my life to give me encouragement when I am in difficulty. I am also thankful for new traditions in our family for Christmas which won’t involve me going insane trying to bake boxes of cookies for friends.

    My favorite revenge story is “The Princess Bride.” Wesley humiliates the Prince Humperdink, Inigo Montoyo (You killed my father. Prepare to die!) kills the Count Rougen and true love wins. I don’t really care for the “Dirty Harry” kind of revenge stories (if this series is too old for you, Jodie Foster’s “The Brave One” is of the same genre.)

  19. Wow Matt. I hope this kicked some people in the teeth. Not in a vengance way, but in a wake-up call way. I got so tired of hearing about the “bad economy” and how people here were “hurting” because they lost one of their two, maybe 3 cars, I put a little kick in the teeth thing on my blog–Go to, put in your salary and see how “poor” you are compared to the rest of our world.

    What am I thankful for? After cancer came after my family, evicerated us emotionally, wiped out our savings (including our 401 and 457k’s) and cost us “friends” who couldn’t stick in out with us, I am thankful God spared our daughter, never let the lights go out, kept the water on and the bankers away with their foreclosure letters. That was 5 years ago. I’m still so grateful, that I cry just about everytime I think about it. I tell God each day “My cup runneth over Lord. And I’ll take a shack on a Rock over a castle in the sand. To you be the glory for any gratitude I summon each day.”

    Great stuff Matt. Thanks so much!!

  20. No, we don’t have anything to complain about compared to what others have suffered and continue to suffer for their faith. But by those standards, no one should ever complain about anything, because there’s always someone worse off they are. Perhaps it’s how we complain, or rather that we complain instead of actually getting off our butts and doing something about it.

  21. Wow! Great post man. I’m going to have to stop reading your blog, however. I don’t like coming here and being convicted. =) Kidding. Great stuff. Thanks.
    Stan recently posted..Blog Action Day 2010

  22. Is that at the Kemper?

  23. I keep pictures of my four Compassion children on my fridge. Those four little people rebuke my complaining often. We have it waaaaayyy too good in this country.
    Jason recently posted..My Weekly Update Via Twitter for 2010-12-12

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