by Anthony Jermaine Ross
On the plane ride from Manila to Tokyo I sat next to a middle aged Filipino lady wearing eye glasses from The Gap. She was in a talkative mood and asked me whether I was in the military. I told her that I was not. People always ask me that when I’m in Asia or when I say I have been there. I actually hate that a lot. “I’m a student,” I told her hoping that my answer would be sufficiently banal that she would immediately lose interest in further conversation. I was wrong. She wanted to know what school?, why the Philippines?, what church?- enough information to completely compromise my pre-flight solitude!
Her name was Lillian and she wanted me to know that there were many wonderful resorts in the Philippines and that I should have at least visited some of them.
“I visited Mindanao,” I said. “They have great beaches there.”
‘I heard it was dangerous there,’ she said softly with raised eyebrows and wide eyes.
“Oh, really?,” I replied, feigning ignorance. “Everyone was so nice.”
‘Oh, good,” she said. She seemed satisfied. Suddenly, she leaned in toward me, surprisingly close and whispered ‘You know, politics is killing us here.
I relaxed a little believing that the conversation, if it had to go on, was about to get interesting. She continued, her voice lowered to a cool hiss.
‘If only America would come, then everything would be ok.’
“Hmm,” I grunted. I hoped she could search my labored ambivalence for whatever meaning she needed.
Her next topic, however, was her church. She whipped out a thin and glossy magazine titled God’s Message. She opened it to photographs of large sanctuaries filled with transfigured parishioners reaching rapturously for the sky. The pictures looked as if they were taken with a fish-eye lens to create a sense of grandeur. Together the two of us flipped through articles with titles like “Give thanks to the Lord,” “Thriving on the Works of the Lord,” and “What are the Historical Facts of Christmas and Upholding God’s Commandments.”
Eventually she asked me where I lived. I hoped that she was planning to mail me back the portion of my life she was in the process of destroying. She actually just wanted to discover whether there was a church in my area where I could hear God’s Message in person.
‘See, we have churches all over the world,’ she informed me as she pointed to pictures of wedding cake-looking buildings that could easily have been sketches for Barbie’s International Dream Church.
‘Our preachers always teach from the Bible. They never give their opinion. They just say what the Bible says,’ she said as she pointed to an article entitled “What God Expects from His Ministers.”
Clarity is comforting.
Lillian told that I could keep the magazine, that she had multiple copies of several issues. I thanked her and began to flip through the pages hoping that both of us enjoyed silent reading.
The article detailing God’s expectations of ministers caught my eye. It discussed the seriousness of deserting the ministry as all Christians are involved in a war in which ministers constitute the center. This war, the article assures, is not against the material world but the spiritual world. God’s penalty for desertion, according to the author, is similar to the U.S. military’s maximum penalty for desertion at wartime- eternal torment, which good dispensationalists will recognize as the dreaded the Second Death.
I smiled to myself and wondered if desertion during spiritual warfare included discontinuing arbitrary dichotomies in favor of something new. Those “spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” the article mentions are not necessarily a matter of mere metaphysics. Those ‘high above places and mysterious forces’ could also have something to do with the full-page advertisement for GEM TV on the back cover of my new magazine which “offers programming that will enrich your spiritual life and guide you to live out your reason for being” if you “first subscribe to a DIRECT TV international package plus any WorldDirect Package.”