I attended the Reno Rodeo last week and, first off, let me just say, this was not my first rodeo … Badaboom. The Reno Rodeo is a big deal. Apparently, one of the largest pro rodeo events in the country and, on the day that I attended, at the kind behest of a friend, I was quite impressed by the size of the crowd (sold out, at least 10,000 strong), by the number of families, and by the intensity of the rodeo events.
I was also impressed by the absolute eschewing of any sort of social distancing or mask wearing in the wake of the pandemic. In fact, as far as I could tell, I was the only person in attendance actually wearing a mask, which, eventually, I removed once I got outside the main tent area. Yes, I succumbed to the pressure. I was getting some interesting looks from the cowboy and cowgirl clad throngs for being the only masked man amid this decidedly ‘we don’t need no stinking masks’ crowd. Clearly, rodeo fans have grown tired of COVID precautions and so be it.
But, that’s not why I am writing this blog. I am writing today because I was shaken and stirred by the passionate benediction (or is it invocation?) given by the cowboy pastor at the onset of this auspicious occasion. After we all stood for the national anthem – no one dare kneel even though this is the college home of Colin Kaepernick – a pastor and a small number of his flock took center stage in the arena and proceeded to lead us through a deeply felt Christian prayer. I know it was deeply felt ’cause the dude was into it! I mean, as the pastor spoke, there was no doubt that believing in Jesus, and for those in the rodeo events, riding for Jesus, was the divine intent. Clearly, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Rodeo Jesus.
Now, as an atheist who was born Jewish, I listened to the benediction with great interest, after first being astounded by the fact that, clearly, what I was attending was a Christian event. Before I set myself in my seat, I had no idea this was the case. I thought the rodeo was … a rodeo. You know, a place where various animals (horses, bulls, and sheep) get chased, corralled, ridden and roped, even though I am pretty sure they don’t like it very much. But, I ain’t going there. This blog is about Jesus and the Rodeo. Can I get an Amen?
The Reno Rodeo proudly advertises itself as a “public private partnership.” Yep, it receives public dollars, along with corporate sponsorship (and, I am guessing, other private donations) to make it happen. In principle, I got no problem with public private partnerships. What I do have a problem with is an event that receives public dollars proselytizing to the masses about the ‘one true faith;’ in this instance, in the name of Jesus. You know, you gotta have Jesus, I tell ya, that’s all. Well, sorry, that’s just not alright with me. And, for those of you who wanna say, ‘stop whining Geno, who cares? Can’t you just roll with it, like a good cowboy should?’ Well, no.
As I sat in my seat during the benediction, in rapt attention, but not quite in rapture, I deftly perused the crowd looking for signs of non-Christians in the arena. Yes, I know, it is ironic, ’cause Christians have quite a history with arenas and a lot of that history ain’t so good, especially during Roman times. I was hoping I would spot some Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Atheist rodeo fans, but no one stood out. Everyone, as far as I could tell, was prayin’ with the preacher. So, that got me to thinking. If there were any other rodeo fans in attendance of non-Christian faiths, or non-believers like myself, what were they thinking about the pastor’s passionate pleas? And then, I got to thinkin’ even more that, wait a minute, this event gets those darn public dollars and, is it OK that we got this Christian evangelical mumbo jumbo going on, paid for, in part, with taxpayer guineas? Where’s the damn rabbi, the monk, the imam, Richard Dawkins for chrissake??!! Shouldn’t there be equal time?
Anyways, I made it through most of the rodeo and there was much I actually enjoyed. It was quite an experience. Though I have to say, the benediction is what really stuck with me. Call it rodeo dissonance. For starters, I just don’t think Jesus was a bull rider even though I know he knew that, back in pre-Rodeo times, folks were wont to slaughter animals in the names of their gods and idols. Furthermore, as I mentioned, in days of old when Jesus and Christians weren’t so popular, arenas were places where public slaughters occurred. Sometimes Christians were fed to the lions, sometimes other humans decimated them. Either way, those were not fun rodeos.
But, wait, I digress. Let me get back on point. So, why did the Reno Rodeo invocation cause my soul to stir? Let me be brief.
When public money is used, you should not be allowed to evangelize upon the masses even if there is only one among the 10,000 who doesn’t buy that stuff. For one faith, even if that faith thinks it has the monopoly on truth, to be given center and sole stage to expound its’ beliefs, to the point of making one who does not share those beliefs feel like they would, basically, burn in rodeo hell if they do not ‘have Jesus’? Nope, I just can’t get my rope around that. My suggestion? As long as public dollars are paying for part of the rodeo, take this stuff to a separate holy roller tent somewhere on the grounds where people can choose to go or not. Yeah, I know, I coulda and maybe shoulda just gotten up and left before the invocation began, but I had no idea what was coming. Hit me like a ton of bibles. Maybe they coulda and shoulda just played the old Doobie Bros tune and I’d, maybe, been alright with that.
Even though these kinds of public displays extolling our ‘Christian nation’ don’t surprise me, I just have an inherent twitch (ok, maybe it’s more than a twitch) of discomfort when it happens. Frankly and simply, this kind of proselytizing, paid for, in part, by public dollars, is not OK. I know some will disagree. All I can say to them is, praise be to those who think they are never wrong.