Since I was a child, I’ve been afflicted with a mind that loves to wander. Like a child, I can’t let it wander off on its own or it may get terribly lost or sidetracked by some off-the-wall idea or concept. The fact that I’m sitting here typing this instead of outside enjoying a beautiful spring day is proof.
Although I’ve not managed to cure myself of this affliction, I have managed to harness its creative aspects enough to have some success in writing everything from a cyber-column for a major newspaper’s web site, to scripts for television (and lots of fluff in between).
So a few months back, when a friend of mine told me about a Sunday morning syndicated radio program called “The Jesus Christ Show,” the creative juices kicked in immediately.
Having been raised a Christian myself, the word blasphemous immediately came to mind. The first thing I thought was “What kind of cojones must you have to go on the radio claiming to be Jesus Christ?” I don’t like jumping to conclusions, but the idea for such a show was ripe for mockery, and I intended to do just that.
Before even listening to the show, I had already determined the idea lent itself well to stand-up:
- “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that, if Jesus was to really come back, given what’s going on in the world today, I don’t think his first priority would be securing a syndication deal with Clearchannel. I’m just sayin’…
- And this begs the question: If Jesus has his own radio show, and the fairness doctrine was restored, will the stations airing the Jesus Christ show have an obligation to give equal time to Beelzebub? Oh wait… I think we have that already. It’s called the Weekly White House Address.
Fully prepared to take no prisoners, I sat by my radio Sunday morning a few months back with pad and pen in hand, prepared to take notes for my very own crucifixion of this holy hoax that was about to be perpetrated.
However, something went terribly, terribly wrong (or right) along the way. And I must admit I’ve become a fan of the show. As Jimmy Buffet sings in “One Particular Harbor, “I can’t explain the likes of me.” But I need to try.
The program starts with a booth announcer welcoming us with a dramatic:
“2000 years ago, He walked this earth; preaching, teaching and preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
WHAT IF, today, you could talk with Him, laugh with Him, cry with Him… not only through prayer, but through the radio?”
Then, after what sounds like a discarded theme song from “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” the announcer states (and repeats several times throughout the broadcast) that the host does not proclaim to be Jesus Christ; what you are listening to an “interactive radio theater designed to help Christians and non-Christians alike learn more about the historical person of Jesus.” With that, the program is turned over to “Your Holy Host.”
“If ever there was a set-up just begging for critique, this is it!” I said to myself. But I promised myself I’d give the show a fair shake. And when I did, I was surprised to find myself being impressed with what I heard.
Meet “Your Holy Host”
The “Holy Host” is the voice of the show’s producer, Neil Saavedra. A native Southern Californian, according to his bio, Neil “started his career in radio in January of 1990 when he discovered he couldn’t shut up.”
Not the most likely candidate to portray the real “Chosen One” so far. But his bio continues:
Neil first studied Catholic apologetics at Saint Pascal’s Day School in Thousand Oaks, California, then Protestant Apologetics at Chalcedon Christian Academy where he studied topics such as critical thinking, Theology and general Apologetics. Neil has also taken supplemental courses on the cults, Hebrew, the Trinity and general Apologetics at schools such as Simon Greenleaf University (Trinity School of Law) in Southern California and School of the Oaks in Westlake Village, California.
Saavedra refers to himself as a “self taught lay apologist”, principally due to the fact that he holds no degrees in spite of all the courses he’s taken… and he does not want to be one of those individuals we all know who try to sound more educated than they actually are.
During the program, Saavadra stays in character, much like a school teacher dressing up as George Washington to teach history students about his role in our country’s history. Or George C. Scott dressed as General Patton and giving his pre-battle speech.
One after another, callers great Saavedra on the air with “Thank you, Jesus, for taking my call.” Often their voices are pained and it’s obvious they seek comfort and solace. There are those who would say, “The right place for them to seek it is not on the radio, but in their church.” I would agree, except that many of these people are those who have strayed from religion and are trying to find their way back. Oddly enough, the anonymity of “Jesus on the phone” seems an easier first step back towards religion for these folks.
Without exception, each caller is treated with dignity and respect by Saavedra as he manages to dig past the pain to discover the true root of problems. Occasionally a caller will challenge Saavedra on a particular issue. It is here that Saavedra is astonishingly patient and loving as he quotes scripture and verse with amazing dexterity to clarify his stand. If this is a smokescreen, it’s one of the best I’ve seen.
Is Saavedra 100% accurate as he counsels callers? Probably not. Should these callers be seeking professional counseling? Yes, whether it be from their church or other resources available in their community. But what Saavedra does accomplish is giving thoughtful, comforting counseling along with appropriate biblical references to cover a litany of issues.
It was my observation that each caller left with a feeling of having been valued and counseled by someone who genuinely cared about the situation… and offered hope. For many of these callers, this may well be the affirmation, confirmation, acknowledgement, or encouragement they needed to start making the right choices in a life gone bad. It may be the hope needed by someone whose memories of repeated abuse has driven them to despair.
What Saavedra’s portrayal has done for me was reminded me not to pre-judge someone or something until you’ve taken the time to actually study its effect and impact. And by pre-judging the show in the manner I did, I nearly missed out on a burning need I didn’t even realize I had: I can no more walk around claiming to be a Christian than I can claim tobe an astrophysicist. Both require commitment. Only one, however, requires a degree.
Unlike other religious radio programs, no donations are requested (or accepted). Saavedra isn’t pimping a “pay as you go website.” Everything is free.
The program may be a dramatization, but it’s one that helps those who are in spiritual need to re-discover for themselves that there is a solution. And Saavedra would be the first to tell you that he is not that solution. But there’s a book available to all that contains everything you need.
Just add faith.
Note: The program airs on Sunday Mornings from 10am – noon East Coast time and originates from the KFI (640am) Studios in Los Angeles and is syndicated on 35 radio stations around the country. Saavedra maintains an excellent web site for “The Jesus Christ Show” where you can find a radio station in your area, or even listen to previous shows if there is no station in your area.
On the KFI web site, Neil maintains his own web page where he has some surprising titles on his “Recommended Reading” section, which shows his true diversity and desure to continue his own journey of enlightenment. Both sites are well worth a visit.
There is a commandment I was taught as a child: “Thou shalt not have false gods before me.” What began for me as a mission to denounce “The Jesus Christ Show” as just that has failed, lovingly. Saavadra is not a “false god.” He is not a god at all, nor does he claim to be one. He is, however, someone who has found a unique way of helping others to find their way to (or back to) a life of purpose and balance only availaible to someone who is spiritually grounded.
How can you criticize that?