“You HAVE changed!” a friend from my old Christian circles said to me three years ago, when I first came back from South East Asia, alone and frightened.
We were outside a popular late-night burger joint in my home state. When pressed, I had spoken my opinion about evangelical hot button. Apparently my friend had heard that I had changed from somebody who read my blog, but when I said the wrong words, she now believed it for herself- I had turned into a liberal. Horrid.
Asia changed me, but for the most part, I haven’t felt that changed.
I pray and worship and live my life mostly the same way I did before. See, the doctrines that I use to believe and now reject – penal substitution atonement, eternal hell, inerrancy of God’s word – are intellectual things that have freed me intellectually, but they haven’t made me a fundamentally different person.
I still cook, eat, sleep. I still reach out to others, and I still battle depression as I did before.
From most angles, I simply haven’t changed. I just stopped assenting to some beliefs, beliefs that have nothing to do with how I brush my teeth, hold a spoon, the language I use, and the way I live my life.
But of course, I would be lying if I said I haven’t changed at all. Most people think I have changed because of doctrine, but as I said, doctrine has had little affect on me. What has changed me far more is the suffering I saw in SE Asia.
There is no other way to put it than to say that the suffering crushed my spirit. The horror I saw gave me nightmares, caused wailing, left me questioning God, and left me depressed.
When I got back from SE Asia, I didn’t leave my house for 6 weeks. I went SIX WEEKS with going nowhere. When I finally did start going places, I had panic attacks.
Guys, I saw kids in the sex industry, I saw a crime, I lived around the after math of sex abuse. I walked in slums and lived in this whole subaltern world that nobody shared with me but those who lived with me.
When injustice happens in the USA, all my friends tweet about it and facebook about. They share that whole horror world with each other and with me.
When a kid walks over the border into our camp in SE Asia, burned from head to toe, nobody shares that world with me but a few others, and the truth is, I didn’t really share that world with them. I was an outsider who knew about that evil and saw it, but as a white person outsider.
The suffering crushed me.
Three and a half years back in my home continent, I think the biggest way I’ve changed is in how I pray.
For instance, I recently realized that I haven’t prayed that the candidate I want to win the presidency will win the presidency, not once. One thing that the world has taught me is that evil rulers rise and fall. The Bible says that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble; I don’t think God is personally going to interfere and put Donald Trump in his place. However, I do know that in the long term arrogance and pride won’t prevail, and in the short term, sometimes we as people get what we ask for.
This is the first election I consciously realized that I had not prayed, but four years ago, when I was living in South East Asia, I did not pray then either. At the time, I blamed my apathy on my location in the world, and the time difference (polls came in while I was asleep). Now looking back, I think the wear and tear of Cambodia had taken a toll on me. I had seen the destruction of past wicked leaders first hand. If God didn’t stop those wicked leaders, really, I didn’t expect much of God when it came to petty USA elections.
I also no longer pray and ask God for goodies. I don’t tend to pray, for example, that I have a smooth flight and that the officers don’t check my bags. If I fly and it all goes smoothly, I don’t say, “thank you Jesus.”
I don’t pray and ask God where I should study; I don’t ask God what I should study.
Truth be told, often I struggle to pray for others. I’ve seen so much suffering, and here in Canada, we have health care. Our medical concerns seem so petty, and I struggle to pray for them. What keeps me praying for these concerns is that people ask me to pray for them. I figure if they have the faith, then I can pray and let their faith carry my words.
When I do pray, I don’t pray as innocently as I did before. For example, I often thank God for the clean air. After Asia, where the pollution counts are often 150+, I appreciate clean air. At the same time, I always laugh at myself for thanking God that the air is clean, because it’s not like God decided that my current city would have cleaner air than Asian cities; humans are directly involved in this. Location, of course, is also a factor; I live in a windy city, which keeps the pollution from settling in.
I also no longer spend hours praying when I get depressed or stressed. In Asia, I prayed for hours every week over my depression. Occasionally I pray and ask for strength, but I don’t lay around analyzing myself and begging Jesus to interfere either.
I do pray, however, but not to thank God for helping my cough go away quickly, or asking God to have a sale on chicken. My prayers are more to thank God for life, to thank him for loving me and caring for me no matter, for being the kind of God who knows my heart.
I thank God for the belief he has given me, and ask him to help me belief. I ask him to help my mind not wander too far away.
I also pray that I have peace and calmness and that someday I will find a community of family and friends again, to replace the void I lost when I walked away from fundamentalism. Usually, I follow that with, “I’m sorry if this is too personal of a request, but I do hope you are listening.”
So I see much value in prayer, but I no longer can pray innocently. So I pray when I can, and ask Jesus to intercede for me in every way, praying for me when I can’t or won’t.