Thursday, November 29, 2012

On The Things I Didn't Feel

Hey everybody, you’ll notice there is a new look to the blog. I loved the old design, it was cool and flashy, but it also wasn’t terribly functional. It was hard to comment and sometimes people couldn’t even pull up the page. So, I changed it. I really want to hear what you guys have to say, whether you agree with what’s written or not, whether it resonates you or lands with a thud, I would love to know what you’re thinking and I hope this new format helps.

Also, you’ll notice there’s a new lovely place where you can subscribe via email. If you subscribe, you’ll get an email every time a new post goes on the blog. Pretty easy. Thanks again to everybody who reads. You have no idea how much fun it is to put this together and I’m glad you’re a part of it.

Two awesome little kids I met in Honduras
by Ben Howard

When I was a sophomore in college I went on a mission trip to Honduras over Spring Break. We did all the normal college mission trip things. We built houses and put on a local Vacation Bible School. We played with little kids and became weirdly talented at dealing with cement. Somewhere there is a picture of my 19-year-old self striking a body builder pose while several Honduran children dangle from my arms. It was pretty funny at the time.

I went back the next year too. We did a lot of the same things, played with the local kids, operated a little makeshift clinic, and I re-learned some of the Spanish I’d forgotten since high school.

But then we’d go home and all around me I’d hear people talking about how it had changed them and how they couldn’t wait to go back. Friends of mine would change their entire lives and move to foreign countries to keep doing that kind of work and they felt so much passion for it. I felt so proud of them and glad that they had something they loved so much, but then they’d ask me what I felt and I still felt the same.

I didn’t tell them I felt the same. More than likely I’d mirror back some of the more clich├ęd portions of whatever they had just said.  Oh yeah, life changing, really alters your perspective, my heart was moved, yep, that’s how it felt alright.

I didn’t feel bad, or angry, or dismissive. It’s not like I came home thinking that the children of the third world were mooching off their wonderful American benefactors. I just didn’t feel different. I was still the same me that left.

Is that bad? Am I the only one who felt that way?

This week I’ve been reflecting a lot on conversion experiences. In case you didn’t hear, the “Half” part of Two and a Half Men converted to Christianity. His name is Angus Jones. A video showed up on Monday where he says that his new believes don’t jive with the message of the show. He called his show “filth” and told all of his fans that they shouldn’t watch it anymore.

Not Kirk Cameron
I was thinking he might just be our next Kirk Cameron, but then the next day he came out and apologized to the cast and crew if he offended them. It’s a classy move. I applaud him for taking responsibility for what he said.

But it still made me think about these big dramatic conversion stories. I don’t think I have one of those. I don’t remember deciding to be a Christian. I don’t remember deciding to have faith or dedicate myself to the community of the church. I just realized one day that I was a Christian, I did have faith and I had dedicated myself.

Is that bad? Am I only one who feels this way?

Sometimes I feel like a bad Christian because I don’t experience Christianity in the same cathartic way that so many other people do. My faith didn’t arrive in a moment of brilliance. There was no “Aha” moment, just a slow and gradual emergence. I know I’ve grown a lot in the last five years, but if you asked me how, I’m not sure I could show you the way.

If you ask me if those trips to Honduras helped me become the person I am now, I would confidently say that they did. If you asked me how, I would shake my head and shrug because I honestly don’t know. They are part of the story of my life and my faith has developed out of that story.

Last night I got an email from a friend (who will probably read this) and in it he asked me about my spiritual journey. I tried to answer that question and tell that story for three hours before I ultimately threw up my hands and said, “I really don’t know, it just happened over time.”

I’d love to hear about your stories or if any of this resonates with you. Feel free to comment, it’d be great to start a conversation about these experiences.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

Also, you can subscribe to On Pop Theology via RSS feed or email at the top right of the page.


  1. I like the new look, Ben. It works on my cell now too, which it never did before. Also, I have always felt the same as you about those "life-changing experiences." I think it's the same for most people, but they never admit it and rely on cliches to make the event feel more real and important and moving than it really was. Or maybe I'm just a cynic and a sociopath...

  2. There's little doubt that we're both sociopaths, but I don't necessarily feel cynical about this. I mean, I like my story. It's like the long slow-cooking pot roast of faith. It takes forever, but it's savory and delicious when you finally get there. That may be the weirdest analogy I've ever made.

  3. I only meant cynical in that I suspect other people's emotions are made up or at least exaggerated greatly. And that analogy may be weird, but also delicious!

  4. I share your cynicism about that, though I'm not convinced I'm right.

    Do you think those emotions are always made up? Most of the time? Only occasionally? I think a lot of people experience those things, I just know I haven't and my lack of personal experience makes it difficult to make space for it.

  5. I am an overthinking emotion-phobe who went to a Pentecostal college... And I have definitely found this to be an entirely case-by-case thing. Sure, a great many people manufacture, exagerrate, or lie about emotion at worship services and even mission trips. But I witnessed enough very sincere, intellectual people overcome by real, raw feeling to say no, not most of the time.

    Some of my own encounters with God have been surprisingly, disconcertingly emotional as well. However, for a long time I had shut down my ability to feel emotion, and I think it would have been just as valid for someone to be "suspicious" that I was not encountering God with my whole being as a human (just like it's frustrating to see someone refuse to engage their reason/intelligence).

  6. I'm not entirely convinced, honestly. It is probably just my own justification to myself so I don't feel like a robot freak. I'm just not emotional enough to see how those sorts of extreme life-changing feelings could be entirely genuine. So, when it comes down to it and the choice is whether I'm a robot sociopath, or other people are emotional frauds, I push the blame elsewhere.

    Ellejanelle makes a good point I think with the comparison to when we non emotional beings get frustrated with others for not using reason. It really does I think boil down to people's different ways of processing things. So while others on your mission trip were processing the experience on an emotional level, yours was on more of a... I want to say intelligent without implying that an emotional reaction isn't intelligent. More just to say your experience was felt in the mind, and theirs in their heart, if that isn't too cliche. It just happens that a less emotional way of processing life is less common than an emotional. Or, it's not more common, but other people can fake it better.

  7. First of all, I really enjoy reading your blog. Your blog is always either thought provoking or funny, which is exactly what a blog should be! Let me confirm that there are others that feel exactly the same way you do. I have always been jealous of individuals who have an awesome, dramatic conversion story. I feel like somehow my faith isn't as strong or my love for God isn't as deep as these individuals who have experienced their God "Aha" moment. I grew up in the church and my faith has grown a lot and I've had some amazing spiritual awakenings, but I still wonder, am I missing out? I've also been on mission trips (although not abroad) where I felt like I was doing a good thing, but I was left wondering if my actions furthered the kingdom in any way. My experiences were not life changing. And I wonder all the time if the people that cry in church and are overcome with these feelings are putting on a show (maybe just a little bit?). I'm definitely not an emotional person so I try not to judge, because part of me is a little jealous of these spiritual revelations and life changing experiences that so many people seem to experience.