Transcript

77:

Pray
Transcript

Originally aired 09.26.1997

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/77

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, here's a couple for you. First him.

Manford Rauer

I usually always say that I'm a Christian first.

Ira Glass

Do you still go to church every Sunday?

Manford Rauer

Yes, I try to go to church every Sunday. I'm very active in the church. I was the chairman of the congregation.

Ira Glass

OK, that's him. Now her.

Mary Rauer

I'm an atheist. I only go to church on Sunday, let's say, if my daughter is performing a violin recital there. And I don't really participate in the service. I just sit there.

Ira Glass

Can people who have religion and people who don't truly understand each other? Mary and Manford Rauer have been married for 22 years. They have a teenage daughter. It is, surprisingly, harmonious.

Ira Glass

And then how would it work when you were president of the congregation? Isn't that the kind of job where, usually, somebody would bring their whole family along to a lot of different kinds of events?

Mary Rauer

Well, a lot of people thought that he was single, actually. I think people that are not directly involved thought he was single.

Manford Rauer

Yes, that is true. I've been approached, "Oh, my daughter's divorced," or whatever. "Would you like to meet her?" And I said, "I'm sorry. I'm married."

Ira Glass

Mary was Catholic when they first met and lost her faith by the time they were married. But they talked about these things so infrequently that it wasn't until their daughter was born, years later, that her husband really understood that she wanted no part of religion at all. Here's how they make it work. They have a system, namely, they do not discuss it at all.

Manford Rauer

I'm not going to push the issue because I want a good marriage.

Mary Rauer

What's there to talk about?

Manford Rauer

That's why.

Mary Rauer

I mean, if we're going argue every time-- I mean, if I don't believe anything he says, where's the talking? What are we going to talk about? I mean, it doesn't interfere in our everyday life. I mean, maybe he prays for somebody. But he's not one to read the Bible constantly either, so it's not really an issue except Sunday morning, you know?

Manford Rauer

Well, every morning when I get up, I do read the Bible. I guess she doesn't know that.

Ira Glass

You don't know that, do you?

Mary Rauer

Well, I see him reading the Bible once in a while. It doesn't seem like it's every day, unless he's hiding somewhere and reading it because I certainly don't see it. Where do you read?

Manford Rauer

I get up earlier than you do, and I find time to read. I'm in the process of reading the Psalms right now.

Ira Glass

In a sense this is a more tragic story for him than for her. After all, he believes he's going to heaven. And he believes that when he gets there she will not be there because she doesn't have a relationship with Jesus. And he prays for her and waits for God to intervene in her life. Meanwhile, she does not want him to praying for her. She doesn't want to see the light. And, for all they have together, there's a part of his faith, there's a part of him, that she just doesn't get.

Mary Rauer

It's not that I don't understand him. It's I understand people wanting their religion and their faith. That's no problem. But the part I have trouble with is why do they believe that? It's like a dream or it's a non-real world. And I'm more in reality here.

Ira Glass

It's not a real world. You mean you feel like they're living in a fantasy.

Mary Rauer

Right.

Manford Rauer

First of all, I would like to say, because I find that my prayers are answered with my relationship with God when I pray, I think he's in our lives every day. And I feel that God has a direction for your life. And he's going to get you where He needs you to serve him.

Mary Rauer

So, if God has a direction for your life, so I'm directed to be an atheist. That's how I look at this, you know? If God directs your life, he directed me to be an atheist.

Manford Rauer

No, God wills everybody to be a Christian.

Ira Glass

Now, do not be deceived by how they're arguing in this little clip of tape. In their normal lives, when they're not being interviewed about the existence of God, these people show all the signs of a couple who are remarkably happy together.

Looked at it in one way, this story is about how the secular and religious worlds cannot understand each other, ever. But, looked at in another, it's a story about how well they can, which brings us to today's program. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our radio program Christians and non-Christians together again. Act One of our program, Exodus. A completely secular person arrives in a town where thousands of people are taking part in a massive prayer project to save their city. Act Two, Kings. Scott Carrier talks about carpenters and Christians and why the two should not be allowed to be together. Stay with us.

Act One. Exodus.

Ira Glass

Act One, Exodus. Usually we think of prayer as a private thing. All prayer like all politics is local. Most people pray for those near and dear to them, sort of.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, there's an elaborate program underway involving dozens of churches and thousands of people to pray, not just for those nearby, but to try to fundamentally alter the civic life of their city through prayer. The details of how they do this are complicated. It's almost like a modern door-to-door marketing or canvassing campaign. They use maps and computers and statistics to chart out what parts of their city need prayer for what reasons merged with something that cannot be less modern, prayer.

And, when This American Life producer, Alix Spiegel, started to investigate it, it became something she could not get out of her mind. She decided she had to go to Colorado to see what it was all about.

Alix Spiegel

This is the tape that brought me to Colorado Springs. It's a sermon given by Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church about prayer walking. Pastor Ted has taken a map of the city, divided it into districts, assigned those districts to people in his congregation, and together they're walking up and down every street praying for the people in the houses and all the shops and businesses.

Ted Haggard

I love grid praying where we walk. You have the parallel streets, and you put a person at the end of each street, and then you walk up and down that street. And at the end of every block you check, make sure your buddy's there, and make sure your buddy's there. Then you do another block, and you make sure your buddy's there, and make sure your buddy's there. Then you pray another block. So you pray over every home, every business, every school, everything. And you realize, you know, if we weren't doing this, some of these people would never be prayed for.

Alix Spiegel

The thing about this that I find so striking is that it's not a PR campaign. They don't knock on doors. They don't ask for donations. They're not trying to win the hearts and minds of non-Christians by letting them know how much they care about them. In fact, they don't even want the people being prayed for to know that they're being prayed over.

Ted Haggard

So start walking it discreetly and with wisdom, praying. You don't want to intimidate people. You don't want to embarrass other people or anything like that. Prayer is a private thing. We don't stand up and go, "Come on Holy Spirit," or anything like that. We just walk along, have a baseball cap on, jug of water or whatever, Mountain Dew, if you want some spice. And we'll be walking along and we'll just pray, "Father, in the name of Jesus--

Alix Spiegel

The simplicity of this idea appealed to me, people walking, praying for people they don't know without expectation of reward. I wanted to see if it was as pure an act of kindness as it seemed to be. I wanted to see if all the prayer was having any effect. No other American city is working as systematically to get God's attention. And I thought that, surely, if God is going to speak anywhere in modern America, he's going to speak in Colorado Springs.

My first surprise on arriving in Colorado is that the New Life Church looks less like a place of worship and more like a Walgreens than any religious institution I have ever seen. It's a long, flat, gray and turquoise building with a large satellite dish on top where most churches would keep a cross.

New Life is what's known as a megachurch. It has 6,000 members. Over 1% of the population of Colorado Springs, it claims. My second surprise on arriving at New Life is that, while all the people are completely kind, they smile, they're gracious, they always offer to get me coffee even though I don't drink coffee, I can't understand a word they're saying.

Trish

As we pray we open a hole in the spiritual dynamics above the earth in the spiritual realm of the earth. So here's planet earth, here.

Alix Spiegel

This is Trish. She works at New Life in the public relations department. She took me to lunch. And, before the food came, I decided to warm her up with a question I thought I knew the answer to. How does prayer work? I figured she'd tell me something like, "You pray. And God hears you. And he answers." But, two napkins worth of diagrams later, I realized it was much more complicated.

Trish

So what I've done is I just drew an opening in this biosphere of spiritual dynamics that are going on in the heavenlies. And, as we open this sphere, we allow the will of God, the kingdom of God, to come to planet earth.

Alix Spiegel

Trish, like most of the other Christians I met in Colorado Springs, speaks a very particular language. They're constantly using phrases like spiritual dynamics, standing in the gap, spiritual discernment, intercessors, the Joshua generation, true in your walk, in the natural, the 10/40 window.

And, for me, it's like being in a foreign country. I come from a family of non-religious Jews. I never had any kind of religious training. And, while I know some devout Christians, all of my friends belong to the America that never goes to church on Sunday. After listening to this Christian jargon for a day and a half, I realize that I'm not understanding well enough to do a decent story. So I go and visit the person in charge of setting up my interviews while I'm at New Life, Pastor Joseph Thompson.

Joseph is a tall, broad Nigerian, and I like him. I like him a lot. For a pastor, he's a very worldly man. He was a professional soccer player. He was trained as an architect, speaks several languages, travels widely. And he's the first Christian in Colorado Springs who can tell me a joke.

We have a refreshingly frank discussion. I tell him that, because of the language thing, I'm afraid that none of the people that I've talked to will be understood by, or appealing to, a secular audience. That I need someone who doesn't sound like they're piping out the party line. Then he tells me that he doesn't believe that what's going on with the Christians in the city of Colorado Springs can be understood by people outside. That, in fact, the whole of the Christian spiritual world is incomprehensible to the secular mind. There is no common ground. I, of course, argue with him, say that people are people, and ultimately we can understand one another. And we go back and forth and back and forth. He insists that the religious can't be understood by the non-religious, I insist they can.

And, at some point, I get visibly frustrated and upset. This is when Joseph turns to me with a whole new look in his eyes, like up until this point he didn't understand something that suddenly he understood. And this is what he says. He says, "You're looking for something. You came here for some other reason. You didn't come here to do a story about prayer walking. You were sent here for something else." And I sit, kind of blink at him dumbly, and wonder if he's right.

Joseph refers me to a youth group where I finally find a prayer walker who doesn't speak in jargon. His name is Paul. His parents are Mormons, but he became a charismatic Christian two years ago when he joined the New Life Church. That's when he started prayer walking. I go with him early one evening. And he explains that the more specific his prayers are, the more likely it is that God'll answer them. So, as he walks by a house, he looks at the lawn and the stickers on cars searching for physical cues which will tell them what's going on inside.

Paul

The outward appearance of the house, you know, the lawn, the way the house is kept up on the outside, you can usually tell. Because they're too busy fighting with their family, that they can't get any of that other stuff done, you know? Like, when my parents got divorced, our lawn looked kind of bad. I really didn't care because I didn't think anything really mattered, you know? I was just like, "Ah, I don't care. Life is dumb."

Alix Spiegel

If the house looks like it belongs to a couple with kids, Paul will pray for God to keep the kids away from drugs. If the house looks like it belongs to an old person, Paul will pray for God to keep them safe from diseases and pain and bless their grandchildren. It's exactly what I imagined prayer walking would be, people taking time, praying for people they don't know, and asking for nothing in return.

I watch Paul as he prays. And I can see him really straining to imagine what these people are like. He's standing on the sidewalk in front of his neighbor's blue, two-story house. His eyes are closed. And his eyelids are trembling slightly.

Paul

Thank you so much for this beautiful day, Father. I thank you for the neighbors that you've given me, Father, that they know that there is nothing better than to just sit down and just read your word, or to get on their knees and just pray to you. And, Holy Spirit, I pray you just flow through this house. Go through each and every single room.

Alix Spiegel

There's something really intimate about prayer walking, at least, the way it's practiced by Paul. He walks quietly down the street fantasizing about the lives of the people he's praying for, and it changes the way that he feels about them. If he happens to meet them in school or in a neighborhood get-together, he's more friendly than usual and ends up asking a lot of specific personal questions about their family, how everybody's doing.

Paul

I feel as if I've already started some kind of relationship, some kind of friendship, because I prayed for them. And then, once I really start to get to know them more, I will be able to see the fruits of my prayer and see how my prayers have affected that person's life, even if they know it or not.

Alix Spiegel

When I asked Paul how he knows what he's doing is changing anything, he looked at me like I just asked him how he knows the sun will come up tomorrow. And then he asks me a question. God created the earth, why can't he change it?

The next day, Thursday, I go to visit Joseph in his office just to talk. I find myself going to visit Joseph just to talk quite a bit. I visit or we talk on the phone three, maybe four times, a day. Some of this is logistics. He's helping me find people to interview, giving me telephone numbers. But a lot of it isn't logistics at all.

We talk about our lives and argue about Christianity. He thinks I'm going to Hell, I don't. He thinks the only way to lead a just life is with Jesus, I don't. And, always, there's this friendly, low-level cultural clash which, for some reason, seems to surprise both of us every time we stumble onto it.

At one point he mentions in passing a conference he went to on evolution and tells me about some new evidence they were discussing which proves Darwin was a fool and a fake. I, of course, start to argue. Then there's this long, kind of sad silence. And he says to me, "I should've realized that you would be a Darwinist," which is exactly what I was thinking about him. I should have realized that you would be Creationist.

I talk to Joseph about the prayer walkers, tell him about Paul's prayer walk, Paul's empathy for the people he's praying for. Joseph accepts this kind of empathy as a matter of course. "It's the duty of a Christian," he says. At one point, he turns to me.

Joseph Thompson

You may not realize this, but there are people praying for you. Even here, now, in this church, people are praying for you so that you will come into a relationship with Jesus the same way that we have experienced.

Alix Spiegel

Thursday night I go home to my hotel room and walk in little circles thinking about Joseph. I construct elaborate arguments about why I don't want to become a Christian, why I can't become a Christian. I get one hour of sleep, maybe two.

Alix Spiegel

Hi, how you doing?

Man

Oh, all right.

Alix Spiegel

Having a good day?

Man

Well, I'll tell you later.

Alix Spiegel

OK.

Man

So far, it's all right.

Alix Spiegel

OK, see you.

The next morning, I have an early appointment with a woman named Jennifer Phillips who's called to pray for the homeless. Twice a week, she goes to the center square in downtown Colorado Springs and prays for all the men and women sleeping on park benches.

Jennifer is in her 20s, cute, with a nose pierce and a plaid, button-down, and I like her a lot. But her language is so dense with biblical reference, and I'm so tired, that I just hear this wall of Christianese, spiritual warfare, spiritual strongholds, praying in a spiritual foundation. Then she tells me that she gets nervous when she comes to the park. And it's not just because she's a woman alone, walking at night or in the early morning when there are not many people around. There's another reason she gets nervous.

Jennifer Phillips

Demonic strongholds in this area, things that have, just over centuries, that people might have-- I mean, I don't know what this land was years ago. I know there's a lot of land around here where they did sacrifices, cultic things, that you have to pray that out. And, in Ephesians, it talks about being dressed in spiritual armor. It says that Satan roams the earth. He's the prince of the air, and he roams back and forth over the earth.

Alix Spiegel

Up until this moment with Jennifer, I thought that prayer walking was about wishing your neighbor well, kind of looking around for the next guy and hoping the best for him. But, as Jennifer talks, I realize that it's something else, something much more medieval. She explains that Satan is a living, active presence, just as God is a living, active presence, and that all around the sunny streets of Colorado Springs there is constant and intensive warfare between the two. Jennifer is one of God's warriors, and it's dangerous.

Jennifer Phillips

I mean, there's times where people go through warfare, spiritual warfare, and we'll pray. And the next week they'll lose their job. There's a woman that intercedes for the church right now, and she lost her job. Strange things just happen to happen that next week after praying. It's a battle, which means you can get hurt too.

Alix Spiegel

Have you ever been hurt?

Jennifer Phillips

OK, yeah. Like, the next day, Satan will try to accuse you of things. He's the accuser, like through work. You may go through depression or hopelessness.

Alix Spiegel

Often, after prayer walking, Jennifer feels isolated, doesn't want to go out and see people or experiences intense self-doubt. These feelings she attributes to Satan. She sees it as his way of punishing her for the good that she does.

It is a stunning thing in secular America, where every talk show and magazine article reinforces the idea that there are either situational or chemical explanations for feeling one way or the other, to meet someone who has a completely different way of interpreting her emotional life, someone who believes that the reason that they're depressed today is not because their mother didn't love them or because they don't have enough serotonin juicing up the synapses in their brain, but because a supernatural force put a feeling in their head in order to stop them from doing something good.

Alix Spiegel

The way that you just described it, it sounded like you were saying you felt like that was Satan that was putting the depression into you. But do you ever think I feel depressed and there are clear reasons for me to feel depressed? Or do you always see yourself in a spiritual battleground?

Jennifer Phillips

No. No, but there are times that you can tell that all these negative thoughts in your head, and it's like this is not me. This is really bizarre because I'm having an awesome day. No one's hurt me. Life is good. Why am I feeling this way?

Alix Spiegel

Jennifer tells me that there are prayer walkers who can go around and feel the presence of evil in a place even with their eyes closed. She talks about her experiences coming against witches in Manitoba Springs and the occult in Colorado Springs, about the prayer warriors at New Life who regularly prayer walk certain sections of the city seeking out and destroying the forces of darkness.

In the taped sermons that brought me to Colorado, there had been talk of the occult and of the forces of Satan, but I hadn't really taken it seriously. It seemed more metaphorical. I hadn't realized that they were, literally, on a witch hunt. And, as Jennifer talks, my mind keeps reeling for some common ground.

Jennifer Phillips

What are you thinking?

Alix Spiegel

What am I thinking? I guess I'm just thinking that I rarely see the world in these terms.

Jennifer Phillips

Uh-huh. I understand. Yeah, this sounds really bizarre. I know it probably sounds like where is this stuff coming from? What sci-fi novel is this coming from?

Alix Spiegel

It does sound a little-- I mean, it doesn't sound-- Yeah. I mean, OK. I'm sure to some people it's going to sound a little sci-fi. I mean, you talk about witches and you talk about covens, and those are things from myths.

After I talk to Jennifer, I call Joseph from a pay phone in town. I tell him that I understand now why he thinks it would be hard to communicate what's happening in Colorado Springs, this vision of the spiritual world, to a secular audience. Joseph doesn't seem surprised by my call. He tells me that he prayed the night before for God to give me insight into the spiritual world, and now God has answered his prayer. Then he asks me pointedly if I slept well. And I tell him that I hadn't really slept at all and that I'm tired and confused. We say goodbye and hang up, but talk again later when I'm back in my hotel room. He says he wants to come clean. He tells me that he didn't just pray for me to receive understanding of the spiritual world, he also prayed to God that I wouldn't sleep, not until I became a Christian.

Ira Glass

Alix Spiegel's story about prayer in Colorado Springs continues in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

This is American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, invite a variety of writers and reporters and performers to tackle that theme. Today's program, Christians and non-Christians and how well they can understand each other. We're in the middle of Act One.

This is Alix Spiegel's story about dozens of churches in Colorado who've banded together to change the world through prayer. To give you an idea of the extent of the spiritual battle they're waging against the forces of darkness, not only are they systematically praying in front of every home and school and business in Colorado Springs, they're praying through the phone book one name at a time.

There are all-night prayer vigils. Churches have organized so that each one takes a different day each month with teams of people praying 24 hours a day. So that, right now, as you hear the sound of my voice, someone, somewhere, is praying for the city of Colorado Springs.

There's a huge international component to this prayer, flying people to Nepal or Cairo to parts of the world where there aren't a lot of Christians on, what they call, prayer journeys. Groups of people check into hotels, pray for a few days, sometimes never leaving the hotel, then fly back home. They're building a new high-tech world prayer center to coordinate prayer needs in 120 countries. And, while it's possible for secular people to understand the idea of these efforts, is there a gap past which it is impossible for them to understand? Alix Spiegel's story continues.

Alix Spiegel

I don't sleep for two days, and it makes me feel like I'm going crazy. I lose my wallet and think about borrowing money from Joseph but decide against it. Several times a day, we talk on the phone, debate Christianity and talk about my story.

I alternate between thinking that everybody I'm talking to is insane and thinking, while I'm out on prayer walks or sitting through a church service, that they have something that I don't have. Sometimes, between interviews, I go back to my hotel room and watch TV. I find it comforting. I stare at the glow of the people on television and try to remember what I would think of all this if I were home in Chicago.

I still have a story to do, and so I go and see Ted Haggard, the man who's sermon brought me to Colorado Springs. He tells me that his church looks for evidence, scientifically verifiable evidence, that their prayers are having an effect on the community.

Ted Haggard

Yeah, we always see empirical evidence. We started praying in an organized way in 1985. That was 12 years ago. And the crime rate has declined every year for the past 12 years.

Alix Spiegel

When I suggest that crime rates are falling all over the country, and that, in most places, this is due mainly to demographics, Ted agreed that there was no positive way to know how much the decrease in crime was due to prayer. But he still thinks it's true.

Ted Haggard

Well, I would say that, my response is that, I believe that the scriptures are true. And, because I believe the scriptures are true, God tells us some of the things that prayer will do. So I think it's probably a scientifically verifiable phenomenon.

Alix Spiegel

Ted tells me story after story. They pray over vacant lots hoping the land will serve God's purposes, then watch as a church buys the lot. They pray at porno stores.

Ted Haggard

I mean, when we pray around a porno joint on a consistent basis-- we never talk to the people. We don't harass people or anything like that, but we see a dip in their business. We have a team of men that specifically target adult bookstores, and they have hundreds of stories of men pulling in to the adult bookstore and parking, and there they are praying for them.

You can imagine a group of guys sitting there with their baseball caps and their T-shirts praying, "Father, in the name of Jesus, remind these guys of their mothers. Lord, help them think of any scripture they've ever been exposed to in all their life. Cause them to be in love with their wives." They have hundreds of stories of men getting out of their cars, walking halfway to the door of the adult bookstore and pausing, going back, and getting in their car and driving off.

Dan

Business is good, so I'm sure they're not hitting everybody. You know what I mean?

Alix Spiegel

The First Amendment is an adult bookstore and novelty shop about eight miles down the road from New Life on Filmore Avenue. It's one of the places New Life targeted, so I went down there to see how business was going. The store's clerk, Dan, has worked at the First Amendment for four years and hasn't noticed a drop in business.

Dan

What do you mean? As in anything that's like empirical evidence that this is working? Is that what you're saying?

Alix Spiegel

I mean, I guess that's part of what I'm saying.

Dan

Yeah, because I haven't noticed it, you know? I still get the same amount of people and the sales are still the same, you know? That kind of thing. I've noticed a drop since our sign's been out, you know? So maybe they prayed for my sign to be out. Maybe that's their answer to it. I mean, you know, that may have happened but, other than that, no.

Alix Spiegel

Dan doesn't seem bothered by the idea of people sitting in his parking lot praying for his business to drop off the face of the earth.

Dan

I mean, they have a right to be there as long as they're not disturbing people. I mean, it would be different if they were holding people up from coming in. But, if all they're doing is praying, then that's very passive-aggressive kind of stuff, you know? It's not like it's a big deal.

Alix Spiegel

Right. I mean, according to them, they do stop people from--

Dan

Physically?

Alix Spiegel

Spiritually.

Dan

Well, spiritually, I mean, you know, they can believe whatever they want. And so they can be out there and it doesn't bother me, and it doesn't offend me. They can judge me. They don't know me. That's OK, I'm used to that. Most religions do judge people without really knowing them.

Alix Spiegel

Dan says he prays himself, so he understands the impulse. I asked him if he's noticed any change in the spiritual climate of Colorado Springs what with the prayer shield and the prayer walks, and he tells me no. Most of the changes he's noticed aren't spiritual. The town has gotten bigger, it's more expensive, and people aren't as friendly as they used to be.

Over on the far side of the store next to the videos I meet a customer, Malcolm.

Malcolm

Prayer warrior, that's what I was before I came out, yes.

Alix Spiegel

It turns out that I don't need to explain much about the spiritual war to Malcolm. The fact is, he would probably do a better job explaining it to me. Malcolm was a full-fledged spiritual warrior until he came out as gay. He was even a member of the New Life Church. Here's a bit of irony. The first time Malcolm ever came to the First Amendment bookstore was on his way home from a singles meeting at New Life. He'd been struggling with being gay and being Christian, and the singles meeting was just the last straw.

Malcolm

At this singles meeting, two of my friends embraced in a Christian hug, very Christian hug, and then jumped away from each other and said, "Fag." And that is when I became disheartened, if you will.

Alix Spiegel

So he walked to the First Amendment bookstore and decided to come out. The sad thing about all this is that Malcolm badly misses his life as a Christian. He loved the church and loved being a spiritual warrior. Even now, several years after coming out, Malcolm would probably be happier sitting in the car outside praying than standing in the porn store talking to me.

Malcolm

I guess I have to admit I like the Christian environment more. There seems to be more spiritual love going on than this environment where there's only physical love.

Alix Spiegel

So you basically agree with them that this is demonic?

Malcolm

Yes, [LAUGHS] paradox.

Alix Spiegel

Yeah, it is a paradox. That must be--

Malcolm

I am really torn, yes, between what I was brought up with and what I'm doing now.

Alix Spiegel

Do you ever have a fantasy that they would be able to pray enough to change you? I mean, was that a fancy that you used to have?

Malcolm

Yea, and, if by some chance I do wake up one morning and I'm no longer gay, I will believe that there were Christians intervening.

Alix Spiegel

At the end of the interview I ask him if I've left anything out, do you want to say anything else?

Malcolm

To you, personally, and to anyone else, I would not turn Jesus away just because of what the Christians do. Jesus isn't the bad guy.

Alix Spiegel

Can I just point out that you're sitting in the middle of a porno store, and you're trying to save me?

Malcolm

Yeah, that's crazy. I know.

Alix Spiegel

Joseph calls me early in the morning, around 6 o'clock, to check in and see how I'm doing. Thanks to the power of prayer, I am, of course, awake. We talk for a while. I tell him about the guy in the porno store, how tragic he seemed. We argue about homosexuality, and the argument runs pretty much as you would expect. I'm for the homos. Joseph thinks that they can't be gay and saved at the same time.

When I tell him that I could never be part of a religion that doesn't accept homosexuals, he's shocked, really shocked and disappointed by my tolerance. But Joseph doesn't give up on me. He tells me that, one day, when I'm a Christian and we're best friends, we'll look back on all of this and laugh. And there's something about the way that he says this that makes me feel deep inside that, yes, of course, he's right. One day, went I'm a Christian and we're best friends, we will look back on all of this and laugh. I don't tell Joseph that I think this.

After we hang up, I don't know what to do, so I call my boss, Ira, in Chicago. It's 7:30 Chicago time on a Sunday morning, and I wake him up. I want him to put this experience in perspective for me, tell me that he's been through the same thing. He tries, in various ways to be reassuring and finally tells me that he believes that, ultimately, my life is with the secular world and the show in Chicago. One day, he says, when I'm back in Chicago hard at work at my digital editing station, we'll look back on all of this and laugh. Ira is much less convincing than Joseph.

Jared

We kind of go into Satan's turf. Some people enjoy that more than others. Some people really like to spend more time praying in lighter areas and not so spiritually dangerous areas.

Alix Spiegel

And how about you?

Jared

Well, I like the dark stuff. I'm called to walk in dark places.

Alix Spiegel

My attraction to becoming a Christian suffers a setback when I go out with a prayer walker named Jared, who does hard-core spiritual warfare. He not only wanders around blessing his neighbors but actively tries to fight demons.

Jared's a Harvard grad in his late 20s. And I'm told by several people that his prayer walks are intense, lots of frenzied spiritual confrontation. Jared seems proud of this and, as we walk, he explains that sophisticated prayer walkers don't need to rely on physical cues to know if the forces of Satan are present.

Jared

The interesting thing is that, if you blindfolded Jen or I or someone who had developed their gifts of discernment, and took us to a place, and we couldn't see what was going on, and even if I couldn't hear what was going on, spiritually, I could receive discernment on the place.

Alix Spiegel

Jared, Jennifer Phillips, their friend, Sarah and I go to confront the forces of darkness on a particularly peaceful summer afternoon. And it's hard, at least for me, to sense the presence of anything sinister. We walk in a park past some skateboarders down a couple blocks to a school. And then, as we walk around the back of the school, Jennifer, Sarah, and Jared come up short.

Jared

I wonder-- something's here.

Jennifer Phillips

Yeah.

[LAUGHTER]

Jared

Like-- Like--

Jennifer Phillips

Tell us.

Jared

So, just in walking into this area, it's different.

Alix Spiegel

We're in the back of the school standing under a high brick archway in the middle of the school's courtyard. There are benches placed to form a circle. And, for a moment, I stand there wondering what this place witnessed. A gang rape? A murder? Sarah pipes up. She says she went to this school. She knows what happened in the court yard.

Sarah

It's where all the drama people used to hang out during lunchtime.

Alix Spiegel

"They're liberals," Jennifer says. Then she and Sarah get self-conscious, like they're afraid they've offended me seeing as I'm a member of the media and a Jew.

Jennifer Phillips

Not so much liberal. I don't want to say that.

Sarah

Well, what is the word then? It's almost like-- well?

Jared

Accepting of ideas?

Jennifer Phillips

Yes.

Jared

More open to different interpretations of things. It sounds like people that come to this place are more open to other religions, different views of morality, a bunch of different things, more likely to try things. And, because that they're more likely to try things, people, generally in drama or the arts, are more open to different ideas. Often those people not only are they more open to try things but they actually do try things.

Alix Spiegel

They move to the center of the circle, close their eyes, and pray.

Jared

Dear Lord God, we come to you, Lord God, realizing, Lord God, that there's something different about this place, Lord God. That, in the spirit realm, Lord God, there's a darkness over this place, Lord God. Lord, we come to you, Lord God, and we bind any deceiving spirits, Lord God, that may be in operation here, Lord God.

Any demonic powers or forces, Lord God, that lead people away from truth, Lord God, if they lead them into false religions, Lord God, or ways of looking at morality, Lord God, that are not consistent with your word or anything, Lord God, we ask, Lord God, that you would bind those powers, Lord God, that you would bind them, Lord God, with chains of iron, Lord God.

Alix Spiegel

The next time I talk to Joseph on the phone I tell him about my prayer walk with Jared. I say that I know it'll sound ridiculous to a secular audience, but I have to use it anyway. He doesn't seem to care. Joseph never expected to be understood in the media. He's much more concerned with me and my salvation. And it's hard not to find that touching. He invites me to come and hear him pastor. He's speaking at the Solid Rock Christian Church. Solid Rock is a poor black church in a strip mall in Southern Colorado Springs, just two rooms in a space that looks like it might once have been a large Kinko's or a Mail Boxes Etc.

The group prays together, then Joseph begins his sermon. It's about reaching out to the lost. He asks how many people in the church have more than one or two non-Christian friends. And, in a room of about 35 adults, maybe five tentatively raise their hands. Then he tells them that he does not even have a single non-Christian friend. "This is wrong," he says. "It's not enough to live justly within the four walls of the church. Christians must find a way to make themselves understandable to non-Christians."

He says this issue has come up a number of times in the past couple of days. And, as he says this, he stands in front of me. He says my name and introduces me. And then he starts to talk about the conversations we've been having. He talks about our conversations and then talks about something else. And then talks in a general way about our conversations and then talks about something else. And, at one point, after saying that Christians need to help those in need, he comes and stands in front of me and says, "I love you, Alix." And the nice woman sitting beside me puts her arm over my shoulder, smiles, and passes me a Kleenex.

Congregation

[SINGING]

At the end of his sermon, the group begins to sing. No band, just people singing without accompaniment. And Joseph comes over and asks if he can pray with me. At first, I shake my head no. I'm not sure why, but the thought literally terrifies me. But he asks again, and I can't think of a rational reason not to do it. After all, he's only asking me to pray.

So I put down my tape player. And he takes my hands in his, and bows his head, and begins to pray. And, if you paid me money, I couldn't tell you a word he said. I remember the acute sense that I was in a strip mall church in the city, 1,000 miles away from my home, and that the man standing in front of me badly wanted me to become a Christian, was offering me love and comfort if I would only say yes.

It seemed clear that the people around me were already experiencing the relief that was being extended to me, and that, if I were to act rationally, I would just cross over and join them. But, somehow, I couldn't act rationally. I couldn't become a Christian. Most of all, I remember the sheer effort of trying to keep my composure.

When we had finished, I sat down and watched as Joseph approached a woman in the third row. She was singing. And he laid his hands on her shoulders, gently, right next to her neck. And, all of a sudden, she just started screaming long, wailing screams.

[SINGING]

Woman

[INTERMITTANT SCREAMS]

Alix Spiegel

I felt like I understood why she was screaming. And I don't know if it's God, and I don't know if it's not, but I don't think it matters.

Ira Glass

Alix Spiegel here in Chicago.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "BUSLOAD OF FAITH" BY LOU REED]

Act Two. Kings.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Kings. I am damned. I am going to Hell. This is what my fundamentalist friends tell me. They say, no matter what I do in this life, no matter what good works or virtue I ever concoct for myself, I am condemned because I, I and my entire race, the Jews, have not accepted Jesus. But, in these moments before I and maybe you burn forever, let's hear this next story. It is from Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City about the damned and the saved.

Scott Carrier

At a particularly low point in my career as a responsible husband and father I worked as a carpenter's assistant for my younger brother, a contractor specializing in home renovation. We built additions and garages, finished basements, tore out bathrooms and installed new ones. He paid me $10 an hour, which I consider to be generous. At that time, good carpenters, men who could build an entire house from start to finish, single-handed, were making $12.50. And I was only an assistant, a gopher, the guy who digs and carries and cleans up.

My brother was maybe 32 at that time and had worked as a carpenter since he'd graduated from college. He'd been a good student and was offered a graduate fellowship. But he dropped it, and no one in my family really understood why. He went to work for other people and, eventually, got his own license and enough equipment to start getting his own contracts. He had a lot of work, usually two jobs going at once and three or four employees, but he wasn't making much money because he had a tendency to underestimate the bids. I think, sometimes, I ended up making more money on a job than he did, but he seemed to like it anyway.

I, however, was almost always upset, not because the work was hard but because I just resented working on another man's house, a man with enough money to pay for a $40,000 bathroom, a man who decides he wants a bigger garage for his new motorcycle, a man who doesn't want to dig up his on sewer pipe. The work forced me to admit that I was a slave, that somewhere in life I'd made a big mistake.

Also, I had a problem with the other carpenters my brother hired. Consider the following scenarios. I'm shingling a garage roof with a lead carpenter named Dave. It's Dave's first day on the job and we're both up there pounding shingles and talking about Star Trek. Dave's a big Star Trek fan. He's seen all of the old and new shows, and even has floor plans of the Enterprise, which he's committed to memory.

Dave tells me about the insidious Borg, a race of cyborgs with a social conscience of ants. Dave knows why the Klingons are now part of the Federation. And Dave has decided just how he would spend his time on the holodeck, a room on the Enterprise where crew members go to live out their fantasies in holographic reality.

It's a harmless conversation that seems to diminish the tedium of the work. But then, after a brief lull, Dave stops pounding shingles and asks me in a very serious tone, "Scott, have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?" It turns out Dave is a fundamentalist Christian with a strong desire to proselytize.

That evening, after work, I ask my brother if, maybe, he doesn't need a foundation dug or some fiberglass insulation stapled into place, anything other than working with Dave. He looks at the ground, and kicks the dirt, and says he promised the owner that the roof would be done last week.

After Dave, there's Steve, who tells me about how, in Idaho, they're implanting silicon chips in baby's ankles that will forever identify them as part of Satan's army. After Steve, there's another Dave, who, when he's alone, practices out loud shouting his sermons exposing the evils of the Trilateralist Commission.

And, after that Dave, there's John, who my brother hires as a grant to help me out. John's just arrived from Boston where he drove a cab for 20 years up until the Kennedys ran him out of town. He says Ted Kennedy was out to get him. He says Ted Kennedy has ruined his life. And he tells me the amazing story of how, while hitchhiking west through Kansas, he became so depressed he decided to throw himself in front of a semi truck barreling down I-70. But then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, he saw Jesus Christ standing 40 feet tall on the side of the road. Jesus spoke to him. He said, "John, these trucks are my roller skates."

You know, when you see a thing happen once, it's an accident. When you see it happen twice, it's a coincidence. And, when you see it happen three or more times, it's a science, and sciences demand theories.

My first theory was that there might be some sort of connection between Jesus and these men because they were all carpenters. And so I would ask my workmates questions like, "Was Jesus a framer or a finish man? I mean, it makes a difference, don't you think" "Was he the lead carpenter or was he just a laborer?" Or I'd make stuff up like, "I heard that when Jesus built furniture he never used glue in the joints, that he'd just touch them and they'd hold forever."

But these men were not interested in philosophy or metaphysics. And they were not even interested, it turned out, in stories about Jesus or his teachings of compassion. Far from it. They were all into the book of Revelations. They were all religious for reasons of revenge. All had had hard lives filled with injustices and inequities. All had resigned themselves to a life over which they'd lost control. Their one hope was that, when they die, when everybody dies, everybody will get what they deserve. The righteous will be happy forever while the bastards, the assholes, the wicked and corrupt and the filth will burn in Hell.

So I changed my theory and decided that religion is something people use, not only because they want to connect with a sense of their spiritual existence, they also use it to bring a sense of justice to their social existence. Just wait until Jesus comes back. Just wait until the apocalypse. I thought, at first, that I was different, even superior to these guys. But, at some point, I started to realize that we all had the same basic problem. We were all slaves, unhappy slaves, and it wasn't a pretty thing to see.

I went on like this for more than a year, angry and depressed and unable or unwilling to do anything else. And then, one day in the middle of winter, everything came to a head and sort of exploded. We were building a three-story addition onto the back of an architect's home. He'd designed it. And we'd framed the thing.

And we're starting to sheet the roof when a building inspector came by and said we'd screwed up, made a mistake down at the level of the foundation. It was a small thing, a trivial thing. And I can't even remember now, specifically, what the problem was. And then, it wasn't like we'd done anything wrong. We'd built it like it was drawn in the plans. And the architect was happy with our work, but it just didn't quite match the city's building code. And the inspector was being a hard-ass. He said we'd have to fix it, which meant, in effect, we'd have to tear the whole thing down and start over.

I was standing there in the mud with my brother and the inspector. And it was snowing, and I was wet and cold. And I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My brother just listened and didn't argue or protest. And the inspector showed no sign of regret or remorse. He filled out a form, signed it, gave it to my brother and left.

I was furious. I took off my belt and threw it across the yard, nails and screws and tools scattering and disappearing in the snow. John stopped work and then came over. And I told him we were going to have to take everything down. And he started in about the Kennedys, how he knew a lawyer in Boston, how we could sue the inspector for everything he was worth. I told him to shut the [BLEEP] up and asked my brother what we're going to do.

He was standing inside, on the bottom floor, looking out through an empty window. And he said, "Mark your time cards for a full day, and let's clean up and go home early." If he was mad, I couldn't see it. If he was at the point of tears, I couldn't feel it. We put everything away. And, just as I was leaving, he said, "Thanks. It'll be all right. I'll go down to the City Hall tomorrow and talk to some people."

I got in my car and loaded my pipe and smoked a bowl and drove away. It was still snowing and cars were sliding into the gutters and getting stuck. And I was trying to figure out why I was so pissed when my brother seemed unfazed. After all, he'd have to pay us to do the extra work, money that would come out of his pocket, not ours. Then I realized that it was his life, that he'd chosen to do this and he didn't hate it. He didn't hate anything about it.

He was my younger brother. And I'd never really gotten along with him all that well because I have an older brother whom I've always looked up to and loved without question or reason ever since I can remember. My little brother was, in my opinion, an intrusion, an unwanted and unneeded addition to the family. When I was two and my mother brought him home from the hospital, I threw a bar of soap at him. The next day, I threw a garbage can at him, and it never got much better.

But then he hired me when I needed a job. And, like I said, he paid me more than I was worth, and he treated me with respect even though he could have rubbed it in. And now I was learning something from him. He never went to church. I never once heard him speak about God, but he had more grace and compassion than all of the Christians he'd hired put together.

Ira Glass

Scott Carrier in Salt Lake City.

Our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself with Nancy Updike and Julie Snyder. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

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WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia who knows how public radio could really raise some money.

Ted Haggard

We have a team of men that specifically target adult bookstores.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

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