My parents moved out of my childhood home in 2016, but when I close my eyes I can still picture the row of three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves next to the piano in our living room. The far right shelf held the homeschool curriculum binders, the math textbooks, and a few of my own books on the bottom shelves. The middle shelf contained a cabinet for our board games, most of Doug’s favorite books, and the top rows had a few Christian self-help books, mostly Mom’s favorites (The Purpose Driven Life, some Beth Moore bible studies, etc.). But the top shelves on the far left were Dad’s shelves, and they held an eclectic assortment of books about birds from North and South America, books on health and nutrition, and Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Christ,” which I remember so vividly that the cover is imprinted on my memory.
Whether I ever actually read Lee Strobel’s work has been lost to the recesses of my brain (buried under math formulas and 5 years of Spanish), but I clearly remember the impact his books had on my dad. My dad, like many dads, craves certainty and evidence, and Lee Strobel was willing to provide “evidence” of the existence of Jesus in spades. Neither of my parents were raised Evangelical, but the theological and scientific apologetics Ken Ham Evangelicals love was like crack for my dad. My parents never fully bought into purity culture, but to this day my dad believes in a literal 6-day creation of the earth.
But this story isn’t about my dad. Even though I grew up with science books that staunchly defended a young earth and 6-day creation by estimating the age of rock formations and calculating the effect of the Flood on forming the Grand Canyon, I was pretty willing to accept the possibility of evolution (theistic or otherwise). This is a story about evolution itself. When my brother got really into Pokémon, my dad sat down with Doug and I and told us that, while “microevolution” does exist, “macroevolution” does not. Beings cannot change that quickly, with that level of magnitude.
I used to pride myself on my lack of adaptability. My dad used to say that Doug would go with the current where it pulled, but that “Hannah knows how to walk upstream.” I used to take a lot of pride in the fact that “peer pressure” (a topic of great concern among mid-2000s Evangelical parents) did not faze me. I was taught to never change my beliefs, because changing your beliefs is the “slippery slope” we were warned far away from.
The problem with this is that when you are a child, you think like a child. That’s not an insult (children are very wise and have lots of good thoughts!), but it is a fact, and the rigid beliefs we were told to maintain for life are like a plastic container trying to keep the lid on a balloon brain that is rapidly growing, and soon the plastic lid is cracking because it was never designed to keep a fully inflated balloon inside, and either the balloon has to pop or the lid has to crack. Those are the choices. Once you learn how to think in more complex ways, the old beliefs no longer fit, and you can try to stretch them, but they will probably just crack. Beliefs that are not allowed to evolve have no elasticity to them, and they will not survive emotional and spiritual growth.
I’ve never had a time of real doubt, because one of the things my mother (a highly adaptable person who has evolved beautifully in the last decade) modeled so well for me was to hold my beliefs with open palms, to let them change and grow over time. So when I didn’t know what doctrines I believed or whether I thought the Bible was full of shit, I could still go to the Greek Orthodox cemetery a few minutes from my house and sit in the courtyard, feel the breeze, and hear the quiet whisper of God’s voice, the caress of the wind that touched my heart in a place beyond words.
In those teen years when I changed in infinite ways, I returned to that cemetery often, because it felt like a thin place for me, where God felt close and the rest of my life (quite difficult and a bit overwhelming at the time) felt far away. I wasn’t sure what I believed about evolution or creation or Romans 8 or English translations of the Bible, but I did believe in the God I met in the Greek Orthodox cemetery courtyard.
Here’s the unpleasant secret that I was taught to ignore: To be human is to change. No one stays the same for long. And no one should stay the same. To stay the same forever is to deny our very nature, to become a caricature of a person instead of the real thing. And as I got older, I craved being real. I yearned for truth. I found it unbearable to keep performing as if I was the same. Truths about myself started bubbling out of me like a weird fountain that I couldn’t turn off. Everywhere I went, I found myself saying painfully true things that made everyone uncomfortable, but I couldn’t stop. I was different than the girl who had quietly known her place, but some core part of me was also the same, some piece of me that had always hungered for real connection had risen to the surface and could no longer be suppressed.
I’ve always found the belief that “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” to be quite limiting. What if I don’t want a God who is always the same? If we are made in God’s image, and humans are wired to be constantly learning and growing, wouldn’t God be doing the same? The idea that God might change and grow along with me feels so tender, so intimate. If I am shaped and impacted by the people who come into my life, what if God is impacted by those that they are in relationship with? After all, didn’t Moses change God’s mind about destroying people in the Old Testament many times? What if to flourish perfectly is to be willing to change and grow?
These are questions I would have been too afraid to ask at 17, but I must ask them now. Because I can’t help but think that Octavia Butler was onto something when she wrote that “God is change,” and Jesus himself said that new wine cannot go into old wineskins, or else they’ll burst. I don’t know how old the earth is, and frankly I don’t really care. But I no longer share any cells in my body with the 17 year old girl who sat in the Greek Orthodox cemetery, and yet my brain retains the memory of them, the memory of her sitting on a bench in a graveyard, the memory of her evolving.