When I was six, I remember visiting a department store with my mother, and I remember they had the quaint nametags that had a person’s marital status and surname. I remember a man with crisp diction speaking kindly to my brother and I and I remember another man had a funny voice one day and I asked him why and he replied he had a cold. My mother later told me that I mustn’t do that.

Today, I was shopping, and an elderly man approached the self-serve checkouts at the same time as me and I allowed him to go ahead of me. Okay, I had been raised to allow older people to go ahead of me, and he thanked me for it. Another time, I stood back for a woman, who, thanked me and said that not many people will do that nowadays. Okay, I can understand with feminism that women want to be viewed as capable people and don’t necessarily want doors opened for them because they’re women. There was a younger woman behind me, and I spoke to a Muslim couple behind me, and the younger woman asked if I was in line, and I allowed her to go ahead of me, and later said that I was happy to. She thanked me and told me to have a lovely night and I replied, “Same to you.” And left it at that.

Why I made reference to the couple being Muslim is that in my native Australia, there have been despicable right-wing politicians who have made horrendous and idiotic anti-Islam statements. I aim to show the Islamic community (granted, most of those politicians, apart from the former PM, are from lunar fringe-dwelling micro-parties) that they are not alone. I have some Muslim friends who have been verbally abused, spat on or assaulted by right-wingers.

Today, however, the elderly man, whilst I concede that his heart was in the right place, came up to me and asked if he could pray for me because of the kyphosis in my spine. I felt uncomfortable. I remember talking to a Salvation Army Captain and told him how a young man was asked to leave a shopping centre because he was approaching shoppers and offering to pray for them and he said, that while some people mean well, if you’re doing your shopping and someone asks if you want to get Foxtel, when you walk past their stall, or if you want to get your roof painted, people can discard it, if disinterested, but if someone approaches you and asks you if you believe in God, it can be quite confronting. I do, however, take the view that if someone wants to go to church, they can have a look in the phone directory and find one, they don’t need people to tell them about it.

What I think MANY fringe-dwelling Christians NEED to be aware of, is this. Some people who they might ask if they go to church might say no, and their reason might be that they were sexually abused by a priest, a minister, a pastor, or an elder and attending church is triggering. AND, there have been attendees of church schools, who were selected because of a sporting talent, who were groomed and later sexually abused by a religious figure. What people have to remember is, we can compare two situations here. I remember reading in Humphrey McQueen’s book, Japan to the Rescue, about a scientist who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese who could not reconcile the kindness with which he had been treated when he visited Japan for scientific purposes with the cruelty with which he had been treated as a prisoner of war. My explanation for that is, if you were a Japanese soldier, your commanding officers were quite hard on you. Yes, my grandfather’s old work colleague and friend was treated kindly by a Japanese guard, and he never forgot that, and that scientist probably had some kind guards, but people are different in wartime to what they are in peacetime. I knew a man whose father served in the war, and he got a Chinese girlfriend after he divorced his first wife and his mother said, “Don’t bring her here! Your father fought those people!” And his father said, “What are you talking about? I didn’t fight the Chinese; I fought the Japanese!” “Same thing.” “No, it’s not! And under different circumstances, I’d have probably had a beer with some of them!” But, to say to a person who was sexually abused in a Catholic Church, “Oh, come to a Pentecostal Church,” you’re not going to make it easier for them. While there may not be a hierarchical structure, the pastor still has a lot of power.

Yes, the elderly man today was grateful that I let him go ahead, but a simple thank you would have been enough. And okay, if you have a friend who is a mechanic, and your car needs a new radiator hose and your friend says, “Okay, you go and get me the new hose and some coolant, and I’ll replace the hose and flush the cooling system for a slab of beer,” that’s a transaction between two friends, but all I did was a simple act of kindness.

To give an example of where a prayer was appropriate, when I had my colonoscopy back in May, a dear friend of mine said she’d say a prayer for me, and that was fine.

So, what I say to Christians is, you may be moved by something you see on television, you may be moved by something or someone you see when you’re out and about. You can, in the privacy of your own home, say a prayer that the person will never hear. If the man today, had, when he got home, before he went to sleep, said a silent or verbal prayer for me to say thank you and said, “God, please keep that person in your love,” I’d say fine, but to pray for them in front of them is wrong. So, please, Christians, bear that in mind.



Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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Peter Wynn

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.