A safe place for you to question, doubt, explore your faith
Last winter, one of the co-pastors at my church in Charlotte recommended that I listen to The Liturgists, a podcast hosted by scientist Mike McHargue and musician Michael Gungor.
After one episode, I was hooked.
I listened to episode after episode on a 10-hour drive to Indianapolis. And then I kept listening on the way back to Charlotte. And then I re-listened to episodes throughout the year.
(By the way, if you have never heard of The Liturgists, these are my top-five favorite podcasts, in order: LGBTQ (Episode 20), The Bible (Episode 3), Lost and Found (Episode 6 and Episode 7), Spiral Dynamics (Episode 5) and The Cosmic Christ with Richard Rohr (Episode 35). Sorry, it’s Fantasy Football season, and I just like ranking things.) Why did I find The Liturgists to be so liberating? Gungor and McHargue, also known as “Science Mike,” had created an intellectual environment that I had always craved—a place that was safe, a place where everyone—no matter his or her beliefs or doubts—belonged, a place where personal transformation was more important than abiding by a doctrinal code, a place where Jesus—finally—was not being sold to me. A conversation where all were encouraged to learn from each other. Imagine that: listening to each other, helping one another discover how to believe rather than being told what to believe! (Church can be like this, I think. Every church I've regularly attended has helped me in some way, but I'm thankful to have found one in Charlotte that is open-minded and is a safe place for me to grow, mature and process ideas.) The Liturgists was my first experience with Science Mike’s work. This summer, I started listening to his own podcast, Ask Science Mike, where he answers questions from his fans that touch on a wide range of topics—anywhere from Pokemon Go to sanctification to alchemist bacteria. It’s nerdy. It’s awesome. And it’s brilliant. Most of the science stuff goes right over my head, but it feels good going over my head—a nice breeze in Charlotte’s hot summers.
After religiously listening to both of these podcasts—The Liturgists and Ask Science Mike—I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Science Mike’s new book, Finding God In The Waves: How I Lost My Faith And Found It Again Through Science, which was released on Tuesday. I finished the advanced copy I received in two days. Finding God In The Waves was reflective of The Liturgists and Ask Science Mike—conversational but honest, entertaining but profound, geeky but relatable. If you are a fan of either podcast, it’s a must that you read McHargue’s book—and I am usually not that direct about things. And if you've ever felt spiritually alone, know that you are not; and if you've ever been hurt or ridiculed for your beliefs or doubts, know that it wasn't okay for someone to make you feel that way; and know that there is literature like Finding God In The Waves to meet you in your pain. Part 1 is reflective of the Lost And Found episodes by The Liturgists, where he shares his compelling faith journey from staunch Evangelicalism to atheism to having a mystical experience on a beach and eventually finding his faith through discoveries in science. Even if you’ve listened to Lost And Found, his book is still worth the read. McHargue takes you deeper into his journey and further unpacks his doubts as he deconstructs his Christian beliefs. I’ve listened to Lost And Found four or five times (which probably says something about my own journey), but still enjoyed every bit of Part I—compelling storytelling and concise writing with a conversational flow that mirrors books like Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller or Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Throughout the section, I felt like I was sitting at a table in a quiet coffeeshop across from Science Mike, listening to his story, and saying, “Me, too!” throughout the entire conversation. Part 2 is why I unfortunately cannot share my book with you (you have to buy it yourself)—because it looks like my ink pen exploded all over its pages. I felt like I was underlining every other sentence. McHargue introspectively digs deep into his soul and his mind using science as his shovel. His re-discovery of God through science adds an element that is uncommon in Christian memoirs. And he isn’t trying to convince you of anything. He is simply discovering, digging for himself, uncovering all kinds of fascinating treasures like “scientific terms for the forces and experiences humans call ‘God,’” prayer’s relation to neuroscience, or the divine’s possible relation to the pattern of life, death, and resurrection in the universe.
The chapter that I enjoyed the most in Part 2 is “The Good Book,” where he welcomes you into the journey of his relationship with the Scriptures. On a personal note, as someone who has really struggled to read the Bible because of my wounds and scars associated with it, McHargue’s approach—for example, viewing it as art, instead of a legal document—is helping me to gain an appreciation and wonder for the Scriptures once more. Overall, McHargue’s approach to faith through science gives Christianity a practical element that I’ve found to be freeing. McHargue’s Axioms About Faith (which he breaks down in detail in the book), though they might seem sad to some, have been instrumental for me, as someone who often lives in my own head and has wrestled with doubt and unbelief, which, strangely, is where I have also seen my faith come alive. As Brené Brown says, the opposite of faith is not doubt—the opposite of faith is certainty. Through Finding God In The Waves, just like his podcasts, McHargue continues to create safe spaces for the spiritually abandoned, for people of all beliefs to process life’s biggest questions, for all to discover what it means to be fully alive. As always, he meets those who are consuming his work right where they are. With gentleness. With grace. With humility. “The harms, the problems most people talk about have to do with the institutions of faith and not faith itself,” McHargue told me in a phone interview two weeks ago (a feature story is coming soon). “And so there’s this great opportunity to, instead of saying, ‘Come back to the fold,’ wandering out with them into this space, which is exactly what I do. My audience is made up of a mixture of Christians and no religious affiliation—and agnostics and atheists and they all share space just fine because no one feels superior and there is a commitment to mutual respect and interesting dialogue.” “My goal is to work myself out of a job,” he continues. “To do such a good job creating safe spaces, that churches, out of survival necessity, pay attention and change the way they do things. We’re just getting started.”
By Stephen Copeland
This essay was first published on copelandwrites.com. You can purchase Finding God In The Waves through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
My five favorite quotes from Finding God In The Waves (because I like to rank things): “Love and grace speak loudly. The first and best response to someone whose faith is unraveling is a hug. Apologetics aren’t helpful. Neither are Scripture references. The first thing a hurting person needs is to know they’re not alone.”
“We can approach beliefs not as gems to be mined from the earth and protected with clenched fists, but as butterflies that land on an open hand—as gifts to enjoy but not possess.” “Is The Starry Night (by Vincent van Gogh) infallible? The question doesn’t make sense. Though grammatically sound, it is a query with no meaning. I could just as easily ask, ‘How much does a sunset weigh?’ The beauty of The Starry Night isn’t in its being fallible or infallible. It’s a window into another person’s soul…Is The Starry Night true? If we’re talking logic or math, this question is as nonsensical as the first. But if we ask with the perspective of an artist or philosopher, we might find that, yes, The Starry Night is very true—it tells us truths about the human experience…So let me ask you two more questions: Is the Bible infallible? Is it true?” “From a bush to a pillar, to an ark, to a temple tied to soil, to a man free to roam, to a Holy Spirit who dwells in the hearts of all God’s followers. That’s God at the close of the Bible story, but God continued to change. God became a Trinity to the early church: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…Somehow, over time, we humans seem to find the image of God we need in order to serve and grow and face that often challenging task of existing as a conscious entity. I’m done saying I’ve found the right one—mysticism tells me that these are all metaphors, all symbols, pointing to a single God who is beyond anything I will ever be able to imagine.”
“From this perspective, I didn’t necessarily invite Jesus ‘into my heart,’ as the saying goes. Instead, Jesus lives in my anterior cingulate cortex, the seat of compassion.”