Finding God in the Waves: A Book Review

I hated listening to people talk on the radio or recordings for a very long time.
I blame my Mother’s love of listening to talk radio when I was a child.
(Can’t we just listen to music please???)

My husband, Ben, on the other hand, puts on a podcast whenever he’s doing any sort of menial task. Dishes, folding laundry, driving home from work, waiting for the microwave popcorn to pop.

About a year ago he finally convinced me that podcasts were a great way to learn things or be entertained, that they really weren’t all about sports or economics and that I could definitely find some that focused on theology or art or storytelling.

It didn’t take very long before I had a steady rotation of 6-10 podcasts I would listen to each morning while running.

One of the podcasts that quickly made its way into my rotation was The Liturgists. 

I had followed Michael Gungor’s work as a musician for years, but the other co-host – Science Mike – was new to me.

Like Science Mike, I also grew up in the south and the lions share of my church experience had been spent in the Southern Baptist Convention. I too had undergone a sizable shift in my faith in recent years.

Unlike Science Mike I have never considered myself an atheist and I can’t talk about quantum physics in casual conversation.

I was intrigued by the way science seemed to make Mike’s faith richer and more nuanced, and soon his other podcast Ask Science Mike was in steady rotation during my morning runs as well.

I’ve always enjoyed science, even though it didn’t fit with my conservative, evangelical upbringing. I never bothered to try to reconcile faith and science though. For a long time, I just accepted that science made fact claims that contradicted what the Bible said, and I was okay living with the knowledge of the mystery and tension. It was the elephant in the room of my consciousness, but I just moved a big armoire in front of the tension and called it a day.  Science Mike helped me unpack some of those unreconciled pieces of faith and science and  bring a whole new level of richness to my faith.

I’d believed in a Creator God for most of my life, but learning to see the science of life not as a contradiction but the means in which God was at work took my vision of Creator from one who colored-by-number to one more along the lines of Picasso.

“The heavens declare the glory of God”
….and the neuroscience proclaims God’s handiwork.

So when Mike announced he was writing a book, I knew it would be at the top of my never-ending list.  As expected, Finding God in the Waves combines vivid, compelling narrative with deep-dives into scientific facts in a way only Science Mike could combine them.

It’s irresistibly fresh and comfortingly familiar, kind of like when salted caramel burst on to the flavor scene. Your pallet for ways we talk about the spiritual will never be the same again.

For those unfamiliar with Mike and his podcast, the first half of the book is memoir. Mike recounts his story of growing up in the church, coming to faith, and then of losing his faith in God and becoming an “undercover atheist” while still attending (and teaching Sunday School) at his Southern Baptist church.

In the second half of the book, Mike dives deep and unpacks the science behind what he calls his “Axioms About Christian Faith.”

Science Mike borrow the term “axiom” from philosophy. In brief, his axioms are “ideas that can be accepted without further inquiry” about the Christian faith. He has axioms for major tenants of the Christian such as  God, prayer, Jesus, sin, the Church, and the Bible – among others.

During the last five chapters of the book, Science Mike walks the reader through the question and the science behind the formation of each of these axioms.  The result is a whirlwind trip through the basics of cosmology, neuroscience, and anthropology with splashes of fine art tossed in for good measure.

Mike describes his axioms as “woefully short” of Christian orthodoxy, but he’s okay with that. Instead of seeking to home in on or prove orthodoxy, he says his axioms are “a life raft for people who can’t get on board with the supernatural claims about God yet still want to be close to God.”

I’ve never been quite in need of a life raft personally, but there have been significant seasons in which I’ve felt as though my boat were dead in the water. Science Mike’s axioms are more like fresh wind in my sails, pushing the bounds on the ways I think about, talk about and view God.

___

If you grew up with a faith in God that now seems too small or out of touch with the world you find yourself in now – this book is for you.

If you believed in God at one point, but have long since stopped believing – this book is for you.

If you’ve never believed, but you’re curious about why someone would believe in God – this book is for you.

…Or if you’d just like to know the neuroscience behind why prayer makes you feel more at peace.

I cannot recommend Finding God in the Waves highly enough.

You can find a copy of your own on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

 

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Searching for Sunday: Confession

My footsteps echoed loudly against the hard wood floor, stained deeply like burnt sienna. The sounds from my high heels against wooden planks bounced from the floor to the rafters to the vast painted dome above and finally back into mine and a dozen other sets of ears around me. I felt like I was invading.  I’ve never been in a Catholic church before, much less a basilica.

I made my way cautiously along the aisle by the confessional booths, equally confounded by their need for existence, ashamed of their abuses and desperately wanting to fling myself inside and break my heart open.

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. 

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Confession is unmistakably absent from much of my personal church history.  I got off pretty easy when I repeated the sinners prayer that night after AWANA. I silently repeated the words of the teacher up front. “I confess my sin” I prayed within myself.   No need to be specific about what those sins were. After all, Jesus died to take on all of my sin anyway, so why name them?

Confession lacked by omission, “I have an unspoken prayer request.”
Confession lacked by volition, “You don’t want to hurt our witness, don’t let them see you struggle.”

Confession just…lacked.

I spent many years of faith claiming a rejected, murdered Messiah who routinely welcomed those who were openly hurting and broken, all the while trying to present an polished and perfect appearance to the world around me.

Like so many others, I failed to value confession as a discipline of the faith.  Awkward and painful and time consuming as it is though, confession is vital. When we lose confession as a discipline, we immediately buy into the lie that has pulled humanity away from God since the very beginning: Do this, and you’ll be like God.

Don’t let them see you sweat, and you’ll be like God.
Save face, and you’ll be like God.
Hide your struggles, and you’ll be like God.
Overcommit your wallet…
Over work your life…
Over simplify your arguments…
Over look the faults of your ancestors…

…And you will be like God.

Except, God isn’t looking for people to hide and cover and stitch together facades of life so that they might be “like” God.

“We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.” (Searching for Sunday)
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I had dinner with a friend last week.

Actually, I had vegan desserts in the middle of the afternoon, but we called it dinner so it was.

“What’s your story?” He asked, and I shimmied around the joys and broken bits of my life like a flamenco dancer.

“How about you?” I ended my dance with a flourish.

Shaking his head, he spun me back to the first bit I had skirted past and asked me to unpack the baggage I had tried hide amidst swirling skirts and flashing lights.

Step, ball change.

And I finally let it pour out in it’s entirety.
The pouring out of hurt and angry and broken matched by the rushing in of grace like salve on my soul.

“‘I’m a Christian,” Rachel writes, “‘because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition—that we’re not okay.’”

We’re not okay.
I’m not okay.
And I’m even worse when I refuse to let anyone past the facade of “I’m good, how are you?”

I need to come to that place, daily, of not just walking past a monument of confession or muttering prayers written hundreds of years ago (Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…) I need to allow those words to take root and open up in my soul.

The things I have done.
The things I have left undone.

Just because I can portray my life as perfect doesn’t mean I should.

“Imagine,” Rachel writes, “if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.”

Everyone is safe, no one is comfortable, and maybe we all could find the bravery within ourselves to step out from behind the bushes and walk confidently with God and one another in the garden once more.

Friday Book Club: Dangerous Presence

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I am so excited to be sharing this book with you today!
Recently Jason Butler the lead pastor at Transformation City Church released his first book:
Dangerous Presence: Following Jesus into the City.

So, yes, the book is written by the lead pastor of the church I serve in; it is in large part the vision that Ben and I bought into when we moved to Milwaukee from West Virginia, and some of our own little adventures in the city are included in the book…
BUT!
Even aside from all of these things, this is a really excellent work and I truly believe a must-read for anyone who wants to truly pick up their cross and follow Jesus (an idea that Butler addresses at some length in the beginning of the book).

Don’t take my very (and admittedly) biased word for it though, check out what theologian Walter Brueggemann had to say:

“[Butler] brings to expression the local radicality of the gospel as concerns missional urgency. Readers will be drawn into a fresh understanding of the gospel for a society that does not value our bodily existence very much.  The word dangerous is exactly right for what Butler has in mind.”

I’m going to work my way through this one chapter by chapter and post thoughts on Friday – hence the name “Friday Book Club”.

You can order Dangerous Presence on Amazon and follow along (and you really should do that).
Comments are welcome and encouraged.  Let’s wrestle through this one together!

Orange Peels

Butler opens his book by recounting a story from his time serving in the remote Russian village, Lyahi.  While in Lyahi Butler witnessed a group of orphans eating oranges one afternoon.  Upon finishing the fruit, the children proceeded to eat the peels as well.  When Butler asked why the children did this, he was told it was because the children did not know when their next meal would be.

Moments like this, when we are faced with abject poverty cause us (Americans) to pause and question.
I think many of us turn the questions that rise to the surface back on God, at least I know I have certainly done that.

Well, why does God allow innocent children to suffer?

What kind of world is this anyway?

How could a loving God allow people to starve?

Butler describes this moment of reckoning as having a “boulder from heaven” fall on and crush him.

“Kids eating orange peels is injustice.  It’s not the way the world should be.  It shows something is wrong, and we realize it the moment we see it.  It’s like a flash bang of brokenness that momentarily paralyzes our senses.

Or maybe that was the rock.”

As Butler wrestled through this “flash bang of brokenness” he came to realize that the only way he could truly impact the brokenness in Lyahi would be to give up his life and move to Lyahi.  To relocate into the heart of brokenness.

This is something we don’t like to think about in the Church in the U.S.  We don’t like to think that in order for real, lasting change to occur that it will likely cost us dearly.  We don’t like to think about the Lordship of Christ also dictating where we live, what jobs we do or do not take and whether or not we are in an environment that is considered “safe”.

We would rather go, serve for a week to ten days, feel good about ourselves – like we’ve helped to make a difference, and then return to what is comfortable and safe.

But as Butler notes in his very first chapter, “Injustice begins to break down when someone chooses to move closer.

We can’t glimpse at injustice from afar, and believe that we have been healed of our cultural blindness.

We cannot dip our toes into the bitter fountain of injustice and claim to have turned the waters sweet.

We must jump in.  We must move closer.

I love the song “Albertine” by Brooke Fraser.  One of the lines from the chorus haunts my days almost constantly:

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible.  Faith without deeds is dead.”

Now that I have seen, I am responsible.

In this globalized, 24-news, social media driven world, how much have we seen?  How many stories are we responsible for?
How many children have we seen eating orange peels, but (like Butler) decided it was too much, too costly to fully engage in?

“Injustice begins to break down when someone chooses to move
closer.

For personal reflection or discussion in comments below:

What places scare you?  

What stories break your heart?

Which people would you prefer to just write off completely?

How would moving closer to those places, those stories begin to break down the injustices surrounding them?