Affirming science in the congregation is a challenge worth thinking about anew

Affirming science in the congregation is a challenge worth thinking about anew

Sir Isaac Newton’s grave at Westminster Abbey, London. (Credit: Tibor Nemes, cc via Flickr)

So something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in reviewing our new web resources and talking to people in my own congregation is, how can we honor science as a vocation within our worship service and liturgy? I recently brought this up at our church’s worship and music committee meeting, so I’m open to suggestions here.

Sure there are classic hymns such as “Earth and All Stars.” But how do we pray for scientists? Should we pray for scientists? How should scientists pray? These are important questions to consider.

The Lutheran Book of Worship (or the Red book as it is commonly referred to) has a prayer for artists and scientists. It reads:

Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory, and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Beholding the glory of creation is inspiration for many scientists. In this month’s main feature, CERN scientist Greg Rakness gives his view of how he is a scientist who also believes in a creator. It’s a practical approach that he provides. Although he doesn’t promise to have an elegant theological stance, he clearly describes the concept of asymmetry in experimental physics and what it means to him. It is the assigning of meaning that science is simply not equipped to do in Rakness’ view.

Faith is deeply personal for scientists just as it is for the rest of the population, but as some view the church as an anti-science institution, the need for the church to confidently lift-up its scientists in the pews has become increasingly urgent.

The question remains as to how this can be done. Should scientists talk more in church about their vocation, for example? Perhaps more attention can be paid to science in sermons, although not that many pastors are comfortable exploring science via the lens of the lectionary. Maybe the liturgy could be overhauled to include scientific language. Then there are some classic hymns. And most Lutherans, such as Rakness, immediately think of “Earth and All Stars’” famous stanza:

Classrooms and labs!
Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band!
Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Written by Rev. Dr. Herbert Brokering, the piece is rousing and maybe for modern day congregations a little cheesy too. At its core, it combines faith and vocation. It is also worth remembering that it was written in 1964 – before man went to the Moon, the human genome was mapped and the discovery of humanity’s role in climate change.

As we are now quickly approaching the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the church would be wise to update some of its hymns and liturgy to reflect some of this change of recent decades. We need poets and musicians to lead us in this endeavor and exploration of our rapidly changing world.

However, in this era of new discoveries, we don’t need to change our creeds or what we say we believe. Those leaving their lab coat at the church door have seen their vocation as solidifying their faith although the world may have told them they needed to compartmentalize who they are in a lab versus who they are on a Sunday morning.

Wouldn’t it be great if our “in-house” scientists discovered on a Sunday morning that their work in revealing knowledge about the creation was an important way of helping all of us to see more clearly the world around us as God’s master work?

As Brokering’s hymn says:

Knowledge and truth!
Loud sounding wisdom!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Daughter and son!
Loud praying members!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Amen!

When the answers do not come easy

When the answers do not come easy

Credit: airpix, cc via Flickr)

Looking for evidence-supported answers only to find more questions may be frustrating, but this search is by no means a useless endeavor when it comes to faith and science.

Many beginning the religion-and-science journey start out with something to prove. Sometimes it is for validation of the faith they grew up with, and other times it is about a branch of science that is being challenged in the public square. What one often ends up with is a series of questions asking about the fundamental notions of reality.

These are questions worth pursuing through the lens of faith and science, certainly, but is there an end point? Can we answer definitively via a new theological or scientific discovery something in relation to our faith? Or can it be boiled down to a series of clever bullet points to ensure all people of faith are on the same page? For instance, while it may be tempting to try and explain the cosmos in a few equations, obviously it cannot be done. The nature of life, what makes us human and how we find God in our everyday human experience, is very complicated.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently attempted to simplify the questions surrounding faith and science. In a newspaper article published in Sydney, he specifically spoke of public surveys on science and faith.

He said; “The question is not ‘Do we have science or religion?’. It is ‘If you’re religious, do you think your scriptures serve as a science text book?’”

While that may be one way of dividing the world into “believers” and “non-believers” so to speak, it really does little to tackle the difficult questions we face today.

For instance, even if I know that that the Bible is not a science textbook, should I expect science to impact my faith? Should I ignore science completely? Do I seek mathematical patterns in the universe and point to that as proof God ordering the world? Reality is much more fluid than any one branch of science or one’s own of knowledge set. That alone may indicate God’s presence in this modern fast-paced world.

We often like to think that keeping science and religion separate keeps both safe from scrutiny when the opposite is true. Separating one from another they may stoke conflict. You may dodge mathematical equations in your everyday life because you do not understand them, but that is not to say you do not believe in their validity and ability to change the world. I live in a world that depends on math every day and so do you — does that need to be a separate reality from one’s faith?

The faith-and-science journey often seems like tangled web of knowledge with varying levels of complexity. Taking on this challenge of untangling this web and understanding it more clearly one may argue is imperative in order to have an honest look at one’s faith with fresh eyes.

We all need to be actively discovering the worlds of science and technology. We should be thinking how they may underpin our lives and our faith. This of course takes work. Many of us may not take the time to ask these questions in our busy modern world of emails, texts, and the power of our smart phones — things which are supposed to make our lives easier and save time!

As we move forward with changing technology, healthcare alternatives, new insights on our universe, or concerns over our planet’s future, the religion-and-science dialogue becomes ever more relevant. These trends and our faith impact all our lives in a variety of ways — from whom we vote for to how we spend our money and more importantly in how we spend our time day to day.

These questions of religion and science are worth taking the time to ask, even if we do not feel that we have the “proof” of what we think is the answer.

What are you most curious about? Search our website and the answers may get you started on a path that leads you to ever more pertinent questions.

Climate change, the church and created co-creators

Climate change, the church and created co-creators

NASA heat map combining historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. (Credit: NASA/public domain)

Climate change denial has never had a higher profile supporter than today’s White House.  Weighing the economic costs against the benefits of the Paris accord, the U.S. government has decided to pull out of the accord citing unfairness with the deal, specifically with other countries who stand to benefit from Americans losing jobs.

According to President Donald Trump’s announcement of his decision, it is less about the climate than other countries getting an economic advantage over the United States. Quoting the Wall Street Journal, rather than scientists, he described the Paris Agreement as a “self-inflicted major economic wound.”

For many Americans, the logic seems sound, as jobs are always in demand and seemingly fleeting in many places across the country today. Despite that reality, we need to re-think eco-justice initiatives to offer our scientists in the pews a leading role because of what they know in thoughtful reflection of where we are headed.

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, the Vatican made headlines with Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on “Care for Our Common Home.” There were a number of events at Catholic universities where students, professors and theologians gathered to discuss the contents of the letter fully. The Pope’s letter’s title, “Laudato si,” is taken from a canticle from Saint Francis that is translated as “Praise be to you, my Lord.” The letter is clear on humanity’s role in climate change.

Pope Francis writes: “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

But how do Christians respond fully to the White House’s notion that pocket books come before the planet? Let’s begin by speaking out. Did you know that within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America there are a treasure trove of theologians and scientists who are already speaking out about climate change and its harmful effects on humanity and the planet?

Also there is an ELCA social statement, “Caring for Creation,” that was adopted in 1993. It clearly states the church’s role in speaking out on ecological concerns.

It reads: “We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are deeply concerned about the environment, locally and globally, as members of this church and as members of society. Even as we join the political, economic, and scientific discussion, we know care for the earth to be a profoundly spiritual matter.”

Lutherans Restoring Creation is an effort to encourage the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to incorporate care for creation into its full life and mission at all levels. The group is celebrating eco-Reformation, as we previously wrote about, and is also inviting ELCA members to become partners in these efforts at the congregational, synodical, and national church levels.

Perhaps more importantly, this group has organized a Speakers’ Bureau. These speakers have been gathered to represent a number of informed leaders in the ELCA capable of serving as conference speakers, panel participants, and workshop leaders for events sponsored by congregations, synods, seminaries, ministeriums, colleges, and other agencies of the church. A total of 19 speakers are available across the US to speak about the planetary degradation that is threatening all life on Earth and causing extensive disruption and dislocation in human communities, according to the group’s website.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has spoken out, too. Prior to this latest setback with the pulling out of the Paris Accord, she said: “The present moment is a critical one, filled with both challenge and opportunity to act as faithful individuals and churches in solidarity with God’s good creation.”

She has since Tweeted, “Creation is God’s gift. We hold it in trust. Climate change is hardest on the most vulnerable. God stands with them. So do we.”

What can you do to help make the church’s views on climate change heard? How will we respond when our children ask us what we did when we learned of climate change and its effects on the planet? I hope we will be able to say that we all played a part as created co-creators in solving the problem rather than contributing to it.

As created co-creators all people have a call from God to do the right thing, even if that means a few missteps along the way. In taking action it is possible to yield new eco-friendly jobs and useful community efforts and there is help for all to thrive and live abundantly on this planet that we share. As Christians who are “prisoners of hope” we are enabled to move forward with a goal of healing the planet for the sake of future generations.

It may not come with a price tag, but in response to God’s call our actions are priceless, as they say.

We are marching …

We are marching ...

Credit: St. Andrews Lutheran Campus Center in Champaign, IL

We are marching in the light of God,
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat)
We are marching, marching,
We are marching, marching,
We are marching in the light of God.

— Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenknos’ (We are marching in the light of God, a Zulu traditional song)

We are marching in the light of God and for a greater understanding of science is another play on the lyrics of that famous South African protest hymn against Apartheid. It is a catchy enough tune though that you might find yourself wanting to march FOR something rather than against an idea. The March for Science was overwhelmingly that kind of a march — a march FOR something bigger than any one participant. Collectively those in attendance were not anti-religion, as perhaps some may have thought, and many marchers even sought to promote a religion-and-science message of unity.

The March for Science, and the Climate Change March that followed, attracted scientists and concerned citizens including members of a variety of faith communities as well as from a variety of backgrounds.

Supporters of science have plenty of reasons to take to the streets as the Environmental Protection Agency has experienced significant budget cuts and recent termination of scientists on its advisory board.  In addition, the National Institutes of Health is also seeing a pull back on its funding. There were also reportedly efforts to save government scientific data as President Trump was inaugurated because some scientists feared that climate change data would be deleted from government webpages.

Mark Winters, pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in Naperville, Illinois and participant in last month’s March, told the Chicago Tribune, “We both need each other. The science community gives us the facts, the faith community gives us a moral base.” The sign he held as he marched alongside his daughter in Chicago read “Religion and science are not enemies.”

“Many of the great scientists today are religious people,” Rob Baldwin, an associate professor in forestry and environment conservation at Clemson University, told a crowd at the March for Science in Greenville, South Carolina. Part of his speech may be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj6QnG4DBCk.

Unity was the theme. Unity against science denial was part of the message, which made it through much of the media coverage. Perhaps even more importantly it was an opportunity for pastors, scientists and others to highlight that there is no basis for conflict between faith and science.

Astronomer Grace Wolf-Chase recently told a group of scientists, pastors and lay people about her time at Cornell University, and how she graduated with an uncertain feeling about her faith. She pointed out that the university was founded by Andrew Dickinson White, who was known to promote the necessity of the inherent conflict between religion and science. He elaborated his  conflict thesis of science with dogmatic theology in the 1869 two-volume A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom. The warfare stigma has stuck.

Wolf-Chase eventually could more fully embrace her faith as she met scientists who were also Christians while in graduate school at Arizona State University. And often it is all about who you meet. Especially when you are marching for the same cause.

As was the case with South Africans during Apartheid they knew they were not marching alone! The title of this newsletter says it all, in that Covalence refers to the covalent bonds in chemistry, where both elements are stronger in their bonds rather than as individual elements. But there is a third element that also supports much of the work of those active in the faith/science dialogue.

As the song says…

We are moving in the power of God,
We are moving in the power of God,
(Repeat)
We are moving, moving,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving in the power of God.
(Repeat)

Amen.

Telling the story

Telling the story

Credit: Michael Shaheen, cc via Flickr

What is the greatest story ever told? What is the greatest story you’ve ever told? Do they have anything in common?

For theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, the greatest story ever told — according to his new book with that title — is that of science.

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand,” he reportedly told a recent gathering. “It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.”

The Greatest Story Ever Told - So FarSome would argue that Krauss, a professed atheist, may have missed the prequel.

The prequel was best told, in my estimation, by philosopher, priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his Mass on the World from 1923, “In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and molding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning, there were not coldness and darkness: there was Fire.”

In earlier writing from 1916 he describes the creation in an even better way. He writes, “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”

But how do you tell that story — the story of the universe that is — in a way that is true to science and to Christianity? It is difficult. It is a story that groups such as the American Scientific Affiliation are seeking to tell to youth and the public at large. In telling the group’s story this month, Executive Director Leslie Wickman writes of a unique group of Christians who were also scientists that wanted to cement their ideas as an organized group. This was conceived in the tumultuous years following the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s.

Another group seeking to better tell the story is the Religion News Foundation, which will likely give higher visibility to a variety of religion-and-science topics via a timely grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

A unique subset of academicians are theology and science scholars who are in a field of investigation that many, like Krauss, say is a conflict to be avoided. But every one of these scholars has his or her own reason for doing this. Some will speak openly about their story that is usually complete with concrete reasons for studying the intersection of faith and science.

The story that they tell is that of the human family. This story is changing rapidly today thanks to technologies such artificial intelligence and CRISPR and many are not so eager to tell the human story by integrating the faith and science perspective, which I would say encompasses awe, wonder and a bit of mystery.

I think the stories we are told when we are young are integral in how we view the world later as adults. What stories have you told about your experiences to your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends? Are they stories of faith? Scientific discovery? Curiosity?

These are the types of stories that are important to tell as people of faith. We need a little bit of that awe alongside respect for good scientific work. This storytelling that is related to science and the world around us should thrive within faith communities. After all, our churches will be home to future scientists, theologians and curious lay people alike.

You don’t think you are a storyteller? Let me assure that we all are. It is a distinctive human trait. We love to learn and learn to love through good stories. Just consider the parables of the New Testament. Jesus could have said “be generous,” “forgive often,” and just barked random commandments again and again, but stories help all of us to remember the key points.

What’s your story?

A Sunday on campus provides a fresh look at faith/science ministry ideas

A Sunday on campus provides a fresh look at faith/science ministry ideas

Alma Mater, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. By Kevin Dooley, cc via Flickr

After becoming a “townie” this last month in our family’s big move to Champaign-Urbana or the C-U as locals say, attending the local campus church was a pleasant eye-opening experience.

A few Sundays ago, I was offered a fresh look at how young adults approach faith. It was encouraging. Seeing young adults in action daily during the week too has also brought home the greater importance of emphasizing that it is important to encourage them to understand that taking STEM courses shouldn’t be a stumbling block to faith, and vice versa.

Whether it is explaining how many worms are now living in the compost pile in the front hallway of the church, hosting an eco-justice discussion or pointing to the precise engineering of a Moravian star to talk about the compatibility of faith and science, ELCA Pastor Amy Thoren at St. Andrews Church in Champaign is eager to reach out to undergrad and graduate students who are questioning what their faith life should be after moving away from home.

The mission statement of the congregation just off the quad is one that seeks to gather those who “are eager for the kind of ministry found on a university campus: a ministry welcoming of questions and challenge, intellectually inquisitive and thoughtful, and always in dialogue with the academic rigors found across the street and in the lives of many of our people.”

It is important as many students leaving home for the first time to have a comfortable spiritual home as they wrestle with basic questions of faith. It is a pastor’s duty to shepherd young people who are just now trying to identify who they are outside of their immediate family unit. It is an intense time in a young person’s life.

Then again some high school students had their own time of questioning of how science and faith “fit” at an even younger age, as retired science educator R. Wesley McCoy notes in this month’s essay, “Christians embracing evolution.” It is reassuring though to know that there are science teachers and pastors who agree that science as a vocation is important and is worthy of a faith community’s support.

Whether the student is in high school or college, the vocal support of their studies as well as of their faith journey is important for parents, educators and congregational leaders alike. Have you ever asked the youth in your congregation what they want to be when they grow up? Have they ever responded with a career of theoretical physicist? If, so that’s great. But even if they are unsure it is important to follow-up (even if you don’t know a thing much about science) so that they can see their interests and their community of faith don’t have to be competing for their attention. Take the time to learn from them what drew them to the sciences and what they dream of accomplishing someday.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of this month’s issue of Covalence is the news of a John Templeton Foundation-funded effort headed up by Fuller Seminary in California called Science and Theology in Emerging Adult Ministries or STEAM for short. The term “emerging adult” seems like an excellent focus at the intersection of faith and science, where so many decisions are often made in those years between 18-30 and when so many of us are unsure of ourselves and the world we find ourselves in — not that it necessarily gets any easier as we become older.

One of the numerous STEAM grants awarded through Fuller Seminary is at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The church is reaching out to students through small groups to determine if and why they feel tension between the practice of faith and the study of science. They plan on bringing in outside speakers to address the student’s concerns and to also form a mentorship network between local ministers and university scientists.

STEAM has its roots in the Scientists in Congregations, which was a well-received effort that sought to bring scientists and scientific dialogue into the pews.  STEAM began in early 2016 and the funded projects are just now taking off.

It will be interesting to see where these nationwide efforts lead and how many young lives are impacted. A new ministry or two may just become a permanent fixture on campus!

Will the church support good science in the public square?

Will the church support good science in the public square?I’m sure if you have spent any time on social media lately, you have seen that T-shirt advertisement. You know the one that says “Science is not a liberal conspiracy.” Even some of the educators in my church have shared the post. It seems that just like religion, science too can become a political lightning rod.

So if you also missed this on Facebook, the March for Science is taking place across the U.S. and around the globe on April 22, which is Earth Day. With marches scheduled in more than 100 cities, the Washington, D.C., march on the public mall and teach-in is only a small part of a much larger event.

According to organizers: “It’s not about scientists or politicians, it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world. Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?”

Even as some churches celebrate Evolution Weekend this month, will those same congregations and pastors also participate in the March for Science?

Prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, AAAS President Barbara Schaal in an editorial published in Science, urged the President to include credible scientists in his administration — at all levels and in all federal agencies. She wrote: “For policies to be successful, we must first understand the current state of knowledge … The practices of science — open dialogue, publication, scrutiny and replication — help validate results, allowing our understanding of the world around us to grow and change.”

AAAS officials add that in the last several years there have been a number of instances where science contributed to public policy. One example is in forensics, where new studies have led to a better  understanding of information provided by DNA, fingerprints and the composition of bullets.

Concerns remain though that the new administration does not value science-based evidence, especially  in the area of climate change and environmental policy. These are issues that define political boundaries and where those involved in the faith and science dialogue have a unique role to play.

AAAS has made it a point to also work with religious leaders in lifting up science education, particularly through its DoSER program. This month in Covalence we take a closer look at the Science for Seminaries program that wrapped up last year. It seemed to be a successful and engaging project that will have a lasting impact on not only the seminarians but also the institutions that they attend.

The original question remains, though, as to whether seminarians, church members, or clergy will actively take part in public events such as the March for Science, just as they did for the Women’s March in January. It will be particularly interesting to see if some of those seminarian students that participated in the new coursework will feel compelled to take on a ‘teach-in’ of their own – showing that religion and science have a shared role in promoting positive relationships for the public good. Such an effort is of increasing importance as scientific initiatives increasingly may overlap with social justice issues, such as education and population displacement as a result of climate change.

So lace up your shoes, design your signs and hit the streets in the support of science. More information can be found at https://www.marchforscience.com.

Susan Barreto, Editor
Covalence

Exploring the final scientific frontier – the religious mind

Exploring the final scientific frontier – the religious mind

Credit: cc by Silver Blue via Flickr

It just stands to reason that what we almost know the least about scientifically to some degree is the closest to us — our own minds. It is something neuroscience has been trying to uncover in recent decades and in particular there is still plenty of curiosity as to whether we are hardwired for religion or if religion has changed “our wiring” for the better.

While these questions remain intriguing, the answers are still elusive. This month we are looking at the mind/body connection through the lens of mental illness. There are many struggling with mental illness today both in the pews and in our communities. In many instances individuals have discovered the support that only a church family can give. Studying trends more broadly, there are scientists who are taking a greater interest in the connections between faith and brain activity, in addition to the recent University of Utah. In some ways, these studies’ findings may be interesting from the standpoint of showing the physicality of meditation or prayer, but in other ways they seem to lessen the uniqueness of the experience by comparing it to brain reward centers that light up during sex or gambling.

Could simply lighting up the right reward center in the brain, help those struggling with mental illness? Could it also trigger a spiritual experience?  Brain chemistry is indeed addressed in treating some aspects of mental illnesses such as bipolar depression and schizophrenia.

It is also worth asking what the scientists hope to accomplish with their research on religious experience. Do they hope to find proof that God’s love is located in a specific part of one’s brain or are they seeking to “cheapen” the experience by comparing it to other rewarding activities?

It seems that on the one hand scientists are trying to put more measurable characteristics to the religious experiences that are separate from ‘self-reported’ spiritual experiences, which could be helpful. Then on the other hand, it may be that some want to explain religion away as a simple function of brain chemistry.

Either way one looks at it, the argument is a powerful that our beliefs can shape how we view ourselves and those around us. If one is a Christian, there seems to be more hopeful outlook when it comes to being part of a community and in relationships as revealed in the findings of the Chicago Social Brain Network. Proving that hypothesis is nearly impossible though as it is difficult to measure, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. In the recent large Nurses Study conducted in relationship to suicide, for instance, the findings that those that attended church were less likely to commit suicide is noteworthy but  don’t seem all that compelling. It doesn’t address the taboo across religions of taking one’s life, for example. Nor does it demonstrate that a church community helped in addressing individual problems more than one’s friends if a person doesn’t attend church services.

While all these bits of research seem to have lofty aims, the actual findings generally raise more questions than they answer. It may just be that some of the feelings experienced by individuals praying or worshiping are not measurable or even comparable to one another. Is a Buddhist more spiritual than a Baptist? What does the fMRI say?

Still, if one is battling problems related to brain chemistry, having a friend and one’s own faith as companions seems to be crucial in bringing hope to the hopeless. That kind of hope undoubtedly is one of the most noteworthy aims of religious life. Let’s pray that we can offer that hope to one another when and where it is needed most. While those outcomes may be unverifiable on a scientific basis, it still is a reasonable aim of congregational life.

Learning Lutheran theology through the religion and science dialogue

Learning Lutheran theology through the religion and science dialogue

The Badab-e Surt formations that has been created over thousands of years as flowing water from two mineral hot springs cooled and deposited carbonate minerals. Credit: cc by Nick Thompson via Flickr

Call me an accidental Lutheran.

It just so happened that the closest church to my first apartment in Chicago was an ELCA congregation roughly one block away. It wasn’t until a few years after joining, however, that I began to learn about Lutheranism and how it differed from the mainline Protestant church I grew up in. I also began to understand a bit about Lutheran theology and this was strictly a consequence of my interest in the religion and science dialogue.

It is very easy to sit in a pew on any given Sunday morning and learn of God’s grace and love, but then know very little of the contributions Martin Luther made to theology. Concepts such as Luther’s theology of the cross just don’t readily come up in many sermons!  Perhaps confirmands learn more about these concepts along with the history of the Lutheran church, but for me and perhaps for a few other “accidental Lutherans” it has been a struggle to pinpoint the allure of the denomination or explain the theological differences.

For me religion and science opened the doors to learning about why the ELCA church body believes as it does and how, while our ideas about God may change, God does not. God is unwavering in overflowing love for humanity with all of its flaws.

This month, as the Lutheran World Federation, of which the ELCA is a part, marked the beginning of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to look back on what others have written and thought about Lutheran theology and Luther’s own interaction with science in past editions of Covalence.  The result is this month’s feature and it demonstrates a snapshot of how Lutherans and science have had a good relationship over the centuries. It is fair to say that much in that story has been a positive endeavor, unlike writing and thought in other branches of Christianity that view concepts such as evolution as a threat to the Biblical narrative of creation.

So coming back to my experience: It was many years in the making, but ultimately through various lectures, discussions and conferences I’ve been able to pick up on a few theological concepts. I’ve also come across stories that depict Lutherans as a people open to scientific discovery, new technologies and supportive of science as a vocation.

I’m thankful I’ve had an opportunity to learn more about Lutheran theology generally along the way in private discussions and through public lectures.

Perhaps where this has been the most evident is with the Zygon Center for Religion and Science housed at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. It was there at the invitation of one of our vicars that I attended the Epic of Creation lecture series and was immediately captivated by the content. Since then I have embarked on a remarkable journey over the past decade, one that has deepened my faith and fed my intellectual curiosity.

As it is with any community experience it is the people that initially draw you in and the discussion that keeps you engaged. It could not have be more the case in the religion and science arena for me. Science is awe-inspiring enough on its own, but when interwoven with one’s faith and a community of fellow learners it is a glimpse into humanity’s past, present and future that fuels a lifetime of inquiry.

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