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

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