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.
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,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving, moving,
We are moving in the power of God.


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!

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