While there are many memories I could share about growing up on a farm and in a rural area, there are a few that I think shaped me, perhaps, more than I realized.
As many of you may know from your own experiences growing up in a small community, more often than not the person in town with the highest level of education (i.e. beyond the four years of college of a local educator) is the pastor or priest. Not only a moral authority, a pastor may be the person who interprets current events and is a key leader in the community.
Recently a memory came back to me of perhaps my 7- or 8-year-old-self. It was a recollection of me pretending to be a pastor. Mind you I had never seen a woman pastor at that point, but I had a nice size aluminum refrigerator from my play kitchen that doubled as a lectern when I turned it around along with an old Methodist hymnal that my mom bought at a church rummage sale. I remember giving plenty a sermon from my refrigerator/lectern.
But why I enjoyed playing pastor was more than just thinking I was the center of attention at that lectern, I think it was this idea of being right. Having all the answers, if you will, no matter the situation. I know many of you may be pastors, so just soak up this idea of always being RIGHT in your congregant’s eyes! Not an easy place to be, certainly.
Another early memory popped into my head recently too. I was a bit older and it was of a time of sheer joy and care free movement. I recall running and then dancing down our long driveway. Feeling the wind blow through my hair and then realizing I was my hands, arms, legs, feet, atoms, dirt, star stuff (thanks Carl Sagan), and an absolute mystery. I was in awe of myself as a part of creation yet still on the sidelines as a witness to it – a place I now realize that only God could carve out.
But I was a mystery on that day, and that curiosity was much more intriguing than having a full set of pat answers. It wasn’t until later on that I heard rumblings of a battle playing out between some people of faith and the theory of evolution and then faith and science broadly. Still that moment of ‘the dance’ was when I think I knew that I wanted to find out where my faith fit with the world. I was in the world but yet outside of the boundaries of the rest of nature. How could that be?
In my post college years, there was a need, however, to drop the “knowledge driven” or “know-it-all” mindset that can become routine for people of faith and learn to do that dance again as an adult. After all a world of sound bites with quick and easy answers loses its luster after a few years.
Here’s where science could spark something new. Discoveries about the universe and even quantum physics could hold unique truths about the world around us. That mysterious, glorious dance in awe of what is right in front of us and the presence of a creator within us (the creation) and outside of us at the same time. This is the spirituality that I see at work when it comes to having an abundant, forward-moving religion-and-science dialogue.
This scientific spirituality, as I’m calling it here, is also present in the “Affirmation of Creation” overture drafted by an organization within the Presbyterian Church (USA) that, like the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, seeks to lead the church in engaging with science in productive ways. A divine dance with all of creation, if you will.
We must look closely at the “why” questions those two groups and others in the Episcopalian and United Church of Christ religion and science organizations ask all the time. These groups get together once a year in fact at a series of meetings called the Ecumenical Roundtable on Faith, Science and the Church (ERT). Here these leaders share ideas and take the time to learn more on faith-and-science topics of the day that they then can take back to their respective congregations and denominations.
ERT meetings have pondered “Why is genetic enhancement through techniques like CRISPR worth the attention of the church.” In other years they have considered whether the practice of genetic modification is ethical in the eyes of the people of faith. Likewise, a previous meeting at the Roundtable took a close look at the use of social media and its effect on congregations. Together they engage in a dance of spirituality that is enlivened through scientific curiosity. This dance is what I call “scientific spirituality.”
These are important discussions that need scientists and everyday persons alike to participate alongside pastors. It is not about having all the answers as my childlike faith may have once deemed important, but the willingness to ask the right questions at the right time — and more importantly — together.