‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. ‘
Last Friday (June 5th) I shared a short lesson at our Friday Morning Men’s Group meeting for our church, which continues to meet virtually (via Zoom) because of COVID-19. A 21 minute recording of my lesson (NOT including our opening prayer / joys & concerns / devotional, breakout table talk time or closing sharing time / prayer) is linked below, along with the slides I shared.
This was and is an important conversation, and it was challenging to put together in-part because of the polarized society in which we live. Like our wider church family, our Friday Morning Men’s Group includes a cross-section of people with varying perspectives and opinions about politics and current events. Generally we do not directly address political topics in our group, we focus on Bible lessons and teaching. I believe it was appropriate and indeed vital that we talk about these issues together, however, and our ‘leadership team’ for our group which met on Tuesday had consensus on this.
My intention in starting with this article and reading directly from it was certainly not to share “propaganda” of any kind, and certainly not ‘hate propaganda.’ One of the last things I want to do with anything I say or share is to encourage hate or a perception that I am promoting hate. To the contrary, my purpose was to share Jesus and share love, and to encourage us all (myself included) to listen with intention to the voices of others in our community and nation so we can better understand and better ascertain how we can better understand and should respond in this time of upheaval.
I was surprised this article and these words from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were perceived in such a different way than I read and heard them, by at least some in attendance. My purpose was to share the perspective of an articulate and well-respected African-American / black American whose perceptions of both our society and culture, and the specific events involving George Floyd’s death, are different from my own. We all look at the world from own own vantage point. There is a great deal I do not understand about the world and about current events, but I definitely DO know that I can’t and don’t see the world the exact same way others do. This is not only true for my brothers and sisters of color, but also true for “other white men” who are hearing about and watching the same events happening in other parts of our country and world, as well as in our own community in Oklahoma City.
I am hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, there will be face-to-face opportunities to discuss these issues. I certainly had not planned (before last week) to present a Men’s Group lesson which would directly address race relations in our nation. This is not, incidentally, a topic which I feel overqualified to speak about publicly. But this was and is a situation and issue which we all need to discuss and process, and hopefully figure out how to explore together even when we disagree.
Finally, here is another panel discussion video about these issues, shared by Herman Stevenson, who is a member of our Friday Morning Men’s group and also participated in the panel. Panelists included Nathan Phifer, Herman (Steve) Stevenson, Jason Robinson, and Derrick Sier. Nathan’s purpose in organizing this panel was to build empathy and understanding among members of our Oklahoma City community.
Yesterday our “Friday Morning Men’s Group” at our church met for the first time over a Zoom videoconference, which is the first time we’ve ever gathered virtually in the history of our group. Things went well overall. It was great to see and check in with everyone. We had about 30 of us in the conference I think, and everyone’s camera and microphone worked. We used a basic format, after an opening prayer we took turns sharing an update on a “silver lining” or challenge from our current time of “sheltering in place” at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was struck by a few things:
A number of guys are struggling with the lack of social interaction and their empty schedules.
Some men have already started taking advantage of virtual connection opportunities, reading daily from a novel to their grandchildren, for instance.
Many are finding it difficult to have their grandchildren close by, but not being able to be with them / hug them / interact with them “in person.”
Many are finding it difficult to not know how long this situation will go on, and are very eager to get back to “normal schedules.”
During the course of our videoconference and conversations, six things stood out to me as ways we can safely serve each other during COVID-19. There are clearly a LARGE number of needs we have within our group and in our larger communities. Finding tangible ways to serve and help each other during this disruptive time of crisis is important and can be a healthy addition to our schedules and lives.
1. Setup Virtual Family Dinner Connections
At least two of the guys in our group have already setup a “virtual family dinner” meeting via a Zoom videoconference. We did this with a friend and school colleague about a week ago, and it worked well. We connected to him via a Google Hangouts Meet videoconference on my iPad, and then put the iPad at our dinner table at the place where he’d sit if he was with us in person. Tomorrow for Easter Sunday, we’ve scheduled “dinner together” with my parents in Kansas and my sister and family in Missouri This reminds me of the Biblical exhortation we read in Hebrews 10:23-25:
‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ‘
I want to suggest it’s also the SEASON for virtual small group meetings. We have outstanding, free tools to facilitate small group interactions and meetings at a distance. These include FREE (40 minute or less) videoconferencing with Zoom, and Facebook Groups. While Zoom specifically has drawn a lot of recent, negative media attention for conference security problems, these have been addressed swiftly. If you have access to another collaborative videoconferencing platform or are willing to pay for one, by all means go for it. But if not, Zoom is a viable and good option for small group virtual meetings.
Our adult Sunday School Class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science,” has continued to meet the past month as we’ve started “sheltering in place” as a city and a state. We’re meeting over a videoconference at our “regular time” on Sunday mornings between our church’s virtual worship services. We’re using both a private Facebook group and Google Classroom to share resources and updates. Our church’s recent move to “Realm Software” as a church-wide information system has empowered individual teachers (like me) to directly email and contact our group members. I don’t think our church small group connections should end with Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, however.
In addition to considering JOINING a virtual small group, I want to encourage you to consider STARTING one. Start a book club. You might do this by:
Choosing a new book you want to read, or a book you love and want to share with others.
Deciding on a weekly meeting time for your virtual book club.
Creating a free account with Zoom, and creating a repeating meeting / videoconference at your desired time.
Creating a REPEATING EVENT in your Facebook group, including the Zoom conference JOIN instructions.
Inviting your friends and acquaintances to join your small group / book study.
As we each grow more comfortable and proficient at meeting over videoconferences, the number of available small groups will grow. Your group does not have to have a large number of members to be “successful” and beneficial, to both you and other members. Small groups should be all about connecting, relationships, interacting, as well as learning.
Step out and create your own small group, for a book study or other purpose. The ideas you discuss together with your small group members and the connections you make in upcoming weeks can be IMPORTANT pieces of the wellness / self-care plan we each need to not only survive but also THRIVE in this COVID-19 pandemic season.
3. Utilize Daily Devotion and Bible Reading Apps
We all can benefit from daily “quiet time” to pray, read scripture, meditate, and seek the voice of God. I have been using the free “Pray as You Go” app and website for the last couple years, and highly recommend it. Pray As You Go is a project of the Jesuits of Britain, Each day they post a 15 to 20 minute meditation which focuses on a different Bible verse or series of verses, which are repeated twice during each devotional.
Use a Bible reading app like the YouVersion Bible, which includes a variety of Bible Study reading plans, the ability to connect to others for prayer and encouragement, and videos from amazing Christian theology and evangelist media creators like The Bible Project. The verse of the day feature, the ability to highlight and share scripture verses, and even create Bible Verse InfoPics right within the app are fantastic and powerful ways to focus our minds above “on the things of God” when so many current events “down below on earth” seem chaotic and troubling.
4. Keep a Daily Written Journal
Journaling about your life, your day, your fears, your hopes, your dreams and other aspects of your thought life can be an extremely healthy and healing activity at any season of life. Particularly as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, something no one alive today has previously experienced, journaling can be a constructive and beneficial activity. When I was in college and after college graduation, I was an avid journal writer. Then sometime around 2003, I discovered blogging. “Writing in public” on a blog or via a social media platform can be beneficial in similar ways to keeping a private journal, but there are more complexities to digital, shared, interactive writing. When deciding whether or not you’ll keep a journal during COVID-19, remember the benefits of your writing times may not be limited to you. Your grandchildren and other descendants may read what you write this week! We are literally living through history, so why not document your journey in detail for your benefit and the potential future benefit of others?
Who tells your story? You are the best person to tell it, and there’s no time like the present to get started.
6. Be a Digital Witness for Jesus
As Christians, we are called to not just share the story of OUR lives, but also the story of how GOD has moved and continues to move in our lives. Check out my 2020 book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ,” for more ideas and project suggestions about how to do this. The full book is available free online. It will be available for sale on Amazon soon.
‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ‘
During our lesson, I also mentioned the remarkable November 2019 PBS Frontline documentary, “In the Age of AI.” It’s two hours long, and I’m planning to spend one of our upcoming Sunday School lessons discussing it and watching a short excerpt. It’s possible I may be able to lead a multi-week study and discussion of this video over the summer, likely in June. AI is already reshaping some aspects of our society and the way we live, and it’s projected to transform even more in the years to come.
I hope these resources are beneficial for you as you learn more about bioethics and the topics addressed in this presentation. In addition to these resources, you can follow me on Twitter @pocketshare (my Christian channel) and @wfryer, (where I share things generally related to educational technology and learning.) You can also access my book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” on pocketshare.pressbooks.com.
As I’m continuing to teach and lead the class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” this year, I’m enjoying the YouTube recommendation engine (in moderation, of course) to help me discover other videos I can share and use in class as well as outside of class as ‘extra recommended media / videos.’ This morning YouTube helped me find Dr. David Eagleman’s (@davideagleman) 2016 presentation from PopTech, “GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?” It’s 20 minutes long. In the presentation, David makes some excellent observations about the awe and wonder with which we can (and perhaps should) regard our universe and our amazing human bodies, especially the human brain. He misses, however, some key perspectives about “knowing and authority beyond science,” however, and it is to those topics I want to turn in this post. Before going further, however, I recommend you watch his talk:
It’s good to be reminded of The Hubble Deep Field photograph, which is staggeringly beautiful and mind blowing in its implications for not only astronomy and science but also cosmology and faith. Created in 1995 as a composite image from a very small portion of the night sky using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Deep Field image powerfully conveys how vast our universe is, and how little we can literally glimpse of it from our position on earth on the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s truly an awe-inspiring image that can be a catalyst for wonderful conversations about the origins of our universe and BIG questions of faith as well as science. How did we get here? Did God create all of this? How can we know about things like “Who created the universe” or “Why are we here?” “Are we alone in the vastness of space?” Science can encourage and provoke us to dive into these questions, but ultimately, there are a number of questions “modern science” (as we’ve learned to understand it the past 400 years of human history) can’t answer.
In his video, ““GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?”, David Eagleman correctly points out the folly in dogmatically claiming that a creation story from any culture fully apprehends and describes the processes and observations of cosmology. Here are a few important elements he either omits or gets wrong in his talk about beliefs, science and the origins of our universe.
Creation Stories Were Not Crafted to Compete with a Scientific Worldview
David Eagleman conflates the Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Kuba Kingdom’s Creation story in the Congo. and his connections elicit laughter from his audience. The paraphrase of his message here is, “How can any rational human in the 21st century actually subscribe to such a patently incomplete and false story of cosmology?” Eagleman fails to grasp, or at least communicate to his audience in this 2016 presentation, that the Jewish creation stories (because remember, there are two of them in Genesis) were not formulated and should not be interpreted today to be comprehensive texts summarizing all that is known and needs to be known about cosmology (the origins of the universe). The Bible as a whole, and the Pentateuch specifically, are not “books of science.” Portraying Biblical cosmology as a “fail” because we have learned so much observationally about our universe in the past 400 years risks misunderstanding the value and purpose of these stories and literature. For more on these perspectives, I commend “The Bible Project” videos to you and specifically the six minute video, “The Book of Genesis – Part 1 of 2.”
Not All Faith Derives from Predominant Culture
David Eagleman misses another extremely important point about faith and belief in this talk, when he tries to explain to his audience how we understand where religion comes from. Eagleman asserts that predominant cultures imbue faith and belief, and this cultural transfer of cosmological perspectives is understandable from an anthropological / scientific perspective but not valid from the viewpoint of scientific truth. Eagleman’s observation can be more accurately stated this way: MANY people DO adopt their beliefs and faith perspectives from their parents, family, and predominant community culture. HOWEVER, some people “break” with their family and culture, and take on beliefs which are different and even bear a huge physical cost. The testimony of our former pastor, Mateen Elass, who grew up as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and eventually came to faith at Stanford University after traveling to India and studying Buddhism intensely is a case that comes to mind. The faith of C.S. Lewis, who documented his journey from atheism to Christianity as a follower of Jesus in his book, “Mere Christianity,” also provides a counterpoint to Eagleman’s assertions about the origins of faith. Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project and author of “The Language of God,” grew up an agnostic but came to faith in Jesus. Orthopedic surgeon Curt Gruel, who spoke to our class on September 15, 2019, has a similar story of “being a disciple of science” but through his lived experiences coming to know and follow Jesus Christ. A couple weeks ago we heard from a Christian missionary working in Iran about the ways God is revealing himself to Muslims through visions and dreams today. Here’s the point Eagleman misses, and it’s very important when we discuss faith and cosmology. Not all faith and beliefs about God derive from a predominant culture / environmental pressures.
We Have Sources of “Knowing” Outside of Science
Another vital point which David Eagleman missed in his 2016 talk is the idea that as human beings, we have sources of “knowing” outside of science. Certainly science has tremendous value to us as a systematic way to not only understand our world but also creatively project our own ideas into it. Engineering is the application of scientific principles to design and build structures as well as solve problems. Your reading of this blog post right now is the result of technological innovation built on scientific principles and understanding. Yet the replicability of experimental conditions in a controlled setting / laboratory only provides PART of the ways we know and understand reality as human beings. Our ‘lived experiences’ can inform us and also reveal to us fundamental truths about our world, ultimate reality, and God. My own journey of faith, which included a dramatic ‘near death experience’ in undergraduate pilot training in the US Air Force, is a part of my own story and powerfully shaped my acknowledgement of and understanding of God’s reality in our world. Curt Gruel shared a similar “journey of faith” story with our Sunday School class in September. These experiences are not scientifically replicable in a lab setting where variables are tightly controlled. They are still, however, valid “ways of knowing” and point to the importance of understanding that “scientific knowledge is not the only type of knowledge which exists or points us to truth.”
Our Faith in God and Jesus is More than a “God of the Gaps” Understanding
One of the important points author and scientist Francis Collins makes in Chapter 4 of his book, “The Language of God,” is that Christian faith or any other faith in God as the creator of the universe should not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. In other words, we certainly DO regard the universe with awe. Our world IS still filled with mysteries which we do not understand, to the extent that we don’t have comprehensive or even “good” insights into the processes which define and explain phenomena we observe.
I’m not sure if there is a more generally acknowledged term for this, but it seems this dynamic throughout history has gone like this: “The more things we can NAME scientifically, the less space we have in our minds for God, his active role in our lives and world, and even His very existence.” In other words, as “the gaps” in our understanding of our world and universe have started to “fill in” through scientific inquiry and discovery in the past 400 years, we’ve (naively) convinced ourselves that we no longer need God. That God is a human, psychological and cultural creation. As Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution which followed it have provided “science” as a replacement for religion and faith.
Thankfully, the God of our universe is not dead, and our perception of Him, our understanding of Him, and our faith in Him and his goodness need not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. Charles Darwin himself alluded to this in his concluding sentences in “The Origin of the Species,” when he observed:
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
Charles Darwin, concluding The Origin of Species, as quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” pp. 98-99.
In his 2016 PopTech talk about God and science, David Eagleman omits this important perspective that acknowledgement and understanding of, and faith in God, can be compatible with the rhetorical answer to scientific questions, “I don’t know.” One does not have to be a “Possibilianism,” to have and regularly express this kind of humility in the face of the universe’s mysteries. One can, in fact, be a Christian and follower of Jesus. Humility and acknowledging our inability to ever fully apprehend the fullness of God’s reality is, in fact, an essential in the Christian life.
‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ‘
Micah 6:8 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/MIC.6.8
Scientific Uncertainties and Discoveries Need Not Threaten Our Faith in God
Finally and importantly, David Eagleman omits the idea in his talk that scientific uncertainties and discoveries need not threaten our faith in God. This perspective was summarized well by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD. He wrote:
“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we to fall with it. “
As David Eagleman encourages us in this 2016 video, we can and SHOULD be in awe of our universe and the mysteries it holds. We need not abandon faith and our belief in God, however, because we realize religious texts and Biblical stories fail to fully capture scientifically understood observations of and theories about our cosmology.
To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).
Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!
This week Rachel and I have started a morning Bible study together, reading through the Gospel of John. This is something we’ve talked about doing for many months, but we finally decided to do it over the weekend. I think this was prompted, in part, by her sharing of her testimony / faith witness Sunday morning in our “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School class. As we read about the testimony of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that parts of the book of Isaiah (referenced in John 1:23) were included with the scroll fragments found at Qumran. I thought this discovery was made after World War II, but since we have a Google Home in the bathroom adjoining the room where we were sharing our study, I asked aloud, “Hey Google, when were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?” The Google Assistant replied with the dates, 1946-47. How cool to be able to verify information like that during our Bible study, just using my voice! It was like we had a digital librarian right on hand, standing by to readily answer our questions when needed!
‘This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord ’s coming!’” Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.’
Later, as we discussed the importance of having direct access to the Bible and these words from the disciple John, I mentioned Vatican II (“The Second Vatican Council”) in the context of the Catholic church making fundamental reforms in the way Mass is and was conducted. (The priests turned around to face the congregation instead of the altar and cross at the front of the church, and the mass changed from being shared in Latin to the local vernacular language of the congregation.) Again, I thought Vatican II took place during the 1960s, but I confirmed by asking Google Home… it was held from 1962 to 1965.
It’s wonderful to have access not only to the Internet, but to a search assistant via Google Home during Bible study!
So this is an unusual find this weekend. One of Alexander’s roommates shared this with me. You can ask for 10 random “Christian” bumper stickers from the website below, or select 10 that you want for free. I definitely do NOT agree with all the messages included in their bumper sticker menu, but I DO agree with many of them. In most cases, these short messages encourage some worthwhile, critical thinking. Some reference Bible verses, most do not.
As an example of a bumper sticker message with which I disagree: We don’t simply need to require / mandate prayer in public schools to remove all ills, like drug abuse or premarital sex from teen and adult culture. I happen to work at a school that mandates chapel for all students, and I can tell you this is not received well by many of the students. At some point I will write a blog post reflecting on mandatory chapel. I am definitely a fan, and I love having chapel services at our school, but it is recklessly naïve for people to think we simply need to mandate prayer and Bible reading in schools and this will heal all of our society’s ills like a magic wand. God has the power to heal any of us at any time, but the mechanism of his healing for our culture is not via a mandated school Bible curriculum in public or private schools. If you’re a little fuzzy on historic problems with mandated religion, refer to the English Wikipedia article for the “European Wars of Religion:”
It is true bumper stickers on our cars can provide an opportunity to encourage people to think about questions of faith, morality and propriety. I don’t think putting a bumper sticker on your car is going to realistically lead to immediate, life changing decisions for people to turn their lives over to God and reject evil, but it’s worth considering whether or not this is something you want to do. Check it out: www.christianbumpersticker.org
I think a more random selection of these bumper stickers could be used as a catalyst for excellent conversations in a Sunday school class, about our beliefs and the ways in which we are called to advocate for and work for God‘s kingdom on earth.