Charlotte Church Hunting (Sept 2022 Update)

As new residents of Matthews, North Carolina, and the Charlotte area, we are hunting for a new church. In this post, I’ll share about four of the churches we have visited so far, and some reflections about each one. I’m also going to reflect on my own history with Christian churches, and what I remember about “church hunting” in the past.

For more background on this journey, see my December 2021 post, “Called to an Inclusive & Affirming Church.”

Searching for a new church is NOT something I have done very many times in my own life. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, living in five different states before our family settled in Manhattan, Kansas, and found First Presbyterian Church at 801 Leavenworth. That was my home church most of my life growing up, and it was a wonderful place to learn more about God, the Bible, and gain some insights into the life of Jesus Christ. It was also the sponsor organization for my Boy Scout troop, Troop 74, led by Ray Hightower. I am thankful to be an Eagle Scout of Troop 74.

One of my most vivid memories of FPC Manhattan was from 8th grade Communicant’s class, following a Wednesday evening lesson that our pastor, Phil Gittings, had taught on “The Prodigal Son.” I stayed after class to ask him about it, because it just didn’t make any sense to me. It was not fair. It was not “just.” I couldn’t understand it. I remember Pastor Gittings mainly telling me, “That’s just the way God is.” It didn’t resolve my confusion, but that memory stayed with me. That cognitive dissidence has transformed into more understanding with the passage of time and my own life experiences as a husband, father and teacher.  FPC Manhattan certainly was (in aggregate) a great church to grow up in.

When I went to the Air Force Academy in 1988, we thankfully had chapel services, and I found great solace there during the challenges of basic training and my freshman year. Since our youngest daughter is currently attending prep school at Randolph Macon Academy as a Falcon Scholar for the Air Force Academy, I’ve been reflecting much more on my own years at USAFA. 

I sang in the Protestant choir my freshman year at USAFA, and I remember making a memorable trip up to New England and singing in the state house in New Hampshire or Vermont. But in my upper class years, my chapel attendance slackened, and I didn’t attend church much at all.

Upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, I had a choice: Go directly to pilot training or accept a Fulbright scholarship to study Latin American security issues in Mexico City. I chose the latter. In addition to attending Catholic worship services with the family of Vern Conaway, one of my Academy classmates (who were also assigned at that time to the US Embassy in Mexico City,) I found an English-speaking Protestant congregation in downtown Oklahoma City. Again, I found a sponsored Boy Scout troop at the church, for whom I served as an assistant scoutmaster that year, and my friend, Paco Araujo.

When I moved to Lubbock Texas, to start pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in the summer of 1993, I found Westminster Presbyterian Church. The church family at Westminster loved and cared for me in transformative ways, through some of the darkest and most difficult seasons of my life. Through it all, I met my wife, Shelly, in 1995 on a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico sponsored by WPC. All three of our children were baptized at Westminster and had wonderful formative experiences in the loving congregation there. Shelly served as an elder at WPC, I served as a Sunday school teacher, and we both grew in love and fellowship as a family and as a member of the church community.

When we moved to Oklahoma City in 2006, we immediately visited First Presbyterian Church of Edmond. One of our friends at WPC Lubbock had come from that church, and on their recommendation it was the first church we visited. It also turned out to be the only church we visited, because the Sunday we first came, we met Jim and Carol Hartzog. They took us out to lunch after the service, and shared how FPC Edmond was looking for a full-time preschool ministry director. At WPC in Lubbock, Shelly served as the nursery coordinator on a volunteer basis, and then on a paid, quarter time basis. God opened the door for Shelly to enter full-time ministry at FPC Edmond, and she served as the Director of Preschool Ministries there for seven years. I eventually was ordained as a deacon at FPC Edmond, and then as an elder. I later became a Sunday school teacher, and remained active in the FPC Edmond men’s group throughout our 15 years of membership there. FPC Edmond was the church where all our children grew up, they all attended Communicant’s class, and they all experienced God‘s love through the church.

In 2021, anticipating our departure from Oklahoma and move to North Carolina, I did not expect to be church shopping. But, the Lord put it on our hearts to seek an inclusive and affirming, as well as more ethnically diverse, church, and we found Saint Augustine’s of Canterbury. Jason and Traci Elliot, who had been longtime members at FPC Edmond, had joined St Augustine‘s a couple years earlier with their son, Josh. 

At the time, I thought this church change (which was very challenging by the way, since I was in the midst my third year of adult Sunday school teaching with a dear class community at FPC Edmond we absolutely LOVED) it was primarily for the benefit of our children, who would (eventually) be on their own to find a local church, when they moved away from us. I thought this process would be instructive for them: How to look for a church, discern the Holy Spirit as well as a focus on Jesus Christ, and find a church community that could invite them into authentic worship, disciple them in their continued growth as followers of Jesus, and also be a community that could support and love them through whatever circumstances they found themselves.

Time will tell if that expectation was on target. But what I know now is that the experience of seeking and finding St Augustine‘s, Father Joe, and the wider Episcopal church community was incredibly powerful for me personally. When I served on our church session in Edmond during the time we left the PCUSA denomination and joined ECO, I was told we were doing that because the PCUSA congregations that were in the majority in General Assembly were not “Jesus focused.” I had the impression, which I admittedly did not research and check out myself, but “accepted on authority,” that these churches were more “Universalist.” Shelly and I did visit one of these churches in Santa Fe, New Mexico, back when we lived in Texas, when we were on a retreat weekend with WPC. The name of Jesus Christ was never mentioned in the sermon, and Christianity was presented as one of a multitude of pathways to finding God. Jesus was not preached as “the gate.” My understanding was that the confessing church movement within Presbyterian circles was focused on encouraging a prioritization of Biblical reading and Scriptural authority, as well as the primacy of Jesus Christ in His message of salvation by grace.

Another aspect of this departure from PCUSA to ECO involved beliefs and treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a member of our session at that time, I was told that this departure was inaccurately being portrayed in the media  as an “anti-gay movement.” We were told it was not, it was rather focused on scriptural integrity and the holiness of the Bible. But as one of our children later brought to my attention through close reading of ECO policy and theology, the denomination is absolutely NOT affirming or inclusive. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that at that time, I did not seriously interrogate these issues and important beliefs for myself, I just accepted them on authority from other leaders in our church.

What I learned in the process of searching and finding a new church in Oklahoma City is that there absolutely ARE inclusive and affirming Christian churches which DO focus on Jesus and his unique and exclusive claims about eternal salvation. It is not true that every church that is inclusive and affirming of the LGBTQIA+ community is universalist.

Through my seven years of working at Casady School and being a part of the community there, I was introduced eventually (along with Shelly) to Episcopal faith traditions. The three OKC Episcopal churches we eventually found which ARE Jesus focused, Bible exalting, and inclusive as well as affirming are Saint Augustine’s of Canterbury, Grace Episcopal of Yukon, and St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Oklahoma City. This discovery was a huge “a-ha moment” for me personally, and has had a significant impact on me as well as Shelly as we search for a new church home here in North Carolina.

With this background and these recent experiences in mind, we have embarked on the journey to find a new church home and church family here in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. Both Shelly and I now love Episcopal traditions and worship, but as lifelong Presbyterians, I am drawn to want to find a Presbyterian congregation if we can. I absolutely loved teaching adult  Sunday school the last three years we were at FPC Edmond. (I had also served as an adult Sunday school teacher for awhile at WPC in Lubbock.) I feel an undeniable call on my life to integrate my affinity for technological communication, teaching, and evangelism for Jesus, and I sense my opportunities to do that are greater within the Presbyterian Church unless I would attend seminary and formally enter ministry in the Episcopal world. I do not anticipate doing that at this point. So, as of today we have visited two Episcopal churches and two Presbyterian churches in the Charlotte area. Here are a few reflections on each one.

Saint Peters Episcopal Church

Our dear friend Sarah Emily, at Saint Augustine’s back in OKC, taught school and lived in the Charlotte area for several years before moving to Oklahoma, and gave us a number of recommendations when she learned we were moving to this area. One of them was to check out Saint Peters Episcopal Church, which is an inclusive and affirming congregation, and perhaps the oldest Episcopal church in our area. I think it is kind of a “mother church” to others here, (I’m still not completely clear on how hierarchy works in Episcopal circles.) I visited Saint Peters in March 2022 when I came for my interview at PDS, and it was the first church we attended on a Sunday as a family (Shelly and I, along with Sarah and Rachel) after moving here in early August.

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That Sunday we made an unlikely connection to a teacher who had taught for years at Casady, and knew many of the same longtime teachers there that we do. It was a wonderful service and a wonderful embrace by the community during the fellowship time following the service.

St John’s Episcopal Church

St John’s Episcopal was a warm and welcoming community when we visited several weeks ago, very vibrant and full considering we are still coming out of COVID. We are really missing the ritual of weekly Eucharist, and there is so much comfort and familiarity in the Episcopal traditional service. The congregation is not very diverse, however, and while they are Episcopal, there was not any “signaling” that they are inclusive or affirming in the service, or in any of their social media online. Since the Charlotte Pride Festival was at the end of August, it was pretty obvious to see which churches are inclusive and which are not. Most made no mention of Pride. 

St John’s could be a very comfortable congregation to be a part of, but I suspect it may be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” community when it comes to LGBTQ+ folks and issues. We really like this church, and because of those factors (lack of an overt commitment to ethnic diversity and inclusivity) I’m not sure we’ll be back.

Caldwell Presbyterian Church

Caldwell Presbyterian in downtown Charlotte is a very unique congregation and one whose services I watched online this summer before we moved. They are explicitly committed to racial diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. The first Sunday Shelly and I attended, the primary pastor was still on sabbatical, and they had a guest pastor who was excellent but was probably the most liberal and progressive Christian pastor I have ever heard. I have actually studied critical pedagogy quite a bit, as part of my PhD program at Texas Tech. I studied the philosophy and pedagogy of Paulo Freire, author of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” for an entire semester. The liturgy and sermon that Sunday was strongly influenced by both feminist and Afro-theology (if I am saying that correctly) and it was extremely different from anything Shelly and I had ever experienced in church. But nothing that was said was anything we really disagreed with, and it was Jesus focused. We found the worship experience overall to be refreshing and Jesus-focused, and the story of the church is extremely compelling.

That first Sunday we visited Caldwell we stayed afterwards for fellowship and refreshment time, and learned from some longtime members the church’s story of “resurrection and rebirth.” The congregation had dwindled to only about 10 or 12 members, but on the Sunday the pastor announced they would be closing, some visitors asked if they could join. They were challenged to bring friends, and the next Sunday they did. The church was “reborn” thanks to the hard work of a small group of people, who decided to redefine the church with its present focus: ethnic diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. It is also focused on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not Universalist. This is a very unique and special church.

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Of the four churches we visited initially, Trinity Presbyterian Church felt the most comfortable and familiar. One of the teachers at my school, Brian Fields, had mentioned it during a lunch conversation, and also mentioned that he was part of a committee in the church that is seeking to establish a new vision statement and focus for the church. The church is physically a very large building, but the congregation has dwindled over time, especially during COVID. Shelly and I attended Sunday school a couple weeks ago prior to service, and absolutely loved getting to connect with many people and have some great conversations. We also learned about an upcoming Church retreat to Montreat, which is the mountain camp in Asheville which Shelly attended three summers growing up, and is part of the reason we moved to North Carolina in the first place. The service was good, and remarkably, the sweet man sitting right in front of us during service is the father of my principal, Lee Tappy. We had good connections with many church members at Trinity, and felt very positive about the church overall. I know we are going to go back, and Trinity is on our short list of churches to possibly join here in the Charlotte area.

So today for church, we were faced with the question: Do we visit a new church, or revisit one of these four? Our next-door neighbors have invited us to visit their Baptist church, and I think we will do that one Sunday, but I don’t think any Baptist churches are inclusive or affirming, so it is unlikely we would join. But it will be nice to visit and we really like these neighbors.

I have also found First United Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, which is an historically African-American congregation. I have watched part of their services online and read some of the writings of their pastor. Interestingly, the church does not have anything about its theology or beliefs on its public website. Again, there is no signaling of inclusivity, so I am doubtful this is the church for us. But I love the history and the vibrant worship of the congregation, so it is tempting to visit, and we still might.

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Myers Park Presbyterian is the largest flagship Presbyterian Church in our area, I think, and while it is tempting to visit, both Shelly and I are pretty convinced we want a smaller church. So that rules out Myers Park.

Last week I also learned about a new church that has just launched this weekend, Doxa Deo Charlotte. (Formerly Ridge Church.) It is non-denominational, and for the little I have learned about it so far, reminds me of Life Church back in Oklahoma City. Again, it seems like a larger congregation than what we are looking for, and there is no indication of inclusivity in their social media or on their website. But it was still interesting to learn about. They are the sponsors of a co-working facility that I will be using in about a month for a digital storytelling workshop, and I think that kind of community engagement is wonderful and laudable.

This weekend, Shelly and I ventured up to Hickory on Friday night and Saturday for some furniture shopping, We got back Saturday night for dinner with some friends and to be ready for church on Sunday. We decided to attend Caldwell Presbyterian again today, and their main pastor, John Cleghorn, was back in the pulpit. They baptized two children today, and had a special ceremony of thanks for many of the church members as well as staff who helped sustain their operations during Pastor John’s sabbatical this summer. It was an absolutely wonderful, spirit filled worship service, with a congregation that was diverse in every way. Sarah attended with us.

We love the commitment of the Caldwell congregation to ethnic diversity, inclusivity, and to serving the needs of the poor in our community. They are in the process of converting their historic education building into a multi-unit housing space for the “houseless” in the area. I have loved learning more about their mission from their blog, including this recent article Pastor John wrote in Presbyterian Outlook magazine, “Churches use property and resources to care for the houseless.”

So, that’s a lengthy share about our church hunting in Charlotte so far. I am energized and thankful for this opportunity to discern God‘s will for our family, and I can’t say for sure today what church we will join. But there are many good options, and I am so thankful to continue on this journey together with Shelly and Sarah.

(I also cross-posted this to Medium)

The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics

On July 10, 2020, I shared a lesson on “The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics” for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma, meeting virtually over Zoom. The video is 31 minutes long. The lesson was based on Chapter 3 of Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” This was a lesson I shared last year for our adult Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science.” Our focus Bible verse was Genesis 1:1-5.

‘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. ‘

Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

The slides for this presentation are also available.

Genetic Editing and BioEthics (3 July 2020)

This morning I shared the lesson at our Friday Morning Men’s Group for First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Because of COVID-19, we continue to meet “virtually” via Zoom each week. I recorded just the lesson portion of our hour meeting today, and it runs just under 30 minutes long.

Our scripture passages were:

Here’s the link to the TED Talk video I mentioned and recommend watching about CRISPR. It’s about 10 minutes long:“What you need to know about CRISPR | Ellen Jorgensen” (from 2016).


This video and others are included in this YouTube playlist
. Several other excellent videos from scientific / secular perspectives on CRISPR and Genetic Engineering in it. Check out the “Media” page of our Sunday School class website, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” for additional related resources!

The slides from my presentation are available and also linked in the shared presentations folder on followjesus.wesfryer.com

6 Ways to Safely Serve Others During COVID-19

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:

  1. A number of guys are struggling with the lack of social interaction and their empty schedules.
  2. Some men have already started taking advantage of virtual connection opportunities, reading daily from a novel to their grandchildren, for instance.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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. ‘

Hebrews 10:23-25

2. Invite Others to and Consider Leading a Small Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has moved us as individuals, families, and communities into a season for many new things. Remote learning for school, or closing schools. Staying at home with family perhaps more than ever, cooking and spending more time together. Finding more ways to share our resources with others in need, via non-profits like our Oklahoma City Regional Food Bank and Project 66 in Edmond.

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:

  1. Choosing a new book you want to read, or a book you love and want to share with others.
  2. Creating a Private Facebook Group, which you can moderate and control (both members and posts)
  3. Deciding on a weekly meeting time for your virtual book club.
  4. Creating a free account with Zoom, and creating a repeating meeting / videoconference at your desired time.
  5. Creating a REPEATING EVENT in your Facebook group, including the Zoom conference JOIN instructions.
  6. 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?

5. Engage in Oral History Projects with Family Members

There’s no time like the present to start a family oral history project. A few weeks ago, I shared a one hour free webinar on “Family Oral History Projects” which was recorded and is now available on YouTube along with several others.

The full description of that March 19, 2020 virtual workshop was:

As parents, children, and teachers are staying at home practicing “social distancing,” it’s a perfect time to create family oral history projects! In this 60 minute, interactive webinar, Dr. Wes Fryer will share a variety of tools and strategies to conduct oral history interviews and create oral history digital stories which can be shared with your family and the world.

Description of “Family Oral History Projects” by Dr. Wesley Fryer

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.

BioEthics and Acting Like Jesus

Today I shared a lesson in our Sunday School class titled, “BioEthics and Acting Like Jesus.” We discussed and explored the appendix of Francis Collins’ book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” titled “The Moral Practice of Science and Medicine: BioEthics.” I recorded the audio from the lesson, and this evening edited the audio a bit and synchronized it to make a video I’ve shared on YouTube. In this blog post I’ll share that video, along with the lesson slides, our Bible focus verse for the lesson (Philippians 2:5-11) and additional, related books and videos I mentioned during class. These resources and others for our class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” are available on followjesus.wesfryer.com.

The video of recorded audio and synchronized slides for this lesson is 50 minutes and 20 seconds long.

Here are the slides from our lesson, which include embedded links to referenced videos and books.

Our focus Bible verse was Philippians 2:5-11:

‘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. ‘

Philippians 2:5-11

Some of the images of Jesus I used in this presentation are shared in the Google Arts and Culture article, “Representations of Jesus Christ in Art and Paintings.”

I mentioned and recommended Alec Ross’ (@alecjross) book, “The Industries of the Future,” during our lesson, and also mentioned his 3.5 minute video for Big Think in 2016, “Genome Mapping Will Expand Our Life Expectancies.”

I also mentioned (but did not play in class) Joe Hanson’s (@DrJoeHanson) 2017 video for PBS Studios show, “It’s OK To Be Smart,” (@okaytobesmart) titled “CRISPR and the Future of Human Evolution.”

In addition to genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization, and Somatic cell nuclear transfer, we also discussed a variety of “body enhancements” including Neil Harbisson, who “…is best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull and for being legally recognized as a cyborg by a government.” I referenced the 2016 Business Insider article about Neil, “I talked with a real life cyborg, and now I’m convinced ‘cyborgism’ is the future,” and the included 4.5 minute video.

During our lesson I also mentioned a favorite book of mine, “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” by Neil Postman.

Next week we’re going to take additional time to discuss BioEthics, and most likely watch the 36 minute Braincraft video, “The Ethics of Gene Editing.”

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.

Responding to Possibilianism & Dr. David Eagleman: Knowing & Authority Beyond Science

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.

One of the lessons I’ve enjoyed sharing with my 5th and 6th grade students this year involves creating and sharing InfoPics. One of my 5th graders, Masha, commented to me last week how looking at images of the universe and our galaxy “makes her feel so small.” This is one of Masha’s InfoPics she shared on our class Seesaw blog. Her expressed sentiment is laden with cosmological and theological questions. It is to these questions as well I’d like to turn now.

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.

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1179550552985878528

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. “

Saint Augustine, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor. Quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” page 83.

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.

For more thoughts and resources related to these topics, I encourage you to check out the public website for our Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Faith and Science.” If you have feedback about this post or that site, you can leave a comment for me below, reach out on Twitter to @wfryer or @pocketshare, or use my online contact form.

Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

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).

Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

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!

Bible Study Assisted by Google Home

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.’

John 1:19,21-28

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!

Thinking about Christian bumper stickers

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.

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