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.

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1502792050856583175

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)

Called to an Inclusive & Affirming Church

God’s Holy Spirit is calling our family to join a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming. The past four months have been a time of transition for us, as I have continued to teach our adult Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, where I am an ordained elder and deacon. While I have continued to teach our Sunday School class, we only attended. worship at FPC a couple times this fall. In August we started visiting other Oklahoma City church congregations, and through the guidance and mentorship of friends, found our way to St Augustine of Canterbury, a wonderful Episcopal congregation just about 5 minutes from our house in northwest Oklahoma City. We’ve been attending the early services at Saint A’s since September, and then attending / leading Sunday School at FPC in Edmond. This has, at times, felt awkward, but it has been both necessary and good. This year members of our family “stopped feeling safe” attending worship and church groups at FPC Edmond, and worshipping together as a family is a very important value for us. Those sentiments by other family members were independent of some difficulties I faced personally as a member of the leadership team for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at FPC. Those situations and. issues, and the ways they were handled / mishandled, and additional interactions with men’s group members led me to resign my position of leadership with FPC men’s group on September 23, 2021. That decision followed private meetings with members of the men’s group’s leadership team, and included a later meeting and multiple communications with our senior pastor. This decision to leave FPC Edmond as a family is something my wife and I have taken very seriously, and prayed over for many weeks. We have prayed for discernment, and God has answered that prayer. God is calling us to an affirming and inclusive church congregation.

I was initially ordained as a deacon and then an elder at FPC Edmond when our congregation was part of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) denomination. On January 27, 2013, our congregation voted “for gracious dismissal from PCUSA to join the ECO denomination, the “Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.” With the rest of our elected elders at the time, I accepted ordination following that vote into ECO as an elder. At that time, I had not and did not personally grapple deeply with the question of whether or not we, as followers of Jesus Christ, and leaders of His church, are called to be inclusive and affirming. When I say “grapple deeply” I mean that I did not seriously question the leadership and direction of our senior pastor at the time and our other elders. My only Christian blog post at that time addressing these issues was from January 26, 2013, “Commenting Publicly About Our Church’s Congregational Vote.”

This failure to grapple deeply with the beliefs about and treatment of LGBTQ people at that time may strike some as odd, since the question of how the church addresses homosexuality was a significant and common issue for churches (like ours) choosing to leave PCUSA for another Presbyterian denomination. Around the same time as our congregation joined ECO, the church where Shelly and I met in 1995 (Westminster Presbyterian Church of Lubbock, Texas) also chose to leave PCUSA, but they joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). EPC is even more conservative than ECO as a denomination in some ways, as they state in their “distinctives” the following:

“the decision to elect women as pastors, ruling elders, and deacons is left to the discretion of the presbytery and congregation, respectively.”

Distinctives of EPC

The ECO denomination, as well as our FPC church home of the past 15 years, is not inclusive or affirming. This is not a secret. On page 30 of the 2020 ECO Confessional Standards we read:

Q. 87. Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?

A. Certainly not! Scripture says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit

the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters,

nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor

drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians

6:9–10).

2020 ECO Confessional Standards

Following our congregation’s decision to leave PCUSA and join ECO, one of our assistant pastors (Matt Jones) along with one of our church members and small group leaders (Curt Gruel) led a wonderful Wednesday night class focused on the book “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” by Andrew Marin. In all my life up to that point and since, that class was the ONLY time I’ve had an opportunity in church to discuss issues and theology relating to LGBTQ people. At that time, I setup a website titled, “Faith Discussions,” and shared resources there related to the class. That site is now offline, but you can view information about the class as well as Curt’s welcome and class overview via the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. I posted notes from that class twice to this blog, “Love is an Orientation: Session 1” from January 9, 2013, and “Session 2: Love is an Orientation” from January 17th. As a related and significant aside, Curt Gruel has generously served (on a volunteer basis, I will point out) as my “Spiritual Director” in the Heartpaths OKC program for at least the past 7 years. Curt’s mentorship and discernment skills have been HUGE parts of my own spiritual development in the past decade, and I am incredibly thankful for his leadership, guidance and loving service to me and others through this amazing program.

Today I am sharing with our Sunday School class our decision to leave FPC Edmond so we can both worship Christ and serve others with an affirming and inclusive Christian congregation. Shelly and I no longer feel we can worship God in spirit and in truth at FPC Edmond. FPC Edmond is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” church when it comes to homosexuality and LGBTQ people, and we want to worship and serve in a Christian church congregation which is both inclusive and affirming to everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

I have not wanted to share this decision privately or publicly with any emotions of anger, hurt, frustration, or pain. This is an ongoing journey which is not over. Shelly and I are both confident, however, that God is leading us and our family in a new direction.

We have been active members and leaders at FPC Edmond for the past fifteen years. Shelly served on the staff of FPC for seven years, leading our church nursery staff. Her leadership and ministry work through Children’s Ministries at FPC eventually brought her into relationship with many people both experiencing homelessness and serving the homeless in Oklahoma City. Our church’s “Rolling Green Outreach Ministry” at that time was a significant catalyst which eventually brought Shelly to serve as a teacher at Positive Tomorrows in OKC for four years. We have raised our children at FPC in Edmond, it has been our church home and our family. Contemplating leaving has been difficult and sad.

Yet we know God is calling us to a new chapter in our lives, and we are ready to answer. As I continue to apply for assistant professor positions to start a new professional role in summer 2022, we are not sure if we’ll be staying here in Oklahoma City or moving to a new place. It’s a time of waiting and praying. We are confident God is answering and has already answered our prayers.

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

Responding to George Floyd as Christians

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.

I have not received much feedback on this lesson and these ideas yet, but the limited feedback I have heard surprised me. At least one member of our group found the opening article I shared, which was an op-ed written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to be offensive “hate propaganda.” (“Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing Is People Pushed to the Edge.” Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2020. www.latimes.com, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge.)

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.

There is much to process here. I did not have time to share this video during our lesson on Friday, but I did include it in the slideshow and commented about it to the men in our group Friday. This is Pastor Jim Cymbala (of The Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC) sharing a short, 3.5 minute mid-week message with his congregation about George Floyd’s killing and our responses as Christians. I heartily agree with his point that we must put our ultimate faith and trust in God, not in other human beings, in this time and always.

View this post on Instagram

A message from Pastor Cymbala

A post shared by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Church (@thebrooklyntabernacle) on

In addition, I want to share and commend two other videos. This first one is the panel discussion at our church from June 2nd with Larry T. Crudup of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Major Lewis Jemison of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in OKC, and D. Lavel Crawford of Avery Chapel AME Church. Pastor Eric Laverentz from our church (First Presbyterian of Edmond) facilitated the conversation. This was an outstanding dialog and I plan to watch it again. Our family was able to watch it live at lunch together on Tuesday.

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.

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).

Gospel Encounters: Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus

Today in our adult Sunday School class, continuing our focus on both historical and contemporary “Gospel Encounters” with Jesus, I shared my personal testimony as well as a framework for “Sharing our Journey of Faith to Jesus.” This is based on a four part framework explained on our church‘s new website, “7 Core Practices,” detailed in the post from August 2018, “Going Deeper Into Your Story.” Here are the slides I used during today’s lesson.

I referenced a video about part of my testimony which I recorded and posted to YouTube in September 2011, titled “God Answered My Prayer in Pilot Training.”

I initially wrote about this on my professional blog in August 2006, before I created this separate space as my “Christian blog.” It was initially named “Eyes Right,” before I changed it to “Pocket Share Jesus” to align with the “Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” book and evangelism empowerment project.

This was the first time I shared parts of “my story” publicly which followed the events described in the above video. Those experiences from my life in February 1994 are likely things I will never put online and share digitally, but I am glad to have an opportunity to share them in person with others with the hope and prayer they will serve as an encouragement which points others to Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray today’s lesson highlighted the ways God has and continues to be active in my life and the life of our family. I also hope it was an encouragement to us all to share our own Gospel story with others. Check out 7corepractices.com for more inspiration and practical suggestions about ways we can serve and share Jesus Christ in our homes, workplaces, and communities. Also check out www.dw4jc.com for suggestions and strategies for how we can share scripture, our stories, and our witness of God’s Holy Spirit being active in our lives using digital media.

* Added 27 October 2018: I shared a modified version of these slides, with a few photos from pilot training which I dug out of our garage, in a presentation for our Friday Morning Men’s group on October 26, 2018.

God Empowers Us to Serve Others Through Trials

Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson, as well as sermon, both focused on why we have pain and suffering in our world. These are tough topics for anyone to address. I was and am thankful to for the opportunity to facilitate this lesson at church for several reasons, however. This has been a topic on my mind and heart more frequently than usual in the past few months. It’s also, according to Barna research, the most common question asked by people about God everywhere. “Why does God allow pain and suffering in our world?”

One idea which emerged during our class discussion yesterday is this: While we often (or always) “come up short” understanding the grand plans of God and how individual cases of pain or suffering fit into them, as Christians we often DO experience situations where God empowers us to serve others through our trials and through the trials of others. As one of the speakers in the longer video we watched yesterday explained, often our best response when someone comes to us in pain and suffering is to embrace them and cry with them. We may not have “the answers,” but do have the capacity to love and support each other. We can embrace others and embrace God through faith, and have confidence that God is the one opening the door for us to love each other through our struggles and our dark valleys.

This is also one of the most important ideas which emerged for me yesterday during our lesson: God invites us to call upon him and use the name of Jesus to bring strength, peace, healing, and love into our darkest and most painful moments. I have experienced times like these in my own life, when I have literally cried out to God for help and assistance to bring me back from the abyss of despair. It’s a bad place to be, and an especially bad place to be ALONE. But that’s exactly one of the key messages of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: We go nowhere alone. God goes with us, and he promises to never abandon us or forsake us. What good news this is to everyone facing the suffering and trials of this life! We may be uncertain about the timetable of God’s cosmic plans and how our lives fit into them, but we can be certain about His reality and His provision in our times of need.

The name of Jesus is powerful! Do not hesitate to call upon the Lord when you are feeling isolated or alone, when you are suffering and full of despair. Call upon the name of Jesus to fill you with God’s Holy Spirit in all circumstances, whether they are filled with light or darkness. This is the Good News of the Gospel, that Jesus came to save us from our sins and the destructive power it has in our world. God wins. And we’re on God’s side. This is good news.

A couple more items from yesterday’s lesson.

Here’s the short video I shared with our class, as I gave a brief summary and enthusiastic recommendation of The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. Sarah and I were able to spend about 4 hours there last week during our visit to the area, and it was fantastic!

Here is a 44 second time lapse version of my sermon sketchnote yesterday, on Eric Laverentz’s (@ericlav) message, “The Problem of Sin.” I drew this and exported this video with the ProCreate app for iPad. Learn more about creating sermon sketchnotes in this chapter of “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ.” I added quite a bit more to this chapter over the weekend, but still need to add more to the chapter on “Narrated Sketchnotes.”

It worked well to use the website mentimeter.com yesterday to get members of our class to respond to a question using their smartphones. I used this as an opening question on the screen when class members came into class, “What is your favorite encouraging Bible verse?” This was a good way to start a relatively “heavy” lesson on pain and suffering.

May God bless you richly this week as you seek Him and strive to better understand His call upon your life. Make no mistake, God will open doors for you to not only draw closer to him in relationship, but also serve others with whom you have contact today and this week as you ask Him to.

Praise God for His love and the revelation of His truth through His Holy Word. Have a great week!

Sermon Sketchnote on Psalms 78:1-8

This is my narrated sermon sketchnote and sketchnote for today’s sermon by Jen Howat on Psalms 78:1-8 at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma. Key points were:

  1. Don’t hide God’s good news about Jesus Christ!
  2. Remember God calls us to SHARE with others
  3. As disciples we should be reproducing: Helping GROW other disciples!
  4. People can’t follow Jesus if they haven’t heard about him from someone
  5. Remember those who POURED their lives into you as a believer, and resolve to “pour yourself” in a mentor/apprentice relationship into others
  6. It’s good for God to create TENSION in our hearts: Encouraging us to SHARE JESUS with others!

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