As Ed and Greg debate between Wesley and the great reformed theologians, I want to make sure we don’t forget the prophets.
One of the leading prophets of my generation (and of many who went to college in the 90s) was Michael Stipe. We are among friends here so you can admit to knowing every word to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M. I might have heard that song a dozen times a day in my undergrad years.
Today, most of the music I listen to is live concert recordings so when the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.’s Up dropped November 10th, I wanted to hear the bonus 1999 concert it included. But I decided to listen to the entire album first—something I had never done. And I stumbled across a song, “Hope,” that got me thinking.
In a song about someone facing the end of their life, Stipe sort of drones the following lyrics:
“You want to trust the doctors…
You want to trust religion…
And you’re questioning the sciences
And questioning religion
You’re looking like an idiot
And you no longer care
And you want to bridge the schism
A built-in mechanism to protect you
And you’re looking for salvation
And you’re looking for deliverance”
I knew R.E.M. shaped the outlook of an entire generation in some important ways, but I had not heard them acknowledge the very quest I was on in the 1990s. These were the years I was owning my Christian faith while studying physics at Northwestern. By the time Up was released in 1998, I had followed God’s call to seminary. Through it all, I was determined to understand the relationship between faith and science.
This quest was just beginning, and it continues through our work at Science for the Church. Here we do our best to equip you to trust science and to trust the Christian faith. We don’t want anyone to feel like an idiot as we offer tools for individuals and the church to bridge the schism that Stipe sings about in “Hope.”
It’s the End of the World and We Don’t Feel Fine
If I were even half as good a lyricist as Stipe, I would try to rewrite the lyrics to this iconic R.E.M. song detailing all the chaos of our current day. There is war in Israel/Palestine and in the Ukraine, just two of the many dozens of armed conflicts around the globe. There is political, economic, and racial division in our country. There is distrust of religion and of science in an age where climate change makes it difficult for younger generations to dream of the future. The situation has not improved since this song was released in 1987.
Few of us today actually feel fine about the chaos. Look at the challenge we face regarding mental health; it cuts across cultures, generations, and the economic spectrum. And it has been getting worse over the past decade or so. We will gather this week with families to celebrate Thanksgiving keenly aware that even the smallest trigger might ruin our families’ festivities, all because we disagree over one bit of today’s chaos.
The good news is that there is science we can leverage and much of it is timely in the season of Thanksgiving. Research on gratitude and generosity will preach from our pulpits, and much of it shows the ways giving and being grateful benefit our mental health. The links below detail resources we have on the relevant science. These themes are easy topics anyone can use in church or at home, whether leading a Sunday school or engaging your aunt across the table from you. They are topics to bridge the schism many people feel between the sciences and religion that can also help support those who don’t feel fine.
- We offer a rich collection of resources, including past years of Thanksgiving newsletters that detail what science offers us regarding gratitude and generosity.
- With Iggy under my feet as I write this, I’m particularly fond of a piece I wrote titled, “Grateful Dog.”
- We have an even larger collection of Advent resources, including “Advent Horizons,” our new five-entry devotional designed for individual or small group use.
- If you want more Advent devotional entries, check out Gayle Boss’s All Creation Waits.
Hope as the Antidote to Losing My Religion
Another iconic R.E.M. song of my college years was “Losing My Religion.” According to Stipe, the song was more about unrequited love and less about what today we call deconstruction. Yet, I’m sure many saw it as an anthem connected to their departure from the church.
I think hope is in many ways the antidote to deconstruction. We need reasons to hope if we are going to do the work of questioning science and questioning religion. Hope is needed to make sense of it all. Deliverance rarely comes from the faith of our childhood, no matter where in the church you grew up. It comes from an engaged faith, walking in community, and seeking to find answers to our questions about the God who offered us hope in the form of a baby.
Next week, we begin another series of newsletters for Advent. We will put some of the core themes of our Christian faith—incarnation, preparation, hope—into conversation with science as we anticipate the arrival of the Christ child on Christmas morning. I especially want to draw your attention to “Advent Horizons,” our newest devotional. With five entries designed for individual or small group use, we offer fresh approaches to familiar texts that shape our understanding of Advent and Christmas. We offer this not only to bridge any schisms that are felt between faith and science but also to help us see with new eyes the significance of Christmas morning.
The challenges in our world and in our churches are many. It can feel like the end of the world is near and our response can be to lose our religion. However, at Science for the Church we trust in the good news of the gospel and try to offer hope. Engaging science affords new opportunities to proclaim the truths of our faith and to care for people who do not feel fine. We hope you find our resources helpful and, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there is any way we can help you or your church leverage science to find the hope that arrived for me, for you, and for all of creation on that first Christmas morning.
P.S. We are currently transitioning from an organization that has been dependent on grants to one that is supported by individual donors. Please keep us in mind as you consider your end of year giving.
Cover Photo: Flickr user Stark (Stefano Andreoli), CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons