"I Asked For Wonder"

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”  -Abraham Joshua Heschel

I tend to overthink most things. I like facts and data and stories--which, according to Brene Brown, are just "data with a pulse." When I have a question and someone can offer a rational, well-researched answer, it scratches me right where I itch.

I like facts and research so much that I recently finished preaching the longest, most research-intensive sermon series I have ever done. It was a series on the book of Revelation, and my hope was that people could find a grounded story of real people in real places in a book that is way too weird and confusing for most people. So I attempted to use historical research and archaeological discovery as a way to give people a new sense of comfort with such a strange book.

But this coming Sunday (October 2), I'm going to start a series that is very different, and it's something that challenges me as much as it may challenge anybody else. The series is called I Asked For Wonder, which is a phrase that was borrowed from Abraham Joshua Heschel (the quote at the top of this post). 

So what is this sermon series going to be?

It will be an exploration of the things that we cannot explain or fully understand. This series will be an acknowledgment that, for all of the things that we can know and control, there are some things that are completely out of our grasp. The human intellect can only take us so far, and it is at that borderline between what we can know and what we could never know that we often encounter God.

It is at this place where our rational understanding begins to lose ground and all we have left is wonder.

It is wonder that makes us fully alive--that tunes us into the activity of the divine within the tangible world.

It is wonder that causes our eyes to go wide and remind us that we can still be amazed in this life and that God might still be able to surprise us in all kinds of unexpected ways.

So this series will be about the intangibles. It will be a sermon series about wonder.

Because sometimes we need answers and data and understanding because it helps us make sense of something that has troubled us for too long.

But sometimes we need to allow space for the unknown and the unknowable--we need to open ourselves up in ways that leave space for the divine surprises in this life.

In short, we are talking about wonder.

Book Review: Finding God in the Waves

I first encountered Mike McHargue when I was rethinking my own faith. It’s funny to think about now, but it is almost as if he dropped out of the sky to help me just when I needed it, like a sort of Batman for a person doubting his own faith. 

(I hope he enjoys my comparing him to Batman just now).

I was in Laguna Beach, California for a workshop led by Rob Bell. Toward the end of the first afternoon of the workshop, I raised my hand and confessed to Rob Bell—and to the other 100 people in the room—that, even though I was a teaching pastor at a large church in Texas, I had recently begun doubting my faith; I no longer felt confident that what I believed was true, and I was terrified that it would cost me not only my faith, but my livelihood as well.

Rob listened and offered some very kind words of wisdom, for which I am still grateful. But the truly memorable part of the afternoon happened after the session broke for dinner. As the people around me gathered their belongings, asking one another what they wanted for dinner, some guy came over to me and said, “Hey, my name is Mike. I heard what you were saying just now, and I wanted to tell you that I came to this same event a couple years ago, and I felt the same way. I was a Christian, I became an Atheist, and now I’m a follower of Jesus. I just wanted to see if you wanted to join me and my friends for dinner. I’d love to tell you my story and listen to yours.”

That was my introduction to Mike McHargue, who would a few months later become known across the Internet as “Science Mike.”

I did join Mike and his friends for dinner. We went across the street to a house that they were renting for the week and sat on the rooftop patio, sharing stories of faith and doubt, enjoying good food and beautiful Southern California weather. Mike graciously shared his own struggles, listened as I articulated my own, and helped me understand that my journey of faith was not over but was rather taking an unexpected turn that could be a healthy and necessary step toward personal growth. I left that rooftop patio feeling more hopeful than I had in a very long time. I would go so far as to say that Collective Church would likely not exist today if not for that conversation.

It is now three years later (to the day, actually), and Mike’s first book—Finding God in the Waveswas released last week by Convergent Books. In the book, Mike shares his story with readers—a story about journeying from a childhood faith, to Atheism, and back to Jesus through an encounter on that very same beach in Southern California where he and I first met. In fact, reading the book, I feel almost like I am back on that rooftop, being filled with a fresh word of hope while listening to an encouraging story of faith and rediscovery.

Finding God in the Waves is divided into two halves: the first half of the book is Mike’s story, the same story he shared with me on the Laguna rooftop, and the same story he’s shared on multiple podcasts (including You Made it Weird With Pete Holmes) and in multiple sermons around the country. It’s a moving, emotional story that lots of people—including more than a few pastors—will identify with and understand.

The book’s second half takes a more overtly cerebral posture, exploring the relationship between faith and skepticism—a sort of journey of “finding God in the cosmos,” if you will. He delivers on the promise set up by the Werner Heisenberg quote found on the book’s opening page:  “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

Both of the book’s halves are vital in understanding the power of the whole. This is one person’s story, but it is a much larger story as well—this journey is for anyone who has ever feared that they might need to leave their intellect behind on their journey toward authentic faith. The second half of the book requires more concentration, to be sure, but it’s worth it.

(At least it required more concentration for me. Lots of Mike’s readers are much smarter than I am. When I lost my faith, I hadn’t been reading Carl Sagan—I had been binge-watching Doctor Who on Netflix. So I think we can all agree that I’m not playing at the same level here. But anyway…)

It’s worth it because Mike offers the gift of rational thought paired with wide-eyed wonder at the unknown. There is a lot in the book that talks about brain chemistry, cosmology, astrophysics, and other science-y things (they don’t call him “Science Mike” for nothing), but there is also a lot of celebration of the great wide unknown—the idea that if God is real, the human mind can never fully understand or explain that God. So the true gift of Mike’s work—and there are several gifts to choose from—is that he creates space for both the deeply rational and the mysterious trans-rational all at the same time in the same place (the place, of course, being this book).

So if ever you have felt like your faith has hit a wall or you need new language to rediscover your own experiences with God, I highly recommend Finding God in the Waves. If you need to know that God can handle your questions, your doubts, and your curiosity, I would love for you to meet my friend Mike and hear his story. You might find that it reminds you of your own.