Thursday, March 29, 2012

Being Known: Science & Faith at Emerging Christianity

A spacious openness to possibilities by both speakers marked another sizzling Meetup event for the Emerging Christianity Conversation in DC. About a hundred people packed the U Street Busboys & Poets on March 28th to hear Psychiatrist Curt Thompson and NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty discuss their books on science and spirituality.

This is your brain on love, justice, and mercy
Thompson told us that neuroscience shows that the way we relate to each other, through our attention and the stories we share, rewires our brains.  Therefore the most important choice we make is which "biggest story of all" we tell ourselves and others. None of us can be absolutely certain how and why we're here. But all of us want a better world. Therefore we should consider adopting a story that takes into account everything we know and produces the most love, justice, and mercy in the world. "For me," he said, "that story is the story of Jesus as told in the Biblical narrative."

It's rare to hear this kind of spaciousness around our choice of beliefs. And when I do hear it, it's usually from peers who have decided that the "Biblical narrative" is the story least likely to make a better world. So I was on the edge of my seat for the perspective from this doctor who prescribes spiritual practices for his patients.

Thompson is author of "Anatomy of the Soul: surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships." He is also the founder of Being Known, which seeks to help people "explore the integral relationship between deep, meaningful connections with God and others--being known--and the development of healthier minds, healthier communities and ultimately, a healthier world." Being Known posits that we most help others grow when we listen with interest and compassion to their stories. As one example, he told us that most sociopaths did not receive compassionate attention in their first 18 months of life, and thus their brains don't spark emotion centers when viewing images of harm to others.

Science and Faith
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty started her remarks by following the brilliant instructions of Meetup coordinator Glen Zuber to tell the experience that led to her interest in science vs faith. She told of interviewing a cancer survivor whose illness became a spiritual journey. During that interview, both women suddenly felt a warm, moist, compassionate presence in the room. It was so startling, that it launched Hagerty on a career of interviewing scientists about transcendent experiences.

Her book, "Fingerprints of God: the Search for the Science of Spirituality," examines scientific findings on questions like why some people are more spiritual than others; whether our brains have receptors for spiritual communication;  and if is there any evidence for God at all. One scientist told her, "Neurons fire in you're brain when you feel love. But that doesn't mean love isn't a real thing."

Listening in a (tag) cloud
I experienced the evening as one of those "tag clouds" often seen in blogs, with the speakers' words ringing bells of crossover interest with my own passions and those of my Integral Emergence Meetup. For example, one of the regular SPIRITUAL PRACTICES that my INTEGRAL group engages in is Waking Down, a GROUP PRACTICE in which we simply LISTEN WITH COMPASSION to the STORIES each person tells. Also, my book tells MY STORY of encountering CHRISTIANS who do not believe in evolution, but who believe that the BIBLICAL NARRATIVE leads to the most LOVE, justice, and mercy in the world--an experience which birthed my interest in shifting focus from our BELIEFS ABOUT GOD to our SHARED EXPERIENCES OF GOD.

More grist for a practice group
I bought both Thompson and Hagerty's books. They're sure to provide grist for the project I'm considering of building a practice group around Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality.

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