Review of Finding God In The Waves by Mike McHargue (@sciencemike)
I found it a little bit difficult to figure out which memoir I really wanted to write about. There’ve been so many recently my life that literally changed my worldview. I’d like to start by mentioning a few that were in the running in case this review resonates with anybody – there are some others that I think really deserve a chance. Bitten by a camel by Kent Dobson is another recent read along a similar vein. Kent is the son of the famous James Dobson who was at the helm of the Christian Coalition and 1980s conservative Christian scene. One of my favorite memoirs ever – blue like Jazz by Donald Miller must be mentioned for its soul-searching honesty by just another regular churchgoers like you and I. Searching for Sunday by Rachel held Evans is also an honest look at life in the church from the viewpoint of the pew. I think most of my other memoir’s that I love are fairly well-known so I don’t feel like I really need to mention many more of them. For those of you that feel like you’re curious about God but church and the religious status quo kind of piss you off… The books I mentioned above are pretty good start. Once you find these and start finding other people that have read similar authors, you will find your way home.
Finding God In The Waves is a memoir about a very dedicated Southern Baptist from Florida who enters a crisis of faith and becomes an atheist, and then finds his way back into faith again. I remember when I first heard a podcast by Mike and heard his story; how much it resonated with me. He, like myself, had devoted himself to the typical American church experience. He served faithfully in his church, led Bible studies, was actively involved in ministry for years, and his whole worldview and family life was based upon this kind of deep involvement. It really does become your world. What this means for many people on the inside of the church is that it is really scary to ask questions and doubt. When your whole world is based upon this shared religious experience you have with the community, questioning your faith in your faith experience is a lot like making a decision to run away from your family. That may sound dramatic if you’ve never been really deeply involved in something like a church where your whole life revolves around that shared experience, a for many of us this is exactly how it feels.
Mike’s crisis of faith revolves around his father’s affair, similar to how mine revolved around my wife’s affair. He, like I, thought that if he could just find the right first, the right words… He could talk his dad into honoring his vows to his mother. I thought the same thing with my wife. And as Mike began to really dig into his Bible to find answers, what he found were questions instead. These questions began to shake at a religious foundation that avoided the weaker parts of his faith through confirmation bias, as well as a subconscious, but very organized and consistent echo chamber that most religious people live in. Once he read the Bible straight through – without the blinders provided by commentary – he bumped into the beautiful mess that is the Bible. But since his faith was built on the Bible being essentially synonymous with God, when the Bible failed to be “the living, active word of God” marked by perfection, consistency, and inerrancy… God himself quit living and being active for Mike. I have had the opportunity to experience the same crisis of faith and it is scary and heartbreaking. In this way, Mike’s story really resonated with me and brought back some really scary feelings and thoughts that I thought I had completely processed away. The honest way that he shared his struggle and internal dialogue was really impressive – his ability to be honest and keenly self-aware was a great read.
Interestingly, through a very strange set of circumstances Mike found himself at a Christian conference listening to a speaker named Rob Bell – a provocative and controversial figure in the church who has deeply influenced my understanding of God and the world. Mike essentially stands up in disagrees with Rob in the middle of his talk – pointing out the inconsistencies and impossibilities of Rob’s worldview. But instead of challenging Mike or defending himself, Rob just said “Thank you. Thank you for your honesty, and for helping all of us in this room understand the challenges you have with embracing these mystical experiences we all try to share.” Mike was sure he would be roasted by this crowd of religious people, but others spoke up and shared their questions and doubts as well. I won’t ruin the story for anybody reading this that may enjoy the book – but I will say that at that point, just with the acceptance of his questions, the church doors opened again to Mike. People rarely have a problem with God – it’s normally just his kids that piss them off. That certainly was the case for me as well. Mike and I both had a good relationship with the church – but both of us also came to a place where we realized that a lot of what we thought was a solid foundation turned out to be smoke and mirrors.
I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Even if you don’t have a church history, it might give you a little bit of a peek into what it is like to be on the inside. Honestly, it’s weird for us, too. But just as Mike found his way back to God without all the trappings of religiosity in church bullshit, there is a way to hold on to the beauty, mystery, and wonder that I think most of us long for without having to check your brains at the door.
An additional note – Mike is also part of a podcast called the liturgists with Michael Gungor- a former pastor who seems to still be wrestling with where he stands on the faith question. Mike gives a quick summary of his story in the two-part series called Lost And Found.