I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
On Wednesday evening, March 29, Dr. Francis Collins and Professor N.T. Wright spoke at the opening session of the second Biologos Conference on Christ and Creation in Houston, Texas. I attended the first conference, but could not make it to Houston, so we live-streamed the event. My wife and collaborator, Aniko and I were blessed to watch it with my Pastor, Martha Meredith and her husband, also my friend, Mark Meredith.
It was an exciting evening – the talks by these two giants in the science and Christianity dialogue were brilliant and provided a great deal of food for thought. I am sure I will come back to the content of what they said in future posts.
And then, after they had spoken and answered questions moderated by Andy Crouch, the two men picked up their guitars and sang two of their composed songs to the delight of the audience. It was not the first time that these two – one of the most eminent Biblical scholars of our time and one of the most eminent scientists – had picked up guitars and played and sang together. I was blessed to have been present at the first time this happened, back in April of 2013. It was also at a Biologos meeting, (where the photo was taken) a much smaller one, held in New York City. For several years, the Biologos Foundation held these workshops attended by about 100 invitees (mostly in New York) to present the Biologos vision of harmony between science and faith to a select audience of pastors, campus ministries, donors and others.
I had become acquainted with the Biologos past President, Darrel Falk, and he invited me to attend the 2013 meeting, and present a 15-minute talk about my unusual path to faith from militant atheism through science.
As the time approached for me to get up and give my talk, I was overcome with nervousness. The room was full of people I had known of and admired for several years. Besides Tom Wright and Francis Collins (who was also my boss at the NIH at that time), there was Dennis Alexander from the Faraday Institute; Jennifer Wiseman, past President of ASA and Director of the Hubble Space Telescope; Ted Davis and Jeff Schloss, two Biologos scholars and writers; Emily Ruppel, editor of God and Nature; Deb Haarsma, the new Biologos President, and many others. You get the picture.
Now, I had already had over 30 years of experience in public speaking as a scientist, including in front of Nobel laureates and formidable colleagues. I had become confident, and assured, and was rarely nervous. But this was different. I had done nothing of much value in this new field of science and faith, except one post and some comments in the Biologos forum, and a couple of articles in God and Nature. As I sat in the audience, visibly shaking, I thought to myself “I am nobody… I cannot do this.”
Providing worship at this meeting was a famous Christian musical group called Gungor. The leader (also called Gungor) had to leave early, but his wife, Lisa Gungor, and another musician were set to play in the interlude between one speaker and me. Lisa announced that they had decided to perform Amazing Grace. I could hardly breathe when I heard that. Amazing Grace was the first hymn I ever learned, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. At that moment, I knew I was the wretch who could only be saved by Grace. As they sang, I could feel myself calming down, and could feel the Spirit soothing my fevered soul. I let the tears flow, and when I was called to the podium, I was able to stand and walk. I began speaking about my upbringing as a communist atheist, and about how the study of science led me away from that folly. When I scanned the audience, I saw right in front of me, near the back, the smiling face of Tom Wright, and I thought – well if he is smiling, perhaps it isn’t going too badly.
I survived through the talk, and later got to meet all of the people I mentioned above, including Tom Wright, who was extremely kind. I did get a chance to run into Lisa Gungor, just before the conference ended, and I thanked her for choosing that hymn to sing at that time. She told me that they were originally planning to sing something else, but she changed her mind at the last minute. I said a prayer of thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit who has blessed me far beyond anything I have ever deserved. Amen.