Over spring break of my freshman year of college, I headed south along with a dozen or so other students, to San Antonio, Texas for a service project and community outreach. Over the course of our time there, the church staff we worked with repeated one phrase again and again. As they encouraged us to navigate the tension we might feels as Christians living in a way different from the world, they assured us over and over when it came to our countercultural beliefs:
“You’re not crazy. You’re not crazy. You’re not crazy.”
I hadn’t thought of this trip, or this well-worn assertion in years. But this past week as I read and highlighted, underlined and starred what felt like 80% of Mike McHargue’s new book, Finding God in the Waves, as I turned each page and tracked with each twist in his story and shift in his theology, I felt like I was hearing the same gentle and insistent message.
“You’re not crazy.”
Finding God in the Waves is one part memoir, one part science and one part theology. It’s the story of Mike McHargue and his faith journey, from being raised in a Southern Baptist Church—a church he loved and revered and found his faith footing in—to his parent’s unexpected divorce creating a personal crisis that ultimately led to a faith crisis. It tells of Mike’s love for science and how when his faith seemed to be coming apart at the seams, science saved him. It’s the story of leaving his faith, of becoming an atheist and ultimately of his journey back to a Christianity that allowed science and his faith to coincide in a way that had never seemed possible.
Mike’s book is fearless and introspective. It is smart and it is personal. It is honest and it is real. And it is a resounding “me too” for anyone who has ever asked—or been too afraid to ask—the looming questions of faith. For anyone who has wondered but never voiced the things that feel impossible to believe, but seem essential to believe when it comes to Christianity, Mike’s words echo, over and over again, until the questions no longer feel stifling, the doubts no longer feel terrorizing, the loneliness in the wondering no longer feels isolating, “You’re not crazy, you’re not crazy, you’re not crazy.”
This may seem a strange message for some who don’t feel particularly crazy about some of the things they have spent their childhood and then adulthood believing. But it turns out, there may be more people in that position than we realize—even if we aren’t one of them.
According to his book, Mike says, 42% of Americans will undergo a faith transition at some point in their lives. Obviously the degrees of transition vary, but that statistic blew me away. Because that means there are more people like Mike sitting in our pews, in our rows, around our tables and in our homes than we may realize. People who are fearful to ask their questions or confront their doubts, because they are uncertain what that might mean for the relationships with their families and their faith community. People who feel God is dangling by a perilously thin thread and may disappear all together with one wrong move.
That’s what makes Mike’s story one worth telling. Because his is a testimony of being bold enough to take the chance, and realizing, the questions aren’t what kill your faith. And the doubts aren’t what hurt you.
It’s the silence surrounding them.
He gives hope to the rest of us. He puts words around the tensions we feel. And he comes out on the other side okay. Not pain free. Not unscathed. But a disciple as best he knows how. A believer as faithfully as possible. And a model of how to live in the unresolved.
Several years back, I read about a Hebrew tradition that suggests, when it comes to the text of Scripture, it is like black fire on white fire. Essentially, from what I understand, the words of the text say something, but so does the white space between the letters and the characters. That in Scripture, there is the story told in the actual words, and the story told between those words.
Ultimately, I think this is true in every story—that there’s a story read in the words, and the one being experienced in the spaces—and this phenomenon is the best gift this book has to give. I starred and underlined countless quotable lines and memorable stories, paragraphs of black letters forming beautiful imagery and insightful science. But the heart of the story wasn’t found in the words. The heart of the book was in the white space, between the words, in the palpable emotion as Mike wrestles with leaving behind a faith that had shaped his family, his marriage and his life trajectory. And it’s in the white space that you encounter hope of resurrection, promise of a new life and a new faith amid the rubble of his old one. The black space tells the story. The white space reveals the heart. And the two together are a testimony to a God big enough to work in and among our fiercest uncertainties.
You’re not crazy. But even if you were, Finding God in the Waves reminds us you aren’t alone. And that’s even better.