As Seen on TV?

David Vanderveen, Rob Bell, Pete Holmes, Glenn Rogers and me after the show.

David Vanderveen, Rob Bell, Pete Holmes, Glenn Rogers and me after the show.

I might be on TV Sunday night.

My friend Rob Bell as a TV show premiering on OWN this Sunday at 8 PM Eastern. I went out to LA for the taping, and it was a really great experience. Rob gives people the language they need to view the world in a new light, and make real change in their lives.

As part of that taping, Rob called on me and asked me a couple of questions about the brain and the Universe that tied into the theme of the program. Of course, there's a good chance that exchange will end up on the cutting room floor–I've worked in media long enough to know how that works. Either way, I can tell you it's going to be a great program, and there's a red beard/white chin in the audience.

I'd love to watch the episode with you. I'll see you on Facebook and Twitter.

Advent with The Liturgists

Some people may question the wisdom of releasing our Advent liturgy  two days before Christmas. Those people are probably smart.

But November was busy...

And our audience kept asking...

But most important of all, inspiration struck. So, just a few days ago we decided to do a release. It's caused a breakneck schedule, and frankly it could have resulted in some pretty terrible work.

But it hasn't. Somehow, everyone involved in this release had something they *had* to share, some flash of feeling about what God with us, peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men means. Somehow, we made what I think this is the most powerful release we've done. Every track has moved me to tears.

Amena contributed a poem that is poignant and powerful. Michael and Lisa have a song, Oh Light, that sits in the space of "God with us" and reflects the transcendent tones of the idea. Michael and I put together a couple of Ignation Spiritual Exercises that are easily the most powerful meditations we've produced.

And I haven't even heard what The Brilliance, Sleeping At Last, and Jason Morant have come up with yet. I may not hear those tracks before you do–but given the work of those artists can't wait to.

It's nutty that we're releasing an Advent work the week of Christmas. We don't even have cover art yet! But I hope you guys get nutty with us. This is our best work to date.

Exciting News About My Work

I was standing on the curb at an airport a few weeks ago. My phone dinged as I got an email from someone who wanted me to come speak at a conference. As I started to tap out a reply, a car pulled up beside me–it was my ride. I was in town to speak at a church.

I put my bags in the trunk, and got in the passenger seat. Before we could even start talking, my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw it was my contact for the next event I was speaking at. I offered my host an apologetic frown and said, "This could be important, do you mind if I take it?"

My life is on a bizarre, wonderful trajectory. Stories like the one above have become common. I am in the fortunate position that people want me to come share my story and insights with their churches, colleges, and conferences. I take these opportunities seriously.

Anytime some invites you to speak to a group, they are lending you their credibility. All the people in the audience are giving you their most precious commodity: their time. So, I work hard at giving my absolute best every time I speak or share. But, preparing a talk isn't the only work involved in sharing to a group.

A remarkable number of details have to allign for any event to be a success. So, I put special emphasis on being easy to work with, and being responsive in the planning process. I've found that as your work grows, it gets more difficult to both do a great job being present on a platform while being responsive regarding upcoming events. Plus, I'm just not qualified to manage all the details that go into larger events–a lot of the questions people ask me are new to me.

Science + Faith Forum, Granger Community Church

Science + Faith Forum, Granger Community Church

Several friends encouraged me to work with a management company, but I've heard enough nightmare stories about unresponsive partners to be cautious. It wasn't just that, though. I was also doubtful any serious company would take me on. There is always a voice inside that whispers, "Who are you, anyway?"

Despite that voice, my good fortune continues. I am thrilled to announce that I'm working with Chaffee Management Group now to handle my booking and event execution. I can't overstate how amazing this is. I would have laughed in your face if you would have told me a year ago that one day I'd be working with the team that develops Rachel Held Evans, Bob Goff, Sarah Bessey, Cathleen Falsani, Steve Taylor, Matthew Paul Turner or the other folks with Chaffee Management Group. These are people whose work I admire, and who are contributing fresh words into the Church today.

If you're looking for someone to talk about what happens when science and faith meet, doubt, athiesm, or how neuroscience can change how we pray, follow this link. Jim Chaffee has the experience and mentality to make sure your event is a success, and I'd be honored to be a part of what you've got planned.

So, all you readers and supporters: thanks for taking this journey with me. I couldn't do it without you.

Finally, as part of the process I asked a few friends and people who've invited me to speak to share a few words about thier experience. The responses below are more than an honor. They're also humbling beyond words.

“I honestly don't know whether I'd still be a Christian or not if I hadn't met Mike.  I consider him to be one of the most interesting and important voices in American Christianity right now.”

Michael Gungor, singer/songwriter in Gungor

"Science Mike is way too funny to be as smart as he is and way too honest, touching, insightful and entertaining to be ignored. What I mean is, I resent his multiple talents. Any time he's speaking my ears perk up like a dog hearing a can opener, and yours should, too. Also, feed your dog."

Pete Holmes, Comedian and host of You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes

"Mike McHargue is one of the smartest thinkers of our time. His understanding of the Universe, and its intricacies, is inspiring and beautiful beyond measure. I can only assume that as a child, he took all of his toys apart and put them back together again just to figure them out. With that same wonder and curiosity, he lays out every tiny, confusing piece of Science and Religion on the table, and we as his readers and listeners get to watch and learn as he pieces it all together.”

Ryan O’Neal, Sleeping At Last

"I was once at a party with Mike and I began asking him
questions about science or the brain or God or some similar
topic and when he responded something fascinating happened.
It was a fairly large party, with people in the living room where
Mike and I were, spilling out into the dining room and the kitchen,
but when Mike started casually answering my questions people
stopped talking to each other and started listening to Mike. 
And moving closer, and hanging on every word.
I don't mean to make this sound overly dramatic, but I've seen
Mike talk, both casually and more formally over the past few 
years, and this always happens: people lean and hang on his
every word. It isn't just the content of what he says, which blows 
people's minds, and it isn't just his clarity-he is an outstanding
communicator, it's something else. Something deeper, richer,
more profound-something involving his soul, his life, his integrity,
his heart. This is someone filled with wonder and awe, who looks
at the world and in the facts and pain and science and poetry 
and heartbreak sees something beautiful at work, and he has the
uncanny ability-maybe the better word would be power-to explain
and describe and articulate that something beautiful like few people I've ever heard.
Mike is a rare talent, a rare voice, a rare soul."

Rob Bell, New York Times bestselling author and speaker

“Mike McHargue's message reminds us that we can believe in God, love Jesus, and use our brains all at the same time. He speaks with knowledge, humor, and compassion for those of us whose faith journey has led to some very unexpected places. He helped me on my own journey, and I am willing to bet that there are people in your community that he can help as well."

Rob Carmack, lead pastor, Collective Church

“Mike’s presentation at Granger on neuroscience and prayer was unique, engaging, and insightful. We were trying to reach an eclectic audience of seekers and believers, academics and laypeople, and he connected across the board. The impact of his time is still being felt in the ongoing conversations and new steps of faith he provoked. But maybe the best part about Mike’s visit was that his humble, thoughtful demeanor on-stage was matched in every other interaction we had leading up to the event and during his time in town. He was a joy to work with. I can’t recommend him highly enough.”

Jason Miller, Teaching Pastor, Granger Community Church

“Mike is the best kind of nerd - an engaging storyteller that strikes the perfect balance of being both smart and accessible. His story and willingness to tackle difficult questions of faith and science is a gift to all of us.”

Carter Sample, High School Pastor, Hosanna! Lutheran Church

Christmas Shopping Sucks!

Christmas is almost here! That means the stores are packed, lines are long, and traffic is a nightmare. I've asked my friend and family to skip the department store this year, and get me a gift that will do good in our world. Maybe you'd consider asking yours to avoid the Holiday Hassle and help make a better world from the comfort of home, too.

I hear raised bed gardens for families in need are the "it" item this season.

Click here to visit the Church World Service catalog.

White Thoughts on Being Black

A tall, muscular black boy stopped me in the hallway at school when I was 12. I was an affluent, nerdy kid from a nice part of town, and he was an athletic, dominant kid from a poor neighborhood. He'd been "held back" a few times, so while he was only one grade level ahead of me, he was a few years older.

Most of the kids in school were afraid of him. I thought he was funny, and loved watching him bully the kids that usually bullied me. My admiration was remote though, and this moment in the hallway was the first time he'd even acknowledged me. I wasn't sure if this was a positive development or not. He put a hand on my shoulder and asked me a question, "Hey, are you prejudiced?"

Of all the sentences I expected to hear in that moment, "are you prejudiced" wasn't one of them. I pondered for a moment before answering as honestly as I could, "I believe racism is the product of weak minds and social ignorance."

What can I say? I've always had a way with words.

A funny thing happened: from that day forward, this guy always had my back. We were never close friends or anything, but we'd talk and sometimes sit together at lunch. That year was a turning point in my life. Anytime one of my long time bullies cornered me, there was my protector. He'd tell them, "That's my dog. If you want to fight him, you get to fight me first."

No one accepted his invitation. For the first time, I had the space to live a school life without bullying. I started to make friends, and that is the first year anyone signed my yearbook without making fun of me or insulting me with swear words. All because of a chance encounter in the hallway.

I've always loved black people. I write that sentence fully aware how it could be read, but it's true. In grade school, one of my only playground companions was a black kid who was made fun of almost as much as I was. I couldn't say that "some of my best friends are black," but I could say, "the only kid who'll go on the monkey bars without making fun of me is black."

I'm learning disabled, so I was in a remedial language arts class in the 9th or 10th grade (I can't remember which). I was one of two white students in the class. One day, the teacher was talking about speeches and she started talking about Martin Luther King and his "I Have a Dream" speech. She asked if any of the students could recite any of it.

So, I raised my hand. Our teacher looked at me, her eyes bearing the mark of confusion, before she said, "Do you have a question?"

"No ma'am. I know the speech."

"Do you really?"

"Yes ma'am. I memorized it over summer break."

"Why did you do that?"

"Because Dr. King made our world a better place."

And then I recited the speech, starting with, "I am not unmindful..." and ending with "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last." I allowed the words to move me. Toward the end, a tear rolled down my cheek.

The class went *nuts*. I mean absolutely bonkers. It was like something out of a movie or childhood fantasy. There was applause, shouting, and our teacher had to dry her eyes. I was even promoted to the honors program for the next school year.

Though I am as Southern as they come, I can tell anyone, with complete honesty, that I do not judge people by the color of their skin. I've never viewed myself as a white human, or someone else as a black human. My model of reality only accommodates "human," full stop.

For a long time I was proud of this. So proud, in fact, that I would sometimes tell my black friends about my highly sophisticated understanding of race. I was certain that over time, more and more white people would wake up and view the world like I do, then we'd be a post-racial society. One day, Martin Luther King's Dream would be Reality.

That was really stupid.

You see, you can only ignore race if society allows you to. I am an affluent white male, and society will pretty much let me do anything I damn well please as long as I don't harm other affluent white males or their possessions. What my black friends wouldn't tell me was they couldn't just view themselves as human. The world constantly reminded them they were black, but they didn't have the heart to shatter my idealism with words.

Instead, they showed me. They'd take me shopping, and I'd be shocked and confused that security would follow them around the department store, or the gas station. Or we'd walk down a city street at night, and a police office would look at me and ask if everything was alright. Not ask us, but ask me.

I wish I could say that this only happened in the Southeast, but I've watched my black friends have opposite experiences in identical locations all over the country–even California. It's not just my black friends, all my non-white friends have different experiences than I do.

I am "just a human being", but they are a race first. They can't "just drop the labels," because they can't put their hands in their pockets at a gas station without raising suspicions about shoplifting. My middle class black friends can't have their other friends of color visit them in their affluent neighborhoods unescorted or the police will get a call from a concerned neighbor.

These are the stories I've seen in my own life, but there are many others. Take a few minutes and read the #alivewhileblack conversation on Twitter, and you'll see that America isn't the same for non-white Americans.

We all bear the strain of being boxed in by stereotypes and generalizations–including affluent white males. Positive stereotypes have their own burden, just ask an Asian American who's not any good at math or a gay man with no fashion sense. But these burdens don't have life or death implications.

The systematic racism of American institutions does have life or death implications. The stories of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have brought the different experiences of white and black Americans when dealing with law enforcement to stark relief. Though the case of Michael Brown is wrought with confusion and controversy, Eric Garner's situation is less ambiguous: a peaceful father was harassed and then strangled to death on the street. A grand jury chose not to take that case to a trial.

I can't imagine the same decision would have been made if Eric Garner was white.

Likewise, I have no doubt that I'd have recourse if I felt harassed by a police officer–and God help any police department that gunned me down or otherwise ended my life in the street. Public outcry would be deafening if I were to die at the hands of law enforcement without offering a clear threat. I'm a successful, affluent white man with no criminal history.

The fact that there would be ramifications for any violence against me, while there is none for Eric Garner shows us that there is not true equality for all Americans. I am free to forget race, my black friends are not. I'm assured that any interaction with police will end in peace if I am not violent, my black friends have no such assurance.

It is not enough for me to forget about race. It is not enough for me to move beyond prejudice. I also have to acknowledge that the deck is stacked in a real way against people of color, and that our opportunities are not the same. Sometimes I forget how difficult that is for many white Americans.

But I've been reminded as I've tweeted about Michael Brown, Ferguson, or Eric Garner. I've found myself the target of both genuine confusion and bitter vitriol.

Many white people can't conceive that racism is a persistent and serious problem in America. They believe, like I once did, that because they are not racist, racism is no longer a serious problem. They are blind to systematic racism, and on some level offended when the topic of race is raised. It's easy to feel implicated in any discussion of race as a white person. It's vital to understand that saying systems or institutions have racial bias is not the same as saying all the people in those systems are racist.

And then there's the vitriol. I don't have a handle on where it comes from. All I know is there are some people who are very angry that I posted this:

Or this:


But #blacklivesmatter and #alivewhileblack have something to teach white Americans. Our view of society comes from a privileged position, and the work of racial reconciliation in America is not done. Our black President isn't the final triumph, and Oprah and the NBA aren't signals that the battle is won.

Black Americans are incarcerated at higher rates for the same crimes. They are more likely to experience harassment from law enforcement or security professionals. They have lower incomes, even when they do the same job as a white person. They have less access to board rooms and Wall Street than their paler neighbors.

It's time for white people to listen and to learn so that we can act with intention. It's time to stand with our black neighbors and friends and build that world where, "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

It's time to wake up and chase that dream, because that dream can only come to life if we all work on it together.

I believe that black lives matter. Do you?

photo credit: Ryan Sorensen via photopin cc