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Salt Lake City congregation embraces the mysteries of both science and religion

Published August 4, 2016 6:41 am

'Science Slam' • Mount Tabor Church meetings look for ways to facilitate the "marriage of two mysteries."
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For Chris Jensen, science and religion are like "the marriage of two mysteries."

A biologist and senior laboratory specialist with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Jensen said his work enriches and reinforces his Lutheran faith.

Science looks at objects large and small, he said, and God is present in all of them.



"Things just work really, really elegantly and beautifully together," he said. "Whether you take faith as the answer to that or not is individual."

Jensen is a member of Salt Lake City's Mount Tabor Lutheran Church, where the interplay between science and faith — often seen in conflict — is encouraged and celebrated.

Each week, after formal services, Mount Tabor hosts "Science Slam" — one part social hour and one part academic lecture.

In the past month, topics have included weather patterns, music theory and a discussion led by Jensen on the structure and function of cells.

Lutheranism, as a branch of Christianity, is rooted in academic inquiry through the reform efforts of Martin Luther, Jensen said.

And that embrace of academia is bolstered further at Mount Tabor, which is located seven blocks west of the University of Utah.

"With our proximity to the university, we have a lot of members of the scientific community who are here as members of the worshipping community," Jensen said.

For Pioneer Day on July 24 — or its unofficial spin-off holiday Pie and Beer Day — University of Utah bioengineering research assistant professor David Warren led a discussion on fermentation.

Warren's presentation was titled "What Would Jesus Brew?" but he said he was unable to arrive at a definitive answer to the question.

"I tried to find references to beer in the Bible — there's a lot for wine," Warren said. "It is up in the air what Jesus would brew."

On Sunday, a group of roughly 30 people sipped coffee while Tina Black explained the science behind magnetic resonance imaging.

Black, an MRI technologist with Primary Children's Hospital, described how MRI scanners rely on protons within water molecules to create an image of the human body.

And the magnetic field produced by a scanner, she said, is strong enough to throw a bobby pin at freeway speeds.

"I've had a couple pocket knives fly out at me," she said.

Medical imaging reveals things people don't want to see, like brain tumors or other cancers, Black said, but it also helps doctors and patients fight disease.

"God gives us technology to help these kids," she said. "We're making a difference in a little way, even though it doesn't feel like it."

Black finished her presentation by reading Proverbs 17:22, which says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

The weekly Science Slams started informally last year, with Mount Tabor's Pastor David Nichols regularly meeting with members of the congregation to discuss academic subjects.

Nichols began a three-month sabbatical in June, studying the relationship between theology and science, and the Mount Tabor Congregation Council decided to continue the discussions in his absence.

"A lot of our members are scientists or are engaged in the medical field," said Lee Kreutzer, an archaeologist with the National Park Service and president of the congregation council. "I thought it would be an opportunity to learn about their work and when they're willing to speak about how that integrates with their faith."

Faith traditions that renounce scientific consensus in favor of biblical literalism get more attention, Kreutzer said, but most Lutherans and people of other faiths are comfortable "in both worlds."

"They address different questions, and we just don't see them as being at odds," she said. "Certainly, as an archaeologist, I would have a hard time believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old."

Kreutzer said the council plans to continue hosting the Science Slams at least until Nichols returns from sabbatical in September.

Mount Tabor is also partnering with the Episcopal Diocese of Utah and the University of Utah to host a faith and science conference on campus next year.

bwood@sltrib.com

Twitter: @bjaminwood

 

 

 

 

 

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