You say Jesus loves the little children
And I say I know that’s true
I say he loves all the Muslims and the Jews
All the addicts and the porn stars too
You say Jesus died to save us all from a fiery hell
I say Jesus died to save us
Save us from ourselves
Will you save me from myself?
"We sacrificed 4,415 of our military personnel in Iraq to save Muslims, and there are thousands of us still there tonight to protect Muslims, but we don't want Muslims to open a combination culinary school and prayer space in Manhattan?"
Yes, this is a book review of sorts, but let me start out with my own "Marcus Borg story", and tell you why I felt like I owed it to Marcus--a man I've never met--to read this book.
The setting for the story (mine, not Marcus's) is Albuquerque, New Mexico, at last year's Emerging Church Conference hosted by Richard Rohr, et al. We had a unique blend of people at our table, we all seemed to click immediately, and the conversation was authentic and deep right from the start.
I shared parts of our story with my new friend Marianne, and we seemed to really connect. We traded snippets of our spiritual journeys, and that's when Marianne asked me if I had heard of Marcus Borg. I told her I had, but I hadn't read much of his work. She asked why, and I told her that in the circles that I had spent much of my life (worshiping, studying, etc.) Marcus was generally viewed as "too liberal". She pressed me further. I told her that I had heard negative comments on Marcus's view of the immaculate conception, the resurrection, and also his participation in The Jesus Seminar.
That's when Marianne smiled at me and said, "The reason I ask is because I'm married to him."
I looked closely at her name tag, which I had ignored up until that point. Her name was Marianne, all right - Marianne BORG.
Open mouth. Insert foot. Bite down for all you're worth.
I must tell you that Marianne was gracious as she smoothly let me off the hook, and we've kept in touch by email. So, when I heard that Marcus had a new book out, and that it was his first book of fiction, I knew I had to read it!
OK... now to Marcus's story.
Although a work of fiction, rumour has it that much of the content of Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith is reflective of Marcus' own experience as an academic and theologian. He is professor emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University, where he held the chair in Religion and Culture, while his primary character Kate Riley is a popular religion professor at a liberal arts college in a small midwestern town.
Kate's classes are some of the most popular on campus, and she addresses a number of the hot button subjects--Jesus, the Bible, and homosexuality,etc.--candidly and honestly with her students. Even as Kate is up for tenure, she starts to feel the heat from an ironic coalition of parents, some who fear that she is "too religious" and other, Christian parents who think that she is "too liberal". Go figure.
Along the way we are introduced to one of Kate's students, Erin Mattison, a new Christian and member of a campus evangelical group called The Way, who is honestly questioning much of what she has been told about faith in Christ. While unsettled by some of Kate's teaching, she loves the class and the new found freedom to question that it encourages. In contrast, Erin's friend and fellow Way member Amy is also in the class, but seems more interested in monitoring Kate's teaching, and keeping an eye on Erin to make sure she doesn't stray off the path.
While all this is happening Kate is invited to apply for a visiting professorship position at a prestigious seminary, a move that her current employers are not supportive of. What should she do?
This is good writing. The story is well constructed, and the character development is excellent. These folks and their circumstances are believable, which is a testament to Marcus's abilities as there is a lot going on in a relatively short period of time. Surprisingly, this book is also a good resource as he has worked into the storyline several prayers, reflections and quotes that I know I will return to often. I highly recommend this book... perhaps particularly for people like me who have not had well-rounded exposure to Marcus's teaching before.
And beyond the story itself, I love the fact that Marcus has written this book in this genre. In an era where many of us within the faith refuse to listen to the theology of those we deem (or have been told are) too _________ (you fill in the blank), we need more story. Don't tell me what you believe, show me how it impacts and guides people's lives. Tell me a story. I hope we see more fiction from the pen of Marcus Borg.
We are returning to an age of narrative, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Highly recommended.
Check out the book from Amazon here Read the press release here Browse the book at HarperCollins here Read more about Marcus Borg and his work here
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book free of charge from the good people at HarperCollins. As always, you get my opinions, positive or negative. A free book doesn't change that.
Mike's Note: Earlier this year I had the painful privilege of walking the streets of the old city of Hebron with members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) based there. I'm fairly certain that the photo above (which I've posted before) is of the razor wire barricades that separate the Palestinians from Shuhada Street. I guess that's part of the reason why this reflection is so painful for me to read. It came through from CPT a few days ago.
Shuhada Street: Keeping the quiet (when there’s no peace to be kept) By Sarah MacDonald (CPT Hebron)
“Excuse me!” the Israeli soldier called to us. “You can’t walk down that street."
Elizabeth and I turned toward him, questioning. “We can’t? But the German tourists here earlier walked this way,” Elizabeth recalled.
“I walked down the street three days ago,” I added. “No one stopped me then.”
The soldier shrugged. “We can’t let CPTers walk on this street. That’s the order we’ve been given.”
The street in question was Shuhada Street, once a central route and thriving marketplace for the Palestinian community in Hebron. Since 1979, ideologically radical Israeli settlements have grown along the street. Often the settlers have harassed and attacked their Palestinian neighbors.
In November 1999, the Israeli military closed Shuhada Street to Palestinians. They locked or welded shut the doors of Palestinians shops. Even the Palestinian residents who still live on Shuhada Street can no longer use their front entrances. Instead they must take back exits and circuitous routes to stay off the street, sometimes even climbing ladders or ropes and crossing rooftops to get in and out of their homes.
In 2004 U.S. Aid renovated Shuhada Street with the intention of opening the street to all Hebron residents. Yet to date the street remains closed to Palestinians, while Israeli settlers freely walk and drive along it. Palestinians, supported by Israeli and international activists, have launched a campaign to “Open Shuhada Street” and end this example of what they consider “Israeli apartheid.”
Usually internationals are allowed to walk the street. But CPTers, apparently, fall into a different category, with our recognizable bright red caps and our known support of Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
“The order is specific to CPT?” Elizabeth questioned the soldier. “So if I take off my CPT hat, I could walk down the street?”
“You could,” he acknowledged, “because then I wouldn’t know you’re with CPT.”
Elizabeth and I didn’t need to walk Shuhada Street that day. We could—as Palestinians habitually must—take a longer route to our destination. But we wanted to challenge even this small cog in the machinery of the Israeli occupation of Hebron.
So we pressed the soldier to explain the rationale for the order. “It’s to keep the peace,” he finally told us. “We don’t want any trouble with the [Israeli] settlers who live here.”
“I wouldn’t call that peace,” I objected. “Your order seems more about keeping things quiet.”
To my surprise, the soldier agreed with my shift in words. “Yes, it’s about keeping the quiet.”
“I know you’re only following the orders you’ve been given,” I continued. “But isn’t there something wrong in this order? If you’re worried that we will make trouble, then it’s appropriate to keep us off the street—”
The soldier shook his head, even grinned: he wasn’t worried about trouble from CPTers.
"But if you’re concerned that settlers might give us trouble, then there's something upside down in us being the ones barred from the street," I concluded.
“Of course it’s upside down,” the soldier admitted. “Everything here in Hebron is upside down. The system is wrong—I know that, you know that—but what can we do? We have to follow orders. There’s nothing we can do, except keep the quiet as much as possible while we work toward a solution.”
Yet keeping quiet rarely moves us toward genuine peace. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the real obstacles in a liberation struggle are the moderate people “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” those who prefer “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Someday, I believe, Palestinians will again walk down Shuhada Street. In this and many other ways, they will experience the equality and dignity rightfully theirs. But the journey to reach that day of justice will not be quiet.
(See CPT photos from a recent Open Shuhada Street Protest here)
(Reuters) - Dozens of U.S. billionaires pledged on Wednesday to give at least half their fortunes to charity as part of a philanthropic campaign by two of the world's richest men -- Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. (Link to full article here)
I assume most of you have heard of this initiative by now. Over 40 of the richest folks in the United States have taken the pledge to give away at least half their wealth during their lifetime or after their death, and to publicly state their intention with a letter explaining their decision. Based on their collective estimated net worth, Forbes magazine projects that as much as $150 billion may be up for grabs.
As you might have guessed based on my odd resume, I’ve got a few thoughts on the subject.
First, this is fantastic. Many great organizations are going to benefit from these unprecedented acts of generosity, and much good work will be done. I applaud these individuals, and especially Gates and Buffett for orchestrating this. (Go to The Giving Pledge to see the full list and read some of the inspiring pledge letters.)
Second, I’m a little worried about how this will impact “philanthropy for the little people”. Will you and I continue to write $25 or $100 cheques, perhaps discouraged by the relative insignificance of our gifts? Those smaller cheques are the bread and butter for many good organizations that may never see a nickel of Michael Bloomberg’s money. In short, do we think this relieves “the rest of us” of our responsibilities, and does it also rob us of the great privilege of giving to others?
Third, I wonder about the psychological impact of this endeavor on giving in general. Are we going to walk away from this thinking that we need to have a cool billion in the bank before we can afford to give away a significant portion of our net worth? With all due respect to these generous individuals, it takes a lot more courage to write a cheque for $30 when all you have is the $60 in your bank account than it does to give away half of multiple millions. Yes, 50% is 50%, but the personal impact of the gift is inversely proportional to the size of your total wealth.
Finally, as I’m writing this from the perspective of a Follower of Jesus, I can’t help but think of the story of the widow’s mite:
Sitting across from the offering box, he (Jesus) was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all."
(Mark 12:41-44, The Message)
It seems to me that Jesus was either really, really bad at math, or he was more interested in the giver’s heart, and yes, their courage, than he was in absolute dollar amounts.