Friday, May 21, 2010

Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith

It is like the first time I sang a Psalm that I had read and spoken for many years. Singing it was “the same, but different.” The words were the same, the meaning was mostly the same, but the music gave the words a new emphasis. So it is for me with this first work of fiction by one of my favorite authors, Marcus Borg.

Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith, by Marcus Borg, HarperOne, 2010, hardcover, 342 pages, $25.99.

Kate Riley is the main character of the book. In many ways she reminds me of who the author may be in real life. We can only truly write about ourselves and our own lives, even when we write what appears to be a fictional story. Kate Riley is a college professor of religious studies, as is the author. I wonder how many of the events described by the author in Kate Riley’s life have been a part of Borg’s life.

I have enjoyed Borg’s books about Jesus, Christianity, and our views on religion for many years. The Heart of Christianity, The Meaning of Jesus, The God We Never Knew, The Last Week, The First Christmas, The First Paul, Jesus, and his very popular Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. They are all works of non-fiction. Borg’s writing in them reminds me of an excellent college instructor. He states what he will tell you, then lays down the thoughts in a very orderly manner, and concludes with a summary of the main points. Clearly written, well researched, and organized.

In Putting Away Childish Things, Borg weaves the same information that I have read in his previous books into a gripping, page-turning story. My best test for his fiction writing occurred last night. Reading before bedtime nearly always puts me to sleep quickly. Last evening I was so engrossed in the events in Kate Riley’s life that I read longer than I had planned and was not ready to stop for the night. Borg has passed my test for engaging reading by keeping me engaged in the story line late last evening.

Kate’s life has encountered the two different ways of interpreting the stories in the Bible. The more conservative Christians, the ones who, in my humble opinion, have kidnapped the term Christian and defined it in their own narrow meaning, view the Bible as being the inerrant word of God. They believe that every word in the Bible is literally true and historically factual. The other group of more liberal minded Christians view and read Scripture as the story of human’s interactions with God as written in poetry, metaphor, parable, and as Borg writes in this book, as “overture.” In a symphonic piece of music the overture presents all of the major themes of the work in a condensed form and gives the listener a glimpse of the larger work of music that is to follow. Marcus Borg works through the lives of characters in his book to show the dynamics and theology of each view of the same Scripture.

For me, this work of fiction is the best way to read, learn, and think about theology, Christ’s life, and where we are in Christianity today.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is the relationship between social justice and worship in the local congregation?

I’ve known a congregation that appeared to me to worship the worship service. They spent huge amounts of time and money to make the worship service as perfect as they could. I thought that their priorities were misplaced. From what I know Jesus’ actions did not include emphasis on making the worship experience perfect.

Much of the Gospel record shows Jesus caring for the poor, those with illness, the lowly, those filled with demons, and feeding the crowds. I translate this to “social justice” actions by Jesus.

How much should the Church be involved in social justice issues compared to building the institution which is the Church, remodeling the worship space, and supporting the education and other programs that benefit the members?

In Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread, she describes how her congregation changed from the typical church worship activities to developing a total commitment to offering free food to the hungry.

Certainly St. Gregory’s, San Francisco, where the transformation took place, has swung far to the side of social justice issues. How far do our individual congregations go in serving the needs of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the outcast, prisoners, jobless, mentally ill who reside within our communities? As I see it, the commitment is something like our Lenten disciplines. We are doing something, but we could do more. It is so easy to gravitate towards taking care of the routine activities of the congregation and to put off pushing ourselves to help others in need.

John 21: 15-18
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Nonduality is rather more complex than can be explained in a brief blog entry, but humans are good at simplifying to the point of nonsense. I’ll give it a try.

There seem to me to be three states of spiritual consciousness.
1. There is only me and my surroundings. What I see and feel and experience is reality. Nothing else is. God is a figment of our imagination.
2. I am here and so are the trees, the dog, my residence, and “stuff.” God exists, “out there.” I go to church and God is there. God is in heaven. This is described as duality. There is the spiritual world and there is my world.
3. God as Spirit exists both out there and within me and within all things. At special times, when we are attuned to it, we can sense the unity of Spirit and our bodies. There becomes no difference between the All of God and our wholeness and our world. This is referred to as nonduality. (Actually, I feel this often, almost whenever I look up from what I am doing, or when I stop for a minute to just take in my surroundings. I know, I feel, that God is here, present.)

Some eastern spiritual traditions practice becoming aware of the nonduality of existence. Our western culture has been focused on the reality of the physical world. “Seeing is believing.” Rational thought and testable scientific evidence has more influence on us than spiritual existence and experiences.

Recently there have been some interesting scientific studies (reported in a magazine article that initiated these thoughts of mine) that compare brain activity while we are in two different “states” or mindsets. One is a meditative state, such as praying or emptying our active thoughts to dwell on inner peace. The other is active thinking activities such as problem solving. There are some early suggestions that the state of nonduality can be measured with magnetic imaging in some individuals. It appears that our brain functioning is different when we perceive God as part of us, and part of all that is, compared to when we think of God as separate from our individual lives and being.

Is there hope that the rational western modes of thought, including science, will be able to meld with some eastern spiritual modes of being that will find a harmony that includes nonduality?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is time changing or is it me?

The days and weeks seem to be flying by. I have always heard that relative time changes, speeds up, as we age. I wonder, why?

Could it be that I forget the time between events so that the events seem more compact? Am I slowing down so that it takes longer for me to accomplish routine activities that results in my sense that time is flowing faster? I don’t think so. But then, you know that the easiest person for each of us to fool is ourselves.

I’m reminded about the descriptions of traveling near the speed of light. As I remember it, the faster that an item travels in space the larger its mass becomes and the slower that time occurs to that object. Viewed from outside the object, such as to those of us on earth if we were observing a clock traveling near the speed of light as it traversed space, to us the clock’s time would slow down. A person traveling with the clock would age slower than the observers on earth and that person would observe her/his view as accurate and that time for us who are not traveling so fast would be speeding up.

Are we something like that when we age? No, I don’t think so. I can still keep track of a minute of time as well as younger people. Do you want me to come back and talk with you in about ten minutes? No problem. When I return we will both agree that it has been about ten minutes.

Then why has the last week and the past two months seemed to have passed by so quickly to this old guy I call me?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Faith and religion, the same thing?

Are religion and faith the same thing? I think that many people consider them the same and get mixed up in that thinking. From what I know faith is about our relationship with God. One’s faith is that belief, that trust, that God is there, exists, cares for you, listens to you. Faith is the relationship between you/me and God.

Religion is a system of beliefs and practices and attitudes that have been formulated by an institution. We join a religion, or a denomination within a religion. By joining it we accept and internalize the attitudes, practices, and beliefs of that religious system. This isn’t bad, in and of itself. Many learned scholars over the centuries have worked on defining and describing the beliefs, practices, and attitudes of each religion or denomination. It is a good thing to find one that fits you. By joining a religion you will be able to mold your life using the attributes of that religion or denomination within a religion.

Still, we have our own personal faith that is different from the religion to which we ascribe. If our lives are congruent, then our religion reflects our faith and our faith can grow through our practice of our religion. A disconnect between our faith and our religion causes incongruence in our lives.

Does our faith change as we mature, age, grow older, in the different stages in our lives? I think that it should change as we perceive the physical world and the spiritual world differently. Perhaps one of the stumbling blocks in our lives is when our faith evolves over the years but our religion does not accommodate our changing faith. Do we cling to the old religion and subvert our faith or do we change religious affiliations in order to keep our faith congruent with our religion? Perhaps we can find that our religion has a different lens than the one we have been using. Perhaps we can keep the same religion by looking at it through a different frame of reference as our faith matures.