Days of Awe and Wonder: How to Be a Christian in the Twenty-first Century
Marcus J. Borg
HarperOne (March 14, 2017), 293 pages
Kindle edition $12.99, Amazon paperback $10.80
Marcus Borg was one of the great thinkers in the realm of progressive Christianity. We lost him in 2015, far too soon. He wrote a number of books aimed at helping us fit Christianity into a modern framework.
The present volume is an anthology. It contains book excerpts, sermons, lectures, and blog posts. The themes are familiar: the historical Jesus vs. the post-Easter Jesus, reading the Bible without taking it literally, Jesus’s fight against the domination system, and so forth. There is nothing here that you won’t find in his other books.
Strictly speaking, I don’t know that this book was entirely necessary. However, The Christian Century thought it important enough to give it a featured review. And from my perspective, anything that keeps Borg alive in our memories and thinking is a Good Thing.
I did something old-fashioned a couple of weeks ago. I responded to a postal mail solicitation to subscribe to a physical, paper magazine. It was from The Christian Century to which I was a long-time subscriber. I let the subscription lapse, along with many other print magazines, when I was laid off in 2014. But I always enjoyed the publication, and the price was really good. In fact I looked for an equivalent price online so I wouldn’t have to wait so long for my subscription to start. I couldn’t find one.
So I wrote a check, put it in the return envelope, and mailed it off. Now I still have probably another four weeks or so before my first issue shows up. But it will be good to be seeing the magazine again.
This was originally intended as an email to Fr. Rob, our interim rector. But, I thought, Fr. Rob has enough to deal with. He has two funerals to plan and has to deal with the unexpected resignation of the chairman of our rector search committee. This in addition to all of his normal responsibilities. He doesn’t need to hear me kvetch right now. Fortunately my blog friends normally seem indulgent of my occasional kvetching.
This all has to do with Fr. Rob’s sermon on Sunday. I have noticed that he tends to take the Bible at face value. For example, he made reference to the end of the book of Mark, where Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” However, this comes from a passage that is not in the oldest manuscripts we have. Scholarship generally dates this passage to the early second century A.D., a few decades after the composition of the main body of the book.
The second reading for the past few weeks has come from the epistle I Peter. Fr. Rob seems to give the disciple/apostle Peter credit for this work, but modern scholarship generally dates that work to the early second century as well. I have to admit, however, that he is preaching a sermon and not teaching a seminary class.
The more disconcerting issue for me is Fr. Rob’s focus of late on evangelism. The Episcopal Church has long shied away from such a focus, in spite of the fact that the official name of the national church is the The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Our presiding bishop since November 2015, Michael Curry, is working hard to change this. Fr. Rob, based on what he said in a recent sermon, seems to have long believed in the importance of evangelism. He certainly addressed this clearly and directly on Sunday. He even used the “w” word: “witnessing.” That’s enough to send me running from the room screaming, though I didn’t. Too many memories of the minister and youth group at my Methodist church here in Hemet in junior high and high school.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating as it is something that I struggle with on an ongoing basis. I believe that temperamentally and theologically I fit better into the Reform Jewish perspective than anywhere else. That, however, is not my heritage. It’s not where I come from. And I do love Episcopal worship.
So I just keep on keeping on. And I appreciate greatly the leadership that Fr. Rob is providing in this time of transition.
My Toastmasters group meets at the Menifee United Church of Christ (UCC). We’re not affiliated with them; we simply rent the space. They’re a friendly group of people, and it’s a nice place to be.
One week as I approached the building I saw a sign for a New Birth Church situated beneath the Menifee UCC sign. When I drove into the parking lot I saw that a sign pointing New Life to the sanctuary and Menifee UCC to the fellowship hall had covered up the message board.
Menifee UCC is a something of a maverick congregation. They are a liberal church in a very conservative community. The pastor is socially progressive. He decided to go into the ministry after 9/11, and the church displays the rainbow flag rather than the United Church of Christ symbol. They have a dedicated core group of volunteers if the people we see on Thursday is any indication, but it seems that they don’t have a large enough congregation to maintain the facility on their own.
I applaud them for sticking to their values, and if renting their sanctuary to another congregation helps keep them afloat, they are doing the right thing.
As I discussed yesterday, when I look at the statistics for this blog I see some recurring themes with respect to those who find this blog via search. One of my blog entries that keeps popping up is one about Eucharistic Prayer C in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I went back and looked at it and I feel a little bit bad about that, because it’s not a very good blog entry. I don’t really say much at all there.
I think Eucharistic Prayer C deserves more attention than that. It is my favorite of all of the Eucharistic prayers. In the Episcopal churches I have attended the standard prayer on most Sundays is Eucharistic Prayer A. At Good Shepherd Episcopal here in Hemet, in the past year we have switched to Eucharistic Prayer B the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Easter. It’s a nice change, because it forces me to listen to the words, to read along in the prayer book, as opposed to the very familiar words of Eucharistic Prayer A. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a worship service where Eucharistic Prayer D was used.
For me, however, it is Eucharistic Prayer C that has the most powerful words.
God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of
glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.
But the prayer also admonishes us:
Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our
eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace
only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for
renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one
body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the
world in his name.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.
The words that stick with me are:
Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only,
and not for strength;
for pardon only, and not for renewal.
Those are words that I need to hear. And hear again.
I wish that I had the opportunity to experience Eucharistic Prayer C more often in worship, but it’s always there in the prayer book whenever I want to turn to it.
You can find Eucharistic Prayer C in the The (Online) Book of Common Prayer. Navigate: The Holy Eucharist > The Holy Eucharist: Rite II > Eucharistic Prayer C.
I somehow simply of fell into this. I sit in my chair and read the day’s Forward Day by Day meditation. Then I pull out my copy of the marvelous book, 2000 Years of Prayer, which I have owned for more than a decade and a half, and flip to a random page where I read a prayer or two or three.
Simple and straightforward. And so far it’s working.
I have always thought that the serenity prayer as we commonly know it (“God grant me the serenity…”), made popular by 12-step groups, to be rather trite and trivial. That is no doubt due in part to its ubiquity and for me perhaps due also in part to it being shoved at me in my younger, much more impatient days.
Back in March, I wrote about a new serenity prayer written by James Martin, a Jesuit priest. I have kept it framed on my wall since around that time, and I commend it to you. I have recently been thinking about the original, complete serenity prayer, however. It was written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Given the current political climate and the state of the world in general, I have pulled it out of my electronic archives, and it is now on my study wall directly below the James Martin version. For me it is much more powerful than the oft-repeated version.
For your consideration:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.