Recently I have taken up jogging, as part of a training program to get fit for a mini triathlon, and I do say mini triathlon. Now don’t laugh, as I certainly don’t look like a jogger. In fact a friend send me a Facebook message asking whether I still had the unique ability to jog yet do it at a walking pace. Mmmm, maybe! Yet I also see it is a way to change my outlook on life, improve my health, make some new friends and join a community of women all wanting to do the same thing. It’s not going to be easy, its part joy, part pain, which I have discovered already. Sweat and stiches, snail pace and blisters. A book I brought many, many years ago, and which I recently discovered, actually says it better than me. It called the Zen of running. “Running is not all ecstasy, all positive. Sometimes running is suffering intentionally for the sake of seeing, sometimes running is resisting and suffering unintentionally because we are human beings”. Let’s not make our running a fantasy, let’s let our running be real”
Let’s let our running be real.
Let’s let our Christianity be real.
On Friday we heard that Marcus Borg had died at the age of 72. For those who don’t know him, he was a prominent progressive liberal theologian and New Testament scholar, a member of the Jesus seminar looking for the historical Jesus, an incredible writer, and speaker, and above all a man of faith. He brought to his understanding of God and of Jesus eyes that were opened to the myth and poetry in the bible, and the history in the time of Jesus and of the following church. He presented to his many readers and listeners a faith story that could be discerned with 21st century eyes instead of 1st.
While he worked his entire life within different universities he was one of a few scholars in the 1980’s who wanted the research going on in these universities to spread to the mainstream Christian. So he started to write. I would have many of his books on my shelf at home. In all of them he gives us a Jesus far more political and socially active than is expected. He gives us a Jesus with heart, and with determination, who spoke in parables, who ultimately suffered a horrible death, but who reveals more deeply than anything the divine nature of God. A God of compassion and love, a God of justice and peace. What God, found within all of humanity, is calling us to be. Marcus Borg gave us a Jesus who could be and still is real to us.
So in pondering today’s sermon, I have decided that in order to honour Marcus Borg properly I will let him speak…
So I would like to play a sermon given by him, entitled “What Christianity is all about”. It’s found at this address.
Transformation, life giving transformation to a way of life that is loving. That’s what Christianity is about for Marcus Borg. Not creeds, or dogmas, or rules. A Christianity in the image of Jesus life and teachings rather than in some other time and place. And as in running or jogging in my case, it is not always easy, but there is as much joy as pain in the quest. As Jesus said to his disciples in Galilee, come follow me. And proclaim the good news of God’s love, discovering a richer larger life in the process.
It is this form of Christianity that we should be shouting about from the roof tops. Instead the church dithers, and quite often, as Borg suggests, argues about things we couldn’t possible know.
So as my heart is saddened at the loss of this most humble but influential voice I will finish by quoting from his final book, called convictions which grew from the sermon you just heard. He ends both the sermon and the book with these words,
“Imagine that Christianity is about loving God. Imagine that it’s not about the self and it’s concerns, about “whats in it for me”, whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life. Imagine that loving God is being attentive to the one in whom we live and move and have our being. Imagine that it is about becoming more and more deeply centrered in God. Imagine that it is about loving what God loves. Imagine how that would change our lives. Imagine how it would change American (Australian) Christianity and its relation to American (Australian) politics and economics and our relationship to the rest of the world. Imagine how it would change our vision of what this world, the humanly created world, might, could, and should be like ”
Marcus Borg points the way forward for those of us wanting a faith that we can live here and now. And he will always do so, for his books and talks will remain even if he has gone.
Well it’s finally happened. After months of uncertainty, lots of rumours, some sounding official, and attempts by many to prevent it, I have finally received an official letter. The Joint Replacement Assessment Clinic, or JRAC, is closing and we, its staff, are now without a home and really a job at the end of June 2015.
Due to financial pressures, changes in the way health care is seen in this State and the reconfiguration of RPH, services which have been productive, helped patients and been involved in clinical research are now deemed too expensive to maintain.
So here I am at a crossroads in life at 54! Not that RPH was my only job. For many years I have balanced numerous jobs, linked to my aversion to becoming too specialised. Over the years I have continued to teach anatomy at UWA, and for the past 5 I have worked at Wembley Downs Uniting Church as a pastor. This has not really been in a traditional sense, because Wembley Downs is not a traditional church. How could it be, letting a scientist with progressive liberal tendencies take the pulpit! But still I have been active in the life of the church.
So while I have been busy, some would say too busy, the combination seemed to work really well until quite recently, when all 3 jobs grew larger and more demanding. Yet there was something in the combination which raised each one higher than if it was on its own.
I have always enjoyed the combination of science and theology, for it reminds me that theology or the study of God is a life time and full time job. God is not found in churches only, and sometimes not at all. God or what we call God, that spirit or energy that enriches and drives us to be better than we all, is found everywhere in the midst of all of life. The good and bad, pain and anguish, in the mundane and in the spectacular, in the 9 to 5 day in, day out working lives we all lead, and in those special moments when what we are doing seems inspired. We encounter God in life, not just some aspects of it.
So I encounter God in science and in doing science.
Science is a beautiful subject, full of mysteries that we mere mortals have trouble comprehending, and profound and incredible discoveries. It is full of the beauty of the universe, and our home the earth, and all the creatures that live on or in it. Including ourselves.
It is also full of outstanding and astounding people. People who will not let the unknown perturb them but seek answers to questions that are yet to be asked. Who drive themselves to improve something that already exists or bring into being something that does not yet exist. Who seek to explain ourselves and our world better, so that we may become better people. Science is a home for dreamers and for those who can take those dreams and make them a reality. And who will persist often against incredible odds.
I wish I had been one of those scientists. Scientists who win Nobel prizes, who change the nature of the world and how we see it. But that was not to be.
As Isaac Newton said famously….
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
While we may not be able to save the world on our own, we can make our contribution. In my own little area, we take all the advances that have come before us and tweak them, trying to make that little bit of difference. What I have added isn’t much, but it is something that goes on the scientific pile, mulch for those coming after. And hopefully it has helped a few people.
So I feel sad that my scientific research days appear numbered. It seemed to make me a better minister. A more realistic, life giving minister. A better seeker of God.
For as Einstein said…
“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”.
So as one door shuts another might open. We shall see, but I never will give up the idea that science and faith are roommates, actually bedfellows. Science reveals God just as much as the church does. In what it discovers and in the people doing the discovering. And we are blind if we do not see it.
When I decided it must be time to write another blog, particularly as it is now 2015, I must admit I was a bit stumped. I had been preparing so hard for Christmas, for the celebration and for the service, I suddenly felt drained and worn out. It had been a big year…. I needed a holiday!
So I have had a few days away at Rottnest, a little Island of the coast of Perth, with beautiful clean beaches and very few cars. I went with my extended family and had a beautiful relaxing time. A break from responsibilities, commitments and God.
But God has a habit of reappearing just when you want to be rid of that nagging, compelling urge to be better than we are. For when we are on holidays we want to run away from all that is bad in the world, from all those who are suffering, and just look after number one!
But it doesn’t work out like that, well not for me anyway.
When I say God I don’t mean someone tapping me on the shoulder and asking me “what are you doing” in a rather accusatory voice, as though I have been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. But rather that sense that no matter where we are, or what we are doing, there is always a response we can choose which is loving, an action that is helpful and a thought that liberates rather than narrows us. The call from God is found within every lived moment of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. And pushes us beyond our individual lives into the lives of others.
In other words while we may go on holiday there is no time when God goes on a holiday from us. We are to be faithful to the call whatever we are doing, even if it is walking and talking, eating and drinking.
We returned from our break to find that Paris and the Charlie Hebdo magazine had been the subject of an atrocity that is hard to imagine. This follows on from the many others the world has had to endure throughout 2014. Death and destruction continues to haunt our globe and our citizens. We live at a time when we are called constantly to show love rather than hate, peace rather than violence and compassion rather than judgement and exclusion. We cannot go on holiday from these fundamental callings.
So I would like to start this year, 2015, with some quotes and continue the year sharing the wisdom of the ages with you all.
Firstly from Martin Luther King about violence…
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Then from Margaret Mead.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
And finally my most favourite quote from Carl Sagan. Often we forget that we live on a planet in the middle of a vast universe.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
We are bound together, so let us be bound together in love, and begin 2015 with hope. Although it is often tempting, we must never give in to the tide of helplessness, we will never be helpless if we work together.
Let us make it a year in which each of us can be driven to fight the tide of violence by living our lives in the light of love.