I am glad to be able to say that Marcus Borg was a friend of mine. We met on the first day of my seminary career. He was my professor of New Testament at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. He was the kind of teacher I loved – organized, clear and challenging. One of the things I remember most from those early days was the fact that he was the only professor I had in seminary who still expected students to pass a multiple choice exam. Of course there were essays and papers to complete but Marcus believed that there were some things you just needed to know – names, dates, intended audience! I thought it was a bit strange at the time but I’ve since been so grateful for that exercise! It has served me well over the years as a preacher and pastor.
Over the years, Marcus and Marianne became close personal friends of mine and, later of my husband, Lyle’s, as well. We have vacationed together, met at workshops and been on pilgrimage together. Always, I found Marcus to have an uncanny ability to be both a teacher and a student – a scholar with an amazing ability to listen to and affirm the wisdom or insight he heard in the voices around him. It mattered to Marcus that the scholarship in the academy be translated in real time in the local church. He seemed genuinely interested in the challenges I faced as a pastor and the thing I appreciated most about his work was that it was useable – in preaching and teaching. And the people with whom I work have been hungry for just this kind of practical, thoughtful, theological insight.
In May of 2016, I announced my retirement, effective in July, 2017. It was a 14 month warning which I thought was only fair since I have had the privilege of serving my current congregation for 23 years! As I thought about my last year, I realized that I have things I’ve learned and, after a long term relationship of growth and trust, I knew there are things I could say and observations I could make – and challenges I could offer – that someone else could not. My retirement provides an opportunity for reflection that I didn’t want to waste. As I considered what I might offer to the congregation, I was drawn to Marcus’ book Convictions. That book is classic ‘Marcus’ and it provides a marvelous vehicle for inviting people into a conversation about faith, theology, history and practice. Almost as soon as I advertised the class, it filled up and I am now teaching two sections! It has attracted both long time members and newcomers to the church. Our discussion has been lively and the reflections deep.
I suspect Marcus would be thrilled! Again, there are many things one could say about his scholarship and work but the thing I most appreciated was his ongoing engagement with the church – and we who work as pastors and preachers can be grateful for Marcus’ rigorous scholarship and pastoral sensibility.
The question for ongoing thought that I offer is the one I have offered my class. Whatever your age, what are 5 (or 6 or 10 or 20) convictions that you have come to believe and hold at this time in your life? And, if you have time . . . why are these important? And how have they changed over the years?