Category Archives: Book Excerpts

Keep Watch With Me – 12/1/19

This Advent season, I am journeying with a number of authors who contributed to Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers. It’s a book filled with daily reflections about what it means to be a peacemaker, while being one who longs for Christ and for the fulfillment of hope and the coming of Christ’s kingdom of peace.

Hope is hard. But, hope is necessary. A world without hope is dead. The coming of Christ, both in the past at his birth, and in the future at his second coming, promise us the coming of hope in our world…both in the here and now, and in the kingdom to come. We cannot know how or when this will happen. But we hope.

Advent is all about waiting. It is about patience, expectation, and longing. We wait in hope for the arrival of something better than what we have now. This is a joyful hope. But Advent is about ache too, because longing and waiting are also painful experiences.

One thing that brings me immense joy is knowing that others also are longing and waiting in hope for something better. We are not alone. We are blessed with community and rich traditions that bring us comfort and hope. “What choice do we have but to hope? The alternative is death.”

It is hard to hope in a world filled with seemingly endless hatred and violence. But, what else can we do but hope?

I wish you a blessed and joy-filled Advent season, even in the midst of a world longing for something better.

–Quotations from Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers, by Claire Brown and Michael T McRay.

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In Memoriam: Marcus Borg

It was back in 2008 that I discovered a book that would forever restore my faith in God: Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. I had recently made a rediscovery of my own: church. I had been absent from church for many, many years. I had most recently been in attendance at an evangelical mega church, which I stopped attending when I moved out of my parents’ house. The experiences at that church had left a bad taste in my mouth for organized religion (though, surprisingly, the people at that church reject the term “religion” and any sort of organization, even though it is all the same thing).

I had rediscovered church via my neighborhood Episcopal Church. The new rector (priest in charge) of the church had distributed friendly welcome letters to the neighbors, inviting all who sought a deeper relationship with God to join them for worship in a beautiful historic jewel of a chapel with a magnificent pipe organ and a diverse congregation that welcomed all seekers. It sounded perfect. My life has changed for the better since I walked in to that church.

Soon after I began attending the Episcopal Church, my visits to the local book store started to focus more on the Religion & Spirituality section. I remember finding Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, on one of the feature tables. The subtitle (Rediscovering a Life of Faith) stood out to me. I knew nothing of Marcus Borg, but thought I’d give the book a try.

I am forever grateful for the words Marcus wrote in this book. In the book, Marcus makes it quite clear that you can, indeed, be Christian and not believe in many of the things that made me doubt my faith for years. Things like biblical infallibility, and homosexuality as a sin, and not including women in the ministry. Those things just scratched the surface of so many things that made me lose my faith in God. I didn’t want to claim a faith that taught it laid claim to the ultimate truth, and that one had to believe those things in order to be in right relationship with God and to be a true Christian.

In thumbing through my cherished copy of his book, there is one statement that I underlined and noted on the inside cover as particularly meaningful to me. A statement straight from Marcus’s heart. On page 149, Marcus says:

Though of course I would like you to agree with me, I am less concerned with soliciting agreement than I am with provoking thoughtfulness about the way our life together is, and could be, structured.

I think this one sentence really sums up how Marcus Borg did theology. He did theology in a heartfelt, meaningful, genuine way that was concerned more with the dialogue and the questions and the seeking than with answers and certainty and agreement.

It is my hope that the legacy and spirit of Marcus Borg lives on forever in the lives of those of us whom his writings touch. I, for one, will always be grateful to Borg’s witness to his walk with God, and his unabashedly honest understanding of faith, which was never a certainty, and always a journey. Too many conservative Christians have dismissed Borg because of his radical honesty in living out his faith, his rejection of orthodox theology, and his embrace of doubt as an essential part of a healthy faith.

For my and for others’ benefit, I wanted to share a few other meaningful excerpts from The Heart of Christianity that stood out to me, and that I think show just where Marcus’s heart was. I hope that his understanding of God in these words speaks to you like it did to me.

And if [your vision of Christianity] works for you–if it hasn’t become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth and compassion within you—there’s no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn’t about getting our beliefs (or our paradigm) “right.” –p. 18

When [the literal versus metaphorical] debate breaks out in my classroom, I say to my students, “Believe whatever you want about whether it happened this way; now let’s talk about what the story means.” The statement applies to the Genesis stories of creation, the gospel birth stories, and the stories of the Bible generally: a preoccupation with facts can obscure the metaphorical meanings and the truth of the stories as metaphor. –p. 54

The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true—that God loves us already—and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. –p. 77

When the Christian path is seen as utterly unique, it is suspect. But when Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility. –p. 119

Marcus Borg, thank you for your honest and radical witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Your witness to honest faith saved my faith in God, and showed me that one’s faith is enriched with doubt and uncertainty. Thank you for your bold words that others shunned, and for your showing me that God and ultimate truth cannot be placed inside of any one religion or definition. Your legacy will live on forever in those of us whose lives you touched and whose faith you helped form. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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Talking about grace…

If one must be a Christian in order to be in right relationship with God, then there is a requirement. By definition, then, even though we may use the language of grace, we are no longer talking about grace.

Excerpt from Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, by Marcus Borg

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All the world seems a church…

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–by John Muir, excerpted from My First Summer in the Sierra

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The Song of My Beloved…

The song of my Beloved beside the stream.
The birds descanting in their clerestories.
His skies have sanctified my eyes, His woods are clearer than the King’s palace.
But the air and I will never tell our secret.

Christ has sanctified the desert and the wilderness shines with promise.
The land is first in simplicity and strength.
I had never before spoken freely or so intimately with woods, hills, buds, water and sky.
On this great day, however, they understood their position and they remained mute in the presence of the Beloved.
Only His light was obvious and eloquent.
My, brother and sister, the light and the water.
The stump and the stone. The tables of rock.
The blue, naked sky.

–Excerpt from Entering the Silence, by Thomas Merton.

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You are the future…

You are the future,
The red sky before sunrise
Over the fields of time.

You are the cock’s crow when night is done,
You are the dew and the bells of matins,
Maiden, stranger, mother, death.

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
That rise from the stuff of our days–
Unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
Like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
The last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
To the ship as coastline, to the shore as a ship.

–From The Book of Pilgrimage by Rainer Maria Rilke; excerpted from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, Anita Barrows and Joanna Marie Macy, trans. (New York: Riverhead Trade, 2005), page 17

Rainer Maria Rilke, c. 1900

Rainer Maria Rilke, c. 1900

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Beyond Justice

What is it that Job has understood? That justice does not reign in the world God has created? No. The truth that he has grasped and that has lifted him to the level of contemplation is that justice alone does not have the final say about how we are to speak of God. Only when we have come to realize that God’s love is freely bestowed do we enter fully and definitively into the presence of the God of faith. Grace is not opposed to the quest of justice nor does it play it down; on the contrary, it gives it its full meaning. God’s love, like all true love, operates in a world not of cause and effect but of freedom and gratuitousness. That is how persons successfully encounter one another in a complete and unconditional way; without payment of any kind of charges and without externally imposed obligations that pressure them into meeting the expectations of the other.

–Excerpt from On Job: God-talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, by Gustavo Gutiérrez, pp. 87-88.

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An Inexhaustible Sweetness

…but what sure rest is there save the Lord? Lush living likes to be taken for contented abundance, but you are the full and inexhaustible store of a sweetness that never grows stale. Extravagance is a bogus generosity, but you are the infinitely wealthy giver of all good things. Avarice strives to amass possessions, but you own everything. Envy is contentious over rank accorded to another, but what ranks higher than you? Anger seeks revenge, but who ever exacts revenge with greater justice than yourself? Timidity dreads any unforeseen or sudden threat to the things it loves, and takes precautions for their safety; but is anything sudden or unforeseen to you? Who can separate what you love from you? Where is ultimate security to be found, except with you? Sadness pines at the loss of the good things with which greed took its pleasure, because it wants to be like you, from whom nothing can be taken away.

–Excerpt from St. Augustine’s Confessions.

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From Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”


Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But the one who can no longer listen to his brother or sister will soon be no longer listening to God either; he or she will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he or she be not conscious of it. Any who think that their time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and their brothers and sisters, but only for the self and for their own follies.

…Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.

–This piece originates in Bonhoeffer’s Life Together pp. 97-99, but was excerpted from A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, page 356.

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Letters to a Young Poet – Six

Think, dear sir, of the world you carry within you, and call this thinking what you will; whether it be remembering your own childhood or yearning towards your own future—only be attentive to that which rises up in you and set it above everything that you observe about you. What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love; you must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people. Who tells you that you have one anyway?—I know, your profession is hard and full of contradiction of yourself, and I foresaw your complaint and knew that it would come. Now that it has come, I cannot comfort you, I can only advise you to consider whether all professions are not like that, full of demands, full of enmity against the individual, saturated as it were with the hatred of those who have found themselves mute and sullen and a humdrum duty. The situation in which you now have to live is no more heavily laden with conventions, prejudices and mistakes than all the other situations, and if there are some that feign a greater freedom, still there is none that is in itself broad and spacious and in contact with the big things of which real living consists. Only the individual who is solitary is like a thing placed under profound laws, and when he goes out into the morning that is just beginning, or looks out into the evening that is full of happening, and if he feels what is going on there, then all status drops from him as from a dead man, though he stands in the midst of sheer life. What you, dear Mr. Kappus, must now experience as an officer, you would have felt just the same in any of the established professions; yes, even if, outside of any position, you had merely sought some light and independent contact with society, this feeling of constraint would not have been spared you.—It is so everywhere; but that is no reason for fear or sorrow; if there is nothing in common between you and other people, try being close to things, they will not desert you; there are the nights still and the winds that go through the trees and across many lands; among things and with the animals every thing is still full of happening, in which you may participate; and children are still the way you were as a child, sad like that and happy,—and if you think of your childhood you live among them again, among the solitary children, and the grownups are nothing, and their dignity has no value.

And if it worries and torments you to think of your childhood and of the simplicity and quiet that goes with it, because you cannot believe anymore in God, who appears everywhere in it, then ask yourself, dear Mr. Kappus, whether you really have lost God? Is it not rather, that you have never yet possessed him? For when should that have been? Do you believe that a child can hold him, him whom men bear only with effort and whose weight compresses the old? Do you believe that anyone who really has him could lose him like a little stone, or do you not think rather that who ever had him could only be lost by him?—But if you know he was not in your childhood, and not before, if you suspect that Christ was diluted by his longing and Mohammed betrayed by his pride—and if you are terrified to feel that even now he’s not, in this hour when we speak of him—what then justifies you in missing him, who never was, like one who has passed away, and in seeking him as though he had been lost?

Why do you not think of him as the coming one, imminent from all eternity, the future one, the final fruit of the tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into times that are in process of becoming, and living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the history of the great gestation, for do you not see how everything that happens keeps on being a beginning, and could not be His beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful? If he is the most perfect, must not the lesser be before him, so that he can choose himself out of fullness and overflow?—Must he not be the last, in order to encompass everything within himself, and what meaning would we have if he, whom we long for, had already been?

As the bees bring in the honey, so do we fetch the sweetest out of everything and build Him. With the trivial even, with the insignificant (if it but happens out of love) we make a start, with work and with rest after it, with a silence or with a small solitary Joy, with everything that we do alone, without supporters and participants, we begin him whom we shall not live to know, even as our forebears could not live to know us. And yet they, who are long gone, are in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our destiny, as blood that pulsates, and as gesture that rises up out of the depths of time.

Is there anything that can take from you the hope of thus someday being in him, the farthest, the ultimate?

Celebrate Christmas, dear Mr. Kappus, in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you was working at him, as you have already once, in childhood, breathlessly worked at him. Be patient and without resentment and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.

And be glad and confident.

Yours:
Rainer Maria Rilke

–Letter six, excerpt from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

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