What is at the heart of being Christian?

Marcus J Borg
Marcus J Borg

During my six days’ stay in hospital last month I listened to two audio books (using Audible from Amazon on my Android smartphone) as my eyesight was too poor to be able to read anything.

The first book I listened to was Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—And How They Can Be Restored (HarperOne, 2012) by the American Episcopalian theologian Marcus J Borg.

In the book Borg examines a number of words that have been historically important to Christianity (such as salvation, mercy, righteousness, sin, forgiveness and repentance) and explores what they meant at the time the New Testament was written, compared with how they have been interpreted using modern frameworks of understanding, and the tools of post-Enlightenment thought.

I found the book really encouraging and in places challenging, although I would have much preferred to read the book rather than listen to it, not least because the (American) narrator mispronounces a number of theological terms.

In much of the book Borg attempts to get back to the heart of Christianity: what is Christianity all about? I found this article by Borg published last November on the Patheos website an interesting companion: What is a Christian?

In the article, as in his book, Borg argues that Christianity is categorically not about believing the right things. He argues that the focus is not on believing God but beloving God: committing yourself to “a relationship of attentiveness and faithfulness”.

The two ancient creeds of the Christian church (the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) he says we should begin with an understand of “I give my heart to…” rather than simply “I believe…”

Believing in itself does not lead to a changed life. But beloving God, giving our heart in commitment and fidelity to God does.

At the centre of being a Christian is:

  • A passion for Jesus, the decisive revelation of God.
  • Compassion (love).
  • A passion for the transformation of this world; participating in God’s passion for a world of justice and peace.

I love the simplicity of Borg’s writing and thoughts. I love the simplicity of this core of Christianity. It pushes away all that is unimportant and returns it to Jesus’s response to the question “which is the greatest commandment in the Law”: Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind […] And […] love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 38 ff.)

Richard Holloway on the difficulties of being a priest

I love Richard Holloway. He was Bishop of Edinburgh when I was put forward for ordination selection and training. I very much appreciated his concern for me and his deep pastoral heart. I admired his genuine humanity and his honest wrestling with and searching for meaning in what we do on this tiny rock in the universe.

Richard Holloway on BBC HARDTalk

First broadcast on Tuesday 27 August 2013 this is a remarkably moving and honest interview with the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway.

I’ve always loved +Richard. As my bishop I found him compassionate, loving, and intellectually challenging: he always encouraged me to keep searching for the truth, to keep asking questions.

Is it just me or are dog collars getting longer these days?

My two new clergy shirt collars compared with my older, and significantly shorter one.
Two new clergy shirt collars (top) compared with an older, and significantly shorter, one.

On Sunday 18 August I ordered a new clerical shirt online from J Wippell and Co Ltd. My current three shirts are getting a bit faded and past their best so it was time to order a new one. A black one, of course (is there any other colour, other than for a bishop?), in the formal ‘tonsure’ style.

I received a very polite email a couple of days later:

Reverend Dear Sir

Thank you for your order for a shirt.

This item is not in stock and is therefore being specially made, we anticipate dispatch to be around the 2nd September 2013.

We apologize for the delay and we will email you when we dispatch your order.

Ah, not ideal. I have an institution in St Andrews to attend on Wednesday 4 September, and if there are any delays in the mail then it may not arrive in time. I emailed them back:

I actually ordered the shirt primarily for an institution in St Andrews on Wednesday 4 September, as the dog collars on my current tonsure shirts have all but one disintegrated! Do you think that the shirt may have arrived by then? I’m happy to pay extra for faster delivery if so.

And as a company that understands exemplary customer service I was assured by a return email that schedule had been revised and the shirt would now leave the factory on Thursday 29 August.

It didn’t. It arrived at my house on Thursday 29 August. What tremendous service.

But just take a look at how long the new ‘dog’ collars are!

“Talking faith” article by my Mum in local newspaper

talking-faith

Every week my Mum faithfully sends me the local newspaper, the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser.

This week, on page two, was a short “Talking faith” article by “A member of St John’s” (the Scottish Episcopal Church in Selkirk). That member was my Mum, and her thought for the day ‘column’ was inspired by two of my beautiful children, Reuben and Joshua.

“Just you and me!”, said one of my three-year-old twin grandsons, contentedly trotting off to play tennis with his Mummy.

“Just you and me!” said the other twin going to the shops with his Daddy. They were experiencing individual quality time… attention… being loved. Let’s enjoy ‘just you and me’ quality time with God.

Come to me with your ears open, and you will find life. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised. Isaiah 55:3 NLT