I read this morning that Marcus Borg has passed away. Theologian, Author, Historical Jesus Scholar, Biblical Scholar, Lutheran turned Episcopalian, Oregonian, Professor, Husband, Friend … surely he was many things to many people and will be deeply missed.
When I heard the news of his death, I immediately said a prayer of thanks for him, and especially for the role his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, played in my own faith journey.
While I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic School, from my late teens to my late 20s I essentially rejected it all as entirely irrelevant–organized religion, spirituality, God, Jesus, you name it. But then something happened and somehow God broke through. It’s a long story, but the 2 second version is that a friend invited me to her Catholic church and I weirdly and unexpectedly felt at home. The next Sunday and each week after I woke up with a deep desire to return. So I kept going, but all of my doubts and questions and blanket rejection remained and led to a whole lot of confusion.
One day, a few weeks after I inexplicably became a doubting weekly church goer, I remember riding in my friend Kim’s pick up truck down 39th Avenue in Southeast Portland as she gave me a ride home after mass. I was trying to articulate to her my mixed up feelings around the pull to return to my Catholic roots. I remember saying that I didn’t know if I could do it because I was not quite sure what I thought about “that Jesus guy.” I’m pretty sure those were my exact words. Kim suggested I read Borg’s book.
I was intrigued by the title. I read the book. And something shifted within me even as I read the opening words of Chapter One of Meeting Jesus Again:
We have all met Jesus before. Most of us first met him when we were children. This is most obviously true for those of us raised in the church, but also for anybody who grew up in Western culture. We all received some impression of Jesus, some image of him, however vague or specific.
For many, the childhood image of Jesus remains intact into adulthood. For some, that image is held with deep conviction, sometimes linked with warm personal devotion and sometimes tied to rigid doctrinal positions. For others, both within and outside of the church, the childhood image of Jesus can become a problem, producing perplexity and doubt, often leading to indifference toward or rejection of the religion of their childhood.
Indeed, for many Christians, especially in mainline churches, there came a time when their childhood image of Jesus no longer made a great deal of sense. And for many of them, no persuasive alternative has replaced it. It is for these people especially that this book is written. For them, meeting Jesus again will be–as it has been for me–like meeting him for the first time. It will involve a new image of Jesus.
His book did not take away all of my questions or doubts or lead to instant conversion. Instead, I think what it did for me was give me freedom to not know what I thought or felt. It gave me a way to reconsider Jesus, to meet him again as if for the first time, to start afresh in building a relationship that continues to grow and deepen with twists and turns and meaning and surprise, comfort and challenge.
It was from that fresh reset of my feelings about Jesus that I started on the path that led me to the corner of Susan and St. Joseph. Having met Jesus again, I was ready and able to then meet him through our CSJP Charism of peace through justice. As our CSJP Constitutions so beautifully put it:
“Christ is our peace, the source of our power. United with him we engage in the struggle against the reality of evil and continue the work of establishing God’s reign of justice and peace.”
Thank you Marcus for sharing your gifts with the Church and the people of God. If my own story is any indication, I suspect you have had a profound influence in many people’s lives.