Reassessing Marcus Borg

Fellow Patheos blogger Frederick Schmidt has penned an article for the Journal of Preaching about the strengths and weaknesses of Marcus Borg:

Marcus Borg

One: Marc relies heavily on stereotyping of a Christian perspective that, where it exists, is historically representative of a small minority.

I’ve known some of the Christians that Marc uses as a foil for his apologetic, but it is hardly fair to suggest that the kind of thinking he outlines dominated the church until Progressive Christianity came along. The Christian tradition is a global, wide- ranging, and complex phenomenon covering more than two millennia. Protestant fundamentalism is both a relatively recent and relatively small part of that story, even if it looms large in some parts of the United States.20

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The Evangelical Unicorn: A Third Way on Gay Marriage

I reviewed two books by evangelicals on gay marriage for The Christian Century — God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and A Letter to my Congregation by Ken Wilson — and the review is now available online. Here’s the core of what differentiates their books:

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Remember Phil Chalmers?

Public Speaker Phil Chalmers talks to Bowie Junior High seventh-graders about the consequences of bullying, Feb. 2, 2012, at the school in Odessa, Texas. Heather Leiphart/Odessa American/AP

I used to debate Big Phil at the National Youth Workers Convention, at least until the year that a member of his posse started shouting at me and grabbed a chair like he was going to throw it. I don’t think Phil got asked back after that.

Well, now Phil is the self-purported “leading expert on school shootings,” although he lacks any formal training…in anything. Self-promotion, however, is still in his wheelhouse, as Newsweek reports,

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Entering Endarkenment with Barbara Brown Taylor

This book review is by my spouse, Courtney Perry.

Endarkenment.

Ray Wylie Hubbard first awakened me to that word when I heard him sing “A. Enlightenment, B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is no C)” at a party in Texas.  I laughed aloud, surprised at the witty mouthful of words he jammed into a mere song chorus, looking at my (now-)husband as if to say, “Are you hearing this? Am I even hearing this?”

I didn’t actually reflect upon the meaning of endarkenment, however, until I read it in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Learning to Walk in the Dark.

“ . . . I realize that in a whole lifetime spent with seekers of enlightenment, I have never once heard anyone speak in hushed tones about the value of endarkenment.  The great mystics of the Christian tradition all describe it as part of the journey into God, but it has been a long time since The Cloud of Unknowing was on anyone’s bestseller list.” (p. 86)

Then I had to ask Wikipedia what The Cloud of Unknowing is:

The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowyng) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The underlying message of this work proposes that the only way to truly “know” God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God and be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness,” at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.

I’ve always been a proponent of introspective alone time, but that’s generally when I inspire myself by reading positive, hopeful texts and meditating to feel a powerful connection to the Universe/God.  It’s my upper.  Where I struggle is sitting in the stew of a miserable situation which I cannot change and which seems to have no positive outcome.  If I can’t make a circumstance lighter (less-weighty) or see how it could improve, I’m left feeling incapacitated and confused.  (Our dear friend and Enneagram master Suzanne Stabile says that all Enneagram 7′s — as I am, indicated by the prior sentence — must read this book.)  What Learning to Walk in the Dark reminds me is it’s in that moment of immobile despair that true growth occurs. 

Following a path of lunar spirituality, BBT walks us through a visceral experience of darkness that offers positive dark imagery to be collected and carried.  Night-blooming flowers, the unfathomable expanse of a starry skyscape (which is rendered invisible/unknowable by city lights), the biological necessity of sleep during nighttime hours.  Many beautiful and beneficial things happen expressly in the dark.  As a photographer who began working in a darkroom, I love to recall the magic born in that blackness. BBT also speaks of the over-done metaphor of light/awakening, even in the Bible, and how the hyper-idealized sense of light and demonized sense of darkness has fed ideas of racism and fear through the ages.

The world is infinitely more complex than a simple understanding of light and dark.  Spending time with this text, as I did while in a place of acute discomfort, allowed me to step back and take in the fullness of the bounty of darkness.  The book won’t fix your problems.  It won’t make you instantly happy.  But in the rich text I found affirmation of my own time spent in the darkness.

Book Update

I got news from my editor last week. Lots of news, in the form of a 5-page, single-spaced email detailing the shortcomings of my first draft. I’ve got a lot of work to do. More than I’d thought. But, as I told him, I’m not averse to hard work. So the revisions will occupy the next 4-6 weeks of my life. Blogging will continue to take a back seat, I’m afraid. But I’ll be back here in force by September 1, and I’ll be re-igniting the “Questions That Haunt Christianity” series. Until then, I’ll post sporadically, and I hope you’ll pop over here on occasion. There’s also Facebook and Twitter.

50 Years of a Great Thing

photo by Courtney Perry

This weekend, my family will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the little cabin in the north woods that my grandfather built. I wrote about it in the StarTribune:

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Ordaining Trans*

For years, Phyllis Tickle has told of her small Anglican outpost in Memphis, a congregation populated by many queers, bi, gay, lesbian, and trans* folks. In that last category, when a congregant transitioned from primarily identifying as one gender to the other, the church would have a celebration liturgy at the bathroom — that’s because the person they were celebrating was switching from one bathroom to the other.

This week, Amy Butler, pastor-elect at Riverside Church in New York City, posted a “Liturgy for a New World,” which records an ordination service from her current church, Calvary Baptist in Washington, D.C. In fact, it was something of a re-ordination, since the pastor had been ordained some years ago and had served as a Baptist pastor around the world. But that was with a different name. Now, as Amy writes, the congregation was re-ordaining her, with her new name:

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Making Trouble with Tickle, McLaren, and Winner

Since I posted last week, we’ve made a couple changes to the next D.Min. cohort that I’ll be leading. I booked Phyllis Tickle to co-teach year one, and Lauren Winner and I will co-teach year three in New York City. Here’s the rundown:

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What Is Home?

That’s the question that my friend, Lily Percy, asked me in the On Being studio this weekend. I was hanging out at On Being as part of the amazing Northern Spark Festival that takes place annually in the Twin Cities. It’s an overnight affair with hundreds of artists and over 50,000 participants. I was there to see the Ragamala Dance Company perform their “Sacred Earth” dance, which I found totally mezmerizing.

The On Being recording studio was also open, and Lily was asking people a question about “Home.” They called it an “Audio Selfie.” Here’s my answer. Here’s Jay Bakker’s — his is a lot different than mine. You can find a lot more on that page.

Thanks, Lily!

Time for Some Theology

If you’re in the market to study theology, then I’ve got some opportunities for you.

At the M.Div. level, I am teaching Introduction to Theology next fall at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. (Click through to read more about the course and see the book list.) I’ve been named Professor in the Practice of Theology at UTS (still an adjunct position, which suits me). I’m really excited about teaching this survey course. It’s a hybrid course, so it only meets three times — all day on three Mondays — and otherwise it’s online. So if you’re considering an M.Div., this is a good way to dip your toe in the water. (More news coming soon on a new venture in theological education here in the Twin Cities.)

If you’re in the market for a D.Min., there are a couple option, both at Fuller Theological Seminary. First, I’ll be teaching a week-long course on Spirituality and the Doctrine of Creation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in September. This class takes place in canoes and around fire pits and has an amazing reading list. More about this course in the video above.

Secondly, I’ll be starting a new D.Min. cohort through Fuller next spring. This is a great way to get a D.Min., since we spent 3+ years together. My first cohort is just now working on their final projects, and the 10 of us have grown very close. Several readers have written over the past couple years and asked when the new cohort is happening, and the answer is now!


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