Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Conference with Marcus Borg

For the past two years, I have headed down to Albuquerque, NM for a conference hosted by Richard Rohr. Speakers there have included Phyllis Tickle, Brian Mclaren, and Shane Claiborne. This has always fallen conveniently on my Spring Break.

This year however, Richard spoke at a conference in Scottsdale, AZ which had almost the same speaking lineup so there was not one in Albuquerque. This conference, which occurred in February, conflicted with my work schedule. My just burgeoning annual solo-cation was being snuffed out in its infancy.

I was happy to find out that Marcus Borg was speaking at a little church up in Missoula, MT. Since it is only an 8 hour drive from SLC, I loaded up the car and headed out. Driving by myself, listening to the news, audiobooks, or music, is a treat.

I held off on reserving a hotel since I was not totally confident that my car would make the journey without incident. I am glad I did, because a coupon book at the rest area provided me with a hotel that was literally across the street from the church, and was cheaper than anything I had seen online.

Dr. Borg was speaking at a Methodist Church. It was a classic old building that reminded me of the Lutheran church I went to in Detroit until my 6th year. Like that church, it consisted of many levels with lots of narrow hallways and stairways - it was easy to lose track of which floor I was on.

Dr. Borg spoke Friday night and was excellent as always. He spoke of how the church is changing in the 21st century. Chief among his points was that, in the past, church was conventional. It was assumed that everyone within the community went to a church. Today, church is becoming intentional. Anyone going to church now tend to do so because they desire to, it is no longer the assumption of the community that one attends church. A testament to that truism is that the majority of people at the conference were over 60. I was one of the "young" folks.

Marcus spoke for two sessions on Saturday. In them he compared the Jesus of history, to the Jesus of popular Christianity. He contrasted present day Christian focus on belief, with the historic view of Christianity being that of a transformed life. An emphasis on Belief allows Christianity to bind ourselves with Western Empire, something the counter-cultural aspect of transformational Christianity could never align with. A ninety-two year old man, who had pastored the church decades before, would occasionally lean over to me and say, "I was preachin this stuff back in the 70s! Nobody listened then either!"

We had lunch there at the church. Various senior members from the church had cooked soups and chili, breads, and cookies. It struck me how incredibly peaceful and at home I felt in this church of seniors, quietly addressing issues of social and economic justice. Just before the afternoon session started, I had a chance to introduce myself to Dr. Borg and talk for a few minutes. Although I don't necessarily agree with every point Dr. Borg arrives at concerning the Christian faith, I have come to the conclusion that it is the temperament and attitude of men like him that I wish to emulate. His life, love, and compassion are what give credit to his theology.

I had the evening free, so I grabbed a burger at a local diner and then walked along the river that bi-sected the town. Missoula is a very beautiful place; a peaceful community nestled amongst the mountains in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday morning, Marcus Borg taught the Christian Education class before church. There was only a small group of us. Sitting in the basement of a classic Methodist church, drinking coffee, and listening to Marcus Borg teach is my idea of the perfect Sunday morning.

By 11:00 am I was on the road, headed back to Salt Lake City. I felt like all of my life batteries had been re-charged.

All of his talks were filmed and posted on Vimeo.  Here are the links:

Two Visions of Christianity Today
Jesus in the 1st and 21st Centuries: Telling His Story Today
Jesus in the 1st and 21st Centuries: Holy Week, Easter, and the New Testament
Open Hearts and Thin Places


The Reverend said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your solo-cation! It's always nice to get out and do or see something you truly enjoy.

Redlefty said...

Cool trip!

Chad said...

Looks like we started something, we just didn't see that we started you on your doing solocations! I think it's awesome that you are able to go on these great trips and I'm glad you were able to have some face time with Marcus Borg. You didn't mention cloves?

Andrew said...

Heh! Well that is another bone I have to pick with President Obama - they don't sell cloves in the US anymore. The clove companies have skirted the issue by wrapping them in cigar leaves now instead of paper, but I think that took the smooth/sweet out of them. A shame I say, a shame!

Steve H. said...

Sounds like a relaxing and spiritually invigorating time!

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