Sunday, May 19, 2013

Will the real ‘God’ please stand up?

On the eve of today’s Sunday school class, my Mom called me with a story. A little girl was dancing joyfully, perhaps one could even say ecstatically. A man approached. ‘Who are you dancing with?’ he asked. ‘With God,’ she replied. ‘I’d give you a nickel,’ he retorted, ‘if you could show me where God is.’ ‘I’d give you a dollar,’ she shot back, ‘if you could show me where God is not.’

In today’s reading from Speaking Christian, Marcus Borg addresses the concept of—and our problems with the concept of—God. As he does with much more depth and deftness in his treatise on panentheism called The God We Never Knew, Borg debunks and deconstructs all variety of anthropomorphic god-ideas in favor of a suffusing and saturating sacred presence, not unlike Paul Tillich’s “ground of all being.”

A scripture Borg leans on to illuminate this notion is the expansive and eloquent Psalm 139, interestingly a favorite of the ‘right to life’ movement. We also encounter this always-already-in-everything God in the Gospel of Thomas, saying 77: “It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there.”

We like this God, because our everyday experience, regardless of dogma, often affirms it, if we’d only tune into it. Liberals like what Borg says God is because of who Borg says God is not; He’s not exclusively anthropomorphic, authoritarian, and androcentric. In Trinitarian sensibility, I gather that this sacred energy constitutes the creative crux and core of God and is discernible at least theologically and metaphysically from the Son and Holy Spirit.

But why, then, when I attended the Festival of Homiletics—an annual kind of preacher’s Woodstock for liberal, mainline pastors from the likes of Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian traditions—did it seem like Marcus Borg was the butt of all our jokes? Two of my top talks from the week included incisive slights and sarcastic slags at Borg and the Jesus Seminar and what I presume mainline preachers think is a low—just a man and a mere prophet—Christology. It seems a belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus is the hinge on which the rest of our faith swings.

I am convinced one can have what we could call a consistently and simultaneously high and low Christology. There’s no need to show the historicists the door nor for us to sneer at the arm-waving spirit-folk and turn ourselves into anti-mystical bores. I also think it’s perfectly acceptable for Christians to admit that we do not “know” in any bulletproof, scientific, historical, or factual sense what we know in matters of mysterious reality, faith journey, and spiritual encounter.   

We are Christians because we preach a crucified and resurrected Christ. We are not not Christians if we also teach the historical Jesus. I interpret Borg’s project as illuminating and not emasculating of Christ and Jesus, though I know how and why some people find his overtures off-putting. Without the historical Jesus, we too easily lose the revolutionary kernel of his prophetic message; without the resurrected Christ, we certainly lose the rest, the mystical and metaphysical, and many would argue, the truth.

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