My Pastor, his wife and others in our local body of believers in Christianity had the rare privilege over the weekend to attend a seminar in Nashville TN, chaired by Marcus Borg, Canon Theologian of Timothy Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, discussing his book, Speaking Christian.
We had been studying that book at our church and it is extremely interesting. I do not intend to quote it as over the years I have come to know Borg as an author of other books and more specifically as a member of the famous, or infamous if you please, the Jesus Seminar. I do not like debates and have no interest in debating his views or, collectively, their views. My interest in Borg and others in the faith is to help me grow in the knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
What I will offer is my testimony as a Christian and that is open to debate, if that is your desire.
I was literally raised in the church. In the early thirties while my Mother and Father were experiencing problems with the state of the economy, they also ushered into this world, my younger Sister. So it was that my Grandmother, my Mother's Mother, offered to take me to the farm where I would be safe from economic anxieties and there was plenty to eat and lots of room for me to play.
There were conditions that did not bother me. We went to church every Sunday and every Wednesday night. As far as I can remember, I enjoyed the experience. I really do not think I learned anything, but I am certain, I was being taught about the Christian experience. Most of the "do's" and "don'ts" of my early education came from my Grandfather with this admonition, "We don't do things like that." That being drinking alcohol, swearing, lying, doing things that only "bad" boys did. I have always been grateful that there were very few "bad" boys in our neighborhood. And I do remember going to the alter one night at church when I "gave" my life to the Lord, but I got up and left with no apparent change in the ways I thought or acted.
I went into the Air Force at age 17 with the thought I was a Christian and no one ever challenged me. I attended chapel regularly and that continued until I left the military seven years later. I moved to Atlanta, GA, to attend Georgia Tech and immediately became a member of the First Methodist Church of Atlanta, again, no questions were ever asked. I got married in a church where my wife had attended as a child and we went to church regularly only we changed to a another when I learned that my "First" church would not allow minorities to attend their service.
Later on, we would get a divorce. I was not proud of the first few years afterwards, but one Sunday morning I woke up with a terrible hangover and decided it was time to get back into church. After a few moths in which I really enjoyed church, I met a young lady who I would marry and with whom we would bring four beautiful children into this world. I never really gave up drinking and for sure, she not give up stealing money from others. We were still going to church when she was sentenced to ten years in prison for stealing money from our neighbors' mail boxes. Fortunately, she was given parole, but it did little to change her ways and to be perfectly honest, I did not change mine, either. We went to church on occasion, but its message went unheeded by either of us.
Finally, after agreeing we would both change our ways, she stole again and I thought - for certain, she would be required to serve the full sentence dictated by that first judge.
It was then, I finally decided I was as much to blame as she was for our situation and so I sought counsel from church elders. To be honest, they had nothing to offer, but guilt had set into my mind and I would eventually call upon a "wise" church elder who I had known over years.
It was suggested that I go to Tulsa, OK, to counsel with him and I made arrangements with the State of California to care for our children during my trip and I left on a Greyhound bus. In route, I realized that I was on my way to talk with a man who had forgotten more about the Bible than I had ever known, so I decided to "bone up" before I met with him. So, where should I start? It occurred to me that the words of Jesus appeared in red letters and I decided to find the point where He started His ministry.
Turns out that was in the book of Matthew, chapter 4, verse 17. The words that immediately struck me were, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." That intrigued me. I had to stop and see if I could recall ever hearing that word before or, read it in a Bible. I had not. I decided to pray and ask God what it meant. It did not dawn on me that He might not answer. But He did, I know because in a few minutes it seemed as though my mind was recalling those days when my Mother and Grandfather used to argue over the cost of my "care". And there was more. I sat there cringing as had been my practice whenever those arguments would happen and there was more, the attitude I developed against my Mother for - it seemed to me, not seeming to care about my feelings on that and other matters. Then, I began to realize I had reasons to repent. I had no idea why my Mother felt as it seemed to me that she did. My grandmother used to remind me that I was to love my Mother, regardless of my feelings.
To the best of my knowledge, I asked God to forgive me and within a few minutes, I noticed that it was raining and as the bus drove on, it seemed that the wind was "rolling up" the dirt on my window and it was being washed. Could it be a sign that God had done that for me? I had no idea, but I did know I needed something like that to happen and I began to cry, thanking God for washing my sins away.