I've been thinking about how, out of all the words of his I've read there are a dozen that were revelatory and revolutionary for me. Of Christianity he said, "it has everything to do with taking seriously what Jesus took seriously."
Let that sink in for a minute. To be a Christian, he is saying, has very little to do with the affirmation of certain creedal declarations. Instead, being a Christian means "taking seriously what Jesus took seriously." And according to the Gospel accounts, at least, he was consistently clear about what he took seriously.
In the Gospel of Luke, the 4th chapter, the story is told that after spending 40 days in the wilderness being temped by the devil, Jesus begins to preach and teach in the local synagogues. Luke 4:14-21 gives these details:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”Proclaiming good news to the poor. Proclaiming freedom to the prisoner and recovery of sight for the blind. Setting the oppressed free. Proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. Not a lot in there about doctrinal correctness. Not a lot about purity of belief. He is not remembered as having said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim that this denomination is better than that one." Or "because he has anointed me to proclaim that some people matter more than others." Or that, "your material success in the world is a sign of his blessings." He doesn't even say anything about traditional vs. contemporary music in worship!
No. He's pretty clear, and not just in this scene from Luke, either. Re-read the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (chapters 5, 6. and 7). If that weren't enough, in chapter 25 Matthew depicts a now famous scene in which Jesus separates those bound from heaven from those bound for "the eternal fire." What was his criteria? Did you give something to eat to the hungry and something to drink to the thirsty. Did you invite the stranger in, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner? Again, nothing about being able to quote chapter and verse (I had to look up these references!). Nothing about have the "right" stance on abortion or marriage equality. If being a Christian has "everything to do with taking seriously what Jesus took seriously," then being a Christian means caring for your society's "least." And not caring in some kind of abstract way, but in a direct, active, hands-on way.
At one point I thought that I'd given up the Christian identity I had in my childhood. I'd become a Buddhist, an eclectic, a Unitarian Universalist. Yet something keep tugging at me; something that hadn't let go of me even if I'd rejected it. And it was Marcus Borg who opened my mind so that my heart could once again be touched. "Being a Christian" didn't mean I had to get plugged back into the matrix and forget all that I had learned beyond what I'd been taught in Sunday School. It meant, simply, looking again to the stories of Jesus -- and to the stories of the Jewish people, only in the context of which could the stories of this particular Jewish teacher make any sense.
Yes, other people have pointed in this same direction; yes, there are other teachers. I respect and honor them, and my heart and mind have been touched by their teachings as well. They continue to be. One of the great gifts of being a preacher and teacher in the Unitarian Universalist tradition is that I don't have to limit myself to only one expression of these universal truths. But for me, in my own spiritual life, the example in the stories of Yeshua ben Miriam calls to me as does no other.
But doesn't one have to "buy" all of the stuff that comes with the name "Christian"? Doesn't a Christian at least have to worship Jesus as God? Not if Borg is right. All one needs do is "take seriously what Jesus took seriously;" all one needs to do is to look to the model Jesus offers as we try to live our own lives. A Franciscan -- another "label" I embrace -- doesn't worship Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (known to his family and friends as "Francesco"). A Franciscan simply seeks to emulate this simple saint -- including his admonition on his death bed, "I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours." The question isn't "What would Francis do?" or "What would Jesus do?" More to the point is the question, "How will the love of God that inspired Jesus and Francis manifest itself in and through my life? That, to me, is what makes one a Christian. And without Marcus Borg, I would never have known that.