Remembering Marcus

It was 20 summers ago, and a man I’d never heard of was coming to thumbRNS-BORG-OBIT012215spend a week with us at our week-long church camp at Seabeck.  What I knew was that he’d written a book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, that was getting a lot of attention and that our church camp was overflowing with people who wanted to attend.

Marcus was doing something rather extraordinary.  He was opening a new way to imagine who Jesus was and might be for us today.  And he was speaking to people that I hadn’t always seen sitting in the front pews of church, or in church at all. Among them, rationalists and thinkers who lived in a world facts and figures. People who had left conservative church backgrounds, like Borg, himself.  And men. I was always struck with the number of men who showed up and joined the conversation.  And so many others, finding a new way in to meet Jesus.  Borg was opening and changing the conversation about Jesus. Changing lives.

01b62d260feca263cec0180ba185d2254ab247bf83Marcus was part of a new group of scholars who called themselves the Jesus Seminar who together were exploring the historical context in which Jesus lived and seeking to discern who he “really” was, what he might have “really” said.  Their work sparked faith, inspiration, a new way to be a people of faith.

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time became the book I recommended time and again to people who wanted to know what Christianity was about and could be. Marcus gave me a new language to speak of faith to others who asked different questions and thought in different ways than I do, and invite them into the conversation.

Marcus’ summer camp with us and the work of the Jesus Seminar 018e8de4410750776cdd0ff4ca4a3711c02c25d433sparked Bob Fitzgerald to form the “Jesus Study Group” here at University Congregational UCC. Once a month, on Sunday nights, our church lounge filled with people from many different churches and faith traditions, or no tradition at all. People who were hungry to read, explore, engage with others about who the historical Jesus was and how he could speak to us today.

Our Jesus Study Group sparked the idea of a lecture series and Marcus was our first lecturer.  Tina Michalak, our first lecture series coordinator, remembers how gracious and generous Marcus was in working with us to do something we had never done before. That first lecture weekend with Marcus packed the church. The support the Lecture Series received became the seed for funding future lectures.  Marcus returned four times over these past seven years as part of our Lecture Series, most recently last June with Joan Chittister and John Dominic Crossan.

Marcus would set his little clock timer.  His lectures clear as an outline.   (“I am now going to speak for the next 13 minutes… “I will speak of this… and then make three points, and then draw a conclusion….).

But besides a way that spoke to the logical and rational in all of us, Marcus had room for something else.


Bob Fitzgerald remembers,

“Marcus spoke so openly, so personally, about how his faith, theology and ‘take’ on Jesus changed and developed. Softly conveyed his convictions, often provoking tears in me…and jolted me awake when he spoke of the ‘American Empire’ and the contradiction between who we say we are as a ‘Christian’ nation and the reality of our military dominance throughout the world.”

I remember how amidst the careful, logical arguments that Marcus presented, that he had room, made room, for mystery.  For wonder. For what we can’t know, think, solve our way through. I loved his interweaving of ancient prayers, the stories of the icons in his home.

Marcus’ legacy lives on in the life of our church.

It was Marcus who was the inspiration for the little remark we put in our church bulletin each week,

“As Christians we are shaped by the language of our tradition, including its foundation – the Bible. Some of us understand Christian language in literal and factual terms. Others understand it as a language filled with symbolism and metaphor. We all share a common passion for the more-than-literal meaning of the stories and teaching that guide us.”

It was the legacy – and here I look out in my mind’s eye on our congregation – how Marcus found a way for so many to be here, here in church, where otherwise they might never have been, worshipping together and talking about Jesus.

01fe3e683c11f2ce9c8c1f274e49a3e08851d580eeYes, as Bob Fitzgerald noted, “He was a gentle prophet, a profound teacher”.

We will be paying tribute to Marcus on Friday evening, February 6, as we gather for our next lecture series weekend with Robin Meyers.   Robin is dedicating his lectures to Marcus.

And on Sunday afternoon, March 29, at 3:00 p.m., we will gather here with members of our Lecture Series Community, our church and others throughout our region for our own Service of Memory and Thanksgiving as we give thanks for Marcus’ life and ministry and reflect on the ways he has touched our lives. We hope you might join us that afternoon. Lauren Winner will be with us for a lecture earlier that afternoon from 12:30-2, followed by a dessert reception before the memorial service.

It was at the close of a Sunday worship service here many years ago that 01183f0e74804bc1dde56119cb2173ec8e7ef92a1dMarcus shared a benediction that he had adapted from a 19th century Swiss Philosopher, Henri-Frederic Amiel.  I have used it in memorial services ever since.

“Life is short.  And we don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk the way with us.  So let us be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”


Thank you, Marcus, for all the ways you have shared with us such a kindness.

Thank you, for opening anew our minds, hearts, and imaginations to meet Jesus again, as if for the very first time.

9 thoughts on “Remembering Marcus”

  1. Thank you, Peter, for this touching and meaningful affirmation of how Marcus has made a difference in our personal lives and in our community of faith. His gentle spirit, challenging mind and passionate ministry was such a blessing.
    He changed my faith and my life. And your tribute is another blessing for
    me…Thank you. Bob Fitzgerald


  2. Thank you for such a lovely piece about Marcus. I will remember his soft gentle voice and the incredibly powerful words he spoke. To me he broke down barriers to the “real” Jesus without leaving a hollow or empty story. At first I was a bit afraid to read his books, afraid that I would be shown all that I was taught or believed was wrong. In fact he did just the opposite, he brought me closer to Jesus and enriched my experience as a Christian. I am so greatful to have been able to hear him speak.


  3. Thank you Peter for your touching remembrance of Marcus Borg. I began reading “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” soon after it came out. Even the title of the book transforms thought.
    Evette Hackman


  4. Thank you, Peter, for your heartfelt tribute. I have been reading Marcus’s latest book, CONVICTIONS … and I will be forever grateful that Marcus got that published before his untimely passing. He was two years younger than I … but through his powerful witness to his faith he will always be “with us”!


  5. Amen, Peter, and thank you and amen again.
    I have read several of the books by Marcus, reminded by the images you posted, and the visceral calm (yes, calm) and a sense of self-assuredness in our faith that his books evoked in me.
    I am thankful too, for how his words could stir us up. My daughter Kate, her senior year in high school, was in the front row at Seabeck the year he was there, and was provoked, intellectually and emotionally, stirred and disturbed, I think, enough so that she honored that experience by majoring in philosophy at college. She is now a member of Berkeley Congregational, as she completes her PhD (in three months time). I think Marcus would have felt a bit of pride in this, had he known.
    And I know he knows, as I converse with him, and all the saints eternal, this beautiful afternoon by the shores of Puget Sound.
    Your Brother, –Dennis


  6. Peter thaks so much for this wonderful tribute to Marcus. I, too have read and have been inspired by his writings. I especially like the quote.
    Deborah Knutson


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