Sunday, May 01, 2005: “The Heart of Christianity… Chapters 8 and 9”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus Borg
Preface and Chapters 8 and 9:
“Thin Places: Opening the Heart” and
“Sin and Salvation: Transforming the Heart”
>  Learn more about Marcus Borg:  click HERE

Discussion Led By George Snyder
Sunday, May 01, 2005



The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus Borg
(San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004)

Session 5, May 1 and 4, 2005

CHAPTER 8 THIN PLACES: Opening the Heart 


> “‘Open hearts’ and ‘thin places” suggest much of what is central to being Christian. Together, these two metaphors express the emerging paradigm’s rational and transformational vision of the Christian life. They name both the goal and the means of transformation, the purpose and practice of the Christian life for us as individuals and in our life together as church.”


> “Heart” is a comprehensive metaphor for the self-metaphor for the inner self 

151 “The heart is an image for the self at a deep level, deeper than our 
perception, intellect, emotion, and volition. As the spiritual center of the total self, it affects all of these: our sight, thought, feelings, and will.” 


> “The heart, the self at its deepest level, can be turned toward GQd or away from God, open to God or closed to God.” 

152 Closed heart-blindness; limited vision; enclosed in our own world; affect the reasoning process; can deceive ourselves; “closed heart and bondage go together” ; lacks gratitude; can feel self-made, entitled, bitter; “insensitive to wonder and awe”; a closed heart forgets God.. .loses track of the Mystery always around us”; preoccupied with self; separated, disconnected; lacking in compassion; insensitive to justice; “the self builds up layers of protection to defend itself against an unreliable and hurtful world;” 

> Closed heart is a natural process of growing from childhood to adulthood; “birth and development of self-awareness involves an increasing sense of being a separated self.” 

154 “The hatching of the heart-the opening of the self to God, the sacred-is a comprehensive image for the individual dimension of the Christian life.” This happens with the help of the Spirit of God operating through thin places.


> “Thin places”-part of Celtic Christianity 

> “sees God, ‘the More,’ as the encompassing Spjrit in which everything is. God is not somewhere else, but ‘right here.'” 

> “God is a non-material layer of reality all around us, ‘right here’ as well as ‘ more than right here.'” Denotes two worlds-“our visible world of our ordinary experience and God, the sacred, Spirit.” 

> Thomas Merton: “lt becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without Him. It’s impossible. The only thing is that we don’t see it.” 

> We do get glimpses of God-at the “‘thin places”‘… where these two levels of reality meet or intersect.” The veil lifts for a moment and we are able to see God 

> Can be a geographical place-different places for different people. 

> “A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened. To use sacramental language, a thin place is a sacrament of the sacred, a mediator of the sacred, a means whereby the sacred becomes present to us. A thin place is a means of grace.” 

>Thin places can be secular or religious. 


> The central purpose of traditional Christian practice “is to become a thin place where our hearts are opened.” 

> “Worship can become a thin place. Indeed, this is one of its primary 
purposes… worship is about praising God. But worship is not about God needing praise… worship as the power to draw us out of ourselves. Worship is directed to God, but is in an important sense for us. 

> Worship is about creating a sense of the sacred, a thin place.” 
.Different denominations create this in different ways; different people require different means of creating thin places. 

> “The primary role of music of participatory music-congregational singing-is to provide a thin place…We sing to God, and our hearts are opened. The hymns that do this best combine two features: words that move us and music that can be easily sung.” 

> “Hymns that are difficult to sing are very unlikely to work as a thin place. Hymns intended for congregational participation need to be accessible to musically untrained and musically challenged voices.” 

> 158:  Baptism and the Eucharist can be thin places-means of grace. 

> “The preaching of the word is meant to become a thin place, a place where our hearts are opened.” 

> “The Bible can become a thin place…when read well, the lectionary readings can become sacramental.” 

> Liturgical words-e.g. the Lord’s Prayer, creeds, confession, responses. “When we say words that we know “by heart,” is not an intellectual exercise in which we think about the meaning of the words. Liturgical words are not about intellectual content. They serve a different function… the point is to let the drone of these words that we know by heart become a thin place.” 

> The creeds “affirm the co-centrality of God, Jesus, and the Spirit… through these chunky words…God is mediated…[they] become a thin place as we join ourselves in the sound of the community saying these words together. As we do so we also join ourselves with a community that transcends time… we become 
part of the communion of saints, together in thin places. 

> Liturgical times move us. They open us to a deeper level of ourselves. 

160 “ln general, the spoken word is the least effective way of opening the heart. 
The spoken word, unless it is poetry or story, tends to address the head, and we have to pay attention with our minds.” 

> Prayer-Creating a thin place “is one of the central functions of prayer: to become a thin place in which our hearts are opened…this is especially the purpose of the prayer of internal silence. The silence becomes a thin place in which we sit in the presence of God: ‘Be still and know that I am God.'” 

> “In a comprehensive sense, the opening of the heart is the purpose of spirituality, of both our collective and individual practices. The Christian life is about the ‘hatching of the heart,’ the opening of the self to the Spirit of God by spending time in the thin places. 


> “An open heart and seeing go together.” See better when heart is opened; we move from darkness to light. Open heart-alive to wonder and knows ‘radical amazement.’ Gratitude goes along with an open heart. 

> “An open heart, compassion, and a passion for justice go together. An open 
heart feels the suffering and pain of the world and responds… The purpose of the Christian life, of life in Christ, is to become more and more compassionate beings. 

CHAPTER 9 SIN AND SALVATION: Transforming the Heart 


>””Sin’ and ‘salvation’ are very familiar words to Christians. Loaded and multi- layered in meaning, they have been central to Christian vocabulary from the 
beginning. Yet both are often poorly understood. Some understandings obscure their meanings, even trivialize them.” 

> “The language of sin ( and forgiveness) dominates the Christian imagination.” Almost every church service contains a confession of sin. .Lord’s Prayer is centered on sin. 

> Sin is thought to be the reason for Jesus’ death. 165 WHAT IS SIN? 

> Sin-failure to keep God’s law 

> Reinhold Niebuhr-‘root sin’ is pride-hubris-self-centeredness 

> Paul Tillich-sin is separation; separation from that to which we belong; estrangement from God. 

> Sin is unfaithfulness to God; idolatry; centering in something other than God; lack of trust in God 


> Sin-failure to keep God’s law 

> Reinhold Niebuhr-‘root sin’ is pride-hubris-self-centeredness 

> Paul Tillich-sin is separation; separation from that to which we belong; estrangement from God. 

> Sin is unfaithfulness to God; idolatry; centering in something other than God; lack of trust in God 


> Sin is part of the human condition; so are being blind, being in exile, being in bondage, having closed hearts, being hungry and thirsty, being lost 

> “So also ‘sin’ has a correlative image in the Bible and in the Christian imagination-‘forgiveness.’ Thus, when sin is need as the issue, the logic of the 
image suggests that the solution is forgiveness. When sin becomes the one-size- fits-all designator of the human condition, then forgiveness becomes the one-size fits-all remedy. And this is the problem.” Forgiveness does not end blindness, exile, bondage, hunger, thirst, etc. 

> “Estrangement, the birth of the separated self, is the natural result of growing up; it cannot be avoided. For the same reason, we develop closed hearts, a shell around the self. There is a sense in which we are blinded by the imprinting of culture on our psyches and our perception. In a sense, we fall into bondage through no fault of our own. It’s the inevitable result of growing up.” 

169 Borg suggests we should let go of the term “sin” covering all aspects of the human condition, and use it as one of many terms for what ails human beings. 

> “…sin in popular Christianity is often understood individualistically, obscuring the reality of ‘social sin.’… much of human suffering and misery is not because of our individual sins, but because of collective sin.” 


> Salvation is also a loaded term with many layers of meaning



> “Whenever the afterlife is emphasized, the most invariable result is that it turns 
Christianity into a religion of requirements.” 

> As a result, “there must be something that separates those who do get to go from those who don’t.” 

> This thinking creates an “in” group and an “out” group. 

> “My critique of what happens when the afterlife is emphasized involves no denial of an afterlife.” 


> “The biblical understandings of salvation are focused on this world, not the next.” .A clear, stated belief in after life first appears in book of Daniel, written about 165 CBE.


> … the notion of an afterlife arises as compensation for those killed for their loyalty to God. The possibility was soon extended beyond martyrs to others.” 

173 Jesus apparently believed in an afterlife; doesn’t mention it much. 
> Jesus’s message “was not really about how to get to heaven. It was about a way of transformation in this world and the Kingdom of God on earth.” 

> New Testament writers believed in an afterlife. 

> Paul: speaks of being with Christ forever; but his emphasis was on a new life in 

> John-“eternal life” is one of his major themes. This is often spoken of in the 
present tense. “Eternal life does not refer to unending time beyond death, but to something that can be know now.” 

> In its broadest sense, salvation thus means becoming whole and being healed. The language of ‘wholeness’ suggests movement beyond fragmentation, and the language of ‘healing’ suggests being healed of the wounds of existence.” 


> Exodus from Egypt “images the human problem as bondage and slavery…our problem is that we live in Egypt, the land of bondage… it’s a life of powerlessness and victimization.” 

> The exodus is not the end; the Hebrew left Egypt and went into the wilderness, journeyed for forty years, and ended up in God’s promised land. 

> Exile in Babylon-Jews living under foreign domination in a foreign land. This is ! a “story of separation from one’s homeland and longing for home, it is marked by 
I yearning, grief, loneliness, anger and despair…the solution is a journey of return, a journey that God both invites and energizes… The story of salvation is a story of reconnection with the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one who has always been here even though we have been estranged.” 

> Temple Story-shows the human problem as sin and impurity; both of these prevented entrance into the presence of God; temple sacrifice could end-the problem. “The story addresses our sense of being stained and soiled, of being sinful and unworthy. The story of salvation is thus a story of being cleansed, forgiven, accepted. [This is the story that most Christians identify with.] 

> Jesus comes to set the captives free-the liberator. “Salvation is liberation.” 

> is seen as “the way.” He embodies the way of return. ; “Salvation is homecoming.” 

> his death was “the once for all” sacrifice for sin, replacing the 
need for temple sacrifice. “Salvation is about forgiveness and acceptance.” 

178 SALVATION AS BOTH SOCIAL AND PERSONAL .Salvation is personal. 

> Salvation in the Bible is also social. “Salvation is about life together. Salvation is about peace and justice within community and beyond community… Salvation ‘is never only an individual affair in the Hebrew Bible.” 

> Social Salvation is also a New Testament theme. “The Bible is not about the saving. of Individuals for heaven, but about a new social and personal reality in the midst Qt this life.” 


> “Salvation comes from God, even as it involves our response.” 

> “yet salvation always involves our response… Without our response, little or 
nothing will change in our lives or in the life of the world. Salvation is the work of God, and yet we must respond .” 

> “Without us, without our response, God will not do it; and we, without God, cannot do it. Without us, without our response, God will not transform us or rescue us, either as individuals or societies. We without God cannot bring about transformation. But God without our response will not bring about transformation. ” 


> “The trivialization of sin sees it individualistically as ‘breaking God’s rules’ and thus as deserving God’s punishment. It is a much richer and more perception notion. The trivialization of salvation sees it as being about individuals ‘going to heaven’ because they have believed or done what is necessary. It is a much richer, more life-affirming, and hopeful notion. In the richer sense of these words, the Christian life leads from sin to salvation-from living within our predicament to being in a transforming relationship with God.”

> Biblical meaning of “repent” is not about sorrow, ‘it is about resolution; repent means to return from exile, to reconnect with God.” 

> In the New Testament, repentance is about following Jesus. 

> “The Greek roots of the word combine to mean ‘go beyond the mind that you have.” 

> “Repentance is the path of salvation. It is the path of reconnection, the path of 
transformation, the path of being born again, the path of dying and rising, the path of response to the message of the Kingdom of God…”



> Life after death is a mystery; Borg has no concept of what might occur. 

> “I see no way of deciding among these different ways of imagining what lies 
beyond death.” 

> “And the sense of a ‘More’ is the ground of our hope, and even more of our trust. We live in God. We move in God. We have our being in God. And when we die, we do not die into nothingness; we die into God.”