Sunday, June 19, 2011

Speaking Christian -- Book Review

Here is a book about words. The full title is Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—and How They Can Be Restored. It is by Marcus J. Borg, well known Bible and Jesus scholar and author of many books.
The book is written in understandable language. It’s interesting and thought provoking. According to Borg, the purpose of the book is to “exposit an alternative understanding, one that draws on the Bible and premodern Christian tradition….it compares and contrasts the contemporary meanings of Christian language with their often very different biblical and traditional meanings.” He points out that Christians often misunderstand the faith as presented in the language of the New Testament, because the words have taken on newer meanings than were intended originally.
Each word or phrase has its own chapter. Borg tells how the word is used today and what it meant in the Bible and the early Christian community. He presents a short essay (two or more pages) about the word or concept, with occasional personal anecdotes. This is not a dictionary, not written in alphabetical or encyclopedia format. It moves from one word to the next, so that one can pick it up and not need to read it in sequence.
Some chapters are Salvation, the Bible, God, God’s Character, Jesus, Mercy, Righteousness, Sin, and Heaven. I was impressed with the chapter about Mercy. He offers official dictionary definitions to show what most people think it is, and then goes into its historic origins, turning it into something like compassion. Of course, he has to explain compassion, too. Mercy in scripture and Hebrew associations is not about a person in power granting clemency to someone with less power. The Mercy chapter is just one example of the way Borg deals with the words of Christianity.
“Heaven and hell” Christianity gets its day, too. Borg doesn’t buy it. He says that that framework emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, and is the main reason that many people are Christians. Borg, as a liberal Protestant, explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth now and not just about going to heaven later. Borg doesn’t agree with a lot of the teachings with which Christians have grown up. He seems lukewarm about the Trinity, the afterlife, and about the divinity of Jesus.
There is a lot in this book. Borg correctly points out, “Christians in this country (and elsewhere) are deeply divided by different understandings of a shared language.” It is available from

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mowing the Lawn

I enjoy gardening. Yard maintenance in the woods is a different thing.
I came to the cottage this week for the purpose of mowing the lawn. You might ask why someone would drive more than 200 miles to mow the lawn, even if it was a foot and a half high with tassels on the tops. Even though we were hoping the deer would eat it so it wouldn’t be so tall.
I own this somewhat off-the-grid place on the shore of Lake Michigan with my brother. It has been for sale for six years since our mother died and left it to us. Most of my adult children and my two brothers’ adult children use it like a woodsy timeshare. Once in a while one of them will mow the lawn and cut firewood.
To date this year, however, I am the only person who has been here, although Sarah came with me for the long Memorial Day weekend. So I am responsible for the lawn for now. When Sarah and I were here last, we were unable to start the lawn mower. It’s only about thirty years old and might be the oldest mower on this island. I think my father bought it, and he died in 1992. Maybe he bought it when he bought the cottage in 1970. Is that a reason for it not to start? Apparently yes.
I came here to deal with it. This morning I stuffed the mower into the back of my little Toyota Yaris. Did I mention that it was raining? I took this heavy albatross to Dave’s Garage, without calling him first, of course. Dave and this mower are old friends. My husband took it to him at the start of many growing seasons when it wouldn’t start. Dave had us on file. Dave tuned it up for about $76. While he was doing that, I went to Mann’s Mercantile and looked at new lawn mowers. Just under $200. Hmmm.
Sometime during the morning the rain stopped. It stayed cloudy and wet. By 1:00 the mower was home and it was somewhat dry in the woods. Somewhat. The mower started right away. I mowed for a long time, starting with the driest places, which were the once gravel driveway and the sparsely grassed front yard facing the lake. You might know the expression, the grass is always greener over the septic tank. It’s true. Beginning with the septic tank, it was all downhill, not geographically but humanly. The grass was wetter and thicker. The grass over the plumbing mound was very wet and very thick. Mowing was hard work.
Usually I enjoy mowing the lawn. Not this time. I did it because it had to be done. When the grass is a foot and a half tall, it’s time. It was hard work pushing through grass that preferred to fall down instead of being cut, grass that gave me greenish wet shoes and jeans. I worked up a huge sweat. Finally, the mower stopped. It wasn’t out of gas. It was smoking. It had given up, I think. Most of the mound remained unmowed. The mower and I came to the same conclusion. It was time to stop. I found gobs of wet mulch in the underside, impeding the blade. I put it away.
I don’t think I’ll mow tall wet grass for a while again. The deer can have it.
(I must get back onto the grid to publish this. I’ll join the people on the lawn of the library, where people use its wi-fi when the library is closed. That is, if it isn’t raining again.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Things That Matter

I like many things, from avocados to zucchini. Not just food things. While enjoying my morning walk today, I thought about some things that make life worth living for me. I recognize that the things I like best are also good for people as a whole.

Here are the things that matter to me.

1. Faith. It shapes us as we grow throughout life. I believe that we Christians should look to what Jesus did and said as reported in the New Testament. We should not be distracted by Christians who forget that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Faith means ordering our national behavior to avoid wars. It means loving our neighbors as ourselves, and not using our fellow human beings for our individual or national selfish purposes. I believe that individually, locally and nationally, we should respect the faith of others who practice their faith differently. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, was reported to have said that he admired Jesus but not the Christians.

2. Relationships. Family matters greatly. Good family relationships strengthen us. They support us in our need. They give us environments in which to nurture each other. I love my five adult children, four grandchildren, brothers and their wives and children and grandchildren. I loved my husband even through stormy years together. A permanent partner is important for health and happiness. Good friends are few but satisfying. Family and friends are not to be manipulated but honored. When we offend our family or friends, it is important to mend the relationships. I have offended my family and friends but not ended the relationships. On the corporate and national scenes, we have seen examples of abuse of relationships throughout history. What must a person do to his or her relationships in order to become President? How many Presidents and politicians and celebrities have dishonored their wives through infidelity? How many worship power?

3. Health. Good health makes life worth living. I order my life around the hope of long life without disability or chronic illness. Our American medical system is a good thing when we have emergencies or life threatening illnesses. It isn’t very good in the way its benefits are distributed. I am thankful for Medicare and hope our politicians do not destroy it. Many opportunities are available to encourage good health. A large amount of material on health is available to us in books and on the internet. I think it is hard to navigate through all the contradictory information. Yet we have opportunities to make decisions about our health. I believe that many Americans live their lives with obesity, degenerative diseases including heart disease and diabetes, buying time with prescription and nonprescription drugs, while losing the health battle. I also believe that these conditions are preventable; my opinion has been voiced by many doctors and other health professionals. I believe that if what I said above about faith is valid, the United States should provide all Americans with a single payer medical care system. I also know that the issue has become one of politics rather than caring for one’s neighbor.

4. Food. Food is related to health. Good food promotes health; bad food promotes illness. I like to cook. I like the taste, color, texture, and smell of food. I like having farmers’ markets in Madison where I can buy fresh vegetables and frozen grass-fed meats. I enjoy eating in good restaurants. And I recognize that there is a big land mine in all this. The joy of variety in supermarkets brings with it the possibility that we will bring home bags of processed and genetically altered “foods” that are likely to bring on poor health. The wide availability of fast food for a stressed and hurried population makes bad food easy to consume. Michelle Obama has given visibility to obesity among children. Who will win, Michelle or our unhealthy economics of food production? Some people find themselves depending on junk food in fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Of course they get sick.

5. Brains. An educated population can make wise decisions. It doesn’t always do it, but it can do it. An educated population is likely to make informed choices about living. I value my education. It’s not just about finding jobs, although that helps, but it is about being human. A good public school system is important for everyone. A good university should not be out of economic reach for people who want to be educated. The internet provides a great deal of educational material. Good libraries offer reading materials for all kinds of people without discrimination. They need our support. It is no accident that I chose to be a librarian.

6. Mobility. We can travel, move into different homes, enjoy walking in the woods. Our country offers good highways that take people everywhere. Many cities have transit systems. Individually, we have crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. If we have money, we can see the world. If we don’t have money, well, too bad. At least we can walk around the block. Much of our mobility depends of money and government policy regarding how to go from point A to point B. Roads or railroads or airlines? We have come a long way with mobility. I am thankful for mine.

This is dedicated to Andrea, my granddaughter, whose high school graduation ceremony is today. I hope she will care about these things as she begins a new part of her life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


High profile spousal infidelity has been in the news a lot lately. Right now it centers on New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. A short time ago the focus was former Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger. Before them we heard about others, including Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Virginia former Governor Mark Sanford, Prince Charles, President Bill Clinton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, President John F. Kennedy (not publicized at the time), President Franklin D. Roosevelt (less publicized and a long time ago), and many more. They all had wives.

Publicly most of the men offered apologies. Privately they had to deal with the damage to their marriages. Their wives responded in a variety of ways. Some stayed married. Some didn't. But does a public apology mend a relationship?

Whenever a famous unfaithful husband is exposed publicly, I feel the pain that I assume their wives feel and felt after being betrayed in their relationships. I feel it because it hits me close to home. It happened to me, too, a long time ago. We are a large sisterhood.

Do those men excuse themselves by saying their sexual activities were their wives' fault, or they did things that technically were not sexual intercourse? Are their public apologies designed as attempts to retain their celebrity or power status? Is it all about narcissism?

Now that we have prostitutes (for Eliot Spitzer), oral sex (for Bill Clinton), subsequent death of spouse (for John Edwards), cybersex (for Rep. Weiner), phone sex (for many others), we are aware of the many ways for vulnerable men in high positions to take risks that can lead to their public destruction and the permanent changes to their most intimate relationships.

One televised image that stays with me is of Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, walking near, not with, her husband after his famous speech in which he acknowledged that he had sinned. Her body language said to me that Bill would have to deal with this episode in their lives himself.

Don't these men think about the pain they cause by thinking with a body part other than their brains? Do they think women are playthings to be used? Does power entitle them? Will they ever "get" it?