Rebirth Within: The Meaning of “Born Again” in a Hostile World

When most people think “born again”, I reckon they imagine some fat ladies acting as intrusive small-town busybodies while singing glory hymns to a swaying flock at a Southern tent revival, a hypocrite who claims and feigns piety yet gets caught in some terrible public act of crime or scandal, a pious-acting pseudo-Christian who pretends to have a perfect life and perfect marriage (in denial of his/her own deep swims in pools of adulterous salaciousness), or a TV preacher begging for money to subsidize his mansion, his trophy wife’s diamonds, and a private jet supposedly immune from demons.

All such events and people have existed, no argument–albeit in exceedingly small quantities compared to the total Christian population. Yet when revealed, they disproportionately are publicized by the attack dogs of dogma on the anti-Christian left and portrayed as wholly representative of the churchgoing flocks. “Look at these hypocrites! See, I told you religion is evil and should be eliminated from the world forever.”

Those are mere stereotypes of course, little capsules of culture-concocted hate-poison used against an entire category of people, and manifestations of the cynicism of the human world acting to generalize caricatures into weapons of rejection. The hateful rage, naturally enough, arises from many of the same ones who preach love and tolerance. Read any website or post of anti-Christian vitriol online and you’ll see examples of those same human flaws wielded over and over, in exhausting and unoriginal redundancy, as weapons against the religion. The “Christian” hypocrites (regardless if real or perceived) make convenient fodder for intellectually lazy anti-Christian trolls aiming to discredit the faith itself through selfishly self-satisfying vituperation on the imperfections of real or pretend practitioners.

Who is behaving as such a troll? The resentful and/or envious and/or jealous and/or cynical and/or mean-spirited anti-Christian bigot, of course, who stands willing and ready at the hair-trigger to cite all manifestations of imperfection and hypocrisy, major or minor, old or new, portrayed falsely as products of belief in God. Of course, such actions are precisely the opposite–the direct spawn of sinful thought on the part of non-divine humans (i.e., everyone who isn’t Jesus) who choose their bad behaviors out of free will! Every single sin is an act against God’s will, not an act on his behalf, regardless of how it is portrayed.

Rebirth and authentic, personal belief don’t involve perfection, nor pretending piety, nor even failing to sin again. The latter is not possible. No living human fully achieves Jesus’ direction to “sin no more”. Instead, to use a mathematical analogy, freedom from sin is a goal that we only can hope to approach asymptotically in this life, and only if we put forth conscious effort. I still do things I shouldn’t, and that’s the truth, even if the trend line seems to be headed the right way in fits and spurts. That’s not an excuse to do bad things, just an acknowledgment of hard reality.

Does my imperfection disqualify me as Christian? Absolutely, positively, resolutely not! And neither does it render the faith illegitimate.

If being practiced by imperfect people is reason to discredit a faith, then being practiced by imperfect scientists is reason to discredit science. Being practiced by imperfect physicians is justification to invalidate medicine. Being practiced by imperfect athletes is cause to dismiss athletics. Being practiced by imperfect writers is grounds to besmirch authorship…and so forth. Ridiculous!

This also is reality: Rebirth happens within each single individual, in a very real and meaningful way, and only when we’re fully open to it in a mode of self-denial. By that, I mean turning off and tuning out all distractions, pushing aside all the diversions of life just long enough to experience a moment outside oneself. It’s hard to find, but unmistakable once we do. There’s a mountainous obstacle to that around or over which one must navigate: culture, a.k.a. “the world”.

We live in a world intrinsically infested with materialism, greed and self-glorification. That reaches us via cultural bombardment with incoming messages from celebrities, media, Internet, peers, and even family, promoting the selfish ideals (and idols!) of:

  1. deserving instead of offering,
  2. gaudiness instead of modesty,
  3. appearances instead of authenticity,
  4. evasion instead of directness,
  5. deception instead of honesty,
  6. portraying instead of being, and of course,
  7. taking instead of giving.

The din of all that spiritually numbing noise offers a level of disruption and distraction that takes nearly inhuman levels of willpower to silence, unless we just step away. Yet it happens if we allow, often in a quiet moment of solitude, or in mutual reinforcement with spiritually mature and strong people we can trust.

It happens for me often with my wife Elke, someone who isn’t perfect either, but who is a spiritual giant residing inside her authentically quiet, unassuming persona. It happens in the inflow to a powerhouse tornadic supercell, or beholding one of those Great Plains sunsets that paint a neon sky from horizon to horizon. It deeply happens when I experiencing those things with Elke. Moments of spiritual oneness outside self–these are marvelous antidotes to the toxicity of hostile culture and human failings, and expressions of love from Above that say, “I am bigger than all the hate directed at you, and I will prevail in your life if you choose!” So I accept that I will be hated for my beliefs, even as I choose guerrilla battles to wage against said hate.

Rebirth can be a one-time big event, thousands of little steps or reminders, and everything in between. It can be that “booming voice from the heavens” for some folks, but more often it seems to be epitomized by the following reassurance, found in Paul’s letter to Christ’s followers in Ephesus: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around, but by working within us–his spirit deeply and gently within us.”

That’s the essence of rebirth: we must want it, invite it, open up to it. Maybe it’s gradual (as with me, still a “work in progress”). Maybe it’s sudden. Either way the result is as individual as each of us, customized to and for each of us according to our uniqueness. It can be manifest as simply as fullest appreciation of the smile of a beloved spouse, the dog wagging its tail and looking at you with unadulterated loyalty and affection, or the purr of one’s ecstatic cat in a quiet room. It’s as complex as the sky and everything in it, or as all the facets of love itself.

Such rebirth, especially if experienced with a loved one or good friend, also makes us more accountable, more aware than ever before of our own imperfections and relative smallness, more willing to set ego aside and apologize for mistakes we invariably will make. Accountability is so important to everyone, fulfilling instead of restricting when properly considered, is a vanishing concept in the era of “me, myself and I”.

Rebirth also makes us more attentive to the awesome things happening all around that we missed before, or at least, didn’t appreciate so fully. This ability, which still manifests far too seldom in me compared to the connection with God that I desire, leads one directly away from cultural pollution and toward glory and grace. Documenting such moments in the atmosphere with photography, for me, is a small way to show off the beauty and amazement of Another’s creation more than any skill of my own. [In other words, He makes the picture; I just try my best not to screw it up too much.]

And those who have experienced rebirth still have personalities and quirks and flaws and failings. You bet I belch, fart, hack snot, wear casual clothes everywhere including church, blast forth uncouth words sometimes, and even get pissed off and do crazy shit that I shouldn’t. [Whoa, did a Christian just write that? Damn straight, he did!] Yes, I am also a Christian, fully devoted. It’s who I am. Those are not contradictions.

And yet the rebirth has happened, and is ongoing–a lifelong process. I’d rather take that journey than the other forks branching off life’s highway.



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