“Born again, again” by Bob Melone – Preface

4 12 2015

Preface

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have questions – about everything! I have always been inquisitive, and when it comes to matters of God and faith my questions have only led me into a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and part of God’s great plan for creation. I’m convinced that good questions do this – they grow us, making our lives richer and stronger, and setting our hearts in tune with the harmonies of creation.

I first began putting my spiritual questions down on paper in August of 1983 – prior to my first year in seminary. A child of the Church, I was becoming more frequently disturbed by the divisions I witnessed within the Body, and was convinced that someone needed to write about those divisions. Believers, all of whom claimed to love God, were always arguing about their beliefs; and I frequently found myself in the middle of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants, Charismatics and Pentecostals, Conservatives and Liberals. And the more my world grew, the louder the arguments became and the more my frustrations grew.

During my middle and high school years, the homilies of the Monsignor in our local parish were more about the importance of sending your kids to Catholic Schools, than on the Gospel readings that were supposed to grow my walk with God. At a cousin’s wedding, watching my grandmother remain in her seat during communion because she was Protestant, while the rest of our family went forward to ‘commune’ with God, only served to drive home the absurdity of believing that there was only one way to know and experience God. And when I began dating a girl from a local Baptist Church, while her family was glad I knew the importance of being ‘born again’, there was never the less a great deal of concern over my family’s speaking in tongues and there heresy of such beliefs.

The ‘problems’ all began when my Great-Aunt become involved with the Charismatic movement. Loud discussions and arguments about what we believed became commonplace at our dinner table, and conversations about God, faith, Church, and ‘having a personal relationship with Jesus’ dominated the life of my nuclear, and eventually extended family. And when a family member’s leg supposedly grew an inch at a local healing service – well, that was when the questions began exploding all over my world.

In college, my world became even larger, and what I have come to label as nothing short of brain-washing by religious fundamentalists, led me into a period of militant evangelism. My penance for being president of a Jewish fraternity was the call to convert the entire campus of American University; and my zealousness led me to a way of living out my faith that was nothing short of obnoxious. Fortunately, a semester abroad during my senior year began pushing me towards a more intellectually credible faith; and upon returning to Washington, DC to finish up my college career, I became a member of National Presbyterian Church. There, my faith continued to grow and expand, and by April I had been admitted to Princeton Theological Seminary.

PTC challenged me in ways I have only now come to appreciate. Back then, however, while I was being exposed to all kinds of approaches to Scripture, and to theologies that I didn’t even know existed for the first 22 years of my life, I clung tightly to the traditional evangelical approach to God, and simply ‘endured’ what I was all too quick to declare to be heretical views of Christianity. My active involvement with Young Life and Presbyterians For Renewal only further entrenched me in a way of thinking that was Biblically inconsistent at best, and arrogant and manipulative at their worst. I dearly love the people who were part of my life during those formative years, particularly those from both of those organizations, and I am grateful for that ‘leg’ of my journey, but . . . but what? I guess all I will say is that at times the theology undergirding their ministry was a little too exclusive and narrow for the life I believe God is calling me to live.

Upon graduation from PTS in 1986, church life completely distracted me from the critical thinking that was then and is still today so lacking in so many segments of the church. I was consumed by what seminaries often refer to as “practical theology,” as the day to day issues of ministry absorbed my every waking moment. My first call to First Presbyterian Church of York was full of joys that I still celebrate thirty years after my formal ministry there ended. As the Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Ministries, I had the great privilege of working with a wonderful group of youth leaders, teens, and parents – people who I deeply loved, and whose company I still enjoy today. I have officiated at countless marriages of old ‘youth-groupers’ and have watched them grow and mature and become adults their parents should be proud of. But as a young, 20-some year old pastor, church politics sapped my strength, and seeds of disillusion with the church took root in my soul.

After six years in York I was called to First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Erie, PA to serve as Pastor/Head of Staff; and there, the tasks of leading the largest Church in Lake Erie Presbytery only drove me further and further from the one I had given my life to in my teens. I was completely swallowed up by the life of the large church; and as a result, I neglected my wife, missed out on some of the most important parts of my childrens’ early years, and allowed the demands of professional ministry to smother the Spirit that was living and moving within me. Doctoral work at Gordon-Conwell pushed me to think harder about my walk, but once again, it was more about call to pastor, and less about my call to follow!

In an attempt to flee what I could only describe as the suffocating nature of traditional, institutional Christianity, my wife and I decided to consider New Church Development in the Presbyterian Church, and within a year we moved to Williamsburg, VA to begin a leg of our journey that brought us more joy than we ever ‘hoped, dreamed, or even dared to imagine.’ The people, groups, and communities that were part of our lives have left indelible marks upon our souls and will never be forgotten.

After thirteen wonderful years in one of the most beautiful places we have ever lived, I responded to a call to and from the people of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, in Alexandria, Virginia. So in June of 2013 we moved back to the DC area, and here my journey continues. I am surrounded by people who remain continually open to the proddings and pushings, musings and meddling of the Spirit, and who are eager to embrace a participatory eschatology, where the church is more about behavior than belief, deed than creed. (And yes, we still love Jesus, too!)

Have I struggled over the past 30 years? Of course! Life in general, and ministry in specific, are never without struggles. But today, I find myself closer to the things of God than ever before; and the Spirit continues to deepen my understanding of and walk with Jesus, the Christ. Every person, in every church I’ve served, has had a role in the faith that I am living into and enjoying today, and I’m grateful to you all. You’ve grown me and my ministry, and in many ways done for me what seminary did not do. So thank you. And thank God for the progressive movements of Christianity that exist today, constantly pushing the rigid boundaries of so much of Christianity, and inviting people into a faith that truly is . . . reformed and always being reformed, according the Living Word and the call the Beloved Spirit.

Perhaps, this is what it means to be born again . . . again, and again, and again!


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