“Born again, again” by Bob Melone – Introduction, part 2 of 3

17 12 2015

BobThe progressively liberal leg of my journey actually began more than a decade ago, in 2002!

It was a beautiful Monday morning when I got the call. Virginia’s hot and humid summer days were slowly giving way to the cooler and colorful days of autumn, and after a wonderful Church Retreat I was excited about all that was happening in the New Church Development project I had undertaken two years earlier. Convinced that God was growing and blessing the ministry that my family and I had so willingly embraced, I was full of renewed passion and vision for the church’s third program year under my leadership.

I didn’t recognize the voice on the other end of the line, and when he gave his name, that didn’t help much. Phone calls early in the morning, like those in the middle of the night, always startle me and send shock waves of panic through my bones. Never the less, I always try to answer with a ‘hello’ that makes it sound as though I’ve been wide awake for hours, sitting around doing nothing but waiting for the person’s call. Sadly, regardless of my cherry disposition when I answer at that hour of the morning, the news that follows is never good.

On this morning, my groggy consciousness was quickly able to discern this reality. Something had happened. Something tragic. Something that was going to break my heart. Something that was going to make me want to stay in bed . . . all day . . . and not have to face the mean, unfair, and cruel world anytime soon.

Seventeen months earlier, our church had hired a wonderful woman to develop and expand the worship and music life of our growing congregation. She was a single mom, with three wonderful children between the ages of 9 and 15, and with a vibrant faith and a contagiously energetic spirit. Together we were designing Sunday morning corporate worship gatherings that offered people something fresh and different . . . something relevant and engaging . . . something full of life and brimming with joy. Gone was rigid adherence to a worship order that lacked energy and vitality; and in its place were all kinds of creative and contemporary expressions of faith. Tradition was being explained and reinterpreted, and a style that had become little more than the breeding ground of apathy, had been replaced with one full of new life.

It had not been easy, but in 17 months, our new worship leader had become more than another staff member – she had become a friend, part of the family, and an integral part of our growing band of disciples seeking to change the image of the church – if even in just a small way.

“Is this Bob Melone?” came the voice on the phonr.

“Yes it is,” I said.

“Bob, there’s been an accident. Do you think you could get over to the hospital?”

Within minutes, I would learn that our beloved worship leader had been hit by a drunk driver. She was half a mile from her house, returning home with her youngest daughter after taking her son to a friend’s house to spend the night. The little girl was fine, but my new friend was on life support and probably not going to survive.

Almost a year to the day earlier, my world had been similarly shaken, on September 11, 2001. I was in a staff meeting when my wife called to tell me that a terrible tragedy was unfolding in New York City. She would call again, only a few minutes later, to tell me of similar horrors in DC. I quickly closed the church office and headed home, walking into the house as the second tower collapsed. Within minutes I was weeping, as evil manifested itself before my very eyes.

Had I ever been confronted with such evils before? Of course. I had studied apartheid in college. I knew all about the famine in Ethiopia in the mid-80s. I had been on several mission trips to Mexico, Jamaica, and in various parts of Appalachia. And I had seen all kinds of racism, sexism, and homophobia, in various segments of our culture and society. Furthermore, like most everyone else, I had dealt with my share of tragic deaths. I had led a memorial service for a two year old killed in another car accident with a drunk driver in Erie, PA; as well as for a kind, elderly, small business owner who was shot and killed when someone broke into his convenience store in York, PA. I had officiated at close to 100 memorial services in my second church alone, and had lost a great grand-mother, four grandparents, and several great aunts and uncles.

Had I seen the brokenness and malevolence of our world? Of course I had. But I wasn’t prepared for the shaking that these two pivotal events would bring to my life. The tragic death of our worship leader, and the horrific events of 9/11 had left me angry and confused, and brought to the surface all of the doubts and questions that I had buried deep within my soul.

Trite and simplistic reasonings rang in my head: We live in a broken world and sometimes God allows bad things to happen to good people; God’s ways are not our ways, and His plans are not always our plans; we just can’t see the bigger picture – and we’ll never understand the mind of God!

I had heard them all. Worse yet, I had even used many of them. But this time, they simply didn’t work. They didn’t make sense and they didn’t offer me any comfort. If this was the way in which God worked – or failed to work – then this god was not one I wanted to worship. In fact such a god was not worthy of worship! This god was certainly not one to whom I wanted to give my life.

It was around this same time that I began attending the National Pastors Conference, sponsored by Youth Specialties and Zondervan Publishing. There, I was exposed to a Maryland pastor by the name of Brian McLaren, and to a conversation about what many were referring to as the “Emerging Church.” Evidently, I wasn’t the only evangelical wrestling with teachings that didn’t make sense; others too were questioning the traditional understanding of prayer, the sovereignty of God, and much, much more.

I was not alone. And I was not going crazy. Now, finally, I had people to talk with and journey with — people who loved God and who were committed to following Jesus, but who were not so rigid in their understanding of faith that there was no room for mystery or uncertainty, diversity or inclusivity. So the doubts began pouring forth, and I was finally given permission to ask the questions that for so long I had been afraid to ask!



One response

18 12 2015

I love this. Thank you!

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