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

17 02 2016

My parents’ generation remembers “The summer of ’42,” but I remember the summer of ’76! That’s when those in my family began falling like flies! Everyone was being “born again” . . . mom, several of her Aunts, and even my grandmother! (My mom’s mother had been actually been born again in her younger years, as I’ve come to learn that she was often referred to as a ‘holy rollers.’ So I guess she was just born again, again!)

But as far as I was concerned, I figured that I was born a Christian the first time, and was perfectly content with that. I had no desire to be born, again; and I was not the least bit interested in becoming what I continue to refer to today as a ‘Crazy Christian!’ Never the less, in spite of my resistance, the rest of my family was changing, and quickly. Was it for the good? I think so . . . or at least I like to think so. I had always loved my family, even crotchety old Aunt Mary, who added all kinds of color to our clan. We all enjoyed being together, and would find all kinds of reasons to gather at someone’s house, usually my Aunt Gloria’s, to celebrate . . . just about anything. The men would watch golf in the family room. The women would cook and chatter away in the large country kitchen. And we kids would play “Blind Man’s Bluff” in the hallway, or “Pies” out in the front yard.

But in spite of that closeness, this new-found religion appeared to being at the last the women in our family closer than ever. Looking back, perhaps some of that change was superficial, but as a kid . . . well, it was clear that something good had happened to all of them. They may have been pretending, and having walked in those circles for much of my life, the changes may have been relatively shallow, but something definitely happened, and everyone knew it.

One summer evening in 1976, my mom came out to the backyard where my dad I were sitting on a picnic bench talking. I think we had just cut the grass – something I loved doing with him, and hence, did all the time! Their friends, Dr. John and Mickey, had just phoned to let them know of a concert over in Canada. (Growing up in Western New York, prior to 9/11, going to Canada was like going to 7-11 to get a Slurpee!)

“On no!” I thought to myself! “Not another . . . ‘concert!’”

Surprisingly, my mom won this battle, and after convincing her to let my cousin John come with us this time, I agreed to go. We arrived on the campus of a small community college, and proceeded to a large auditorium. It was packed, with hundreds of chairs surrounding a small stage, and over the platform was a large banner that read, “Dallas Holm and Praise.” My cousin John sat between me and my brother, and my parents were to my right. Some guy by the name of David Wilkerson (“The Cross and the Switchblade” guy!) gave a message that was surprisingly relevant, and somehow he managed to move even MY stubborn heart. Eventually he introduced Dallas Holm, and then the music began . . . tambourine and all!

“Not bad” I remember thinking! But not wanting to give any sign that I might actually be enjoying the evening, I kept such positive thoughts to myself. The band played for quite a while, with bold preaching between the songs, of Christ and ‘Christ crucified,’ and how tonight he was giving ME the chance to respond.

Now by this time, I had already been to several ‘alter calls’ in my life, and never did I plan on responding. But during Dallas’ last song, something happened. As the band played, and Dallas sang – Come unto Jesus, give him your life today. Come unto Jesus, let him have his way – I leaned over to my cousin and whispered, “I don’t think I can stay in these seats any longer!”

“Me either,” he whispered back!

“Timmy,” I said, elbowing my brother in the ribs, “c’mon, let’s go!”

I’m sure that Timmy had ‘made a commitment’ long ago, and so he looked at me with what I only remember as ‘disgusted shock!’. It was like he was speaking to me with his eyes, saying “It’s about time you big jerk!” Never the less, he agreed, and so the three of us made our way down front. When I looked back to see my parents, I noticed that they were gone. Then I felt my dad’s hand on my shoulder, and there, during that summer of 1976, I too, was born again.

Actually, if we’re talking spiritually, I still don’t know when I was born the first time! Perhaps it was my physical birth – because I knew these people didn’t really accept my baptism as an infant, or my confirmation in ninth grade, as having any kind relevance to what they were doing! Those sacraments were “Roman” ceremonies, and thus really held no weight in these new ‘real’ Christian circles. Evidently, contrary to my thinking, before this altar call, I was not really a Christian at all. I knew things “about God,” but didn’t really know God personally! I had a “religion, but not a relationship.” I was a good person, but “not good enough for God.” And apart from inviting Jesus into my heart, and ‘letting him have his way’, I never would be his beloved son. Original sin had tainted my soul, and until I intellectually accepted the cleansing blood of Jesus, I was on the outside looking in. Until I walked the sawdust trail, said the Sinner’s Prayer, and signed the little “Steps to Peace with God” booklet, I was lost – no ifs, ands, or buts, about it!

Now psychologists more informed than I might best assess what the concept of original sin has done to people over the years. However at the very least, it has divided humanity into “us and them” – those who have done something about their sin and those who have not. And the years the results of this line of thinking have only served to segregate and foster irreconcilable differences between races, cultures, religions throughout the ages. Still today, the irony is that it remains at the heart of BOTH, Roman Catholic and Evangelical teaching. Both here in America and around the world, these two important theological movements have the same starting point, and while their responses take them in slightly different directions, they both continue to neglect what I believe to be one of the most basic teachings of the Bible.

Marcus Borg, in “The Heart of Christianity” writes (pp.164-64) “We begin with sin. The language of sin (and forgiveness) dominates the Christian imagination . . . (and it’s) centrality in Christian thought and practice is evident.” He points out that until recently, Roman Catholics were expected to make their confession to God BEFORE they could receive the sacrament; and for evangelicals, the second step in finding ‘peace with God’ remains all about acknowledging a sin about which we can do absolutely nothing.

But it is this our primary identity?

In the first creation story of Genesis, authors have God proclaiming that humanity is ‘very good.’ And yet so often, the church has allowed its understanding of sin to alter this line of thinking and believing. It’s theology of “the fall” has been so literalized, that it has – unconsciously at best, consciously at the worst – painted a picture of a God who is doing little more than playing games with creation. He created human beings with free will, knowing very well that we’d make way too many wrong choices; and then require us to make a better choice, which we actually have no power to do on our own, because again, our human nature is to make the wrong choice; BUT, fortunately, to some – not everyone, but to some, the chosen ones – God has given the ability to respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and to make the correct choice, and thus experience salvation and redemption, so that we can get to heaven when we die.

Now read that last sentence again, and tell me that such a view of God is not a capricious one!

No friends, in spite of everything we have learned, while humanity makes mistakes, the message of the Gospel is that God loves us none the less. And while those mistakes have consequences, the message of the Gospel is that NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM GOD’S LOVE!


So what happened to me that night in 1976? I’m not sure I really know. But whatever happened, it had less to do with God changing God’s opinion of me, and more to do with me changing my opinion of God. It was less about God changing God’s relationship with me, and more about me changing my relationship with God. And it was less about God now being able to overlook my original sin, and more about my NOT being able to overlook my original blessing.

Priest and author Matthew Fox says that “we enter a broken and torn and sinful world – that’s for sure. But we do not enter as sinful creatures, we burst into the world as ‘original blessings.’” With mystics throughout the centuries, Fox proclaims, and so too must we proclaim, that Original Blessing trumps Original Sin at every corner! That is our primary identity, and that is the primary message of Jesus. Further, it’s why the Gospel is good news, and it’s why grace is so amazing!



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