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“Born Again” Born Anew

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor Connecting Voices
The man working on my errant computer eyed the cross and shelf of books above my desk with an interest that soon morphed into concern…no, make that “aversion.”  The Message and Da Jesus Book alongside King James?  And as for The Woman’s Bible…shudder!  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, maybe, but Marcus Borg and Bart Ehrman?  Bishop Spong?  Jesus & Buddha, The Five Gospels and The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues?  Heaven help us!

He spoke, finally.  “Are you born again?”

My answer triggered a long exposition on why I HAD TO BE in order to be saved.  He sure got a lot of mileage out of the three (that’s right ONLY three) usages of “born again” in the Bible.  He didn’t, however, mention that one of the Greek words used can mean both “again” and “from above” or that the Jews of the time spoke Aramaic.  Nor did he question why a concept he considered central to true faith got such minimal coverage by the Bible’s authors.

I finally escaped to tend to the stew bubbling atop my stove and the berry cobbler in the oven – and to think about what I believed and, perhaps more compelling, what I didn’t believe.  I felt at one with writer Madeleine L’Engle, who said, “I believe in God with all my doubts.”

I, too.  I’m comfortable there and in the UCC where I’m a heretic in good company, as a popular t-shirt proclaims.

The phrase “born again” lingers, however, occasionally challenging me to address it.  Could it, the little demon on my shoulder asks, be a “baby” the progressive church “threw out with the bathwater?”

Perhaps that possibility, however implausible I might think it, is why it bubbled to the surface of my thoughts during a recent Bible study session in which we were exploring Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5, verses 25 – 33.

Paul was laying down the law to a troubled church where folks hadn’t been treating each other very well.  Lies, bitterness, anger, cursing, censure, greed, immorality, indecency…the list of behaviors Paul wanted changed paint a rather dismal portrait of Jesus’ followers in Ephesus.  They were, in Paul’s words, making “God’s Spirit sad” – the very Spirit that “makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.”  He reminded them, pointedly, that “we are part of the same body.”

As we talked – and, as always, with the Tuesday night Bible study crew, we TALKED! – my eye wandered to verses following and preceding the lectionary selection.  Chapter 5, verse 5, for example:  “You can be sure that people who behave in this way will never be part of the kingdom that belongs to Christ and to God.”    And, in 4:23-24:  “Let the Spirit change your way of thinking and make you into a new person.  You were created to be like God, and so you must please him and be truly holy.”

That’s when it clicked.  For me it would be hard to find a better definition of “born again” – “born again” as in “Get your act together, join hands and live the way God wants you to.  Let go and let God make you into a new person.  Be born anew.”

Were that computer guy to return, my answer to his question would be the same.  I’m not – nor am I likely to ever be – a “born again Christian” as the term is popularly used.   And I’d probably still “smart off” and respond “No, I’d rather share him” when asked, “Do you take Jesus as your personal savior?”

But…in the words of Thomas Merton, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.  That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business.  What we are asked to do is love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

That I can strive for…and in the process be born anew, over and over again.

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