born again

I have always shunned the term born again. This phrase brought up thoughts of witless teens handing out tracts at the Olympics, or the forceful conversion conversations that occurred with evangelicals about the state of my soul. For me, born again became synonymous with everything that was wrong with Christianity. This led me to write them off as forever lost to Christianity, mainly because of our blatant inability to respect one another and the religions we carry with us; and, on a personal note, not being able to get beyond "born again's" historical meanings. I guess that one of the greatest things about having prejudices is finding that moment when we are able to escape them...

The lectionary passage from this past Sunday was the famous text in John that gave "birth" to the idea about being born again. As I listened to a good sermon about this idea, and the need for progressives to reclaim it so that passion once again is portion of faith, and the rational becomes the radical, I heard something that disagreed with me. At the moment the words floated effortlessly into the congregational milieu, I knew they felt wrong to me. I could not agree with the idea that being born again meant that we have to die to something else.

There is nothing in the text that supports this idea, which leads me to believe that any juxtaposition of death and birth that we cling to today must have its rise in tradition. The only things that are set against one another in this text are the ideas of heaven and flesh, which if carried out to an extreme would give credence to the heretical idea of dualism. However, I am not concerned with the historical implications of a heretical dualism; instead, I want to introduce the thoughts that have once again allowed me to consider the term "born again" Christian.

First, when we juxtapose the ideas of birth and death we are saying that there is something about us that is not quite right. This something is so grievous that it can no longer live or dwell within us once we have become "born again." Furthermore, we must find some way of killing off that part of ourselves in order to live a faithful life. There are a number of difficulties with this idea. Death is final, it is penultimate act of a human life. When we choose death or when death chooses us there are no more choices to make. Life ends when death begins.

Choosing to equate the idea of being born again with death is choosing to believe that our current life is unworthy of saving. I cannot abide by that notion. Regardless of the extent of our depravity there is always a part of every human being that represents God in this world. To believe that the death of ourselves is required for new life is to believe that nothing in our lives is worthy of saving. Moreover, this "cold turkey" Christianity sets us up for failure from the get go. In fact, the grief and mourning that generally occurs with death is more likely to force us to return to the very things we were supposed to "die" to in the first place. Therefore I think it is high time to reclaim and reinterpret this idea of being born again.

The first thing I want to do is to claim the idea that being born again involves sex, or more precisely copulation and conception. I don’t know where or when we discovered that Christians should be ashamed of sex and furthermore I don’t really care. I just want us to realize that we are wrong about it and repent. Through sex the birth of a new life is possible; it is a mysterious and wonderful act that is part recreation and re-creation. It is only through the reclamation of the sacredness of sex and sexuality that we can even begin to understand what it means to be born again.

Conception is the act that creates new life. So, when we talk about being born again we are talking about re-conception rather than death. Furthermore, re-conception is not as cognitive as it sounds. Re-conception is an act of passion, a melding of spirit and flesh into a union that seeks to create something new through the love, tenderness and care that is a part of the sacredness of the act itself. In the contemporary world we have turned conception into a cognitive act or an act of science and robbed it of its mystery and passion. Conception has become one of two things in the modern world. It has either become a cognitive term that speaks of a rational imagination; or of the science of bringing life into the world. In our search for predictability we have turned a passionate and sacred act into a multi-billion dollar industry.

To be born again is to take part in a copulative act with God. There is a moment when the Spirit reaches out to us that we must passionately grab hold of and enter into willingly. In order to be born again, we must enter into an act of co-creation with the Creator. Flesh and spirit must sensuously grapple with one another and passionately embrace the possibilities that lay before them. The only way this can happen is if spirit and flesh are of the same substance. Rather than subordinating one to the other, both should have a say in the process. Much like the relationship between male and female, the relationship between spirit and flesh should be one of mutuality, love, respect and care. It is only through that kind of relationship that we can celebrate the conception or re-conception necessary for life and/or life abundantly.

In the end, death is not the beginning of new life, re-conception is. It is only through the beautiful, mysterious and wonderful act of copulation that life has any possibility of newness. To be born again is to be re-conceived. It is step freshly upon the earth again for the first time, seeing anew the possibilities for abundant life in the passionate embrace that co-creates a new vision on this earth. Being born again is not just about seeing though. Being born again means passionately embracing the possibilities of the world through new eyes, fresh limbs and a re-invigorated heart that is ready to engage in the practice of love, care, and respect that the world so desperately needs at this moment in time.

grace and peace



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