Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Born again

I remember doling out bucks to both of our kids before a week-long camping trip to the Black Hills years ago--spending money. I remember my daughter having little problem determining when and where to spend it, being a little too footloose, I thought, in dealing out the dough.

Not so my son, who never spent a dime. I remember standing with him at some South Dakota tourist trap and watching the conflict play out on his face: he was seriously considering buying some touristy thing, but he decided not to because back home there was something he wanted. He spent nothing the entire week, and simply pocketed the dough.

My daughter is hardly a spendthrift. She's inherited her mother's genetic inclination to make do with almost anything. She's not tight--that's not it at. She's just unAmerican: she simply doesn't see the need to buy when she doesn't have to.

In some ways, my son is no different--and even more so. But there was something else in his not spending bucks on useless souvenirs, some character attribute that has stuck with him for all of his years: he could be so deeply convicted to an idea that he was almost impervious to life around him, a very strong inner will.

When we look back, it seems clear to our kids' parents that some aspects of their unique characters were clearly manifest already in their childhoods. In some ways, we are who we will be, even as children.

Maybe it's a silly question, but what I'm wondering is what part being a Christian believer--or to use Christ's language--being "born again" plays in character. That people change when they undergo definitive spiritual experiences seems beyond question; they are "born again." Lame walk, blind see, drinkers dry up, the crooked go straight. Those things happen. If they didn't, religion would have zero appeal.

In a way, of course, what form of religion doesn't appear, at times, to make a great deal of difference. Last year, on the Rosebud Reservation, we were testimonied to by a recovering alcoholic whose song was an old one: "Once I was blind but now I can see, the light of the world is Jesus."

When he finished speaking, another Lakota took us to the sweat lodge out back of the mission, and basically preached the same sermon, albeit with different content: "Once I was blind (he too had been an alcoholic), but now I can see, the light of the world is Lakota religion." Both claimed life-changing spiritual experience, but different mediums.

I'm thinking about this, I suppose, because sometimes I wonder about individual differences between believers. If our testimony and our allegiance to God is pre-eminent in our lives, then why do individual differences even exist? If we all heartily swear to serve our master first of all, then why is there a man named Ron Sider and another named Pat Robertson? Jimmy Carter will go to his grave as the first American President to openly confess he was "born again." But, good night, the politics of Carter are absolutely nothing like the politics of Bush, who similarly confesses.

I remember Martin Marty saying somewhere that American Christians were deeply blessed by the simple fact that Billy Graham wasn't mean-spirited. If he were, the nature of evangelical Christianity today would be a whole lot different.

Or how about this? It turns out that Mother Theresa was plagued by spiritual doubt. I don't have a dime's worth of problems with her dark and meandering questions about God, but some Christians obviously do. Why is that? Some Christians want their spiritual heroes perfectly sanitized, as if anything less would be as disturbing as the notion that the baby Jesus had diaper rash. I don't. Why not?

Occasionally, skirmishes arise at the Christian college where I teach, skirmishes about what's "fitting" or "proper" for our students, skirmishes that almost always have something to do with full frontal nudity, or something akin--in film and art (used to be in literature too, but nobody reads anymore anyway). We bicker a bit--genially, I should add--and then, once again, life goes on. Whether or not this Christian college is on the road to perdition or Vanity Fair, whichever comes first, is yet to be determined; but different opinions probably exist.

Where do those opinions come from?--the Bible? our professions? How can people who share the same creedal orientation disagree so deeply? Is has to be character, doesn't it?

Are there identities in our constitutions that loom even bigger than our professions of faith?

But if that's true, then what does "born again" really mean?

I'm not frustrated, just fascinated. What am I really?

Wish I knew.

Some really do--or think so.

Not me.

Why is that?

I don't know. I really don't.

And that's okay.

Life wouldn't be quite so much fun if there were no unanswered questions.


Todd said...

You ask questions that are easier to dismiss during the waking hours, but more prone to pondering by those who post at 3:08 AM. :-)

Siouxlander said...

I haven't figured out how to adjust the time yet. Is there a way? I'm not that much of an insomniac. Not to fear--it's at least three hours fast.