Why I like snakes more than I thought...
What do the words of an outlaw Rabbi, a poet rock star, a crazy lawyer turned joy initiator, and a guy who feels like a snake have in common? Great question. Bob Dylan sang, “he who isn’t busy being born is busy dying”. I think he sang the truth.
I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words to Nicademus in the gospel of John (chapter 3). It was an encountered that happened at night because Nic was fearful of his fellow upstanding religious friends finding out he was meeting with the outlaw rabbi. But Nic had important questions about the weightier things of life and he had no one else to ask. Jesus explained that what Nic needed was to be ‘born again’ not physically (you silly rabbit) but spiritually… an internal awakening. When I read this passage I always think about the Matrix. I know it dates me but I can’t help but think about all these humans plugged into these pods that program their brains to think they are living but they are just sitting in a virtual utero – not really living at all. The born-again experience Jesus is talking about is the equivalent of taking the ‘red pill’ and choosing to wake up to a real life. It was a harsh awakening for Neo (in the Matrix) and for Nic (look at John 16 and find that guy carrying 75 pounds of spices to anoint the recently crucified Jesus in an alarming ‘coming out’ act that reeked (excuse the pun) of the aroma of a radical awakening experience).
But born again has come to relate to images of Bible holding, gun carrying, right wing evangelicals who voted (or would if they could) for trump. Critics would suggest they are more in need of a re-birth than ever and they might be right. I’m not much of a critic these days. I figure there’s so much I’ve been wrong about that I should stay as open as possible. Teachable instead of certain.
So, these Bible holding, gun carrying religious friends would suggest that being born again is a moment. It’s an experience that happens once (like being born). And I think I know what they mean. Many people can witness to this significant ‘aha’ moment of utter awareness of a power greater than themselves (God), expressing love and a sacred invitation to live a deeper truth. This is often accompanied by a sense of regret at having wasted so many precious years on things that didn’t matter and breaking the essence of our humanity and potential by senseless acts of selfishness (sin). This culminates in a moment of surrender, forgiveness and acceptance as we start to comprehend the person of Jesus and the act of His sacrifice being the deepest love ever expressed and offered. To receive this love is the most beautiful of things to witness and encounter. The sacred eternity entering the everyday ordinary – bringing people into the real life of the spirit. I don’t doubt that experience. I’ve had one. What I’ve come to discover is that far from the end of Jesus’ instructions, a born-again experience is the beginning. And what I mean is that what Jesus actually said to Nicademus was not that he must be born again (singular) but born again (plural). In other words, what Jesus actually said to Nicademus is ‘you must be born again, born again, born again, born again…’ Which means among many things that Bob Dylan was right.
This all hit home recently during a group discussion I was in. We were sharing how we were doing in our lives and a guy shared that he felt like a snake. To be honest, initially, I was a little creeped out. I’m not too into snakes. But he went on to say that he felt like he kept shedding his own skin. His life was expanding, his capacities increasing, his awareness of God’s direction and leading was enlarging his life and he found that his old ‘container’ or ‘skin’ just didn’t fit. He had to keep letting it go. The image went from creepy to awesome in a quick hurry for me. I couldn’t shake it because it kept resonating with the words of Jesus to Nic all those years ago and echoing through the lyrics of Dylan. Which leads me to pray that I want to keep being born again. I want my interior life to keep expanding so that I must keep shedding what I used to be, what I used to think, things I used to hold dear that just. Don’t. fit. Anymore.
Another Bob (Goff not Dylan) once explained to me that there are different versions of himself. Bob #1 (the young follower of Jesus), Bob #2 (the newly married husband) Bob #3 (the successful business man) … well you get the idea. I forget what Bob he’s on now and truth be told, that guy enlarges at such a quick pace he may have lost count. The point of it all says Bob is that he feels sad for people who stop being born again. Folks who are stuck in thinking and living that born again experience as a one-time event instead of a posture shift of eternal life change. So, all these thoughts lead me to encounter the words of an outlaw Rabbi, a poet rock star, a crazy lawyer turned joy initiator and the deep witness of a guy who feels like a snake. I guess as a Jesus follower I’m more into snakes than I thought.