The Cultural Identity of Being “Born Again”

I actually come across as pretty normal on the surface.  But recently, I have realized that I’m not simply a religious guy, or even just a Christian… I am one of those evangelical fanatics- basically another version of Kirk Cameron.  So now, I take this opportunity to come out of the closet and accept my social label as an official Born Again Christian.


“Even though I see fundamentalist Christians as wild-eyed maniacs, I respect their verve.  They are probably the only people openly fighting against America’s insipid Oprah Culture- the pervasive belief system that insists everyone’s perspective is valid and that no one can be judged.”

-Chuck Klosterman, in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

It wasn’t until recently while finishing the final chapter of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs that I finally realized I am part of a subculture of Protestantism which outsiders label as “Born Again”, which from what I gather, was a pretty popular term back in the 1970’s.  This whole time I’ve been calling myself a Christian, but now I fully understand that just doesn’t cut it.  “Christian” has become such a generic term these days.  Jesus is officially a household name now. While Jesus may be Ashton Kutcher’s homeboy, it’s safe to say that the relationship I have with Jesus Christ is much different than someone just using Jesus as a funny pop culture reference on a t-shirt.

By reading about myself from an outsider’s perspective (Klosterman identifies himself as a mix between a “bad Catholic” and an agnostic), I am able to understand my cultural identity in a way I never have before.  I get it now: I am a fanatical Christian.  Every thought pattern in my head eventually comes back to Jesus being the savior of the world and my desire for people to know Him.

I find it extremely important and relevant to quote a paragraph from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:  “There are no other subjects, really; nothing else- besides being born again- is even marginally important.  Every moment of your life is a search-and-rescue mission: Everyone you meet needs to be converted… Life would become unspeakably important, and every conversation you’d have for the rest of your life (or until the Rapture- whichever comes first) would really, really, really matter.  If you ask me, that’s pretty glamorous.”  For me, calling myself a Christian doesn’t simply mean that at some point I came to the realization that I belief Jesus is the son of God, which would be the simplest definition of the word Christian.  Instead, I live a seemingly curious and quirky lifestyle as it relates to my relationship with Jesus Christ.

You’ve probably heard of “Catholic guilt” or maybe even “Jewish guilt”, but I need to introduce something called “Born Again guilt”.  Because we truly believe that Jesus literally meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me,” we carry this burden of wanting every person we meet to “have a personal relationship with Jesus” like we do.  We sincerely believe that by trusting in Christ as the redemption for our naturally flawed nature and by loving serving others as ourselves, we will be part of the Heavenly Kingdom when Jesus returns as the King.  Sounds pretty sci-fi, yes.  But so does every religion, including atheism.

It’s no secret that I find reasons to insert random facts about the year 1983 or to tell which actors are Jewish or relate the Rubik’s Cube to everyday life.  That’s just me being me.  But I am also constantly looking for ways to write about or at least mention Jesus in ways that are subtle as well.  I realize that if Scenic Route Snapshots was simply me preaching, I wouldn’t be getting between 600 and 1,000 hits each day.  Instead, I write about whatever off-the-wall thing is going through my head that week.  And if it’s possible to show my faith as relevant to the subject as my faith is relevant to my life, I won’t shy away from mentioning it. I would love to sit down with people and discuss my relationship with Jesus on an everyday basis.  But I know that often, that isn’t practical, and therefore not possible.

Kirk Cameron is the official mascot of Born Again Christians. Just ask them about a movie called Fireproof or something called "the love dare"...

Everyone I know, it seems, already understands why Jesus died on the cross. That cultural familiarity with Him, in American, often can be the thing that keeps people from seeking Him in their lives beyond a basic understanding.  It’s hard to tell people what they already know.  So when I write and when I am involved in seemingly surface conversations with people, I try to find ways to point the thought process to my faith somehow- even it’s simply using the word “afterlife”.

How can you tell a Born Again Christian (also referred to as “saved” or “evangelical”) from other deists who use the term “Christian” to describe themselves?  Here are a few red flags to look out for:

They attend a “small group”. In addition to regularly attending their church on Sunday, many Born Again Christians meet once a week (in groups of around 6 to 10 people) at someone’s house for about two hours to study the Bible together and pray.

They strive to study the Bible and pray on a daily basis. In addition to their weekly small group meeting, they also study the Bible and pray privately as well.  Sometimes they refer to this as their “quiet time”.  Many of them can be seen doing this during their lunch breaks at work.

They avoid using profanity. This is often a way they recognize each other.  This means they also refrain from saying “oh my God” as well, as it profanes the name of God to matters that are not holy in any way.

They use the word “blessed” to describe their life. It’s a way of glorifying God in a non-churchy sounding kind of way.  Also, when you leave a message on their cell phone, they end their “sorry I’m not here right now…” spiel with “have a blessed day”.

They truly believe that sex is for only for people who are married to each other. Even if many of them largely contribute to the high viewership of the reality TV show The Bachelor, it’s understood between them all that they collectively do not approve of the “overnight date” episode with the “fantasy suite”.

They politically identify as Republican, or are part of the newer, cooler, independent version called the Libertarian Party. If nothing else, these two political parties typically support the Pro-Life movement whereas the Democratic Party is at best indifferent on the issue.  For Born Again Christians, abortion is not up for discussion or debate.

They take the Bible as literally as possible. Jesus was literally born from a virgin.  Jesus literally multiplied the fish and the bread.  Jesus literally came back to life after these days in the tomb, etc.

They do not believe in Evolution. In particular, the theory that humans evolved from apes. Intelligent Design is instead their theory of choice.  Here’s the 101 on how the dinosaurs fit into Noah’s Ark.

They often refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ”. It’s almost like “Christ” is Jesus’ last name.  Really though, it’s a Born Again Christian’s subtle way of distinguishing Jesus as the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, as opposed to just a historical rabbi who happened to be a “good teacher”.

I'm not Mormon, but I feel like I can relate somewhat to their cultural identity and displacement in society.

So if you know someone who contains at least two or three of these attributes, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a Born Again Christian. Like Kirk Cameron, Sarah Palin, and President Jimmy Carter, they are the ultra-conservative Protestants.  They seem to blend in with society at first glance, but once you get to know them, you’ll notice the underlying behaviors that set them apart from standard Christianity- like a Mormon, only without the added teachings to the Bible or the crazy mad dancing skills.  (Derek Hough, Julianne Hough, and Lacey Schwimmer of Dancing with the Stars as well as Heidi Groskreutz and Benji Schwimmer of So You Think You Can Dance are all Mormon.)   For some humorous characteristics of Born Again Christians, check out this blog by Jonathan Acuff, called Stuff Christians Like.

“You gave your life to Jesus Christ… and you were not the same after that.” – “Not the Same” by Ben Folds


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Easy Like Sunday Morning: Christianity in a Nut Shell

Ah, the good ole days of flannel boards and McGee & Me.

Flannel boards will always remain in the warmest parts of my heart and childhood memories.  Nothing brought those Biblical accounts to life more than a cloth cut-out of a generic bearded Jewish man who could play the part of Moses parting the Red Sea, then less than a minute later he could be Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, or even Noah gathering all the animals on the ark.

And when the teacher was lazy or absent, we got to watch one of thirteen McGee and Me tapes, featuring Nick Martin and his crazy cartoon sidekick.  Lesson learned- you CAN beat the bully in a skateboarding contest, if even he cheats.  Also, if you sneak out to see a scary 3-D movie with your best buddy Lewis, you’re parents are going to find out and ground you.  And of course, it’s never a good idea to try to impress your friends by telling them that your Native American Indian neighbor eats rabbits.  Because he just needs a friend.

But eventually, my faith had to be able to grow beyond the entertaining and miraculous stories I heard each Sunday morning.

I admit.  It’s not easy anymore for another human being to “challenge me” in my thinking, regarding my faith.  I can spit out a hundred cliché Sunday School answers whenever I’m asked anything Christian related.  Because for those of us who “grew up in church”, we do know all the answers.

At least all the answers for the questions we are tiredly asked again and again by Christian leaders in a church setting.  You just can’t go wrong with “God”, “Jesus”, “the Holy Spirit”, “Heaven”, “good”, “bad”, “Satan”, “hell”, “pray and read the Bible”, “invite them to church”, or “tell them about Jesus”.

Typically, I don’t spend money or time on Christian marketed items.  Books that generically tell me I need to stop being “downtrodden by the world” and “stand on God’s promises” to “expand my territory”.  T-shirts that illegally parody business logos and make them “cute” by throwing in the name of Jesus.  A sticker to put on the back window of my car that arrogantly boasts “straight pride”, picks fights with atheists and Pro-Choicers, or announces that God is Republican.

Besides, I think most Christians know by now that God has switched His allegiance from the Republican Party to Ron Paul.

Just kidding.  Sort of.

But thank God, in the past two years, I have been challenged in my thinking, regarding my faith, more so than any other time in my life.

How?  1) I got married.  2) My small group from church read a book called The Hole in the Gospel.  3) I was asked an allegorical question about a bicycle.

Getting married to a faithful Christian has helped me to mature not just because of her confidence when mine is sagging, but also because marriage shows me how selfish I can be with my time and space.  Two years later, I’m much more easy-going about stuff that only mattered in The World of Me.

The Hole in Our Gospel is the book that my Wednesday night small group (Bible Study) decided to read.  Seriously, it is the most life-changing book I’ve ever read.  The Bible is the most influential.  But the Hole in Our Gospel has actually helped me to personally identify what the Bible and my purpose in my life are all about.

For me, my faith had always come down Ephesians 2:8-9 in the Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast.

That Bible passage has everything a Baptist likes to hear, regarding one’s spiritual wellbeing: “grace”, “faith”, and “gift of God”.

It doesn’t say anything about helping other people, doing good works, or giving away our time, money, and energy.  Because as long as we splice in “Jesus loves you, died for you, rose from the grave, and will give you eternal life in Heaven if you say this three sentence prayer…”, then we are fulfilling our duty as a good Christian.  Get people to say a prayer and go to church.  Get them to stop cussing, drinking, and smoking- because that improvement shows their “spiritual fruits”.

As a Baptist, I had always been leery of the phrase “works”.  Because it had been engrained in my brain fibers that God’s salvation couldn’t be “earned”.  I understood from the book of James (2:20) that “works” were necessary to prove that my faith to be sincere.

The problem is that I, along with many Protestants just like me, naturally had been led to believe that “good works” means “good behavior”; and “good behavior” is a list of things Christians don’t do- including watching R-rated movies (unless they’re war-based: What Movie Rating Does Real Life Get?) and drinking anything with alcohol (both vanilla extract and Nyquil are approved, fortunately- and though participants should keep it on the down low, drinking wine is permitted for special private events like wedding anniversaries: Water into Wine).

But what really opened up my mind was reading (and eventually memorizing) the verse that directly followed my convenient “faith is all you need” Bible passage.  The next verse, verse 10, says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Created for good works?  Not good behavior?  It’s a lot more serious if I truly take the words of Christ seriously when in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

And finally, it hit me: Oh, Jesus actually cares about people starving in poor countries, despite their “wrong religious beliefs” and “stupid civil wars” and “corrupt governments”.

As hard as it was for me to process, God cares just as much that I as a Christian do my part to physically help those people as He wants me to in some direct or indirect way (supporting missionaries) learn about Jesus.

That financially helping these random, dying, desperate people across the world actually equates in God’s eyes as me loving them as He loves me.

With that being said, I no longer believe that a person goes to Heaven just because they said “the sinner’s prayer” when they were at a Vacation Bible School when they were in the 5th grade.  I believe, like Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his book (2:20) that faith without works is dead.

And works means that I help people who are less fortunate (even if they themselves in deed got themselves in that situation), because that shows them God’s love, and I don’t necessary have to preach to them as I’m doing it.  I just need to start by helping them.

True, no one can earn God’s love or salvation.  Nor does believing in Jesus mean a person doesn’t go to hell.  Jesus himself said in the Gospel of Matthew (7:21): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.”

So what is the will of God for us?  What does He want us to do besides obey His law, read the Bible, pray, and tell others about Jesus?  (All of which are “Sunday School answers” I referred to earlier.)

For a start, my wife and I knew it meant sponsoring a child named Gueslin in South America.  So now we have this postcard hanging on our fridge with a picture of a sad-looking 5 year-old boy who I wish I could take care of myself.  We send him money every month and pray for him and his family as we think about him.

We know that raising our own child (due in November) in our faith is what God wants.  We know that helping anyone in need is what He wants.  And we know that we can’t always wait for those opportunities to come to us.  I’m working on making it a new obsession: Finding ways to help people.  Because God likes that.

So where does the bicycle come into the picture?  A few months ago someone showed me a Xeroxed copy of a bicycle and asked me: “Which tire is faith and which tire is works?

The back tire is associated with the power while the front is associated with balance and steering.  Both are very important and necessary.  But if a bicycle would only work if one tire was faith and the other was works, which tire should be the front and which should be the back?

I was actually asked this in a group of people.  Half of us believed one way.  The rest, the other way.

My answer: The back tire is works, the front tire is faith.

Because if faith is dead with out works, so is a bike immobile with no one to actually pedal the thing.  The front tire only moves because the back one does.

And basically, if I’m actually understanding what Jesus said, loving God means loving other people the way He loves me.

I can’t rely on reading the Bible and praying to move me anywhere in my faith.  That’s what steers me.  Instead, I actually have to move my feet.