Regeneration

As the Eleventh Doctor regenerates and becomes the Twelfth, he utters one of the most profound thoughts on personal development in television history: “We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good; you’ve gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” (If you don’t watch Doctor Who, you should.) Becoming a different person means something a bit more literal for a Time Lord than for us humans, but the principle holds: each of us are different people over time.

You may initially reject that assertion. “Wait,” you say aloud to your computer screen, even though it can’t hear you, “that’s just not so. I’m the same person I’ve always been. I mean, I’m taller than I once was, and my face has changed a bit, the body is a little worse for wear, and don’t get me started on the amount of grey in my hair, but it’s still me.” And that’s all quite true. You are still you, regardless of those physical, superficial changes to your exterior form. But I’m not talking exteriors. I’m talking interiors, interiors you’ve redecorated time and time again over the course of a lifetime.

Who among us can, with any semblance of veracity, aver your desires, wants, feelings, thoughts, interests, &c. remain wholly unchanged since your earliest recollections of them? When you were four, for example, you wanted to be an astronaut and run about in your underpants. (OK, bad example; some of you still want that.) Do you still hate your vegetables, or do you suddenly find yourself ordering carrots when you go out? Sure, you wanted to be president, but then you noticed how rapidly the Commander in Chief seems to age while in office, and now you’d rather give it a miss. As a matter of fact, you’ve abandoned a thousand dreams about various vocations. Your tastes have changed numerous times — not just your taste in food, but in music, clothing (we all had a goth phase), movies, significant others, books, you name it.

You’ve done what you swore you’d never do — and loved it. You turned thirty, forty, fifty, with great aplomb. Your temper gained a longer fuse with different triggers. Your mind began analyzing different points of view and recognized their value and validity. You reformed your ways, gave up your vices. Or perhaps you grew cold, bitter, distant, arrogant, aloof, calculating, and hedonistic. Sometimes change is good; sometimes it’s bad; it’s always different.

So whether you’ve said it yourself or someone else has said it for you, the fact remains: you’re not the person you used to be.

Odds are, you’re not at present the person you will be in the future, either. We constantly change, constantly grow, constantly morph into a different person.

On the negative side, as comic books teach us, all it takes to turn us for the worse sometimes is one bad day. Some trauma with which we simply cannot cope can send us over the edge, make us a darker person.

To make us an entirely new creation of light and holiness and goodness, however, takes the power of the Holy Spirit. Whether they deliberately borrowed the term or not, the early writers of Doctor Who chose the same word to describe the Doctor becoming a new person as theologians use for the moment we become new creations in Christ: regeneration. Through regeneration, the Holy Spirit makes us a different person:

“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9b-10)

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone; the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

What does this mean for us? It means when we become Christians, we do away with our old sinful ways. We turn from addictions, chains, hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We instead bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are no longer who we once were. We’re different people, new people, better people, forgiven people.

That’s the true gift of regeneration.

Zeitgeist und Heilige Geist

I like languages. I’ve always been fascinated with the way we use sounds and scratches on dead trees to convey meaning. And I like people who like languages, too; I once dated a girl who was fluent in six or seven different dialects (which put me to shame, and I’m no slouch myself). Today’s title borrows a word from German without an English equivalent (and so I thought, why not put the whole thing in German): zeitgeist. Literally it’s a compound word of “time-ghost” (which sound a bit wibbly-wobbly), and so it refers to what we think of as “the spirit of the age,” or “the spirit of the times.”

Every age in history has its own zeitgeist, its own particular cultural consensus as to how it views the world. Think of the Roaring Twenties and its accompanying sense of decadence, or the relative prudery of Victorian England, or the unflagging courage and valor of the Greatest Generation, or of the “flower power” of 1960s America. These are examples of the spirits of the age. They arise in every time period in every culture. They may even be in competition with each other depending on where one finds oneself; academia may have one prevailing wind, as it were, and rural areas another; Europe may be in opposition to Africa; you get the idea.

So what’s our current American zeitgeist? What’s the spirit of our age and area which defines how our culture looks at the world? It arises out of a confluence of different factors, but we can look at several of them. The political landscape, foremost on people’s minds this election year, is just a mess. It’s a combination of optimism and sheer horror.  (As one anonymous commentator on the Internet has said, “It’s like this is the final season of America and the writers are just going crazy.”) I think it’s also tinged with a bit of xenophobia, with the “other” being whatever is appropriate for your context: immigrants, homosexuals, Republicans, Gen X-ers, Christians, Muslims, what have you. Then we have to take into account a rampant individualism, especially as evidenced in the proponents of abortion, LGBT advocacy, the quickly-declining marriage rate, the steadily-rising divorce rate, the preference of young adults to rent rather than own homes (and thus not be tied down, among other reasons), the ubiquitous selfie, etc. Many, many things which point to the Self as the Golden Calf of our times. If I had to characterize our zeitgeist in two words, then, I would choose these: fear and narcissism. We love ourselves, and we’re scared of anything that a) isn’t us and b) might prevent us from being who we truly want to be.

One man’s opinion.

The problem with any spirit of the age, however, is that it must ultimately deal with the spirit: the Holy Spirit, the Heilige Geist from the title. An unchanging God will not bend to the personal preferences of particular people, nor will He kowtow to the whims of those who wish Him nonexistent or a carbon of themselves. God is God — and He is a holy God. A Holy Spirit cannot get mired down in the sins of the world without ceasing to be holy. And so God can participate in neither the fear nor the ego of our current zeitgeist. He stands as loving Father and final Judge of this age and all others. When the spirit of the age comes into conflict with the Holy Spirit, our loyalty must always be to the latter. We can’t let ourselves get so caught up in the world we lose sight of the holy; we can’t focus on the temporal to the exclusion of the eternal. And so we rest our identities and our souls in the one who stands outside of time.

Our worship should do the same. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for solely traditional worship, and I’m not suggesting we should move into the purely contemporary (my thoughts on the so-called worship wars will come later). But we shouldn’t let our Christian practices of worship be dictated by popular opinion. We must continue to do what is holy and what is sacred. We continue on with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, regardless of rhythm; we continue to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost souls in a dark world; we celebrate the Table and we baptize those who come to saving faith; and we take our renewed bodies, hearts, minds, and souls out to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in.  That’s the real point of worship: to ascribe blessing, honor, glory, and power to the God who deserves it and to invite others to a place where they can do the same.

The church must continue to be a community called from among the world, called away from the zeitgeist, but then it must always go back out to the same world to offer it a different Spirit. The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit from a holy God of holy love.