An Innocent Age

Posted on Wednesday 1 July 2009

“Bababa-ba-ba-baaahhm, bababa ba ba baaahhm…”

The 45-rpm record (ask your mother, maybe she’ll explain) dropped to the spinning turntable, the arm swung over, and the needle found its groove. There were some scratches, sure – and not the kind artfully inserted by a gyrating DJ – but the music came through loud and clear. “ABC is easy, it’s like counting up to three, just a simple melody…”

My sister and I listened to this song, and countless others like it, in the front room of our four-bedroom, suburban ranch  house throughout our elementary and junior high school years. It was, by and large, happy music, and the singers who performed it looked happy, not tormented. This was before MTV when the people behind the music performed it on low budget variety shows, not multi-million dollar music videos. The artists seemed real then – almost ordinary except for the extraordinary talent of some.

When we listened to the Jackson 5 sing ABC or Rockin’ Robin, or The Love You Save, in our minds eye we could see them dance, and imagined that we could dance like little Michael, too. We couldn’t of course – nobody could dance like that. But we had fun trying. It was an age of innocence, and to this day the first few notes of any song recorded from 1972 forward can still cause an involuntary smile to emerge on my face.

I wish that innocence could have lasted. I think maybe the man who made the music wished it could have, too. It looks like he tried for the rest of his life to bring it back – but the clock keeps turning, and it moves forward, not back.

Isn’t it a wonder, then, that Jesus told a grown man named Nicodemus he must be born again? That phrase “born again” has become a cliche at best – or at worst a defamatory grenade lobbed with a sneer at the evangelical world. But I’ll bet it would have had an almost irresistable appeal to the sad and sickened pop star who died last week a mere shell of the clear-eyed child he once was.

“You must be born again,” the Master said. You must come clean and start anew, wiping the slate clear as if nothing that ever happened to you happened, and no sin you ever sinned took up residence in your body and your heart. You must go back to the beginning, back to the age of innocence, he seemed to say. And his further claim was even more arresting: “I can take you there.” It’s irresistable, no?

Forget nostalgia, forget retro dressing, forget anti-aging serums, wrinkle creams, grainy YouTube videos and never-lands. There’s only one way back to the age of innocence – a true innocence, not an imagined one. And He’s it. There is no other.

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:4-8)

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