What Does “Born Again” Look Like?

December 2009
by Juliet Vedral and David Plant

The term “born again” is as polarizing today as it was 20 centuries ago when Jesus of Nazareth confided to a friend; “Truly, truly, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The New Birth Portrait Series was created to explore and further articulate the meaning of his words through the lives of New Yorkers. These videos were shown as modern-day portraits in a gallery on 36th Street from September 24-27. Each video portrait was a window into the new birth experience—an experience typically dismissed, usually misunderstood, and when rightly considered—offensive. 
 
Through the show we hoped to start a dialogue between people who believe and people who don’t. We wanted to provide a means for people to question what they saw presented, but also to question what they thought they knew. It was a daring experiment and no one was sure if it would have the impact we believed it could have, especially on the night that was specifically designed for people outside the Redeemer community. We were pleasantly surprised by the feedback we received:
 
“What I appreciated most was the warm and inviting atmosphere. Part of what turns me off with most things associated with ‘born-again’ Christians is an environment that is hostile, preachy, and judgmental.”
 
“As a Muslim, I’m very moved by the forward thinking vision of this event, especially since my very own religion is under attack from the West. We lack a forum that fuses modernism with spirituality, which a lot of people battle with in my humble opinion, but the Portrait Series successfully merges both in a very personal and engaging way.”
 
“One of the great things documentary does is open up questions about a subject you may or may not want to explore. To be honest, the night I came I really didn’t feel like opening up those questions. However, the laid back way it was presented helped me ease into the subject matter, rather than be forced.… I think what turns me off most from Christianity and other religions is the superior way of thinking I have encountered that causes separation instead of unity. I was able to take in the message without the residue of being manipulated. So, I walked away thinking and wondering about Christianity. That is what Art does, it provokes questions that we want to deny.”
 
This feedback, along with the limited engagement of the show, prompted us to develop www.newbirthportraits.com, which launched November 9. The site features all of the portraits that were shown in the gallery plus a new video that was recently completed. As more stories are captured on video, they will be added. 
 
While we have plans for another gallery installation, the website was designed to replicate the look and feel of the original gallery setting, which you can use to start conversations on faith with your friends. We hope that you'll agree, after you’ve visited it, that we've followed the advice of 60 Minutes founder Don Hewitt: “Just tell a good story.”


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