Bill Joyner’s Rock ‘n Rollin’ Log


summer 2011


"Bill," my dear aunt Glenelle asked me once upon a time, "how did you get saved from being saved?"   So,

OK, here's the deal: in 1951, while stationed at the U.S. Naval Training Base in Port Huneme, CA, I was "born again" at a Billy Graham style Youth for Christ rally in Oxnard.  It was, for me, a truly transforming experience, causing me to feel that I was newly created, completely forgiven of all sin, real or imagined, and on a sure path to heaven. Jesus was not only my Savior, but a constant, loving companion. "Invisble Hands" were guiding my every move.  

Why, I wondered, had I not learned of and experienced this life-altering transformation in my little home church back in Virginia? With some self-righteous indignation, I put that question to the pastor when I returned home. Instead of framing an answer, however, he, knowing that I was interested by then in studying for the ministry, directed me to our church-related college, Elon, where I enrolled after the Navy and promptly signed up for all the scripture courses they had. My intention had been to attend a Bible College, like King's College or Bob Jones University, where I would have been totally immersed in fundamentalist ideology; but I accepted the idea of Elon, out of convenience, only to find that the current professors of religion there were on the opposite end of the theological see saw I was trying to balance myself on.  Dr. W. W. Sloan, for instance -- God bless him forever -- used as his main text an unpublished book he had written, titled GOD MARCHES ON, theorizing an evolutionary diety whose revelation unfolded according to the development of human understanding.  All of which, to me, was completely outrageous at the time.  (more of this later) ...

"It is beyond question that the New Testament presents the event of Jesus Christ in mythical terms," says Rudolph Bultman, whose work I came to know about at the Duke Divinity School. "The real purpose of myth" he wrote, "is not to present an objective picture of the world as it is, but to express man's understanding of himself in the world in which he lives."
This was a challenge to my fundamentalist faith, but I also came to see it as a relief from the stultifying literalism of my born again orientation. One professor even suggested, on the basis of Bultmann's biblical criticism, that if a camera had been trained on the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning and the film revealed nobody coming forth from the dead, it should have no relevance in terms of what the faith event essentially means.
Also at Duke, I studied the work of the WW II martyr, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, who participated in a plot to kill Hitler and was hanged on the day the war ended in 1945. His book, THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, emphasizing the serious limitations of "cheap grace," profoundly affected my thinking. At the same time, I was serving as a student pastor in several small, rural North Carolina churches, and was attempting to enunciate what I was learning about through sermons.  (more later)

The Bible itself led me away from being simply another closed - minded biblicist. The poetry of it got to me. The social-minded, humane, merciful & gracious quality of the Bible grabbed me, too, especially as I was shipped off to Bermuda to work several years at a SeaBee maintenance unit with a "flying boat" (P 5M)Naval Air Station where I was led to the Christ of human reunion through the dynamic presence of the Reverend Mr. T. Wendell Foster, then of the AME persuasion. He would occasionally come over to the base & consult with our chaplain, whose office I served as an assistant, and often I would be there when Rev. Foster arrived. He's one of those people who really sees you and hears you, and he would always say, "Come over to my church on Sunday." So, I did go to dear little Vernon Temple AME Church one day, out on Bermuda's Southampton Parish, along the lucid blue ocean shores that surround everything out there.  But I digress ... circuitously ... let's go into my recent effort at pop theosophy, The Celestial Carousel (Indian Beach Books, 2005) and check out what Ol' Bill said back then:

Being with the people of the Vernon Temple AME Church in Bermuda, circa 1953, was, for me, a blessing that ever endures. Social reunion, primal synergy, elementary/revolutionary transformation -- all of that! I found in this community loving spirits of all shades and dimensions, a cohesive engine of self-empowerment, and in this community I was twice "born again," given a second, dramatic chance to outgrow the absurd simplicity of the original "simple gospel" I was fed by tracts and evangelists.  "Yes," they said, "you were born that way -- an orignal sinner, and you're most likely bound for an eternity of burning pain -- unless you turn yourself over to the Lord, confess yourself to be a sinner deserving of eternal torture, ordained and planned for you by a merciful God ... but wait, here's the good news! Right now, you can be transformed and made into a new person, a new creation. IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREE!" A pre-boarding pass, more certain than any earthly promise -- to everlasting life in heaven ... and why, you ask, is all of this absoulutely free? Because, my friend, Jesus paid it all!"  A beautiful tune, but where is Bonhoeffer's concept of "cheap grace" NOT evident in such an appeal, which admittedly is a rather exagerrated caricature of typical evangelical "born again" prayer call appeals.  ( ... tugs at your heart, don't it ... )

Reading the Bible so avidly as I constantly did back then, I found myself in ever more strange, mythic territory. Things slipped through the proof text editor's slanted selections and smacked me right between the eyes: the idea that human transformation and transcendence could occur (Isaiah's ecstatic exhultations in the temple, Saint Paul's tumble from the horse & subsequent recovery from the blindness, under the care of dear Ananius -- check out the bluegrass versions of that story, by the way). I was quick to catch the import of every word, for, to me, the Bible was my daily bread, carried one with me almost everywhere.   Nowadays, for me, the word is yet flesh. The last light of day is burning low, so outside, into the air. God bless Florida, God bless the USA.


Before launching into what may well be regarded as a reactionary, angry screed about "How I Was Saved from being Saved," please consider the basis of my critique, primarily not an intellectual analysis, but a personal analysis of my own experience.  

The celebrated, veteran English actor, Christopher Plummer, reacted recently to the many kids of all ages who come up to him at gatherings with oooos and ahhhhs like, "I just loved you in SOUND OF MUSIC.!  "I feel like saying to them," he said, 'When are you gonna grow up!' "  

Similarly, I would inquire of those who cling to a static, retarded adherence to the infantile assumptions of a belief system that begins and ends with a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible (initiated & maintained through a "born again" experience) -- When are you gonna grow up?  

Bob Dylan, himself, fell into the religious trap he earlier had warned about when he said (in the song Shelter from the Storm), "I bargained for salvation and they gave me a lethal dose ... "  Maybe it helped him for awhile -- as the Jews for Jesus club that converted him implied -- maybe it helped him kick a herion habit.  But, true to form, he transformed himself quite soon again and moved beyong the shallowness of "cheap grace" and shallow piety to epitomize in his music the universal quality once so adequately described in the long ago defunct magazine Saturday Review: creating "secular manifestations of religious experience."  

Transformative experience is the issue, and my objective is to explore the possibilities for such beyond the dead end syndrome of what is popularly called being "born again."  

Bill Joyner (2011)

But first, or second anyway, check this out: I totally believe in being born again.
I still ascribe to that dear gospel song: "... a ruler came to Jesus by night to ask him the way to salvation and light ... the Master made answer in words true and plain, 'You must be born again.' " Because ... as Master Bob Dylan says, "He not busy being born is busy dying !" I love the flowering forth of this essential truth ! So forgive me, if in what follows seems to be something of an extreme reaction, which it might well be; but the shock of an event like 9/11 should ever remind us of the oceanic waves of terror and destruction inflicted upon us by true believers who were absolutely convinced that God was on their side.   Bill Joyner  (6/11/11)  

God bless the yet unblessed, 

the pioneers who aren't in the history books, 

the men and women who cut the paths the great explorers followed,

 the silent knights, the ones who went first, 

holding before them not a map, 

but a torch and a whisper of hope. --Chris Browne

"Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ (perfect love) has set you free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage." -- Galatians 5  

Why then, would I, or anyone else, want to be saved from being "saved"? Because being born again and being saved, in the popular, modern evangelical conception of such an experience leads one, not into more freedom, but less, restricting through denigration an individual's powers of self-direction. Like Dumbo with the big ears in Walt Disney's early movie, it is debilitating and counter productive to build up a dependency on God as a magic feather without which we convince ourselves that we cannot, and indeed should not, creatively "fly" as self-directed beings, using our own native, "God-given" resources. There is a time to "let go and let God," and there is also a time to let go of God, a time to experience spiritual liberation by freeing ourselves from the bonds of religion itself and discovering what Alan Watts spoke of as "the religion of no religion."

A moment of truth: to be bold, or to fold, that's ever the question.    EITHER/OR, Kierkegaard's masterpiece of existential wisdom, was first brought to my attention by the late and REALLY great Russel Guest, a special friend, always insightful, inspiring, creatively brilliant! When he handed me the book, he specifically directed me to this reverie: (later)

"Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."  -- St. Paul  

A more exhaustive, scholarly deconstruction of the evangelical born again phenomenon can be found in Bruce Bawer's book STEALING JESUS, in which he elaborates the subtitlle of that work: "How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity."  Almost anything by Karen Armstrong, particularly her biography of THE BIBLE, is also relevant to this subject and highly recommended. And, you can google and find a more complete version of my story -- seedback welcome at   Bill Joyner  (June 17, 2011)

"We would rather be ruined than changed,   We would rather die in our dread    Than climb the cross of the moment     And let our illusions die." -- W. H. Auden in THE AGE OF ANXIETY   

2 Corinthians 5:17  "... if any one be in Christ (i.e. in that state of perfect love epitomized by Christ), he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new."  

It is a promise of transformative change, beginning with a crisis of consciousness that includes the awareness of human frailty and inadequacy: as Paul Tillich suggested when he wrote that a total acceptance of one's self must be accompanied by a total self-evaluation, or judgement, of one's self. The psychology of transformation, therefore, aligns with the theology of this passage, and it becomes, not simply a free ticket to ride the gospel train down the track of "cheap grace" to a life of smug complacency and eternal security, but a profound challenge to accept the opportunity to change, which "the good Lord knows" ain't easy. That's why Bonhoeffer's treatise on THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP is so essential to understanding the possibilities of human transformation.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer:  "Man's religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a Deus Ex Machina. The Bible, however, directs him to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must, therefore, plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer or religion ... He must live a "worldly" life and so participate in the suffering of God in the life of the world."

Wild Bill’S CINEMA CIRCUS Earth Show

We begin in a darkening room

with a medley of colors

and tunes, slide show shadows

of brilliant decor,

quintessential moments

from lots of movie clips,

presented like longer

than average previews;

and, forever, a

wonderful mash up

of roots rock


the unforgettable

1964 World’s Fair

short film, a real

down home

white clown

side show!


Mixed media art !


Perhaps, but I always prefer

the Balinese attitude,

made famous by

Corita Kent:


“We have no art,

we do everything

as well as we can.”


It won’t be long

& we’ll be doing

another show,

hopefully, with

the help of a

few student bodies

waiting in the wings,

like angels, you know,

waiting to metaphorically

& actually, to

 raise the Cinema Circus “tent”

again at New College,

right here in the

intellectual & cultural

heart of Sarasota!                            

The Circus City!


home town!

and yes, even

at the TA

(Teaching Auditorium),



Love willing.






--Bill Joyner

3 capsules

of zen wisdom

from john cage:

“The highest purpose

is to have no purpose

at all.”

“Everything we do

is music.”

“I have nothing to say,

and that is poetry.”

It was an awesome sky,

my camera nowhere

nearby, had to

absorb the brilliant

colors: purple, rose,

orange & other

resplendent hues,

had to let them

freshen my soul

with wonder

for a moment,

then fade



and melt away

for a moment.

Begin again,

dear friend,

– and soon

right now.


Lean back

and fully relax


Why meditate?




One golden moment

of peaceful illumination

can set you on the right course

for the rest of

life’s long day.



Find your way,

and work your way,

toward the work

life inspires

you to do.



Why meditate?


One golden moment

of peaceful illumination

can set you on the right course

for the rest of

life’s long day.



Find your way,

and work your way,

toward the work

life inspires

you to do.



Bill Joyner

P.O. Box 3411

Sarasota, FL 34230

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