Last weekend my boyfriend and I visited some friends who just had their first child. Less than 24 hours after the baby was born, we drove to the hospital and I held this tiny human in my arms. As he slept, I imaged the little boy growing up, everything he would experience and learn and discover, day by day. Some things he would ascertain on his own, and other lessons would come from the teachings of his parents, teachers, and friends. What potential I could see in this little new life!
A few days later, I went for a walk around a local college campus, and I stopped by a beautiful pond near the chapel. Pausing the music on my iPod, I sat down close to the water and suddenly noticed something out of the corner of my eye: a mother duck swimming around the pond with her ducklings in tow. Cool as a cucumber she glided along, while her babies scurried around her, running into each other like fuzzy little bumper cars. “Out for a swimming lesson,” I thought to myself. Every once in a while, one of the ducklings would gather up her courage and plunge her head beneath the water. She would come up for air not long after and look towards her mother, seeking her approval. Sometimes one of the ducklings would swim out further than the rest of the group, but always turn around to be closer to his siblings. Eventually the mother swam to the edge of the pond and I watched as she led her babies one by one out of the water and across the grass.
When I think about these two stories, I am reminded of the newness of birth and all of the discoveries and lessons we learn after we are born. We watch our parents, we try to venture out on our own, we make mistakes, and sometimes we are hurt. But we also discover beautiful things, and make memories and learn more about ourselves and the world around us.
In my faith tradition, the ideas of birth, rebirth, and being born again have various connotations. In John 3, Jesus talks with a man named Nicodemus and tells him that the kingdom of God can only be seen by those who have been born again or born anew. Understandably, Nicodemus is confused: “How can anyone be born again after having grown old?” Christians interpret this passage and the meaning of “born again” in different ways, and admittedly many people who aren’t Christian cringe a little when they hear the phrase, “Have you been born again?”
But my own understanding of rebirth has changed and evolved throughout my faith journey. For years I understood “born again” to refer to a certain belief and attitude about God and Jesus. Being born again meant that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior because he died for my sins, and that as a result it was my sacred duty to convince everyone around me to accept this premise too. Being born again meant that I was in a place to judge others based on whether their beliefs fit mine or not. Being born again meant that I was “in,” and therefore others could be “out.”
However, that understanding began to change when I started to dig deeper into my faith and into the faiths of others. Because I was still in college, I had long conversations with chaplains, spiritual directors, and campus ministers about the interfaith work that they did on campuses and beyond. I discovered that there are communities of Christians who don’t define people based on what they believe but on how lovingly they act toward others, regardless of their religion, their economic status, their nationality, or their sexual orientation. I learned to understand Jesus less as scapegoat for my sins and more of a revolutionary who cared about turning the world upside down in the (re)creation of a new kingdom of God. In a sense, I had been reborn.
I was reborn into a worldview that cares about peace and justice for all, not just for those who believe and behave like me. I was reborn into the creation of a church that intentionally partners with people of other faiths in the advancement of the common good. And, just like when I was first born, just like that tiny infant in the hospital, and just like those fuzzy ducklings, there are things I have yet to learn. I will venture out on my own. I will make mistakes. But I will also continue to make discoveries with others that inform us and help us to learn in this new world, a world with potential for rebirth and renewal when we seek goodness and justice for all.
Photo courtesy of the author.