4 Aug 2011

A New Perspective on Being "Born Again"

The presence of the kingdom of God is clearly all around us - we can see signs of the Creator in His animals and His plants, and in the stars and the clouds moving through the sky. If we really look, we can see His work everywhere. Scripture tells us that the kingdom of God is within us, too. (Luke 17:21)

The kingdom of God may be all around us, even inside us, but we may not always feel it or live like it is there.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus with this same concern. He said to Jesus, "We know you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these things that you do unless God is with him." Embedded in his statement is the question he wanted to ask: "How can I get God to be with me - how can I be in the kingdom of God?"

Jesus answered him by saying, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus, taking this literally (and thereby missing the lesson) responded to Jesus, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'" (John 3:1-7)

The kingdom of God is certainly within each of us, and we can find it there when we look deeply into ourselves, putting aside the busyness of daily life, and quieting the noisy ego that is placing continuous, unreasonable demands on our time and psyche.

But to realize the fullness of this kingdom, to ignite it, to experience the richness of it, I suggest to you that we need other people to bring it to life. The kingdom doesn't work well alone. Yes, it works easier when we are with people of like mind; friends, partners, groups, networks, communities, churches, neighborhoods - for Jesus points out that "wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also." (Matthew 18:20) It erupts in love when people meet and are able to connect at a heart-to-heart level. Maybe you've felt this at times in the past when you're with the right people, and where there is nothing in the way of deep understanding and knowing of each other.

But the kingdom can also be brought to life when we're facing a person we may be having difficulty with, someone who is frustrating us, or with whom we are in conflict. We can activate the kingdom of God even in these situations. How? By being born again.

For me, being born again is the act of deeply looking into the heart, history and hopes of the person I'm with. It's being able to put myself aside for awhile, and live the life of the other person to the point that it almost feels as though I was born that other person. I visualize myself as having been born in his or her life, growing up as they did, in the conditions that she or he had. If I've listened deeply to them, and I've looked deeply into their heart, I'll understand better where they're coming from, I'll gain a sense of why they're thinking the way they do, and I'll understand better what they're facing in life. I may realize that I would have ended up exactly as they have if I'd been born when and where they had been born.

With this deep understanding I gain about the other person, compassion begins to grow in me. I learn to accept who they are. With understanding, compassion and acceptance comes love. Who I thought was an enemy becomes a brother or sister. I see that I am indeed connected with them, and am like them in many ways. We are told to love our enemies, because as soon as we do, they are no longer our enemies. We enter the kingdom of God when we reach this level of understanding.

Being born again means taking the time to deeply listen and deeply see the other person as though we were that person. This takes patience, and time. It means asking questions instead of telling. It means observing rather than showing. It takes humility and a good sense of self. Being born again takes practice. I need the practice. Today I will begin to try to practice this better.

How many times must we be born again? Well, that depends on how many times we interact with another person. Could be quite a lot! We aren't born-again Christians because we claim to be born-again Christians. We're born again Christians because we are born again, and again, and again... (Think of all the birthdays we can celebrate!)

By being born again we can see the kingdom of God, not only in ourselves, but in the other person as well.

Daniel Schroeder is the current Guardian of the Community of the Gospel, a dispersed Christian Community formed under the canons of the Episcopal Church. For further information, visit http://communityofthegospel.org/ Daniel is author of the book, Reclaiming Eden: Taming the Serpent Ego. He has an MBA in finance and spent 32 years in the financial services industry.

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