Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer: “The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above (or ‘anew,’ or ‘again’), one cannot see the kindom of God.”
|Untitled photo by Zanele Muholi|
In the church of my youth the encounter between Jesus and this Pharisee and Sanhedrin member – Nicodemus – was given as proof that to be authentically spiritual you needed to be “born again.” Born-Again christianity is the prevailing expression of faith in Christ in the USA, giving “American christianity” an emphasis on conversion from sin and sinful behavior to salvation and its attending compliant behavior of church morality. It is the expectation of born-again christianity that in our experience of conversion, we queer people will choose to be straight, which fits church morality. Salvation for faggots and dykes is a reorientation to all attitudes heterosexual.
Yet it is intriguing that in the very story from which born-again christians take their name, there is no mention of sin and salvation. Rather, Jesus speaks of birth and rebirthing. The image played upon is not one of reorientation, but of emerging and coming out. Nicodemus and Jesus did not discuss correct versus incorrect behavior. Nicodemus and Jesus discussed a fuller and richer birth into life: “… unless one is born from above” is the Johannine Jesus way of saying that if we want to live life to the fullest we need to be enfolded in the Sacred so that the Sacred may emerge through our lives.
Nicodemus, trapped in the expectations of his fellow religious leaders, needs to name and claim the burgeoning reality taking shape within him – here the dawning of God’s realm. He wrestles with how to live the life seeking expression through him. Queer folks should recognize at once, that what Nicodemus is wrestling with is the coming out process.
The story tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night.” It could as easily said that Nicodemus met Jesus in the closet, for the reality which once contoured Nicodemus’ life are giving way to a new heaven and a new earth that will mark him as different. This dynamic parallels the process of queer boys and girls and adults to allow innate dynamics to shape our lives and mark us as “different.”
In this process we find Jesus present as midwife, welcoming Nicodemus out of the closet and blessing Nicodemus’ expression of the burgeoning reality within.
As we ponder this process, whether we call it “birth” or “coming out,” the biblical language becomes cryptic. The process is the work of the Spirit. Yet, we cannot pin the Spirit down for she is like the wind. Where the wind comes from we don’t know. Where the wind goes we don’t know. All we can be certain of is the effect of the wind: waving grass, swaying trees, cool breezes.
So it is with the Spirit. We can only speak of her effect on our lives as she emboldens us to move from our closets as her out and proud children.