Several years ago at a campground church service where I (still a seminarian) was preaching, my sister was asked — no, more like accosted, and out of the blue by a couple of strangers — if she’d been “born again” and if she remembered exactly when it happened. Taken aback and responding this was her own personal business, the questioners told her if her reticence was due to the fact that actually she didn’t know, then she wasn’t really Christian. It took me a little while to calm my sister down and convince her she would not be subjected to such uncomfortable in-your-face surprises when visiting her newly pastored sister’s pulpits, at least not hopefully much.
Even if you haven’t had an experience like this (as a parishioner, pastor or sibling), the phrase “born again” is one that may give you the willies. It’s been, in the opinion of many, co-opted by conservative-to-fundamentalist Christians to indicate a certain political and theological point of view, as well as spiritual authenticity.
It’s one of the reasons that many a sermon on last Sunday’s lectionary gospel text, John 3:1-17 — the account of Jesus encounter with Nicodemus — probably included an emphatic note that in the original Greek, where the former tells the latter, “No one can see the Kingdom of Heaven unless he be born again” (“anothen”) Jesus really means “born from above.” I’m not sure exactly what the purpose is of making this distinction, except, pragmatically, to undermine the (sometimes rude) authority of “Born Again Christians.” If they’re not correct about their Greek here, what else are they getting wrong??
This is of course a good conversation to prayerfully and lovingly have.
However, or, at least, in addition, the Comic Lens would encourage all sides of the debate to put on their “glasses” and enjoy the implications of what Jesus infers, because "birth"...
…is a funny concept! It’s one of the most staple characteristics of classical comedy and is intended to make us laugh, or at the very least deeply, joyfully smile.
And that includes when birth happens again, or from above.
There are all sorts of ways that births in comedy make us laugh, make us feel good, teach us about the blessings that “births” of all sort bring.
Think about some of your favorite “birth” scenes from tv and film. What are they saying?
Here are a few of my faves.
Of course, there’s the scene from “I Love Lucy,” where Little Ricky’s birth happens at the most inopportune time, while Ricky is performing the “Voodoo number” at the club and shows up at the hospital in his full, frightening regalia. Of course we laugh at the incongruity of it all.
And we also laugh because in our lives, change always seems to come upon us at the wrong time, even when we know it’s change for the good. I remember when I experienced my call to ministry - it was totally not when I wanted it to happen, and it took a long time before I told anyone. It was messy! And wonderful. And sometimes painful. Like birth. And I’d never take it back. Like birth!
Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t times I totally wanted to take it back - the road ahead was just too unknown and scary. That’s why I LOVE this scene from “Look Who’s Talking”. Says it all and in so many ways.
Another of my favorite birth scenes, one of my favorite tv scenes ever when I was a kid, was the one where, on “My Three Sons” Katie has a baby, which turns out to be three! Three baby sons! While at the time it was just something to see the babies be introduced to dad Robbie in one, two, three fashion, what I’ve come go learn in subsequent years that that is the nature of spiritual birth and how: so so much abundance of love, peace, joy, LIFE!! Way more than ever expected when the first “yes” to the Divine and the Divine Way is made.
As I said earlier, “birth” is one of the most basic markers of comic narrative. Classic comedy always ends with marriage and/or birth. It’s a way of telling us that although our lives may be chaotic and full of screw-ups, the universe is, ultimately, benign. God (as many of us would define “The Universe”) is, for whatever reason (many of us call it “amazing grace”) somehow gives us not only second chances but the ability to grow and be greater than ever before. It can’t be explained. Only enjoyed, and laughed at. Laughed with. With God and with one another. Especially those with whom we may get caught in any number of "how" and "why" and "when" cross-hairs.
It’s all Greek to all of us! And that’s what truly makes it “birth.”