In Sunday School recently we discussed the story of Nicodemus, whose encounter with Jesus is depicted in John 3. In this famous encounter, Jesus tells Nicodemus that being “born again” (or “born from above,” as most interpreters probably correctly argue) is a prerequisite for “see[ing] the kingdom of God.” A member of my ward argued against a view he sees as prevalent in which being “born again” is seen in typically evangelicalistic terms as a one-time event at which time a person is first and finally saved. This class member worried that a) not every LDS has such a powerful spiritual experience, and b) even those who have such a powerful spiritual experience will often waver in their sense of having been born again.
I agreed with this gentleman, a view that has been strengthened by my study of early Mormon adoption theology. I believe that we can see in our birth as Christians something that is both spiritually powerful and flexible enough to deal with the inevitable waxing and waning of spiritual ardor we will experience as the children of God.
I hear in John (whether textual scholars agree with me seems peripheral to the point I want to make) the announcement to a thoughtful, well-educated man accustomed to thinking of himself as an Israelite (and thereby a citizen of Yahweh’s kingdom by birth) that the kingdom to which he should belong is both greater than any earthly political consideration and available to those who are willing to become God’s children by a new or spiritual birth. Such individuals become God’s chosen people by a miracle as powerful and inscrutable as the wind, an image early Jews associated with the divine breath of life. Juxtaposed with the elemental imagery of cosmic breath is the image of parenthood and childbirth, and those images draw me more powerfully.
I confess that, while I am a parent, I am not much of a parent. I have no great experience nor set of wonderful parenting skills, but it occurs to me that birth is a mechanism by which a lineage is established, a way to create or confirm a particular kind of relationship. In my limited experience, parenthood is anything but monotonic. There is delirious sleeplessness in the endless hours before dawn and the sublime sanctity of a child slumbering peacefully with its head nestled on your upper arm. There is the tearfully exquisite encounter in which a child tells the parent that she loves him “forever” and the misery of the same child shrieking that the parent is “bad.” Through the sometimes staggering vicissitudes of mortal life, a parent remains a parent, and the parent is the touchstone in a child’s life.
When I hear John tell us, through the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus, that I will be born again, I hear him promise that I will be God’s son. That I will love him and sometimes hate him, that I will be drawn to him often but will at times struggle to understand who he is or who I am, that there will be times that I am his troubled teen or his prodigal come home after years for a feast of his finest lamb. There will also be times when we will beam with pride and satisfaction at each other, that there will be no greater truth than the reality of a parent and a child. But what will not change is that I am his child, and he is my father. That much I will always have, as a child “born again from above.”
I apologize for my brash disrespect for American culture but have been so busy at work I couldn’t write my monthly Fast Sunday post until I got home from work today. I heartily congratulate the exemplary athletes who dutifully and cheerfully showcase the finest in American mass marketing year in and year out.
 See, e.g., the NET Bible for John 3 for relevant points presented succinctly.
 I’m using this in the general sense of adoption and am not trying to answer the inevitable and unanswerable debates about the meaning(s) of Divine Unity or Trinity.
 If I believed in reality television, I would believe that I probably represent the kind of parent to whom Nanny 911 is routinely dispatched.
 I feel great sympathy for people whose experiences with parental or filial relationships are miserable rather than joyful. I myself have spent decades wishing my father had not been profoundly mentally ill. Nevertheless, in my own experiences with parenthood I believe I have seen glimpses of a glorious ideal toward which we all, regardless of our nominal family circumstances, can joyfully strive.