John 3:3 – Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
This well-known story from the gospel of John about Jesus’ night-time encounter with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jerusalem establishment, has taken on new meaning for me since I embarked on my antiracism journey. In first century Palestine, birth status was the single determining factor of a person’s social status, so there is no doubt that Nicodemus understood the radical implications of Jesus telling him that no one could see the Kin-dom of God without being born again. He would have to be willing to give up his position of power and honor if he wanted any part of this new movement.
We don’t know for sure what happened to Nicodemus after this, but towards the end of chapter 7 of this same gospel he comes to Jesus’s defense in a meeting of the priests and Pharisees, so it would appear that he at least began to experience the process of rebirth.
Being born a white, straight, Canadian male, I have been conditioned by a life-time of unearned advantages. I now realize that when I accepted the invitation to claim an antiracist, antisexist, anti-oppressive identity as an integral part of what it means to be a Christian, I had essentially accepted the invitation to be born again and again and again. And that in order to be reborn I would have to die to my conditioning over and over and over again. Or as Walter Wink puts it in The Powers That Be, rebirth “includes the necessity of dying to whatever in our social surroundings has shaped us inauthentically…. We must, in short, die to the Domination System….”
While it is true that this process of dying to our conditioning is often painful and is never fully over, it is also true that it is the only way to experience rebirth, not just as individuals, but as communities, institutions, and even entire societies.
Liberating Spirit, we ask for the clarity and courage to die to those aspects of our conditioning that prevent us from living authentically and thank you for the opportunities to be reborn in communities that reflect your love, your justice, and your peace.
Rick Derksen is a trainer with Roots of Justice and serves on the ROJ board. He’s an antiracism organizer with several Seattle-based activist groups including European Dissent, EPIC (Ending the Prison Industrial Complex), and the Seattle Race Conference committee. His identities include white, male, partner of 40 years, parent, grandparent, ordained Mennonite minister, and part of Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church.