The evangelical subculture deserves much of the bad rap it gets. For many of us, the different ones, it was mean and patronizing, damaging us in almost irreparable ways. For me, I ended up running out of it arms flailing and relieved and, to my surprise, found Jesus on the outside waiting for me, arms wide open. I found a faith was real and had texture and was mine, much different from the shiny vapid one I had been offered before and then promptly snatched away. Many thanks James Dobson.
Most of the time here I point out the wrong of that bleached-teeth smiling, fog-machine fuming, bless-your-heart-in-truth-in-loving-cliché filled culture, but today, for Addie Zierman’s synchroblog, I shall zero in on the chips of beauty. I shall talk about my baptism.
Baptism was, is and ever shall be a hot topic murmured throughout Christian denominations. At my Baptist church, it was what set us apart.
We were appalled at how the Lutherans chose to baptize their babies; little humans who had no choice, who would, for all we knew, age into taciturn secularists. There was no commitment on their end, there was no deal made, it was way too easy and way too early. Thus, we carefully called it INFANT baptism, as to distinguish it from our own, as to ask now adult infant baptized people if they would want a redo with us.
Which we called BELIEVERS Baptism. We took a six-week course that, for the life of me, I cannot remember. But I do remember that we talked a lot about process. About speaking before the church prior to doing the dunk. We covered how some kids pick personal scripture to recite, and some told a story and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. But I also knew that the story I had to tell made my motivations suspect.
My grandma was dying of cancer and she was, so very much, the heartbeat of my dad’s side of the family. She was elegant and cozy, smart and funny, an excellent cook who passed over the finer, more cultured recipes in her book to make simply delicious, uncomplicated food that she knew everyone would love. She was a hero. We loved her so much.
I got baptized because I loved Jesus, yes, but also because I loved my grandma. Her voice was one of a select few that encouraged me toward this faith. She told me the Bible stories, introduced me to Jesus as Love, and sold me on this idea that God gave up everything to be with me. I owed the world to her for that. I didn’t want her to miss this moment.
I waded through the the cool pool of water toward my pastor on the other side. I stood at the microphone and told a story of my grandma. I told the truth of how she familiarized me with the faith, talked about her friendship with Jesus.
I wasn’t sure whether I was doing this for God or for Grandma and it only added to my worries. In my head, I had this idea of what my coming to the pool moment would be like. I envisioned my heart, mind and soul in perfect unison, fully committed, not a trace of doubt about God. But I was torn and unsure and afraid I was wrecking the whole thing.
Looking back on it now, I see it was beautifully both, in many ways the same. It was just love, for God and for my Grandma, A way to afford us us a special moment for her to see how far those early stories took me. Her flawed, wonderful grandbaby offering himself to God and community. To love.
In baptism, we swim through the water and the pastor proclaims “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We dunk in backwards and rise up soaking, smiling to the sound of a thousand clapping hands. It is symbolic of death and resurrection. The emergence to the surface and catching of breath, a symbol for who we are now.
But I keep thinking about those milliseconds under the water. The metaphor of it. The way I think we’re still gradually rising to that surface, becoming kinder people, more gracious to ourselves, reflecting bits of Christ. I think about the way we are, and will continue to be, beautiful flawed works in progress.
And so I am grateful that evangelicalism, the culture in which my church was couched, made baptism important for me. It made a mark that has remained beautiful in my story, shining through the dust of anger and hurt and more anger. It reminds me that despite the dark and mean parts, I am a part of something larger. A collective of stories trying to get out of ourselves. Slowly changing for the better.
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Today I am synchroblogging with Addie Zierman and others to celebrate the release of her book (which you can and should buy HERE). Folks from all over are writing stories from evangelicalism and linking up over at her site. Click the picture above to read their stories!