Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bathtism
Make a Decision 2008

I've been talking a lot about politics and faith the past weeks, how all faith is necessarily political, faith is meant to be visible, not just a question of private morality, or intellectual doctrines, but a life orientation, a foundational world-view that shapes our discernment, decisions and commitments. So I thought between now and the election I'd blog a bit on some of the decisions that are coming up.

I was struck by this thought this past weekend during and after a baptism
in the church community I serve. The person who was baptized is highly involved and greatly visible within the context of our faith community. Gentle, kind, compassionate, helpful, thoughtful and engaged, it's a person who is recognized across the diversity of our community members as a leader. After worship 3 things happened to remind me of the power of baptism and the active integrative connection between faith and politics.

1) I was cleaning up the church and happened to be bent over p
icking up some papers when I turned and looked up through the baptism font water towards the light streaming through a stained glass window (Here's my best photo attempt to recreate the moment). The waters of baptism oriented what I saw, (re)shaped my experience of my context, and invited me to a different point-of-view, with a perspective on the margins of the majority view of the font (and life itself). That's what baptism is, more than an invitation to a new experience of life, it's a re-orientation of how we live, make our priorities, see ourselves, relate with one another, and understand the ultimate power of the universe: that death is transformed into new life by the power of God - all the little (and big) deaths that we experience in life.

2) I was reading Jesus for President, prepping for our ongoing series and read this gre
at section on baptism. (Jesus for President, pp. 144-147. Click on the images to make them bigger and easier to read. If you enjoy it buy the book!)

3) In talking with kiddo #2 about the day, she told me that the bath-tism was really cool. Traditionally, at least in some parts of the church community, we understand baptism as a bath, a cleansing of evil, a renouncing of the power of the devil or forces of systemic evil in our world and life. Many folks I've known struggled with that, in particular regarding infants, wondering what evil they have to renounce. I think #2 is onto something, in particular in light of the JFP interpretation, it is a bath-tism: an invitation to a new life-orientation based upon the kingdom of God and its priorities as opposed to those of the nations of the earth, multinational corporations and other empires that seek at all expense to preserve their own power. I'd down for that sort of bath-tism which is more about action than information, more about participation than observation, more about activism than spiritualism. Faith is policital, that's what we've been bath-tized into.

2 comments:

Leila said...

I was baptized as an infant, by my grandfather, a Methodist minister, so I did not have a choice in the matter.

As a half-Lebanese who grew up visiting Lebanon regularly, I think of John the Baptist in the river Jordan, and Jesus walking through the desert to meet him.

We Californians know that a river is an oasis in dry country. It harbors life: water, plants, animals, birds, butterflies. Our baptismal fonts are one thing, with their carved stone and contained basins; but to wander in the desert and then submit to the baptismal waters of the River Jordan, as an adult, fears, grievances and aches washed away - that must be intense.

I can imagine that it is a spiritual experience similar to hiking many miles through desert wilderness to reach an untouched natural hot spring. Add the hike/hot spring experience to profound soul trial and quest, and I can imagine the first baptisms must have been transformative, ecstatic, truly healing.

For most of my (secular) life in America, the image of a country preacher baptizing an adult in a river has been cinematic shorthand for backwardness, rural simplicity and possibly laughable gullibility. Those evangelical yokels, doing full-immersion baptism, what a laugh. And yet it's a total immersion in the body of the earth, in Her waters. Elemental connection to spirit through the flesh of this planet.

Our rivers are all so polluted now that you would not want to be baptized in any of them. The Jordan is particularly damaged. Another sign of our disconnection from God's creation, perhaps.

Sorry to sermonize at the pastor. You must get a lot of this, having a blog. I am actually very glad to find you again as a blogger and real-life neighbor.

Monte said...

I like the sermonizing....actually I think it's a dialogue, talking with each other. Glad we'ver reconnected online.

I'm struck, as I read your words, by your interpretation and thoughtfulness about the intensity of baptism in the Jordan in the middle of the desert/wilderness. I think that's really the key part of it - an intense experience of what it means to reorient, reprioritize life to follow something/someone bigger than ourselves. I think that's why the gospels talk of huge crowds streaming out to John the Baptizer. They wanted more than what they had, knew or were experiencing. They wanted to see life differently, experience each other differently, and know themselves differently - through the lens of God's power, purpose and passion.

For me it's what's behind that metaphor of looking through the baptismal font and seeing how the view through the water changed everything. That's what it's about.

Baptism (and communion) are my favorite Christian practices.... I have a copy of that picture on my laptop that often is my screen saver. It's a good reminder for me - and a challenge to me in terms of how I see the world, other people and myself every day.