One of the best parts of my job as a clergy-person, I think, is working one on one with families, specifically when preparing them for a child’s baptism. There’s something special about the energy and excitement that parents have when thinking and talking about their child’s adoption into the Body of Christ.
One of the challenges for parents who, maybe have wandered from the church and are now wandering back for the sake of their children, is that they constantly try to reason out what baptism is. In an ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ world, baptism calls into question our own humanity and our children’s humanity. When we talk about turning from a world of sin, to a world that focuses on Christ and Christ’s teaching, there’s something missing because, Christianity has become so beholden to “I’m okay, you’re okay” thinking.
The truth is, we are okay--we are born alright. We can’t do anything to make God love us more. The problem comes, though, when we discount the importance of acknowledging the sinfulness of humanity. I consider myself a pretty good person, I work hard, I live as simply as I can, I do what I can to spread the Good News through acts of justice and love. That said, I am no perfect. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe isn’t it? Mom, I know you’re in shock and disbelief that I, your baby boy, am not perfect. I swear like a sailor, sometimes; I speed, most of the time; I’m impatient, sometimes; I’m sitting in Starbucks writing this right now, so let’s also talk about the fact that I ordered a hot drink in a paper cup and the fact that they fund illegal settlemets in the West Bank.
Perhaps the watered down, ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’ practice of baptism and the church’s response to it in reclaiming the importance of the rushing waters of our baptism, is a result of our cultures emphasis on success over and against failure. Success, making as much money as you can, working as hard as you absolutely can, being the best, requires us to hide our blemishes and shortcomings. Society requires us to fit a certain mold, in order to be called ‘successful.’
For me, it has been important to keep two things in mind:
- Success, from generation to generation has been defined differently.
- It never has been nor will it ever be all about me...and I just need to deal with it.
Success for my grandparent’s generation, the beginning of the baby boomers, was defined by a job that paid a living wage; a modest, middle-class house; and having a family. Success from that time to now has changed drastically. If you take a look at the media messages of success, it is outrageous what defines it today. Success can be considered to be defined by driving the best car, getting paid as much as you can for something. Wearing the best clothes. There’s a 10 year old girl in the congregation I serve who has decided that success is defined by her sense of style. What she is doing is connecting what she wears directly to how successful she is or is not that particular day. Success is also being right all of the time.
It is both troubling and wonderful to watch people come to the realization that it isn’t about them. I work a lot with youth and with, what some are calling ‘emerging adults’- those 18-24 years old. Everything is about them. Their entire world revolves around what kind of grades they get, how something benefits or does not benefit them. To a point...In my experience many are self-absorbed, but the culture that they perpetuate and that others have boldly proclaimed is the dominant American culture, is one that gives back. The youth group of the church that I serve will turn out big numbers for a mission trip but for a trip to a fun destination they will often find something better to do. Why? Not because those activities that our youth minister has planned to be fun aren’t, but because they see themselves, I believe, as servant leaders.
Our baptism connects us to a world that is completely different than the one we live in presently. It opens to the doors and windows of our whole selves and encourages us to change in new and dynamic ways as we refocus the lenses which we live in the world with and emerge born anew into the Body of Christ. That said, our baptism is not the end--it doesn’t mean that we are in ‘the club’ but that we are now commissioned to proclaim the Gospel with our whole lives.
By virtue of our baptism, we have a responsibility to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in a way that connects what goes on in a sanctuary every Sunday, or at another time, with what is going on in the Soup Kitchen, Starbucks, YMCA, or Tennis Club. We have a responsibility to open ourselves to be shaped and changed by the Gospel in a way that we choose the tough, Kingdom way, instead of the comfortable way.
Are we willing to accept our baptismal vows? Are we ready to allow God to use us to change the world? Only time will tell...