Once, I was sitting poolside in a ritzy resort. I was near my Catholic-rooted Italian and Armenian husband, and an American expat who’d been living most recently in Belgium. “Americans are, oddly, the most religious people in the world.” Said the lady. We nodded, and looked for the pool guy who was expected to be bringing another round of drinks any second. ”What religion do you practice back home?” She asked.
“We’re Baptist.” We said in tandem.
“What! Baptists are crazy!” She shrieked. “They hate everyone. Blacks, Jews, Gays…. I can’t believe you’d be Baptists!”
“What’s wrong with Baptists?” I asked. She went on for a while but in summary, Baptists are like Amish, but really mean.
What she didn’t know is that I didn’t exactly choose to be Baptist. I am. Cradle raised Baptist. And to tell the truth, if I’d been born Buddhist, or Jewish, or Muslim, I’d probably practice that, to the same extent I do now. A person like me needs order, and tradition, and Faith. I just do. I know how much Baptists are loathed, and there are things I hate about us, too. And yet… I am Baptist. At Baptist church, I know when to stand up and sit down, and when to say Amen. Moreover, at my Baptist church, I know that I am loved.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
-Thomas Ken, 1674
That feels like home. As flawed as it is, home it remains.
When the invitation to be baptized was opened one Sunday earlier this month, my daughter said to me, “Can I go?”
“Go where?” I asked her. “We’re almost done. We’ll be leaving in two minutes.”
“Up front.” She pantomimed walking to the front of the church, where new members sit to get their names on the church roll and be baptized.
“Oh! Yes. Are you ready?”
She nodded and put down the sweater she had lying across her lap.
“Should I go with you?” I was discombobulated. Being baptized is a huge deal in our faith. It’s the ultimate expression of free will. But I had problems:
- Her dad was somewhere in Iowa at a motorcycle rally.
- She’s only eight years old.
- What does she know about faith?
She nodded, and started leaving our pew. I hustled behind her, and found her waiting for me at the aisle, with her hand extended. I took it, and we went to sign her up.
As we passed the row my mother was sitting in I could hear her classic sporting event yell. “Yes!”
I looked back to tell her with my eyes to be quiet, but she was ignoring me, caught up in the moment of her grandchild joining the Christian Jubilee, “Whoo! Get it girl!”
The Good Baptist part of me was delighted. The rest of me was terrified that she wanted to sign up for a team that doesn’t have a very good reputation. “Christian” people have done rotten things in the name of God spanning back since the beginning of the church. Killing, lying, cheating, love of money, generalized jacked up oppression…I won’t list all the specific examples here, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. I am often creeped out by the atrocities committed in the name of God. Could we teach her to be a real Christian, loving her neighbor as herself? Casting no stones?
I’d told her from the time she first saw someone be baptized that it was entirely her decision, and we’d support her, any way she felt moved. And so, I did.
She was Baptized this past week, and her father and I, plus her extended family, stood with her in support. She cried once she got out of the water, overwhelmed by the emotions that can flood a person rising up from the water of a baptismal. She came to my arms, where I think she belongs, and whispered in my ear, “I did it!”
“Yes, you did.” I told her, kissing her flushed cheeks. And then I told her again what I’d said the first time I ever saw her- her cheeks were flushed and she was crying then, too. “Welcome home, baby.”
Glory be to the Father
And to the Son
And to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be
World without end.