Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Baptism, Fear and Freedom

Image by Jono and Laynie Photo and Film

This is me.
Now, before you start panicking, I'm not at the site of a mass tragedy, a funeral or any other negative thing. This picture was taken at a baptism.

Last year, Freedom House, the church I attend, held a mass, public baptism and it freaked me right out. Not the idea of baptism, I've been a Christian for most of my life and have witnessed countless baptisms of several flavours. Out in a lake? Check. Inside a church? Check. Baptisms in which people wore robes? Check. Infant baptisms? Check. Baptisms after which someone helpfully pulled the plug on the baptismal tank (think of a very large bathtub) and the drain made atrocious sucking sounds while the pastor tried to preach? Oh yeah, I was there for that. I was baptized myself when I was 10. So I'm cool with the act of baptism.

I actually really love baptism services. The visual representation of someone entering a new life of grace and freedom is beautiful, exciting and profound. What I was freaked out about was the public nature of this baptism. Held in the middle of Harmony Square, in Brantford's reemerging downtown core, this event was publicized in several media outlets and was at the least going to draw about a hundred people or so.

Now, I've always attended charismatic style churches, so I'm used to outward demonstrations of worship. Add to that the fact that I'm fairly fond of the limelight and some of you may be scratching your head wondering what the big deal is about an outdoor service. The thing is I like order and I really hate conflict. So the potential, at least in my head, of these things happening at a large scale baptism, held in the middle of a public square was huge. What if people picketed? What if no one showed up to get baptized? What if people wrote all sorts of bad things about my church in our local paper, online, etc? (Some did. I particularly liked the guy who called us Branch Davidians. Dude! That is so 1995!) What if someone saw me worshiping with my hands raised, maybe swaying a bit to the music (No dancing. I'm still dealing with some body issues. Jesus is helping me get over the fear of my own jiggle.) with my eyes closed?

See that last fear there? No, not the bit about jiggling, the one about someone seeing me worshiping. That's the one that really bothered me. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was freaked out that people would think I was some kind of wackadoo out proselytizing in the public square being a spectacle. And that is sad.

The picture above was taken when I finally stopped caring about what people thought, when I took a real look at the people around me, people smiling and cheering about a new way of living, about freedom and grace and when I accepted a measure of freedom and grace for myself. Those are tears of redemption, tears of joy and tears of change. As I told one person who saw the picture on Facebook and was concerned for my generally well being, "It's all good in the hood. :)"


Baptism began as a public demonstration held by a lone yahoo wearing animal skins, munching on locusts, in the Jordan River. The whole point of baptism was (and is) a public display of an inward change. Baptism, and arguably worship all together, was never meant to be held behind closed doors. It, like salvation, was never meant to be only for those deemed worthy by those in authority or even by those deemed worthy by society at large. Baptism (and by rote salvation) is for any one. From the richest to the poorest, the healthy to the sick, the wanted and unwanted, the sure and even those who aren't 100% sure, but are willing to try. The Church (notice that big C) has for too long kept baptism locked away, hidden and shrouded in ritual and rules.

So we're doing it again! This Sunday, four churches along with Freedom House will be holding another baptism at 3pm - same bapt place, same bapt channel (See what I did there?). We're going to have a service - that means we're going to sing songs and someone is going to speak, -the message of salvation will be preached as will a message on what baptism means, it will be short. Then people who want to get baptized ( old Christians, new Christians, Christians that belong to a church and those who don't, kids, grown-up, the lost, the found and those looking to regain a faith they once had) will. They'll physically get dunked under water for about 3 seconds and brought up out of the water, handed a towel and then will receive some information and prayer.  Spiritually,as my mother in law would describe it, those baptized will be taking off an old coat, one of sin, fear, death, etc and putting on a new one made of grace, new life and redemption.

Am I nervous? A little, I still like order and more people and more media coverage means more things are out of my control. Am I freaked out though? No. I'm excited. I'm excited to be part of an age old celebration of newness and grace. I'm excited to watch my son get baptized (there will be tears). I'm excited to take "church" out of four walls and into my city centre. I'm excited to have the freedom to worship and grow in freedom with others.

I'm excited.

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