Baptism

Disquiet Time: How Revelation Ruined (and Saved) My Life

Disquiet Time. Photo via Christian Piatt.

I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.

Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.

Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.

Church of England Kicks the Devil Out of Baptism Rite

The devil is portrayed in “The Temptation of Christ,” an 1854 painting by Ary Scheffer. Public domain image.

While Christians waited to learn whether the Church of England would approve the consecration of women bishops, the church’s governing body — the General Synod — quietly voted to drop all future references to the devil in a new baptism service.

The simplified wording was written after priests said the traditional service was unnecessarily complex and might confuse people who are not regular churchgoers.

In the traditional service, godparents are asked whether they are ready to renounce the devil and all his works for the sake of the child being baptized.

Could Baptizing Children of Gay Couples Become a New Battleground?

Monsignor James Bartylla is vicar general of the Diocese of Madison. RNS photo courtesy Brent King, Diocese of Madison.

Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy’s campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.

But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.

The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

Southern Baptists Meet as Membership, Baptism Decline Continues

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention. RNS photo courtesy of Baptist Press.

For Southern Baptists, it’s happened again: Another annual report shows the denomination is losing members and baptizing fewer people.

The Rev. Fred Luter, outgoing president of the Southern Baptist Convention, thinks old-time methods to spread the gospel have met a culture that’s younger, more diverse, and doesn’t necessarily see the pew — or even sin — as a priority.

“Our society is just not what it used to be,” said Luter, who admitted he’s discouraged by the reports. “When I grew up there was a challenge by parents in the home that our sons and daughters would be in church. It was a given. … That day and time is gone.”

Luter said he and others will address the issue at this year’s annual meeting, which takes place June 10-11 in Baltimore. But beyond calls for reversing the trend, there’s little sign of agreement on a way forward.

Sarah Palin’s Dying Breed of Christianity

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz / Shutterstock.com
Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz / Shutterstock.com

Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.

She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.

Sarah Palin and the Beauty of Baptism

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna
Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

The Spirituality of Imagine Dragons: Lent and Demons

Courtesy Imagine Dragons
Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, deals with his demon in their "Demons" video. Courtesy Imagine Dragons

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

Thus begins the spiritual drama of Lent, the forty days before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ wilderness experience. No human, not even Jesus, can escape the temptation of the devil.

Just before Jesus was led into the wilderness, he was baptized in the Jordan River by John. As the Gospel of Matthew reports, when Jesus emerged from the water “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son had always been true, but he received confirmation of his relationship with God at his baptism.

'What is to prevent me from being baptized?'

LUKE'S SECOND VOLUME, the Acts of the Apostles, tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers after they received spiritual power to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Beginning in Jerusalem, the movement proceeds north and west, eventually tracing Paul’s journey to Rome. But the plot takes one big detour along the way, heading south to the mysterious lands beyond Egypt, carried by a person more foreign and unusual than any other in Luke’s vast cast of characters. Only divine intervention orchestrates the encounter between the Jewish Hellenist Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

What is the main thrust of this missionary story? Is it geography—a foray into “the ends of the earth” long before Paul reaches Rome? Is it religious ethnicity—the first God-fearing Gentile believer converting, even before the Roman centurion Cornelius? Is it the man’s undeniable African origins—straight from the lands of Nubia and Cush? Is it his wealth and connections to royalty that will enable him to bring Jesus’ gospel to Africa?

Luke likely included this story for all these reasons, but the text itself points over and over to what must be the driving force of Luke’s inclusive theology in this account—the rider in the chariot is not referred to by Luke as a man. Luke calls him a “court official” and a eunuch (8:27), and later calls him a eunuch four more times, but never a “man.” He has been castrated before puberty and trained to take sensitive positions not entrusted to males. He is beardless with a higher voice. Torn from his birth family and enslaved at a young age, he has no family of his own. Loyal only to his queen, he is “in charge of her entire treasury.”

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Salvation: All Is Grace

Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk / Shutterstock.com
Abstract smoke image, grace illustration, Amnartk / Shutterstock.com

One sort of Christian believes taking Eucharist weekly saves her. Another Christian believes his confession of Jesus Christ as Lord saves him. Still another looks to his Baptism. Another to her participation in the body of Christ. One to his repentance. And another to her care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, and the poor.

We elevate one belief or practice over another, then divide ourselves as Christ followers by the priority we set when, in fact, all of these are taught as saving by Christ, who alone is our salvation.

Christ saves me, not the accuracy and purity of my beliefs. Christ saves me, not my works. Christ saves me, not the measure of my adherence to a doctrine or practice.

When all is said and done, many Christians tend to look to their habits, their faith, and their perseverance when it comes to salvation rather than to the work, belief, and faithfulness of Christ in us, over us, under us, and through us.

Church of England's Alternative Baptism Liturgy Drops Reference to Devil

A priest prepares for a baptism. Photo courtesy of DainaFalk via Shutterstock

The Church of England has been accused of “dumbing down” the baptism service following the introduction of an alternative liturgy in which parents and godparents need not repent of their “sins” or reject “the devil.”

In the traditional version of the service, parents and godparents are asked: “Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?” and “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?”

In the alternative version, now being tested in 400 churches, parents are instead asked to “reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises.”

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