I may be working out what I think by writing here, so you’re welcome to come along for the ride or just take a look at the cute kids in the previous post and move on.
As I’ve said before, this blog is linked on facebook. I know a few people who read it, but I don’t know if there are others. If I say something about you and you are offended, I’m sorry. If you let me know (through comment, message, email, irate phone call, whatever) that you read the blog, I won’t use you as blog fodder. At least not in any way that might be construed as negative. If you read something I write and you feel the need to “unfriend” me, I will understand, but it will make me sad. I hope what I do write is not taken badly. I’m questioning a whole system that I once took at face value (more or less). I’m realizing that there’s a lot ingrained in me and there is more to contemplate than I ever thought.
So, here’s what prompted that. This was a status update I read today: “Thinking about the miners being rescued in Chile reminds me of when I, too, was in need of rescue. I was once trapped in the deep, dark pit of sin… separated from God. But God, in His mercy reached down to me, sending His Son Jesus to be my redeemer. The angels in Heaven rejoiced the day I accepted Him as my Savior– my name forever written in the Book of Life.”
Oh to unpack this. First, there’s that idea that everything is about that moment of salvation. Every experience comes down to how can I say this so someone might read it and be saved. I think of all those lessons in Sunday School and Bible Studies about how to turn the conversation to make it evangelical. And if that’s what you believe, I supposed it should be that way. I could never do it. And so all I got out of it was a vaguely guilty feeling,
I guess if I were going to make spiritual comparisons here, I would probably say something about God’s love. Maybe that’s included in Mercy, but this is a dark and scary metaphor–not one that points me to the “lovely light of love.”
And then there’s the incongruity of the writer with the status update. The writer is one of the loveliest people I know. She brings joy into a room just by her presence. I knew her when she was an 18-year-old freshman and I was a 21-year-old senior in college. She is a delightful woman who is a lifelong Southern Baptist Christian. I don’t remember for sure, but she probably made her confession of faith when she was 4 or 5 or 6 and was baptized not much later. Does she really remember being “trapped in a deep, dark pit of sin?” Even if she wasn’t as young as I think she probably was, it was certainly before she was 18. Is this what she remembers? Really?
This is the narrative we are given, whether it fits or not, this narrative of conversion. And then if you have a great conversion story–awesome! If you don’t, well tell it anyway. Before I left, there was some movement to testimony being talking about what God is currently doing in your life, which I think is wonderful, but there’s still that primacy of the salvation story. It’s not a story I have. I was five when my parents started going to church. They told me what the preacher and Sunday School teachers were saying was true. They had never led me wrong before (my secular humanist parents eschewed Santa Clause and all those trappings). So I believed them, believed in Jesus, believed the cross provided the bridge between *Man* and God, and was baptized. Am I a sinner? Absolutely! Was I living in a “deep, dark pit of sin” and realized my own need for salvation? At six-almost-seven? Do I have moments in my life when I have been closer to God? Of course. Do I have moments when I’ve had to make a choice, do I believe or not? Oh, yeah. But according to this narrative we are given, I was either *already saved* at those moments, so they don’t really matter in the eternal scheme or I *only thought* I was saved before and it was at one of these other moments that I really got saved. That’s what I call the Baptist “once saved always saved” loophole. Maybe you weren’t ever actually saved. So how do you know? Do you know what kind of anguish that sort of thinking gives to a child? Or at least to this one? I still have those moments.
I think this notion of childhood conversion is what convinced me that baptizing my children was the right thing to do. The book my pastor’s husband lent me talked a lot about how the Bible doesn’t really speak to children who grow up in the faith (it was written too soon, right?), so we look to the greater pattern of scripture. I don’t have a conversion story. Maybe my friend on facebook truly does, the baptists are stronger about that, after all, but I don’t. Children of people of faith need a different narrative. It needs to be real. There’s the recent study–that I can’t find the right search terms to find–that talks about what youth aren’t learning in church. If I remember correctly, they are learning more about community and doing good work than about God. That scares me a little bit, but I think it doesn’t need to be that way. I think they can understand their communal and individual relationship with the divine and the ongoing work of the divine spirit within them, within each of us, that is made possible because the divine came to earth, lived among us, and died for us (I have no other way to say that). I guess I’m a big believer in the ongoing work of the spirit, so I have trouble with that single moment of salvation idea. Some people absolutely see the light and turn around in one moment. But I don’t think most people do. I guess that’s why I am bothered by the emphasis of the “date of salvation” in my other friends’ church’s baptisms. But I digress.
So especially for those of us who grow up in the faith, let’s find a way to make the story relevant. I like the story that opens when their father and I (or at least I and he goes along with it) acknowledge that we believe Christ will redeem them, thus we have them Baptized into this covenant promise–as Hebrew boys are circumcised as a sign of their covenant. Then we teach them more and more and they learn what it means to understand what God’s own Spirit is doing in their lives. And eventually, I pray, they make it their own and acknowledge that through confirmation. They acknowledge what God has been doing all along and is continuing to do. It makes more sense to me. But we have to be intentional about the in-between times. We have to live out the promises we will make on Sunday when they are baptized, promises to teach them, to help them understand their stories and their part in God’s story.
So that’s where I am. Thanks for listening.