Once I began to further prod and understand Christianity, I slowly fell into what I view as an over correction. I thought because of how nonchalant and casual I was about my faith growing up, that I needed to go full force with it now that I’d been “enlightened.” But the truth is anyone going full force with any religion is really just annoying and attempting to ease whatever guilt they have. And guilt was something I definetly carried.
My relationship with God focused primarily on my sin. If I messed up, I let God down. Extreme navel gazing. While I professed a belief in the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, I didn’t rely on it in any healthy way. And for the longest time I was dealing with a porn addiction. Not the prudish kind of porn addiction but rather a kind of serious problem where I was spending considerable amounts of money on webcamming with women. If you know me, I’ve likely talked about this too many times. But it was a serious issue for me at the time and not only in the religious sense. Psychologically it was devastating to me.
But without getting too deep into that, let me move on with the story. If you know me, you also know that I had a longstanding relationship with Chick-fil-A. When I was 14 I started working there and eventually moved my way up into leadership and management. This led to helping with grand openings of new locations, one of which was the Hollywood store in 2011. (This would make me 19 years old.) It was a huge deal at the time because it was the first one opening in the Hollywood area. There were all sorts of Chick-fil-A giants around, including the Operators of the leading stores in the nation. Darryl from the Office came by, Demi Lavato drove through and Clark Duke who I knew was friends with Kid Cudi. (I even asked him where Cudi was at to which he replied, “I don’t know.” It was a dumb thing to ask and I should’ve went with asking him about Gear of War 3 which had just released and he was wearing the shirt for it. But, oh well.)
Now these were long shifts we were working--9-12 hour shifts--so the company paid for hotel rooms across the street. I’d never had this kind of experience and I was ecstatic about it. I felt important, like I’d reached some new level of prestige. So, like a boss, I went and checked into my room and got comfortable. But comfortable turned into bored, bored turned into lonely and lonely turned into entertaining the cyclical thoughts which often entered my brain.
Well, one thing led to another and someone was clicked on which led to something being pulled out. I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say afterwards I was left in a whirlwind of guilt and shame. The usual thing that occurred after such an event. And what happens when enormous amounts of guilt are weighed on someone? Well, they try to find some way to absolve their crimes.
That’s when I saw the bathtub and had an idea. If I were to fill it up with water and dunk myself, well that would be a baptism wouldn’t it? And I hadn’t been baptized since I was a child and now, well, now I was a “serious” Christian. Perhaps, if I dunked myself in water I would not only make God happy after what I’d done but maybe, just maybe, it would fix my errant ways.
This is the terrible idea that a lot of us religious people have. We think if we do “x” then we will get what we want or we will fix something inside ourselves. Give yourself to Jesus and you will no longer be an asshole! Unfortunately, there are too many assholes giving themselves to Jesus with no change occurring. That’s because the good news of Jesus isn’t about fixing people. It’s about loving people as they are.
Of course, this was something I hadn’t actually learned. At least in the experiential sense yet. So, I climbed into the tub and then remembered something. In the Bible there were usually witnesses to someone’s baptism. At the time, I wasn’t really plugged in at a church. I had bitterness about being raised going to church and not really knowing anything about my faith. That, I blamed on the church. I figured if they couldn’t properly teach me than I didn’t need the church. So I resisted going or being a part of a community. Plus, I knew enough people who were believers and I decided I would text some. Or, one, at least. I don’t remember how many or if there was any more than the one I do remember. Patrick Ghobry. I hope he’s forgotten this because it’s rather embarrassing. I texted him something along the lines of “I’m baptizing myself in a bathtub right now and I want you to know I’m professing my faith in Jesus.” I’m fairly certain he replied with laughter. (Patrick was/is extremely involved with his church so this likely seemed foolish to him, which it was. He also belonged to the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Tradition, so anything I did of the Protestant nature, he laughed at.)
The dunk happened and perhaps I felt better about myself but nothing changed. I still was addicted to webcam girls and didn’t get past that for quite some time after that. That’s because baptism isn’t something that alters your behavior. At the time, I viewed Christianity essentially as behavior modification. I didn’t focus on Jesus’ love for me but rather on how I was supposed to act and behave because of God’s love. It didn’t matter how much God approved of me already, it was how can I live up to the standards of God even though he already had me in his hands.
In the church, this happens all the time. Another version of it is called: rededication. Where Christians dedicate their lives to Jesus again. Sometimes this happens multiple times. Over and over. This is because of a faulty picture of what Christianity and the gospel actually is. The reason people rededicate or baptize themselves in a bathtub in the hopes of changing is because they think the gospel is about changing who you are. And if you don’t change then you need to start again. Another “blank slate.” Other language you hear about this is “fresh start”, “blank page” or “second chance.” These are all faulty in my opinion because it turns Christniaty into a factory of behavior modification. The church attempting to control and shape people into perfection, or as close as they can get them. When in reality, the gospel is much better news.
Good news isn’t that you’ve been forgiven for your past but you better get it together now or else…Good news is you’ve been forgiven for past, present and future and whether you change or not is irrelevant. God’s acceptance of you is permanent. The Christian life isn’t modifying your behavior but rather modifying your thinking, into believing that God might just like you as you are. Sure, your behavior might change. And if you’re a shitty person, you probably should change. But that is irrelevant to the question of your relationship with God. You should likely change for the betterment of your life or the people in your life if your actions are affecting them. But the beauty of the gospel is that even for the least of the least, there is hope. Hope not to change but hope to be loved, as you are.
And I wish I knew this when I was in that hotel room. I wish I believed it. I do today and I’m thankful for that because it has made my life a lot easier and vastly more enjoyable. It’s quite a better way to live when you don’t wake up either feeling like God isn’t happy with you or that you have a day of pleasing God ahead of you. Waking up and realizing God is pleased with you and the world already is a drastically different way to live. And it starts to make sense of why the hell we call it good news to begin with. And the funny thing is, I didn’t make any progress with my addiction until I started to believe I didn’t have to. When you are hyper-focused on what you shouldn’t be doing, you can’t help but keep doing it. But when you are drawn into something else, i.e. God’s unconditional grace, you sometimes find that you might actually change for the better. Maybe not, but in the end we’re all wrapped up in the good graces of God anyway. Amen to that.
But for now, Blake was focused on being “better” and that would make him worse for a long time still. (Apologies to those affected by this.) This will lead us to the next phase of the baptism journey. Where I found myself in my parent’s jacuzzi with a cult member. Yikes. See you next week for THE BACKYARD JACUZZI DUNK. (Hopefully next week. My wife is being induced on Thursday so we will see what kind of time I have but I’m going to do my best to have it ready.) Thanks for reading!