A sandy beach, a long line of eager dry-skinned parishioners and a pastor knee-deep in the ocean water. This is the setting for my family's baptism. I’m not entirely sure what prompted it or how it came about because I was young but I do know it was something our church did every year. A mass baptism at Pirate’s Cove in Corona Del Mar, California.
I’m not entirely positive on how old I was but it must’ve been when I was around the age of 7-9 years old. From my experience talking with people, this is extremely common. It seems a majority of people reference a baptism from when they were young or even an infant. This is peculiar considering the elephant in the room. Who knows what they believe or are participating in when they are a child? Sure, you know the rules of handball or all the character’s names on Rocket Power. But do you fully understand grand ideas like God, salvation or what baptism is? Do you even care?
It’s a fair question. Another fair question is where does the desire for a child to be baptized come from? Now, let’s be clear. This is going to be my opinion. Doesn’t mean it’s true and doesn’t mean I can’t be wrong. But it also doesn’t mean I can’t be right. (Wink, wink.) For the vast majority of people, it seems they have their child baptized because it is the “right” thing to do. The church mentions it, says it’s something people in the Bible did, even Jesus, and then they offer a time and place for such a thing to take place and a family thinks: Hey, why not? At times, it can be a checkmark on a box.
Kid’s baptized? Check. (Also, translatable as: Kid’s going to heaven? Check.)
You’ll see this at funerals. So and so was baptized in the faith, so we know they are with God now. Even though the deceased may or may not have been the religious person they're being described as. Now, this isn’t where I shame people for getting baptized and never go back to church or live in a “religious” manner. No, I believe there is a greater way to think about God and his relation to humanity than just getting wet in the ocean. One where you can pronounce God’s grace over anyone’s funeral, with or without a baptism. With or without a "religious" life as well.
You see, when I look back at this initial dunk, it reminds me of what in the Christian world we call a “work.” It’s an idea that there must be something done by you before you can deem yourself “right with God.” So, a vast majority of us do this act and then have it the rest of our lives to look back to when we are in doubt about our relationship with God. For example, sometimes when you ask someone if they are religious or what not, they will reply with either “I used to go to church” or “I was baptized when I was little.” It makes sense, for often it is one’s only relation with church or the idea of God.
There is also a theology that views baptism similarly to circumcision which tends to make sense to me.
[A brief note on the snipping of penises: While it seems disturbing in our modern world that we are snipping baby’s private parts without their knowledge, it was a practice in the ancient world for a reason. For one, it differentiated the Israelites from the surrounding nations. It made them “holy”, set apart from the world to show themselves as God’s people, i.e. his church. (Although one can wonder, who were they showing their penises too? Maybe it was an act of faith, a big one at that.) When we get to the New Testament, Paul compares baptism to circumcision and describes salvation as a circumcision of the heart. In this comparison, one can see why some tribes of Christianity and Catholicism believe in infant baptism. Because it is about the community, being a part of the church. One is brought in not as a "work" but rather as a statement of acceptance over them before they’ve even done a thing on Earth besides perhaps shit in their diaper. This is something I find myself sympathetic toward, however, I lean more on the adult baptism side. I will get into this more on THE FINAL DUNK.]
For now, I’d like to focus on this idea of a “work.” Whether we concisouly believe it or not, the culture views God through the lens of “works.” You are religious if you do blank, blank and blank. If you claim to be religious and don’t do “insert stereotypical religious behavior” then you are frowned upon or viewed as a fraud. Even by nonreligious people. This of course leads to a culture of self-rightouensess.
Where the religious stack up as many deeds as possible or on the flip side, feel terrible about themselves, living in shame because perhaps, like the rest of us, they haven’t quite accumulated a long list of good deeds. But this entire way of viewing our relationship with God through works can begin with something as simple as a baptism as a child at Pirate’s Cove.
I used to attend a church where if a child desired to be baptized, it was discussed first with a pastor to ensure they understood exactly what was occurring or what they were participating in. This was their best attempt at not frivoslousy dunking children in water. I suppose it’s one way to tackle the issue. Although I understand the concept of the children being baptized as part of the community and accepted before they’d done a thing, there is part of me that appreciates choosing to be baptized when you’re older with a full understanding of the faith (as if, a full understanding is possible but at least a further grasp on the ideas of God, salvation and baptism.) Perhaps this goes against my entire belief system on God’s relation to humanity being based on nothing but purely his motives. If one needs understanding first before baptism doesn’t that negate the idea of no "work" necessary? Or, possibly, I’m too in the weeds of semantics.
In my own experience, as I grew up and slowly learned about Christianity and faith, I didn’t exactly count my baptism in Pirate’s Cove as legitimate. But as I write this, I’m realizing my fault was in thinking there was such a think as “legitimate” to begin with. But this is the faulty thinking which led me to dip in the waters once again. And this leads us to years later, in 2011 (age 18 or 19), when I was lonely in a hotel room across from a new Chick-fil-A I was helping to open. That is where I will meet you again, if you’d be so kind to accept the invitation. See you there, next week at THE HOLLYWOOD CHICK-FIL-A GRAND OPENING DUNK.
Note: You know, the more i think about it, it’s funny. Perhaps if we’re talking legitimacy, the initial dunk is my "true" baptism. While it bothered me I had no say in it nor understanding of it, that might very well be the best description of God's gracious love for humanity. He doesn’t need you to fully understand it or to give your okay of it. He grants you his love and acceptance regardless. From before the foundation of the Earth. And it’s quite comical as I think about it that after this was a search for a true baptism (three more, to be specific) and the entire time God was chuckling at the fact that I was embarking on a foolish endeavor. The initial dunk is a true statement over the rest of my search. That the entire time I was fighting and wanting to understand and know what I was doing, God was likely laughing that he’d already taken me under his wing much earlier. Without a need for me to have a grip on it, for his grip was tightly around me, securing me in his grace. Amen to that.