Thursday, March 11, 2010

Take Me To The River

I was reminded on Sunday why I go to church. So often, the pursuit of an interfaith practice or and emergent expression of Christianity is an intellectual pursuit for me. I get passionate about systems and infrastructures and just-how-it-will-be-done. For instance, writing the program for the wedding was by far my favorite activity, except for maybe writing the ketubah. Both spent a lot of time finding rationales and laying out frameworks for the spirituality and relationships that will grow upon it and within it.

But often, church is a quiet place to go, hug a bunch of people, laugh at some conversation, meditate for an hour and then have potluck dinner with some cool people. This is a lot and my work as Treasurer and on the Leadership Co-op help to make it happen. But most of the time for me, it's just a good party.

And then God wallops me one on the side of the head and I'm struck down by her grace for my shitty little blase apathy.

We had our first baptism this past Sunday and I was a hot mess. I cried throughout the ritual. I had asked to be the elder who presented the candidate for baptism and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could barely finish her full name.

I'm not sure what it was. Some of it was grief that I might not get to baptize my babies. Jacob and I haven't decided what we will do when it comes to that but as of right now, there are definitely still things about Christianity that feel threatening to him. Although he was out of town on Sunday and missed the show, I would be comfortable betting the nest egg that baptism is one of those threatening things.

I was also struck by what this act meant for our community. We had watched Emily grow with Satchel in her belly. We had thrown her a shower. We had crouched over the baby carrier when she was first brought to meet us all. I have gotten to swoop in after services and simply tote her around on my hip as I set out the dishes and cutlery for potluck while her parents socialize. That last act is something from my childhood at church: the un-self-conscious ability to simply lay claim to a baby without even considering that I might be infringing on quality family bonding time, which is the opposite of the experiences I have usually had in my adult life when visiting with parents and their new babies.

On that note, I would say that a majority of the powerful emotion seems to have been a profound feeling of continuity. On Saturday, I had answered a bunch of my friend's questions about my identity as a Presbyterian emergent Christian since he was writing a paper on the topic. I dug down a little to think about my history in the Presbyterian church and how exactly it has shaped me. This is an example:
- What does it mean to you to be Presbyterian? Is that identity important to you at all (especially as a lay person)?
For me it's more of mindset and a personality than a theology. I like order. I like study. I like that I come from a staidness that did not adapt well to contemporary Christian praise songs, although they tried very very hard. I like liturgy. I like knowing what will be next in the service. I like hearing the bulletin rustle when a section of the service requires a page turn. I was told when I was little that Presbyterian churches dedicated more square footage to classrooms to sanctuary space. This excited me. I like representative democracy. I like flannelgrams. I also really resonate with the idea of being reformed and always reforming. I like that there were strong female pastors in my upbringing.

Having this identity is great for jokes. But if there were not an emergent Presbyterian church, I would look to another denomination. The liberal Episcopalians appeal to me. I like smells and bells, too. However, Lakeview Presbyterian would probably feel like home, as would 4th Presbyterian. I would just get different things from them. When I lived in LaGrange as a young, married suburbanite, I was a deacon at the Presbyterian church there. I picked it after visiting all the churches within walking distance twice. No one spoke to me anywhere else. Twice, they welcomed me there. Also, other churches like UCC mess with the words to the hymns. No good.
With these memories so close to the surface, I was then immersed in the ritual that I have been a part of my entire life.

Powerful stuff.

The Presbyterian version is very simple but asks the congregation if they will accept responsibility for raising the child to know God.

Powerful stuff.

To be reminded that a group of people agreed to envelop me with that care when I had no personality, no language skills, little cognitive ability and almost no motor skills - in short, the things that I believe make me likeable - is a reminder of grace. In the Church, we are known before we know ourselves and that knowledge leads people to accept us as one of their own. God is very present in promises like that.

Powerful stuff.

I was a sniffly and weepy and seepy witness to the welcome we are just starting to extend to the next generation of this emergent thing we're trying to do. I got to make her a blanket that everyone signed. I got to run my fingers through her crazy hair, made stringy with water and oil. I got to sit in the presence of God and my community and know that I contribute as much as I receive.

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