Thursday, February 17, 2011

Birth and re-birth

On Sunday morning, I looked at myself in the mirror of a public restroom and thought, "This must be the time of life when women start wearing too much make-up.  Anything is better than nothing."

Many women glow during their pregnancy.  Others, regress to adolescence because the new hormones cause them to produce a lot of oil and they break out in acne.

Guess which camp I'm in.

I do not wear make-up except when I'm dressed all fancy so a fancy face matches or when I'm interviewing for a job.  Even then, there is no foundation or eye-liner involved.  Lipstick, mascara, maybe some eye shadow.  Just enough to enhance the contrasts of my pale skin, dark lips, blue eyes and dark hair.  You know, the Snow White look.  I never have worn much make-up probably because my mother didn't so I never had that kind of time commitment modeled for me.  I am grateful to her for that.

But Sunday morning, I wished for a little something to give a boost to my sales pitch.

I was at a satellite campus of one of the mega-churches that flourishes here in Chicagoland, recruiting volunteers for my organization.

Mega-churches are always so surreal for me.  As I drive around Chicagoland, I am beginning to notice that they are often across the highway from each other since they came into popularity (or, at least, had raised enough money in their capital campaigns) around the same time and so were able to purchase large swaths of farmland as it went on sale at the same time.  It's kind of a neat parallel to the historic downtowns of many midwestern towns where there are mainline Protestant churches and Catholic churches across the street from one another.

However, I tend to like the satellite campuses much better than the main campuses.  The people on stage are less manicured, more like real people, even if the camera-person doesn't ever give the Big Girl on the music team her close-up.  The people milling around the narthex (can you call it a narthex if it's a converted warehouse?) mostly look like people I would actually be friends with, rather than being a homogeneous group of make-up-wearing, skinny suburban moms and their un-intimidating and soft husbands.  Don Miller describes churches like that as going to church at The Gap.  The reference is becoming outdated but I think you get the point.  I'm never quite comfortable at the main campuses, which are generally located in wealthy suburbs, even though I have come to know and love some really good and interesting people from those communities.

(Yesterday, in response to a snarky comment I made similar to the one above describing the members of main campuses, my father wrote back, "Maybe this is a reminder to you and I that we worship a God that NEVER gives up on us no matter how bad we screw up."  I love that my father knows that I make those statements with a tone of self-deprecation because AS I AM SAYING THEM, I know that it's mean and that I am a little bit a bad person for thinking it's funny.  He knows I won't take offense for pointing out that I am "screwing up" in that moment.  I consider the friendships I have with folks who fit that description as the grace God offers me by reminding me that every person is unique and most are quite lovely, regardless of their appearance.)

For whatever problems I have with the evangelical culture, though, I have to admit that they do adult baptisms really well.  Full immersion in hot tubs on stage.  These baptisms, like the revolution, are definitely televised.  You get to witness the emotional experience of the candidates as the jumbo-tron displays their faces in close-up as they tell their story to the pastor who is standing in the tub with them.  During the year that I spent at the evangelical church here in the city, I was really moved by being able to be a part of the worship team for the baptisms that took place in the lagoon down the street.  The physicality of full immersion allows people to access their spirits and let them come to the surface and you can really see just how excited and grateful they are that their life has been changed because of their new-found relationship with God and that transformation has been made public through this ritual.

Jacob and I lay in bed at night and talk about the birth rituals for our baby, including baptism.  In my tradition, we baptize infants as a way of welcoming them into the community and exacting a promise from that community to teach the child what they know about God.  I know that some traditions include a belief that eternal salvation as part of the equation but that doesn't come into for me or for my denomination, as far as I know.

When we first began discussing baptism when the first babies in our church were being baptized, we toyed with the idea of doing the bris or the simchat bat on the same day as the baptism for the convenience of gathering our large community together only once.  Also, I wanted to insist that my in-laws commit to loving and accepting the both-ness of our child by being present for the Christian baptism.

Over time (what a difference a year makes!), I have less need to control my in-laws.  They are good people on their own journey and I'm becoming much more willing to let them take their own lead (and accept their own consequences) in how they interact with me and my children.  For one, I probably don't know how to make sure that everything between us is hunky-dory and for two, I couldn't pull it off anyway.  So, we'll baptize the baby when s/he's a little older and do the traditional Jewish welcome straight.  Last night, we fantasized about the menu of bagels, lox, egg salad and kugel for the celebration.

The baptism on Sunday had me in tears.  However, I can never fully immerse in evangelical worship and sat in the tension of being so happy for these people putting themselves forward for this extremely vulnerable ritual and so moved to "remember" my own baptism but at the same time being completely disgusted that the song the worship team was singing had the recurring back-up vocals of "we crown you, we crown you" while the melody sang, "Kings of kings and Lord of lords."

Ack!  I cannot relax into a theology that puts me, ME, in a position to crown God, to give God the authority to rule, to decree that from here on out, God gets to make all the decisions.

Our covenant with God is not a democracy.  We do not get to elect her out of office if we get tired of her.  The beauty of it is that we will never need to.  God is good and it always turns out to be us who are wrong when we take it into our heads to break the laws that God sets forth.

How could I be the one to make God the King of kings and Lord of lords?  I would have to be pretty powerful myself, wouldn't I? 

And I'm not.  I can only witness the spectacle and report back to others what I've seen.

Now, I do resonate with a theology that puts forth that I have to bow my head and accept God's authority, that I have to acknowledge what has always been true: that God is in charge.

I find this to be terribly liberating.  Because the concurrent realization is that I am not God, which means I don't have to know all the answers and that I'm not responsible for making sure everything turns out OK.  What a weight off my shoulders!  This is a spirituality of imperfection that I practice and that makes claiming the ability to actually confer sovereignty on God as repugnant.

Still, despite the soundtrack, there is no denying that the members of this church were experiencing real transformation.  Given my disgust at looking in the mirror earlier that morning, I was struck by the two women who climbed into the tub, completely devoid of make-up and exposed.  I felt a kinship with them, our physical appearances altered by the expectation of birth and, for them, re-birth.

Aren't we lucky that that we worship a God that NEVER gives up on us no matter how bad we screw up?

No comments: