15 November 2012

stylish adult baptism

In my social media networks, a video is flying around called, “Big Rich Texas Tip: Stylish Adult Baptism.”  The scorn being heaped on this clip is well deserved.  Less than two minutes long, the clip offends the rational mind from start to finish, with some especially cringe-worthy moments.  My personal favorites include commentary that one option for baptism could be a church (gasp!) because “sometimes that’s more traditional,” naming the woman to be baptized “the baptee” (I guess neosacraments call for neologisms), and a warning against being “boobalicious” in one’s clothing choices when attending said stylish baptism.  I probably don’t need to explain “boobalicious.”  What’s not in the clip?  Any mention of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, an ordained minister, or even Christianity itself.  The church may not be as stylish as the pool at your Texas ranch; apparently the “style” thing also excludes the very unstylish Faith once delivered to the saints.

Leslie, with her “stylish baptism,” is an easy target.  Her simplistic and ephemeral take on what the Church holds as a soul-changing moment is world-class satire without even trying.  Unfortunately, Leslie is only taking her cues from the Church. 

Weddings are the one of the worst areas where we as the Church have completely caved to the “stylish” culture, inviting all sorts of symbolism and ritual that have nothing of the depth of the ancient faith.  Unity candles, sand pouring, flower petals in the aisle – we ministers allow these things all the time.  Yet these are not Christian symbols, speaking to vows made before God.  If I have to hear one more preacher proclaim that a wedding is about the bride, or the bride and groom, I’m going to hurl down from the bell tower my ESV hardback with Apocrypha.  A “church wedding” is where a man and a woman pledge before God to commit to one another until death – a wedding is ultimately about a commitment to God.  Yes, let’s make it beautiful; yes, let’s make it enjoyable. But let’s make it about God, from start to finish, a model for the married life to come.

Funerals are a close second.  Rambling eulogies and “personal touches” of the deceased move our minds and hearts away from the purpose of a funeral: to commit our loved one to God.  Yes, let’s take time to remember them fondly; yes, let’s make it personal.  I do most funerals in segments.  I lead the funeral service itself, and only after I have completed the liturgy and could actually go home do I turn it over to the family for eulogies and the like.  A funeral, like a wedding, is not ultimately about us, about the one whose obituary is handed out.  A funeral is about God, about reflecting on the victory over death won by Jesus in the Cross and Resurrection, and a sober opportunity for all involved to consider our own mortality.

So let’s have our fun with Leslie and her stylish baptism, but the Church and our own diminishing of the sacraments are the reasons such a video clip exists.  May God, and God alone, be glorified in our weddings, our funerals, and even our stylish baptisms!

11 July 2012

samuel's baptism

July 11 is the feast day of St Benedict, but to me it will always be the day in 2011 that I baptized my son Samuel.  Born 3 1/2 months early, at 1 lb 13 oz, Samuel faced several surgeries and an uphill battle for life.  He recently turned one, and his life and continued development proclaim a testimony of God's grace.  As we kept folks updated on his progress through Facebook and other means, I wrote several essays on our experience.  Here, slightly edited, is the essay on Samuel's baptism into the Body of Christ.

Yesterday, I performed a baptism.  Since I'm an Anglican priest, that’s not terribly unusual (though to be honest, I don’t do it enough).  It was the setting and the baptismal candidate that were different.  Rather than a Sunday morning coordinated with fellow believers, family and friends, it was a Monday afternoon, a decision made two hours previously.  Rather than a cooing (or howling!) baby presented in a long, white, baptismal gown, this infant moved feebly in a plastic-encased neonatal intensive care bed, wearing a tiny diaper, surrounded with lines and hoses.  And it was my son.

I don’t baptize my children.  I ask others to baptize my children.  I wasn’t “legal” for Elijah and Jonah.  I could have baptized Lily, but asked my friend and mentor Fr. Briane Turley to do it while I served as his assistant at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulsa.  I wasn’t going to baptize this baby, either; I had planned to ask our bishop, The Rt. Rev. Alberto Morales, to do it on or around All Saints Day if Samuel had been born at his October due date.  I don’t baptize my children.  I made this decision before I was ordained, that my first role in the life of my children is as “Dad.”  When they are baptized, I prefer my main role to be that of presenting them to Jesus as the spiritual leader not of my congregation but of my family, making the vows that I will indeed bring them up in the faith, that I will teach them God’s Holy Word, that I will bring them to God’s Holy Table.  If in the future my children marry, I would prefer to be in the “Dad” seat in the front pew rather than standing as the minister.  It’s just my preference—I don’t argue that anyone else should take such an approach.  It's my way of saying that with my children, I am “Dad” first and “Father” second.

If you look closely on Samuel's head,
you can see a bead of the baptismal water
Samuel broke all the rules.  When we learned yesterday the serious potential complications involved with Samuel’s procedure, I asked the doctor if I should go ahead and baptize him.  She replied that she frequently recommends it for children born this premature, and suggested I talk to the nurse to arrange for the materials.  A good Catholic hospital always keeps baptismal items close at hand!  The nurses brought us a small bottle of sterile water and a shell (these items have now taken their place among our most prized possessions), and I indulged in the privilege of baptizing my fourth child.  In the room with me and Rebecca were Elijah, Jonah and Lily, Joyce (Rebecca’s mom), Margaret (WIU student who lives in Peoria and has been helping so much with our children—who love her!) and Kathy, one of the nurses.  Margaret and Kathy were taking pictures.  Jonah and Lily stood with Rebecca and Joyce, and Elijah helped me (“Is this acolyting just like I do at church, Dad?”  “Exactly, son.”).  Like an obedient priest, I had a stole with me, even in NICU with my son—thanks be to God!  My Bible and small BCP were in my bag.  I abbreviated the baptismal liturgy, sticking with the blessing of the water, the baptism itself, the prayer of thanksgiving, and the mark of the Cross on his head (alas, no chrism).  My hand was shaking as I dripped water from the tiny shell onto Samuel’s head; likewise as I made the sign of the Cross on the crown of his forehead, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Such a tiny head, such a fragile head, receiving the water of Baptism and the mark of the Cross: signs of life and death in a bed where the struggle between the two plays out before our very eyes.

While Samuel’s baptism was certainly administered under emergency circumstances, the Lord has been gracious to him and to us and the days continue.  Today we sit in the room with a new member of the family of God, receiving the blessings of Fernando Ortega’s brand-new album, which includes a number of settings of music for the Eucharist.  Music that drives us to the heart of the life of faith: God giving of himself in Bread and Wine.  Additionally, I just realized today that Samuel’s baptismal day was the feast day of St Benedict.  I think that our Benedictine bishop would approve! 

So I finally baptized one of my children.  He just better not ask me to officiate at his wedding: rules are rules, son.

17 March 2012

st thomas aquinas on marital sex

"There are some who say that intercourse between married persons is not devoid of sin. But this is heretical, for the Apostle says: 'Let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled' [Hb 13:4]. Not only is it devoid of sin, but for those in the state of grace it is meritorious for eternal life.

Sometimes, however, it may be a venial sin, sometimes a mortal sin. When it is had with the intention of bringing forth offspring, it is an act of virtue. When it is had with the intent of rendering mutual comfort, it is an act of justice. When it is a cause of exciting lust, although within the limits of marriage, it is a venial sin; and when it goes beyond these limits, so as to intend intercourse with another if possible, it would be a mortal sin."

(From his Explanation of the Ten Commandments)

10 March 2012

receiving without deserving

I'm a religion junkie. It probably helps that I'm a member of the clergy, but I'm fascinated with religion, with churches, with how humankind considers its relationship to a higher power.  One way I satisfy this addiction is by reading church newsletters from all around the country, so easy to do now that everyone posts them online.

One church newsletter included this quote: “It is better to deserve without receiving than receive without deserving.”

Sad to say, this quote mirrors the American ideals of working hard to deserve the “good life” rather than the Christian reality of grace that a church ought to promote. Grace teaches that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross serves as the ultimate door to “receiving without deserving.”

It's vital for American Christians that the Christian part of our existence direct and form the American part, and not the other way around.  One important way to underline this concept is to remember that nothing that we do makes us worthy to receive God’s grace.

To belittle "receiving without deserving" reflects not a life of discipleship to Jesus of Nazareth, but secular humanism. It sounds nice; it sounds like a humble path. Yet at its root, it belittles a central tenet of the Christian Faith. We receive without deserving when, by faith, we trust Christ’s death for our sins.

The quote isn't Christian at all.  In fact, they're the words of Robert G. Ingersoll, a celebrated 19th century agnostic (and one-time Illinois Attorney General) who ridiculed Christian beliefs and those who held them. Such a one could not comprehend the meaning of grace.

Christians talk about grace, but do we understand it?  It's a gift that we cannot earn, regardless of piety or sacrifice.  It is best to receive without deserving, when we receive from Jesus Christ.