Friday, August 31, 2007

Rantings about Baptism

As I sat around at ESR the other day the topic of discussion was baptism. Water baptism. The question was raised, actually it was repeated second hand, that one of our seminarians (FGC no less) might have wondered why we don't have water baptisms, especially if someone might think it would be a nice thing to do? I wonder if this is from the same person that defends the recognition of non-theists as Friends. Wouldn't that be interesting. Maybe I could get soaked with a power washer by a non-theist Quaker.

But seriously, my concern isn't with yet another dive into the depths of water baptism, but with the total lack of discussion about real Quaker baptism, the Baptism of Fire by the Holy Spirit. How many Friends have you recently heard speak of their experience of the Holy Spirit in terms of baptism? How many Friends talk openly about the moment when they suddenly knew, not only that God loved them, but that God had plans for them? How many of us talk about that time when our lives began to change so significantly that others could experience our radical turn toward the risky business of serving God? Have Quakers so lost the language, and possibly even the experience, of the Baptism of the Spirit as a central tenet of our sacramental theology?

And let's not forget that Spirit baptisms are not a once-off event. Convincement can happen at any time, for who can limit God's yearning to teach and guide and water the seed over and over again. Our nurturing Creator knows us as a people thirsty for the Spirit, and we are blessed with multiple opportunities for such an experience as we venture through life. The Baptism of Fire and the concept of convincement are one and the same. Baptism opens our eyes and convicts our soul, and convincement generates never ending opportunities to see ourselves in relationship to God and one another with sudden clarity of purpose...of Truth.

As for water baptism, my take on such an event is that it is a marker of membership for those adults who wish to join a church community. (Let's not even discuss infant sprinkling!) Yet, the Apostle Paul warns against any works or badges of membership, insisting that we are God's people as a matter of faith. We are not allowed into a club once we have been dunked. We are members of the Body of Christ because we believe in the faith of Jesus Christ. While Friends might not see water baptism as a deterrent to true faith any more, it certainly is an unnecessary, and possible spiritually misguided, attempt at forcing a faith instead of waiting upon the Spirit to act in magnificent ways.

But more importantly, someone who participates in a water baptism outside of a community of faith that truly experiences such an event as a sacred event, makes a mockery of someone else's faith. I hope that no Quakers are getting baptized in water because it seems like a neat thing to do. And I also hope that we continue to support our neighbors who worship in such communities when they invite us to witness their baptisms, and share how we Quakers understand such an event. Ecumenism shares faith, it should not co opt it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A lttle bit on faith

It has been a real eye-opener to spend the last two first-days surrounded by people who have faith. My family visited a Bruderhof community about a week ago, and this past Sunday, I attended worship at a Richmond African Methodist-Episcopalian church. These experiences stand in stark contrast, not so much to my experiences at seminary, where people have often been accused of losing their faith, but in contrast to my experience of Quakerism in general, as practiced outside of my seminary bubble.

At the Bruderhof, I witnessed a people who feel as though action is the proper expression of faith, as opposed to interpretation. This is not to say that the Bruderhof folks don't interpret Scripture, they do, but they do so by dedicating an entire life to the living out of their faith as the only appropriate expression of thier truth claims. I am certainly not in agreement with all of the expressions of faith that I witnessed, but I was certain that I viewed a people who practiced their theology in their everyday relationships, and that they dedicated each aspect of their lives to peacemaking, a sense of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. they ordered their lives around the gospel message of Jesus, and the Acts 2 church. They made no excuses for the troubled reality of the world as an impediment to true community. Indeed, they opened themselves to the outside world by opening their school, their modest medical and dental facilities,dining resources and worship to any and all who were interested.

At the AME church, I was thrilled by the expression of the Holy Spirit through the "testimony" of a young man who had apparently made a beeline for the church that morning with a message in his head that had to be shared. He had not been to church in a while, but responded to his leading, and shared it smack in the middle of the sermon, which was fully accepted with great joy by the pastor and congregation as a fully legitimate expression of faith. It was an inspiring story about how God had worked in his life while he was suffering from physical and emotional pain. All present gave glory to the God they new was the author of such experiences. they gave testimony to the truth of their faith, and faithfulness, without regard to the apparent discrepancies that might be lurking in their theology, at least in the eyes of more intellectually astute seminary trained or academically inclined "Quakerisms" of the present.

My wife and I also visited a Quaker meeting during these two weeks. As we shared some of our experiences with those present after meeting had ended, we were informed that some of our peers "have some problems with the Bruderhof," though in hindsight admitted that "they do do some good things." Actually, these Friends were more concerned with our plain clothes and the message we intended to relay in wearing them. They were very concerned about my wife's head covering, though they did not seem concerned with my hat. At any rate, they did not discuss the issue of faith, or their own expressions of it. They did like my baptism jokes however.

As I enjoyed these recent experiences, I am hoping that I can somehow find similar expressions of commitment to living out faith in the realm of contemporary Quakerisms that do not require the acquiescence of the academy in order to be legitimate in the eyes of Friends. Indeed, I hope I can find ways of expressing my own faith in YHWH, and the hope I experience through the faith of Jesus the Messiah, in a manner that dares suggest the truth of such beliefs through a life lived in accordance with my theology, not just statements intended to bring others into Quaker orthodoxy.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cheap Grace Denied Deity, Film at Eleven

Though I was aware of an ongoing discussion amongst Friends, especially those who are familiar with Friends United Meeting, and Western Yearly Meeting, concerning the price of grace. While there are a lot of folks out there who believe that a mighty god is always looking to take a pound of flesh from those who refuse Jesus as the way to postmortem bliss, I would probably find more agreement with those who believe in a more universal expression of God's love for creation. However, I do not believe in cheap grace, or find any reassurance that God might not be seeking real relationship with human beings but simply lets us drift through life without any real say in the matter.
A few years ago, my monthly meeting's book discussion centered on a book that suggested that God will not allow anyone to refuse grace, but instead gave non-theists any number of chances to repent and agree to some kind of fruitful relationship that might somehow make them better postmortem people. I wonder if this approach would work on my ex-wife.
Regardless, if there is no opportunity to refuse the grace of everlasting relationship with the Author of Life, then the relationship itself becomes meaningless. It would be a coercive act on the part of God if real choices were denied in the ultimate scheme of things. As so many cheesy popular music lyrics have suggested, you only truly love someone if you are willing to set them free.
My problems with the idea of an overreaching grace is that it implies that all relationships with God are, in the end, only truly engaged by God with no commitment to participation in such a relationship necessary for the created. Why would I want to be in relationship with someone who not only rejected my overtures, but refused to even engage in discussions concerning my shortcomings. I would never want to force someone to love me, though the pain of such rejection might be unbearable. I believe that God experiences unbelievable pain every time someone rejects the possibility, not only of a relationship with the Creator, but when we reject relationships with one another. Still, free will means we experience painful consequences, as our human propensity for broken relationships so often shows.
This is not to say that there are consequences for rejection of God. God stays faithful, loving and waiting and wooing humanity to love God and one another with all our hearts. There is no hell to be sent to because we don't love Jesus. Very simply, there is only death, and for so many of us, we look forward to a reunification with the Creator when God once again comes to dwell with humanity. (Rev 21) No I'm not suggesting we all go to heaven when its over, but I still hold out that full reconciliation with creation will be a reality for those who choose to be in relationship with God, and with one another. Perhaps, this even happens in a lifetime.