Baptizing a baby

November 26, 2006

In a few minutes I will leave for church with my son, Tom. Alex and Lily are already at Alex’s church, and Alex plans to preach fast and then come to Guadalupe as soon as she can. Today, I will baptize a baby, the son of a friend of ours. The little boy, like our children, was adopted from Guatemala. The parent, unlike us, is herself an immigrant from El Salvador. As a pastor, I always get a bad case of nerves before a baptism. I don’t perform the rite very often, and I don’t want to screw it up (as if I could!).

Baptism is another part of our faith that we have tried to “cutify.” I’ve seen some pastors make a baptism one little part of the children’s sermon, or they call all the children to come and surround the baby as it is baptized. For better of worse, in Guadalupe we don’t have a “children’s sermon” because there aren’t enough kids. I’m not happy about the lowbaptism numbers of kids, but I’m thrilled I don’t have to tell some silly, moralistic, “Bible story” for the vicarious pleasure of the old people. It says a lot about someone’s faith maturity when he says, “I sometimes get more out of the children’s sermon than the regular one.” This also means the pastor is self-consciously speaking to the adults at the chidren’s expense.

The Bible is not a children’s book, despite many efforts to make it so. The story of Noah is the story of the massive extermination of all life on earth. There are slaves and wars and genocide. The story of Jesus includes his own execution. Sex and money and intrigue and meanness are pretty much par for the course.

Likewise, baptism, while definitely good for babies, is not a cute little act. It is their death. They die in the water and rise to new life by the power of Christ. They, and their parents, promise to battle evil in all its guises, and they promise to be faithful, a promise we as a group have not kept. They promise that on their death beds they will remember and be grateful that these promises will finally be complete. It is a permanent mark–indelible, scarring.

Baptism is also a joyous event, worthy of special celebration. I’m nervous, but I promise not to be too dour or puritanical. It is a little baby, and he is very cute.

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