Dissenting Radical

The Common Good: A 'Christian-Left' perspective on radical theology, progressive politics, authentic culture and sustainable living.

Category: Testimony

Taking the Plunge: A Belated Baptism




I’ve written previously about what communion means to me, but until now I have not mentioned the other great ordinance of the church: baptism. I’ve been meaning to, right enough, but I just haven’t found the right opportunity to put ‘finger to keyboard’.

Today is as good a day as any to finally get around to it, because today marks the third anniversary of my baptism. Yes, that’s me in the photo, getting my feet wet for Jesus.

Three years ago I willingly stood up in front of a packed church and participated in what Monty Python would call ‘a bizarre aquatic ritual’, saying a very soggy ‘I do’ to following Jesus.

I had been putting it off for a long time. The norm, I think, is to be baptised shortly after beginning one’s Christian life, not thirteen years later. I should have done this as a starry-eyed eighteen year old babe-in-Christ, with my UCCF-approved ‘Student Church’ booklet in one hand and Nicky Gumble’s videos seared into my brain, at the rich and shiny evangismatic church I was attending in Edinburgh at the time. But no. I didn’t do it. Several folks I knew did, but I wasn’t ready to take the plunge.

It seemed like such a big commitment. If I was going to go through with it I had to be pretty sure about it. I had to know that through all the ups and downs of life there was something sufficiently solid and real at the core. I was afraid of what my friends might think. I was really afraid of what my parents might think (I think they thought I’d been suckered into a cult and that I would grow out of it; they might not have been too far wrong).

So I put it off and put it off, until it almost seemed pointless going through with it. As the years passed, I  wasn’t too sure about the very  idea of being baptised – to insist on an evangelical approach to baptism seemed incongruent with the rest of my Unitarian-Universalist theology, and I needed to resolve that. What does baptism mean, if one embraces the unity of God and the universality of salvation? Is it better to do as the Friends do, and eschew baptism altogether?

But at the easter service in 2010 I got what I like to call a ‘holy spirit punch on the nose’ (this seems to happen, from time to time) and I knew that I couldn’t put it off much longer. It look from Easter to the following July to arrange it, but arrange it I did.

I acknowledged Jesus as lord and saviour and committed myself, with the help of God, to following his Way and teachings. I entered into the symbolism of ‘the tomb and the womb’, going under water to symbolise the washing away of the old and coming up again to symbolise the new and risen life.

Ever since then, whenever I have a shower, I take a moment to close my eyes and put my whole head under the water; I silently remember my baptism, the promises I took, and the assurances of Jesus and the apostles, and go out into the world clinging a little more strongly to hope.

I’d give myself a score of about 2/10 on actually living up to my own ideals, but that’s not the point. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to prove it. We are just invited to live it as best we can, growing and learning and sharing all the way.

Come on in. The water is lovely.

The Resurrection and the Life

I’ll call him Jan, although that’s not his real name. Jan is from Poland. He’d gone to work in Spain in the boom years, when unskilled jobs were plentiful. When the economy fell apart, he was stuck: no job, no money, no way to get home. No home to speak of anyway. No friends, no contacts, no papers, no keys, no hope. He was sleeping in a Barcelona backstreet. Nobody knows the full story. Large sections of the narrative are lost to memory.

When I met Jan he shook my had vigorously and said ‘Merry Christmas’ in Polish. Jan was now living with the Community of the Lamb (a Catholic congregation, associated with the Dominican order) at their friary in the south of France. He had been invited there by Brother Marco, who had encountered him while doing a service mission amongst the destitute in Spain. Marco literally rescued Jan from death on the streets. The two had become firm friends. The Community had become Jan’s new home. He helped out in the kitchens and the gardens, generally making himself useful, learning new skills, loving and being loved. He was sober for the first time in his adult life.

But there was a problem. The working language of the Community is French, and Jan didn’t speak it. There were a few Polish Brothers and Sisters who could translate, but he was utterly dependent upon them. That’s were my mother-in-law steps into the story. She’s a retired language teacher, with beautiful, flawless French, and a regular communicant at the Community of the Lamb. My mother-in-law agreed to give Jan French lessons.

Progress was made. The next time I saw Jan, several months later, he said, in French, “Hello, my name is Jan, and Marco is my friend”. The words were simple enough, but they represented something profound: Jan’s new life, new hope, new purpose.

This is the Resurrection and the Life: destitute rescued, brokenhearted bound-up, captives set free, prisoners released, chains broken, debts cancelled.

Resurrection, as I understand it, is not a unique cosmic conjuring trick that happened in Palestine two thousand years ago. It’s a continuous, incremental process, unfolding before us even today, occurring wherever the light of the Spirit shines, and made manifest wherever love is shown, grace extended, peace made, and community established.

I know it is true because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve met Jan and Marco, and many others like them.

And the chances are, Jan will be the next Marco. Resurrection is contagious.