My Pastor gave me a workbook – Called to Lead – God’s Call, Your Vocation by the Rev. Paul Baglyos – https://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Called_to_Lead.pdf – I’d seen it before. Somebody else who I was in contact with sent it to me. I looked it over and thought, “That’s nice, but I don’t really have to do that.” But then I got it again, in print form, and started to think they were serious about it. On the surface, it looks like some simple writing exercises, but when I started thinking about the first writing thing – “Remembering Your Baptism” – I fell into a dark and sickening rabbit hole of sin, shame and degradation. It got ugly real fast.
I’m generally okay with my past. I’ve owned up to the worst of it, made restitutions for harms done, paid the fines, apologized. I no longer commit the gross crimes and misdemeanors that were my bread and butter when I was drinking. For the first decade I was sober, I stayed mostly within the confines of the law – not completely – but I wasn’t an angel. As a drunk, I wasn’t a very successful womanizer, because I was a sloppy, fall-down drunk and not very charming. I hooked up with some women who were as shitfaced as me, but not many. Sober, I was better able to engage in sexual adventuring. I was never what you’d call a rake. I wanted to be one, but wasn’t handsome or smooth enough to pull it off. Nevertheless, I did find myself in some situations.
I quit the game seven years ago. For a while. I just thought of it as “taking a break”, but then I realized that I was happier celibate and embraced it. It was a gradual and painless transition and I don’t really think about sex much. My past is past – all the drinking, drugging, fucking, lying, stealing, vandalism, moving violations, assault and/or battery, breaking and/or entering, indecent exposure…..done. And I don’t think about that shit – mostly because there’s no reason to, but also because I don’t want to.
And then I was invited to remember my baptism.
I was baptized when I was twelve because we were Anabaptist – Brethren. The Anabaptist theory is that a person should be old enough to know what they’re doing when they get baptized and apparently they think that a twelve-year-old has any fuckin’ idea what’s going on. That was thirty-seven years ago, probably in the spring. It was a full-immersion baptism – there was a big aquarium at the front of the church that we got dunked in. I forgot to breathe between the “Father” and “Son” and accidentally inhaled while under water for the “Son”, started gasping and choking – the Rev. had to wait for me to recover before he could dunk me for “the Holy Spirit”. There were some classes before – a few two-hour lessons at the church on Saturday afternoons that were supposed to teach us about what we were doing – and my family was probably pretty happy about it. I don’t remember that.
Being baptized had no affect on me whatsoever. There was no transformation of spirit, no realization that I was a part of the Body of Christ. Absolutely nothing changed. I continued to be a weird, socially awkward kid who tried to avoid the attention of bullies, zoned out in class and got up to petty crimes and general mischief at every opportunity. Alcohol, drugs and felonies came later.
So I look at the workbook and I get the impression that the Rev. Paul Baglyos thinks that baptism is supposed to be a momentous occasion and mine just wasn’t. The fact that it happened means that I can take Holy Communion – which is cool, because now I have some appreciation for that – but the actual dunking just seems like a thing I did when I was a kid because somebody told me to. Around the same time, my dad found out that there was a semi-organized kids’ baseball game every Tuesday evening at the field behind the volunteer fire department, so he started taking me to it. He’d drive me over there, tell me to get outta the truck and then come back a couple hours later. I wasn’t interested in playing baseball, but I was there, so I did it. I assume he thought baseball was something a boy should do – and it gave him a chance to park someplace a drink beer for a couple hours. Being baptized was kinda the same. My parents thought I should do it.
Thinking about being baptized and then thinking about the way was afterwards kinda sent me into a shame spiral. All the shit that I was generally okay with because I didn’t think about it came welling up. I was suddenly swimming in the awfulness of my own wretchedness. Like, nauseous and dizzy and mentally thrashing about for something to make it stop. I seriously considered just scrapping the whole stupid become-a-pastor-idea for a few seconds until I remembered that weaseling out on God never worked any better for me than it did for Jonah. And while casting about for something that I could hold onto, I remembered that the previous night I was reading Karen Armstrong’s Visions of God: Four Medieval Mystics and Their Writings, the section on Walter Hilton’s The Scale of Perfection, in which Hilton refers to Psalm 41:4, which, in the NSRV, is “As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
Note: it doesn’t say “forgive me, for I have sinned against you” – it says “heal me, for I have sinned against you”.
Friends, that’s about as Lutheran as you can get.
That is straight up saying that the reason I have sinned is that there is something wrong with me – not wrong like kicking a dog is wrong, but wrong like I’m sick or – I dunno – broken. Which is what I am and I’ve known that for a long time. I am a broken human being who has been restored and healed beyond anything I deserve – and I know it. Knowing you’re broken and suddenly running into your brokenness are not the same thing. This has been about me slamming my face into some seriously broke parts of me.
I’m entering into a new territory. I’m embarking on a new journey of a thousand miles and I’ve taken the first step. Somewhere I picked up the idea that when you enter new a new spiritual place, the first thing you encounter there are the resident demons. And those assholes found plenty within me to throw up in my face – all my old perversions and general alley-cattery behaviors were right there in the box where I tried to hide them. And it was pretty dang easy to send me whirling around in my own self-loathing, guilt and shame because my brain is wired that way. Meds help – really, seriously, don’t give up until you try out some SSRI’s because they might be what you need – but when the shame train goes, I’m on board and there ain’t fuck-all I can do about ti.
“…heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
So I rolled that around in my head for a while. And then I stopped, because it was done. All the negative shit went away.
Not forever, I suspect. This was the first bite. I have only just started what I am now realizing is going to be a more transformative experience than I thought. If the simple suggestion that I remember my baptism is enough to throw me for that much of a loop, I’ma get torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, by the looks of things.
But – the message I needed was there. God provided me with the meditation that was going to pull me up before I even fell.
This is gonna be a helluva roller coaster – this whole journey. Which will certainly involve me becoming a Deacon, but I gotta feeling it ain’t gonna stop there, as much as I might like it to, because then I’d be able to avoid a couple years of seminary. I think I’m gonna havta go all the way to Pastor.