I was baptized in – I think – 1981, at the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren – the old church, on the campus at Bridgewater College. All the kids in sixth(?) grade were baptized together – of those, I remember MG, who went on to become the local Commonwealth’s Attorney; SH, paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident in high school; KK, who I’m related to on my mom’s side; and EW, who I don’t really remember, but I know she was there because I was in the same Sunday school class with those people all the way through. We were in the nursery together as babies. Those four were in my graduating class at high school – SH was the valedictorian; MG was the saludedictorian – the second highest academic rank in the class – and she gave the speech at graduation because SH wasn’t able to. (I heard someplace that SH invented some really popular video game and is rich as shit.) I graduated 191 out of a class of 203 and I don’t know how a dozen people did worse than me and were still able to graduate. I stopped going to church when my parents stopped making me go – when I was sixteen or so.
Yadda yadda fuck-a-doodle-doo. Nothing changed. Being dunked in a big fish-tank in front of everybody had no affect whatsoever, unless it made me feel more guilt and shame which I already had more than enough of, fuck you very much. I’m really trying to give a rat’s ass about this discernment process, but c’mon. Looking back at this shit mighta done some good – like I said earlier, I went into a shame-hole about my sexual history – I dunno why it was that. Coulda been all the stuff I stole or the drugs I did or the drugs I did after I stole them from people who had every reason to think we were friends, but who were stupid enough to do drugs with me – and therefore accidentally reveal where they kept their stash. (One time, I was in somebody’s house helping myself to their weed and I found a $20 piece of meth – score!)(That was in ’97 – a $20 piece was a quarter-gram, I think.) But it was the sex stuff for whatever reason. And then I remembered a bit of a Psalm that helped and then later, I was sitting in a car with a friend, smoking and yammering about the whole thing. This guy is a Roman Catholic recovering alcoholic/addict with a history of psychotic breaks. At one point, he thought he was Jesus returned. Another time, he sold his soul to the Devil, but didn’t give the Devil a receipt, so he was able to get it back. And he knows me well enough to listen to my twisted tale of sodomy and woe and then say something like, “Well, I’ll tell ya man, that shit you did was fuckin’ offensive to God. And everybody does shit like that – I mean, think of all the guys beatin’ off right now. It’s disgusting, man.” And then he went on to quote Romans 3:10-12 – and he pretty much got it right – and then he went off on some long, yammering tangent about something that I wasn’t really paying attention to. He does that. And then he circled back around to the fact that God calls people for God’s reasons and we all have gifts to offer. And I was like “Yeah – and I wanna preach to scumbags like you and me” and he agreed that preaching to scumbags like him and me was probably what God wanted me to do. And then we started talking about the general direction mainstream Christianity seems to be going and then we were on a riff about all the different denominations reuniting under one big Church again and then he was like, “Alright, man, I gotta go.”
So. Whatever that’s worth. But this is all part of a discernment thing – I’m pretty sure that the point here is not that I write an essay about being baptized – it’s s’posed to help me determine what my vocation in God’s Lutheran Church is gonna be. And what I’m discernmenting is that I’m s’posed to be able to do that thing in the service where somebody tells everybody their sins are forgiven.
Okay – maybe you don’t know what I’m on about. There’s this part of the Lutheran service where everybody reads off a general confession of guilt – “we have not loved You as we should, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” – and then the Pastor absolves all that shit – “By the power vested in me by the Grand Ol’ Lutheran Church and the United Federation of Planets, I absolve thee of all of thine ugly and disgusting sins and maketh you acceptable in God’s sight, you wretched scum.” Or something like that. It works because people believe it works. We were already forgiven before, but having somebody who seems to know what they’re talking about and who seems to have some kinda authority say it makes it more real. And that’s what I wanna do.
When I was first called, I thought, well, yeah. Broken people should be in some kinda church – and the most broke-ass people should be in it all the time. And like my crazy friend said, who wants a Pastor that never sinned? What the fuck do they know?
I wanna tell scumbags like me that their sins are forgiven. I could do that now, but right now I’m just a slightly less scummy scumbag and I’d come across like a new age nutjob and that shit don’t help nobody.
The vocation-workbook thing that I got goes on to ask questions more questions like “How do you seek to live out your baptismal vocation in the ordinary course of your life – including your family relationships, your community relationships, and your occupational relationships? That’s a really leading question – and it assumes a fuckuva lot and I’m not even sure what the fuck that’s supposed to mean. After I was baptized, I might’ve felt a little more guilty about shoplifting and I mighta been occasionally obnoxious about religion when I started thinking I knew what it was about, but otherwise nothin’. I had a brief and disastrous fling with Pentecostal holy rollerism when I was sixteen – I’ll have to write about that sometime ’cause it’s pretty funny in a tragic and stupid way – and then I gave up to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, none of which seem all that interesting anymore. (Jon Spencer, the rock’n’roll guy, and his current band had lunch in the restaurant I co-own yesterday. Spencer was the frontman of Pussy Galore back in the ’80’s. They spewed out the most arrogant, sloppy, filthy punk I ever heard – songs like “Pretty Fuck Look”, “Teen Pussy Power” and “Cunt Tease”. They sounded like a pick-up truck full of burning shit crashing through a wall and totally blew my mind. Now, Spencer looks like a history teacher with a bad jet-black dye-job, still clinging to his lost youth. So much for sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.)
Being straight up about it, I’m really starting to think that there’s a little too much emphasis being placed on baptism here. I mean, I am just a beginner to all this, but John the Baptist said “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”, Matthew 3:11, which seems to be saying that the whole water thing ain’t that big a deal – certainly not the biggest deal. I’m gonna put baptism in the “helpful, but not necessary category” along with the stained glass windows, fancy robes and that stick with the gold cross on top that somebody carries down the aisle at the beginning and end of the Sunday service. Fine and dandy, but the real important thing is the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Have I been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire? I’m just gonna go ahead and check that box. Without puttin’ on airs, I’ma just say that I was a pretty siniful sinner. I’ve done some nasty stuff, stole anything that wasn’t nailed down (a friend of mine said “If you can pry it up, it ain’t nailed down.” He died a couple months ago, cancer. He was clean and sober.) I earned the wages of sin and I got the scars to prove it. God called me – informed me, one Christmas Eve mornin’, that I was alive for a reason. My immediate reaction was to get shit-faced drunk and try to ignore it. That didn’t work out well. A couple days later, I was in the local ER with a broken finger and my teeth knocked out of alignment – some guys did that – with one of my drunken fuck-buddies – she was nineteen, a part-time prostitute, and I didn’t/don’t know her real name – and I realized that I had to get straight or I’d be dead very soon. It took me two months to get detoxed – I couldn’t go a day without some chemical or other until I got into a facility. My spiritual journey has been a long and arduous one – which continued to include a lotta sinny sinfulness. Still does, though I haven’t stolen prescription meds or fucked a stranger lately.
Then God told me to become a Pastor in Her Lutheran Church. I’ma seriously try to jump through all the hoops that the ELCA has because I do think that shit’s important. Most of what the Church has goin’ on is “helpful, but not necessary” – which means it’s helpful. Having the full weight of a very well-established religion behind you does give you authority in the eyes of the world, but when it comes down to the wire, I’d say I’m about as qualified as any other asshole to proclaim the Good News.
God loves us all so much that He died for us. We do not deserve that. Nobody deserves that. Nobody earns that. And there it is. That’s the Good News. All our wretched and vile sins are forgiven. We are washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb and it’s all good. Do the best ya can to act like a decent human being for a change. And rejoice a little.