Sunday, March 27, 2016
Saturday, March 26, 2016
What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.
'Like the Water' by Wendell Berry New Collected Poems (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012), 168-9.
Friday, March 25, 2016
… on my baptismal day all those years ago, nobody – not even great-aunt Ginny – who worried about us going to hell unless we were saved – acknowledged that anything out of the way had happened to me. The uncles joked and taunted as usual; the aunts told stories; the children played and fought in the grass the same way they always had, and thus, by such baffling, painful indifference my experience of my baptism (though not my baptism itself) was reduced to rubble.
Reading from Roberta C. Bondi Houses. A Family Memoir of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 80.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
Baptism brought You to
call me by my name
and Your nurturing patience
nudges me gently.
In the hushed silence
You rise from the mists,
but I hold You
at my cold distance,
no room for You
when my work locks me
away in my heart –
Your Presence less than
an echo in my mind.
Separated from You,
I plot an empty curve,
without a star for my path.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
I was baptised as a child in a ceremony in which my parents and the church vowed to nurture me in the faith. They took their vows seriously so that as teenager I became a member of the church through a profession of faith.
About twenty years later I went to a Baptist church. My wife was immediately accepted into membership as she had been baptised as an adult but I could not be accepted for membership because I had ‘only’ been baptised as a child.
Being of the stiff-necked variety I took offence. I saw this as a personal affront and a slight to all my Christian friends who had not undergone adult baptism. Was I to be tolerated as a non-member, like a child or an illegitimate adult in the household of God? The whole issue of adult baptism is a problem if one has spent one’s whole life grappling with the issues of faith. It also makes the question of how we treat the children of the church very problematic.
I resisted for about twelve years but one Sunday I finally joined a group being baptised and so became a member.
I still have reservations about the decision.
Reflection by John Sampson, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 22 January 2016.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
I baptized her. And I felt like asking her, “What have I done? What does it mean?” That was a question that came to me often, not because I felt less than certain I had done something that did mean something, but because no matter how much I thought and read and prayed, I felt outside the mystery of it.
Reading from Marilynne Robinson Gilead (London, Virago: 2004), 24.
Monday, March 21, 2016
An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:26-39, NRSV).
Sunday, March 20, 2016
A friend of ours had been sick for a long, long time. He had multiple health problems; he had dementia; and he had been in a slow decline for years. After many dips and rallyings and further crises, it looked like the end. His wife called some very dear friends to let them know. They lived on the other side of the country, but they jumped on a plane and flew over to see him one last time. When they arrived, it was time to eat. Nobody felt like cooking, so they ordered Chinese takeaway.
To read more, click here.
Image from donaldkrause.com.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
Oscar hit the water without breaking stride, if you could call it that. I stood at the front of the Ford, my clothes hanging from the hood ornament, and watched the ceremony. Three times the preacher dunked my friend Oscar; three times my friend Oscar came up sputtering and grinning. Hair plastered to his forehead, Oscar Koeppen looked like a gleeful twisted child.
Minnows … a large school of them scattered when I walked into the water. Three times the obese minister dunked me: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and …
And when I came up for the third time I opened my eyes to see that one of Shannon’s Herefords had left the herd to observe the proceedings from a closer range—a much closer range, in fact, because the animal’s forelegs were in the creek. The cow was looking straight at me, as if she expected an explanation, and though the afternoon was early already her udder was tight with milk.
No one had thought to bring towels, so we stretched out on pallets of buffalo grass and let the sun do the toweling for us. I remember lying there—first on my stomach, then on my back—with my eyes closed, the hot sun making me giddy, and I remember also that I tried to give the Hereford a silent explanation; but the words refused to come sufficiently together … how does one explain baptism to an animal whose body transforms grass and grain into the white milk my grandfather and I directed into the mewing mouths of thirsty cats and kittens?
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 76-7.
Friday, March 18, 2016
I joined the church at the age of five. I well remember how this event occurred. Our church was in the midst of the spring revival, and a guest evangelist had come down from Virginia. On Sunday morning the evangelist came into our Sunday school to talk to us about salvation, and after a short talk on this point he extended an invitation to any of us who wanted to join the church. My sister was the first one to join the church that morning, and after seeing her join I decided that I would not let her get ahead of me, so I was the next. I had never given this matter a thought, and even at the time of my baptism I was unaware of what was taking place. From this it seems quite clear that I joined the church not out of any dynamic conviction, but out of a childhood desire to keep up with my sister.
Reading from Clayborne Carson (ed) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr (London: Abacus, 1998), 6.
Thursday, March 17, 2016
When I was 15, I attended a baptismal service at the church one Sunday evening … At the end of the service I indicated that I was interested being baptised myself. It was August.
I joined a study class with a few peers to prepare. It was held at the same time on Sunday mornings as the All-Age Sunday School. I expected there would be about six classes then we would be baptised. It ended up taking eight months. Other people kept joining the group until the last few weeks – I suppose it was like the parable of the workers in the field! The date kept being pushed back as there were more “important” events in the church program. I had thought that baptism was top of the list in a Baptist church – but I was only 15 – so perhaps I did not understand.
Eventually on Sunday April 10, at the age of 16, I was baptised with eight other young people aged between about 15 and 21. That afternoon I had ridden my bike up to Ringwood Lake and spent some time reflecting and praying there on what I would say as my testimony. I was baptised in my Crystal Cylinders t-shirt and my white cricket pants in the lukewarm water of the Heathmont Baptist Church in front of a pretty full church of 200 or so which included my parents – a rarity, especially for my Dad.
I remember vividly the rousing organ playing “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days, all the days of my life” as I emerged from the water. It was a euphoric experience – I felt the presence of God and the significance of the event.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
... the love of God and the attentiveness of [the] adults came to be so thoroughly mixed together in my mind that soon I couldn’t tell which was God and which was Mrs. Dunn, singing in the choir beside me. This is why it was inevitable that one Sunday morning during the altar call after the sermon I should go forward “to take Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and dedicate my life to him.” Being baptized, joining the church, and becoming one of those among whom I had a place was exactly what I wanted to do …
What a moment that was for me, shy, lost child that I was, all alone on the platform above the assembled congregation as I said my vows to the preacher and he sprinkled me with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost! How holy I felt, then; how close God was, there in the belly of the body of Christ!
Reading from Roberta C. Bondi Houses. A Family Memoir of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), 78.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
It was natural, given my mother’s evangelical Anglican background, that I should be baptised in 1937 at eight weeks of age. I cannot remember it of course. But I can’t remember not being part of the Church. I have been at worship from age 7 (having previously attended Sunday School), and was a choir boy and an altar server. I have witnessed many a child’s baptism, and as a Methodist and Uniting Church minister I baptised over 300 children myself, with great joy.
I remember well my confirmation, at age 12, which is an absolute necessity for those who practice children’s [infant] baptism, for we need to own for ourselves what has been done for us, and so “know and experience” this … Christian faith has always been part of my life, and at 12 I took very seriously what we were taught about prayer and Bible, regularity at worship and communion, and living a Christian life.
Things changed dramatically in our family when I was about 14. My mother underwent a dramatic Christian awakening, which resulted in her immersion baptism, my father’s return to the church after 30 years, and as a family going to the local Church of Christ … In a few months, I responded to the “call” given every Sunday night and said “yes” to the simple statement of faith (based on Matthew 16:16). I was visited by the minister to go through the basics, and was baptised by immersion and welcomed into membership at the Lord’s Table.
It was a three Sunday step then in the Church of Christ. One was surrounded by encouragement. I think six were baptised on my night. The church was very excited at all the young people being baptised.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:10-12, 17-20, NRSV).
Saturday, March 12, 2016
I had opened a closed wood-slatted gate so we could drive the black Ford across the pasture to be as close as possible to the creek. Oscar waved off our offers to help him out of the car. He instead sat there in the back seat, naked as a jaybird. This surprised me. I hadn’t really given much thought to how the ritual might evolve, but when Oscar without the slightest hesitation undressed himself all the way down to the nubbins I confess: I was surprised. And when I looked at the preacher to catch his reaction my surprised doubled: he too was naked, and before I could say anything—not that I had anything to say—he had turned and was headed for the water …
As I took off my clothes I watched Oscar maneuver himself out of the car and move crablike toward the hole the minister had found for the immersion … it is difficult for me to say precisely how I felt. There in a pocket of Shannon’s Creek, up to his knees in a pool of clean clear flowing water, stood an obese man of God, a married man who had no children because his stones had not formed correctly or completely, and moving towards him was Oscar the beloved crab, and viewing it all was a young incorrigible whose midsection, free of its shirt and its shorts, was as white as the underbelly of a channel catfish.
Humility. Until a better word happens along, I’ll settle for—humility. I believe that for the first time in my life I knew a moment of absolute humility, and that moment is a touchstone against which I have since measured all humilities.
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 76.
Friday, March 11, 2016
When I was baptised
there was no River Jordan,
just a dented tub in an ugly room.
There was no hairy prophet,
but a smooth-skinned man
who told me to read Tillich first.
God’s voice didn’t thunder.
The heavens stayed resolutely shut.
Not even a small bird floated down from the skies.
Coming up from the waters
I felt silly, adolescent,
No more sure of God’s love
or my direction
or my self.
Yet somehow, in all its smallness,
it was enough.
Reflection by me, Alison Sampson, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 10 January 2016.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
I would prefer a Bible that did not contain Jeremiah’s Oracles Against the Nations (Jeremiah 46-51) or other texts of retribution. I would prefer to worship a God to whom not a speck of vengeance is attributed. Like many interpreters, I would prefer to think that the inclusion of these texts is a mistake made by patriarchal editors, who sought to validate their own violence by attributing violence to God. But that would be to do a disservice to the text. The Oracles are in the text, and so I must grapple with the reasons why.
To read more, click here.
“‘Do you desire to be baptized?’ All you have to do is want it.”
I wanted it so much.
The prayer book called baptism the “sacrament of new birth” and promised that those sealed by anointing at baptism would be “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
I wanted new life, as fiercely as I’d wanted a child in the middle of a war … oh, I desired it …
So that Sunday morning, Donald Schell poured water over my head from a scallop shell, as I stood outside St Gregory’s back door at the fountain, where sweet water gushed from a huge, split-open slab of rock. He made the sign of the cross, motioned Mark and the people around us to pray, and asked me to make some promises. “Will you continue in the breaking of the bread?” he read aloud.
“I will,” I answered, “with God’s help.” We sang a hymn and walked back into the church. My face was wet.
Reading from Sara Miles Take This Bread (New York, Ballantyne, 2007), 123-4.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I come from a secular family, and made friends with a Christian girl in high school who introduced me to her world of faith. I was fascinated, and drawn by the friendliness of the people, but it was a weird cross-cultural experience in many ways. The gulf between my intellectual upbringing and the charismatic church meant that it was several years before I gave up waiting for ‘proof’ of God’s existence and decided I wanted in anyway. I was 18.
Our church usually baptized people at the beach, but it was decided that we would have a joint service at the local Church of Christ which had a baptismal pool. This was disappointing and I don’t remember being asked, but I probably would have gone along with their preference anyway.
I remember very little of the service. My parents came, which was awkward as they were very uncomfortable with my association with Christians, but they surprised me with a gift of a silver chain for my cross. I don’t remember giving a testimony. I didn’t know anyone else being baptized and there were lots of unfamiliar people in the church.
I was wearing a white robe and I was laid back into the water by my church minister and a friend. I was hoping desperately for some kind of spiritual ‘feeling’ to occur, and I was trying to act the way I thought people were supposed to act when they undergo a significant faith experience, which means that somewhere there exists a very embarrassing photo of me with eyes raised to the ceiling after I come up out of the water. Shortly afterwards, I realized I’d forgotten to bring a towel.
Reflection by Samara Pitt, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 22 January 2016.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
He took the bucket from her and helped her down the bank as if she hadn’t gone to the river for water a hundred times herself, and he sank the bucket into a pool and brought it up, brimming, and poured half of it back. The crouching was a little stiff and he smiled at her—I am old. “I don’t need much at all,” he said. “A few waterskeeters won’t do any harm.” He was dressed in his preacher clothes, and he was careful of them, but he liked being by the river, she could tell. “What do you think? Up there in the sunshine or down here by the water?” Then he said, “Oh, I left the Bible lying on the grass. I could do it from memory. But I like to have a Bible, you know, the cloud of witnesses.” She didn’t know. “Since there aren’t any others.” She still didn’t know. No matter. He was glad to be doing this … So it must mean something.
Reading from Marilynne Robinson Lila (London: Virago, 2014), 86-7.
Monday, March 7, 2016
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:1-12, NRSV).
Saturday, March 5, 2016
From the onset my minister … was elated at Oscar’s request. It was the minister then, who chose the day and hour, who seemed blessed with foreknowledge, because that Wednesday afternoon in early August seemed created for outdoor baptism—warm and windless, with last night’s shower rising damp and aromatic from the bunchgrass…
I had a cheeseburger and french fries; Oscar opted for the hot beef sandwich. I sipped at my iced tea and helped Oscar with his coffee. We had barely finished when I saw the minister’s black Ford pull up to the curb. I pushed Oscar in his wheelchair outside and the preacher and I helped him into the car. Actually, Oscar could manage by himself, but with great effort; even then, he could not straighten himself, so he had to waddle close to the ground, using his arms like a skier uses poles for balance.
The preacher… was a jolly obese man whose sermons were a lot like most Kansas waterways, neither deep nor wide. I don’t believe he cared. He preferred the song to the word; on Sunday nights, in fact, that’s all we did— sing. “Shall We Gather at the River?” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder.” “In the Garden.” I still know all three verses to “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.” One of my favorites is “Down Deep in the Sea”:
My sins have been cast in the depths of the sea,
Down deep in the sea.
So deep they can never be brought against me,
Down deep in the sea.
Isn’t that a helluva concept…? You take all of your sins and secure them in a gunnysack, say, then affix a flatiron and toss the whole shebang into the sea, into water so deep they can never be brought against you. I try to imagine how deep that might be … but the mind boggles.
Anyway, it’s a song that the basso profundo loves to sing, because its last notes are maybe almost as low as the seabottom:
Down, down, down, down, down in the depths of the sea –
The sins of the past are all gone at last,
Down in the depths of the sea.
We sang this song as we rode south towards Shannon’s pasture and its meandering creek. Oscar strained to bring forth several grunts and a narrow assortment of gutturals, most of them uttered at the wrong times, but nobody, including the cattle near the barbed-wire fences at the roadside, seemed to mind. Before we had finished more than a couple of other hymns we were there.
♫ Extra: To listen to ‘Down in the depths of the sea,’ click here.
Reading from William Kloefkorn This Death by Drowning (Lincoln, NE/London: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 71-2.
Friday, March 4, 2016
I was baptised on March 27th, 1955, aged 17. The Sunday before I had made my confession of faith after walking to the front during the singing of “Just as I am.”
I had been a long time coming to my decision. I was worried about my parents’ reaction. We were not a Christian family. However, they were not surprised, and were present for the baptism.
I had started Sunday School aged 5. Later on I was involved in youth groups and taught Sunday School. I grew up as part of a small caring church. Mr Gilmore, our minister, came to my home to talk about baptism and becoming a full member of the congregation. I don't remember much about what was said, but I do remember the pleasure in his anticipation of my baptism.
On the night, I arrived at church in my white speech night dress. Mrs Morris, whom I had always thought of as my church mother, helped me get ready. I was nervous and excited.
I stepped down into the baptistery where Mr Gilmore was waiting. He asked “Yvonne, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and your personal Saviour?” “I do,” I replied. He lowered me deep into the water, then lifted me up. I remember the feeling of weightlessness coming out of the water, Mrs Morris wrapping me in a large towel and a big hug, and getting out of my wet dress, with too many buttons for my excited fingers to deal with.
One thing that especially remains in my memory is the love that surrounded me at the time and has stayed with me, and has been the heart of my Christian life. And I thank God.
Reflection by Yvonne Joyce, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 21 January 2016.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
One year after I got sober … I called Reverend Noel at eight that morning and told him that I really didn’t think I was ready because I wasn’t good enough yet. Also, I was insane. My heart was good, but my insides had gone bad. And he said, “You’re putting the cart before the horse. So—honey? Come on down.” My family and all my closest friends came to church that day to watch as James dipped his hand into the font, bathed my forehead with cool water, and spoke the words of Langston Hughes:
Gather out of star-dust,
And splinters of hail,
One handful of dream-dust,
Not for sale.
Reading from Anne Lamott Travelling Mercies. Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Anchor, 1999), 52.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
I got baptized when I turned 14 after a full year of discipleship training. When I decided that I wanted to be baptized, hell broke loose at my local church. I guess this happened because I was not quite talkative and I was always minding my own business. Neither did I interact with young people nor did I talk about my personal life so those who did not have a genuine relationship with me were curious and started asking weird questions like: Do you want to be a priest? Do you want to become a pastor? Let’s say that in Latin American culture if you are a private person people kinda dislike that.
I got baptized but before and during the process, I freaked out. I was there, in front of everyone inside of a tiny baptistery. What made me feel awkward were the number of people looking at me. I do understand it is a public event in which you tell your fellow churchgoers that you want to be a voting member; however, being in the public eye made me think about whether people do it because of social pressure or because they really want to participate. In my case, it was part of a commitment. It is a personal decision.
I had to wear a white robe and thongs (an institution in Chile), therefore, since the very beginning the whole process was, somehow, special. Additionally, due to the fact I was raised in a Baptist family, some people argued that my process was just a logical step, or something I was meant to do, sooner or later. Those remarks notwithstanding, I must say that I did it because I felt I had to obey God’s command to be part of his people.
Reflection by Francisco Naranjo, South Yarra Community Baptist Church, 29 January 2016.
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
I was baptized at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church in – you will not be surprised – Pleasant Mound, Texas. Pleasant Mound was just that – a small mound just outside Dallas on which sat a small, white, framed Methodist church. I lived in Pleasant Grove, which was not far from Pleasant Mound. The Texans who insisted that these places were “pleasant” exemplify the proclivity of Texans to reassure themselves through exaggeration that it was a good thing to be a Texan. Of course, in the Texas heat even a small group of trees, a pleasant grove, could be quite pleasant.
Pleasant Mound Methodist was Methodist, but like most folks in that area we were really Baptist, which meant that even though you had been baptized and become a member of the church, you still had to be “saved.” Baptism and membership were Sunday morning events. Saving was for Sunday nights… I wanted to be saved, but I did not think you should fake it.
Reading from Stanley Hauerwas Hannah’s Child. A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2010), 1.