The walk down into the water where baptizers Cal and Dave were standing was cold and unpleasant. The oozing mud between my toes was overwhelming, but it was quickly over. On behalf of the community and in turn the Spirit, Cal and Dave baptized me on the afternoon of September 29, 2007. The experience of being fully immersed in the frigid fall waters of shallow Falcon Lake symbolized what probably has been the most important decision in my life. That decision was simply to follow God. I’ll start out with how it all began, the moments in which I started to tread my feet in the water of the Spirit.
What most likely started this whole idea of being baptized happened a long time ago. The context into which I was born was Watershed Community, a weird yet lovable bunch of people who had just been exiled from the conservative church and were trying to find God through a number of different mediums. They eventually got back to the Scriptures, which was when I started to participate. Being born into this context was important as it gave me the opportunity to follow Christ in the way I do. Simply the fact that I was born into a community trying to follow God didn’t necessarily entail that I would. Like the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Growing up I was always walking in the water near the shore, but to go into the deeper waters where I could meet the Spirit in my baptism is something that needed a decision of my own. Decisions like this take a while though.
After about 13 years of being raised alongside Watersheddians, the next step came in an unlikely form. I simply started going to the home of Paul, Watershed’s teacher, after school. It is funny to look back on it. His purpose at first was simply to get my thought processes to go beyond their entrenched black-and-white style. That simple, legalistic way of thinking was Paul’s first priority. I think this opened the doorway for Christ to come in, however slowly I allowed him to. At the time, I hadn’t expected my visits to lead to a baptism down the road. I hardly ever thought about Christianity. After a while though, I started going to Watershed’s weekly Wednesday study nights; the topic was Christian virtues. Going to Wednesday nights was hard at first since the material was often quite complex. But I was starting to consider going into the deeper waters of Christ.
After I had realized this relationship Christ had started with me, it really just went from there. I read the book Spirituality for Teenage Idiots which gave me the framework for what spirituality is about. I waded even deeper into the waters when I began to go to the men’s study night, Brutal Bible. Scripture then significantly started to shape my life when I read the whole Bible over the course of a year. I also adopted a slave-of-God mentality as a way to enter life and specifically school: listening to the earthly authorities there as I hope to listen to Christ. With Watershed’s renewed focus on the Lord’s Prayer, the somewhat rote way of praying I had engaged in for most of my life was deepened, renewed and refreshed with this new liquid and important way of praying.
In preparation for the Thar She Blows community retreat of September 2007, Watershed started talking about how a baptism could be fitting for Erik, Sean P and me because of how all three of our lives had been significantly formed by God in the previous months and years. The time had come to take the plunge into the deeper waters where a full immersion was possible.
In our preparatory discussions we talked about baptism being a symbolic event of an inward transformation - the conversion to Christ and a discontinuance of living from the values of the world - that occurred within Sean P, Erik and me in the past while. More or less we have all made a significant decision to have Christ at the center of our lives. That’s not to say I will be perfect at it. It is more of a decision that assumes I will have ups and downs in my faith and will doubt God and trust him at different times. Hopefully I will gradually move into a deeper relationship with Christ as I gain more experience in following Christ, living in community, and being formed out of the Word in Scripture. The baptism symbolizes the beginning of a hopefully lifelong journey I have committed to. This also means that God will help me along the way. Even when I am lost along the way, it will be God that helps me along, not myself. I am entering more fully into being human by being baptized, which makes sense as Christ liked to call himself the Human One, or the Son of Humanity.
Being baptized was also a commitment to living from Christ’s values in a world that is stuck in its ways, as I am. The war of the Spirit and the flesh will continually be going on inside me and whichever side I give authority to will be the side that I more than less live out of. Am I going to bring the community-based, Scripture-immersed and Spirit-inspired side of me into the world, or am I going to be formed primarily by the world and bring those flesh-inspired values that are in me to community and my relationship with God? That is the decision that I continually have to make.
Before I was immersed in the waters at Falcon Lake, all the baptismal candidates had a "confirmation" discussion in which we talked about our intentions. People talked about the reasons that they saw for us getting baptized, and the signs they’ve witnessed of God working in our lives. There was no shortage of discussion for all three of us.
Paul started the conversation off for myself by saying one word: enthusiasm (which in ancient Greek, means "inspired" or "possessed by a god"). Everyone agreed that a principal way they had seen the Spirit blow in my life was through my enthusiasm for God, Scripture and life.
I can be drawn away from God by being insensitive to social contexts and thus disrupt others and hinder the Spirit’s workings. I can also not be focused on what God wants me to do; I can just be doing my own thing out of my will and not God’s. This leads me to being dissipative and unfocused. I also have the tendency to be scared of the uncertainty of the future and thus not live in a trusting relationship towards God. Instead, I’d like to trust that God’s future will be okay and that the future won’t be as forlorn as I sometimes imagine it to be.
Sean and Eldon talked about how my enthusiasm can help contribute to a sense of wonder in everyday situations and how this makes it easier to do more difficult tasks and bring out the possibilities in them. Cal shared his joy in reading my reflections on reading the Bible. Bev said that even when it doesn’t seem like it, God has enthusiasm and an immense amount of joy for me.
Paul said my personality resembles Peter’s. This is evident in Peter’s life when he talks about faithfully dying for Christ but then denies him three times within a short while. With Peter, God used his enthusiasm to either challenge him or draw him closer. Dave talked about how my enthusiasm was encouraging during the summer of 2007 when we were together a lot and spent time with Louis, a developmentally disabled person who exhibited his joyous spirit for all to see. Erik said that I have gained a greater openness in my personality, using the example of how when someone used to swear I would call them on it without really thinking about how swears aren’t evil in and of themselves.
The event of the baptism was surely an important one in my life and in a very true way is going to be a decision I will have to be continually making in this war between flesh and Spirit. I’m glad to have the accompaniment of community and all the other forms of the Spirit in my life to help me. Just as going into the frigid waters for the baptism was uncomfortable, following God in my everyday life is without doubt not something that comes naturally. It is undoubtedly going to be an interesting journey.