Saturday, October 28, 2006

Robert Fulghum on Baptism

This time I got the spelling right. Fulghum with a "u," not with an "a."
Anyway, he's in Crete and tells about Christian baptism, both theirs (Orthodox) and his (Southern Baptist).

This child will not have a formal name until it is baptized. And that event takes place somewhere between one and two years of age. A child is carried into the church, stripped naked, handed over to the priest - a stranger in a black dress - and lowered into a cold bath. The child is terrified, goes red and rigid, screams, and often pees. Much to the amusement of the Greeks. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s worse. I have seen this with my own eyes.

Ah, but what right have I to speak critically of such things? Me, a heathen, heretic, and certainly neither Greek nor Orthodox.

I speak with authority. For one thing, once upon a time, I was baptized. According to the Book. Not sprinkled like the Methodists as if you were going to be ironed. Not just dipped in an indoor pool for the sake of convenience. Baptized according to scripture - outdoors in a river, following the example of John the Baptist and Jesus. My mother was a serious Southern Baptist. And her cousin from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, urged her to take no chances and do it right. The cousin, it seems, was a “Two-seed-in-the-spirit, foot washing, Flowing Water Baptist.” When she sang the old hymn, “Shall We Gather At the River” it wasn’t about a picnic.

The summer I was 12, dressed in white shirt and pants, I was properly baptized in the Brazos River – more formally named by the Mexicans, “Brazos de Dios” - the Arms of God. My mother was pleased. I was not. I was scared. My uncle Roscoe had told me to stay out of the river because there were alligators and poisonous snakes in it. But I lived. Was thereby “saved.” And was told I would therefore be going to heaven.

When I tell the Greeks about my baptism, they are impressed. Like I’ve got a platinum membership card. An insurance policy that can’t be canceled. I don’t believe one can save one’s soul. I don’t know what that means. I believe one can only live one’s life, saving nothing, spending it well. But it’s comforting to have my after-life contingencies covered.

And. If it should prove to be the case that there is a heaven and I go, I imagine my mother pointing me out in the great golden hall. “Look, there’s my boy, Bobby. He may have lost his mind when he grew up, but he was properly baptized and so he gets to sit very close to the front. The dippers and sprinklers and child-washers are way back there –up in the bleachers.”

He also comments about politics and voting. And he hasn't withdrawn his nomination of Oprah for president.

[Aside: Contrast Fulghum's remarks with the snarky, condescending tone of this takedown from The Independent. H/T The Anchoress. I am reminded of another British arbiter of taste whose equally condescending verbal assault of a benign old gentleman from the Midlands said more about the source than the target. Pop culture is often one of democracy's most damning qualities. Look at the groupies of almost anyone in show business. Who said "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public"?]

And this I also like...

AT LUNCH with the Metropolitan of Athens – a Bishop of the Orthodox Church - here at the Academy to address a conference on bio-ethics. A sizeable man – PhD – world traveler – lecturer at Harvard for several years – both thoughtful and light-hearted. I asked him if the Greek Orthodox Church was as dogmatically positioned as American Christians about abortion, stem-cell research, the death penalty, and the right to die. His answer surprised me. He said that in such complex matters, it is the role of the church to support the spiritual strength of those who must make difficult decisions. How sane.

No comments: