Friday, January 6, 2017

A bit o' commitment

     I am preparing to teach an adult class at St. John's Cathedral in Denver this coming Sunday.* It is the kick-off to a short series on baptism, the Christian rite of initiation. I was asked to provide some historical background. "Happy to do so," I replied. So, I began to dig into the material (I have a LOT of material on this subject!). Quickly I became a bit overwhelmed by how MUCH I wanted to cover, and how little time was available.
      It has been fun, however, to go back through pages of photocopies from graduate school, as well as class notes. I was reminded how preparations for entry in the Christian fold were much more elaborate and time-consuming than I find in most places today (at least in the US). Some of the early writings mention a three-year period of study and prayer BEFORE being baptized. And, of course, before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, being baptized and becoming a Christian had some danger associated with it. So, I guess the three years allowed for plenty of time to back out.
      Later on, in Christian history—in the 16th and 17th centuries, controversies over baptism arose again, this time among Christians. For centuries prior, baptism was normally administered to infants (lots of reasons for that). But, after the Reformation, a group of "radicals" asserted that only adults should be baptized, that is, only people who could make an adult decision—AND, they should be fully immersed. These Radical Reformers (also known as "Anabaptists" because of their practice of baptizing again those who had been baptized as infants) ran afoul of the religio-secular authorities and were persecuted for their commitment. One punishment was death-by-drowning; "If they want to be immersed, we'll accommodate that" seemed to be the logic.
       I wonder a lot about issues of commitment, whether religious or any other kind. It has been noted for many years that Americans' "brand-loyalty" is fading. Despite ongoing Ford vs. Chevy truck "wars", few people are committed to Tide as opposed to All, or Colgate vs. Crest. And scholars have noted that this lack of "brand loyalty" extends to religion. Many people seem to change houses of worship depending on who's in charge (as in the pastor/priest/rabbi); they "vote" with their attendance. And, of course, if they don't find anyone that aligns with their predilections, they just don't go at all.
       Are we in a post-commitment age? Or, are we simply in a post-commitment-to-anything-larger-than-ourselves age? I'd like to think not. But clearly we in a time when life-altering options seem no longer to have the allure as the "next new thing". This is a challenge to those of us who want to make a significant difference. Finding allies is a bit more daunting, but no less important.


* 10:15 am, if you're interested! (1350 Washington St., 80203)

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