Wading in the Water

So, I got baptized 8/30/15.

Yep. Washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Dead to the flesh and risen again in the spirit. Something like that. I’m neither a poet or a wordsmith. Definitely not a theologian or religious studies scholar. (My Masters degree is in Music Theory. Not exactly Divinity. Wait… Does Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” count?)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read the Bible. Piecemeal, admittedly, and don’t ask me to quote chapters and verses. (For real… I’m doing good to remember song lyrics.) I can confidently say I’ve seen everything in there at least once. Hey… At 38 years old, I like to think I’m BEGINNING to make progress. This recent “go through”, I started at Revelations and have been going backwards, book by book.( I’m at First Thessalonians, now. Yeah, I’m slow like that.) I’ve been using the St. Joseph Edition, because while I’m reading it, I can jump down and read the footnotes. (I’m somewhat disappointed the NIV Bible App I have on my tablet doesn’t have footnotes. What can I say? Some things you read take on a different life when you get a little more background on it.) Sometimes, I really look at it and say “Okay… I gotcha…” Then, there have been times I said “REALLY, Paul?”

For anyone curious, one of my bookmarks is one of the “bad” letters from the church that says “We consider you part of our church family. So when we haven’t seen you at our weekend celebrations for the last few weeks…” (Hey… I was there most of the time! I just refuse to sign the attendance packet. Quit scowling at me.)

Okay… I’ve digressed.

SO… Why did I get baptized?

No, I didn’t get baptized as a child. My siblings did. I didn’t. Don’t ask. It’s like my first name; I’m not discussing it on the internet.

I could say “Jesus is doing such wonderful things in my life that I felt I owed it to Him.” Nope. Not true. That isn’t to say he isn’t doing wonderful things in my life. I just don’t believe that’s why you go to Jesus. Okay… Yes, you owe Jesus, but that’s not some debt you can repay. Ever. That’s the point. It doesn’t matter if he tells you next week’s Powerball numbers in a dream. Getting washed in his blood doesn’t make things even. Don’t get me wrong; next week’s Powerball numbers would be nice…

I could also say “I’ve decided it was PAST time to make a commitment to Jesus.” It wouldn’t be accurate, though. I served on and off in churches for years. There are accompaniment editions of hymnals on my shelves. The filing cabinet has evidence from past music ministry positions and pieces I’ve arranged for choir that have never seen the light of day. I’ve got MORE ideas in my head and on scraps that have percolated for years. Yes, I know that none of this is the same as “committing to Jesus.” I see it as indications that I’ve been guided and led for much longer than I’ve known. My past experience – much of it which borders on unbelievable – has been such that I never really questioned that I was a Child of God.

By getting baptized, I was just making it official.” I mean… my sins have already been forgiven, so this was just an outward gesture. At least that was what I told myself. And yet… I still hemmed and hawed for years…

I saw it as one of those things – like marriage – that I just did not want to do until I was absolutely ready. You know how some women have the “Perfect Fairy Tale Wedding” fantasy? I had this “Kareem’s Perfect Baptism” all set up in my mind. (Don’t judge me.) My family would be there. Alison Krauss would be leading a choir singing “Down to the River to Pray” accompanied by a group of Irish Dancers. I’d get baptized in the name of The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. There’d be this ray of sunlight as I came up. Aretha Franklin and company would be singing me out of the water on “Oh Happy Day” while the angels circled overhead.  Jesus would be waiting for me on the shore with his thumb up, a wink, and say “Yeah… Nice job, Buddy!”

Yeah… I never said that fantasy was reasonable. That’s just how I imagined it. Don’t judge me.

You’re totally judging me; Stop it.

Okay… Yeah… I asked for it… ANYWAY

I came up with all these excuses. My life’s a mess. I can’t get my family there. The church is having it in the river. There could be anything in that river. Snakes. Brain-eating amoeba. Ch’thulu. It’s not wheelchair accessible. The church is using a pool during the service. I’m playing electric piano; I can’t do it during service. I’d get electrocuted. The music director would strangle me with a patch cord if I asked. Well, I can’t schedule it during another time; I have to think about everyone else’s schedules. Too many people go to THAT service. Nah… He wouldn’t use a patch cord, but a bass guitar string. CH’THULU… IN… THE… WATER!!!

A little background on my church: It has three campuses with individual flavors. The small one is located in the Black suburb. The medium-sized one is about three miles away in the city. The galactic-sized one with five services alone is way out in one of the White suburbs north of the city. I often play keyboards at all three on different weekends, depending on whatever their needs are. I live south of all of them, so it takes me about 30-35 minutes to get to any of them if traffic is clear. When I go sit in the pews, I go out to the galactic-sized one. (5:00 PM on Saturday is when I’m the most awake.)

SO… It was Baptism weekend at all three campuses. As it turned out, I was on keyboard at the galactic-sized campus for all five of their service celebrations. (Two on Saturday; three on Sunday.) Since I was “on duty”, that automatically ruled that one out. Okay, I probably could have asked, but crowds in general tend to unnerve me. (Yes. I know. I’m a musician. I can play in front of 4400 people and be just fine. Ask me to sit among them and I need to be as close to the door as possible.) As rowdy as they get, I’d have ducked back under the water and probably drowned myself.

The small and medium campuses had joined up to do river baptisms that evening. Of course, my same “river excuses” came back. Ch’thulu. After setting all that aside, the only reason I almost didn’t go was because I knew I couldn’t bring my mother. (The wheelchair wouldn’t make it.) On the way home from serving at the Galactic Star Cruiser, I thought, “Maybe I should ask Bro #7. He could take pictures.” (See… Now, I was making excuses TO do it.) I came home after church, slept on it, decided enough was enough, and dug out the swimming trunks. Bro #7 said “Hold up… You’ve never been baptized?!” and off we went.

Nope… Didn’t tell anyone at any of the campuses I was going to do it. Just went there.

Like many people headed to the river baptism service, instead of getting directions, I just Googled the address. (I know “Google” isn’t a verb, but I’m using it anyway.) We arrived at the edge of the hosts’ property, but had no clue whatsoever because everyone was near the house! (We couldn’t see the house.) Fortunately, we had plenty of company. We eventually got around to where everyone else was. Yeah… There was still a bit of a crowd, but not TOO bad. Once I gave Bro #7 my car keys, I knew I wasn’t escaping. Jive turkey!

Actually, the service was enjoyable. We prayed and sang to get us warmed up. The Pastoral Trio of RE, JM, and RP waded into the river and got things moving. I think there were about 20 or so people. I waited until last… admittedly, because I was still thinking “There could be ANYTHING in that water.” Mind you, I probably should have been worried about cutting my bare feet. Yet, I was still thinking that Ch’thulu was going to rise up and eat me. (If you haven’t figured out how my imagination works by now…) By the time it was my turn, I was pretty sure Bro #7 was ready to knock me into the water if I didn’t get in there.

First, there was DJ, one of the worship pastors at the small church. Gotta love DJ. She had the good camera out already.

DJ: KAREEM… You’re getting baptized?! Do you mind if I put it on Facebook?

TKP: Sure…  Go ahead. My brother was going to t…

DJ: Yeah, I was going to do it regardless of what you said. I’m so HAPPY I’m here for this!

Bro#7: (He flashed an evil grin. It was his way of letting me know I was getting in that river one way or the other. He’s a 5th Degree Blackbelt. I wouldn’t win that one. He also had my car keys and my shoes. By the time I could climb out, he’d have already driven off and left me stranded, soaked, and barefoot.)

By this time, the Pastoral Trio have now figured out I’m the last one.

“Kareem, you’re getting baptized?”

“Yup.”

“Is this a reaffirmation or…”

“First time.”

“REALLY?!” They laugh and decide they’re all going to join in on it. Yeah, I almost climbed right back out. Then, I remembered the steps were slippery, my brother was waiting to shove me in, and DJ was waiting with a camera and would probably take pictures if he did shove me in. She was going to get pictures one way or another!

Okay… I might be exaggerating. Might be.

“You have to bring me back up. You promised.”

Now I’ve got these visions of being dunked in the river, them letting me go, me flailing around, stumbling to my feet, and being sucked down by the tentacle of Ch’thulu, as the three of them laugh sinisterly. Yes… That’s right. I’m thinking this of three clergymen trying to bring me to Christ. If you’ve read this far and haven’t figured out I have issues, then there’s no hope for you.

So, I hand ZW my glasses, which now means I’m wading into water with these three laughing pastor-type people and blind. My first thoughts?

TKP: Oh God… The water is cold. Oh God… I just said the Lord’s name in vain.

RE:  Yes… Twice, now.

TKP: Oh God… I said that aloud. Oh God… STOP THAT! Wait… No… God, don’t YOU stop it. Stop ME from stopping that. No… Don’t stop ME from stopping that… Get ME to stop that… Wait? Did I just presume to command the Lord Almighty to do something for me? GAAAAH!!! That’s NOT what I meant. Oh God, am I saying all of this aloud?! Okay… WHEW… my mouth is closed. I think. ****!!! I DID IT AGAIN!!!

(No wonder I thought Ch’thulu was waiting to eat me. Here I was about to be baptized and I was sinning along the way.)

By then, we’re out there. I believe RE was on my right, JM was on my left, and RP was behind me. So, if they let me go, I was sure I could grab at least two of them to take with me to my watery doom. Then I remembered, I have to use one hand to pinch my nose shut while the other arm was crossed over my chest. If they did let me go, that probably meant I would at best only be able to grab one of them.

Yes, I know. I’m a bad person for even thinking any of this.

Well, I’m glad to say the immersion went extremely well. Ch’thulu decided not to eat me and I did indeed make it back above the surface of the water. Aretha wasn’t singing “Oh Happy Day” like in my perfect baptism fantasy, but I can say there were probably at least 40 Jesuses cheering on the bank. I’ll take it!

So… after making it back to the bank, we hung around for a bit, ate pizza… I barely introduced anyone to Bro #7, which meant that – Yes – I’m still a horrible person. I was asked how I felt and I said “Okay.” Yep. I was relieved and glad I finally did it… Then, Bro #7 looked at my phone and said “Yep… You’ve just been tagged in a picture on Facebook.”

Sure enough… DJ posted a picture and tagged me. There were Likes and the first response was from my cousin CL. Of course, that significantly increased the likelihood that Mom would find out about the baptism by checking Facebook! (Yes, that’s right; I told neither of my parents that I was getting baptized. I’m a really horrible person.) Bro #7 looked at me and said – in his own charming way – “Hehehehehe… You’re dead.” After my no doubt being an anti-social post-baptized crazy-thinking crazy-guy, we decided to make our way home. I’m still thinking “Yeah… I’m feeling okay…”

Then, 20 minutes into the drive, I’m thinking “What the **** did I just do?!

Amazing photo taken by Ellen Stephenson.
Oh, that’s right! I got baptized. 8/30/15. Photo by Ellen Stephenson.

Yes, I know the obvious answer, but I think the question beyond that is “What does it mean?”

If you were to ask me why I got baptized, I couldn’t give you an answer. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain it to you. If Jesus walked in the door and asked me, I couldn’t tell him why, either. Yes, I’ve thought over it through and through. For years. I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out logical explanations. There isn’t one. Not for me. Maybe I’ve just concluded that faith cannot be reasoned. If it did, would it be faith? I don’t know.

Yes, I know. It’s not an answer. Well, I’m still searching for it. Baptism was an important step along the way.

Oh…  And as for how Mom reacted when I got home?

“Worst secret ever. Congratulations!”

TKP

8/31/2015

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