Tag Archives: Baptism

Adventures on the Island of Misfit Toys

A couple of years ago, PW and a local rabbi presided over the wedding of a Romanian Orthodox Christian woman and a Russian Orthodox Jewish man. The wedding ceremony included a chuppa, a three crowns ceremony, and a eucharist, with challah made by the groom’s grandmother who lives in Israel and wine made by the bride’s father. I’m not sure what the grandmother thought happened at communion, because the challah loaf was approximately the size of a miniature pony.

At the wedding, some of the groom’s family surprised PW by lining up to receive communion, along with the bride’s family. In a scene that has long since taken on a life of its own, PW quickly changed the words of distribution to “Bread for the Journey” when she put bread in the hands of the Jewish family members (instead of “the body of Christ.”) She hadn’t had time to suggest alternate words to the chalice bearer, so she heard him repeat as he followed along behind her, “Blood for the Journey” (instead of “the blood of Christ.”)

Can I just say that, to me, never is Christian liturgy more like a Monty Python sketch than during communion? Of course I can, this is my website! The scene above is reason #814 why I wish Christianity would move past this yucky body and blood of Christ business. The first 813 reasons are that it’s just gross. This is the 21st century, folks. Must we STILL be littering our liturgies with the language of cannibalism and vampirism? But I digress.

This same couple brought their new baby to church last Sunday for the Jewish ceremony for naming a daughter, and a baptism. The church bulletin included the Jewish prayers in both English and Hebrew, along with the usual Episcopal baptism liturgy. In addition, we had the Boston Children’s Chorus as guest musicians, so we had a house full of company, so to speak. I’m sure most of us have never been involved in a service like this until Sunday.

Here's part of the worship bulletin for last Sunday

Male members of the groom’s/father’s family all wore matching bright pink kippot, perhaps in celebration of the new baby daughter? No idea what the color signified, if anything, but it was stunning. After brief remarks by PW and the rabbi, the families were invited up to the front for the Jewish ceremony, which included a Chair of Elijah and ceremonial sips of sweet wine from a kiddush cup. Immediately following, everyone moved down to the baptismal font for the baptism.

In PW’s comments prior to the two ceremonies, she noted that the baby girl (whose name combines the Greek word for “wisdom” with the Hebrew word for “life”) would have full dual citizenship as a Jew and a Christian. This will likely be a stumbling block for many on both sides of her citizenship aisle, since we humans are notoriously exclusively-minded. I can hear it now:

“What religion are you?”
“I’m Jewish and Christian.”
“What? You can’t be both?”
“Yes I can!”
“No you can’t!”
“I already am!”
“No you aren’t!”
“Oh yes I AM!”

This imagined conversation reminds me of the time I picked up GForce at preschool one day and overheard a boy asking where her dad was and why he didn’t ever pick her up.

“Who is your dad?”
“I don’t have a dad. I have three moms.”
“You can’t have three moms!”
“Well, I do!”
“But where’s your dad?”
“I don’t have a dad.”
“WHAT? Why do you have three moms and no DAD!”
“Because THAT’S how I wanted it!”

The next time I saw that kid’s mom, she told me that her son went home that night wondering why he only had one mom. She and I had a good laugh about that.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom how Christian and Jewish communities can justify any kind of exclusiveness – particularly when it comes to hosting ceremonies that mark rites of passage: weddings, baptisms, naming ceremonies, funerals, etc. If anything, these are the occasions when faith communities should be throwing open their doors.

Believe it or not, even opening communion to anyone who wants to participate is STILL a radical thing to do in the Christian tradition. Crazy, right? Thankfully, PW’s eucharistic theology is basically this: if you put your hands out, she will put bread in them. She’s not going to bother interviewing you about whether you’ve been baptized or attended membership classes or whether you’ve repented for anything. She doesn’t even care if you are Christian, Jewish, Atheist, whatever. If you want bread, you get bread. She’s a rebel like that.

I won’t even bother getting into the handwringing hoohaw that various strains of both Christians and Jews go through over whether queer people can/should be ordained, and if so, to what level. Really? Both the Christian and Jewish faith traditions are rooted in generations of people being exiled, outcast, persecuted, and annihilated. So what do we do? Well, we exile, outcast, persecute, and annihilate. Or, we study things to death in hopes that the people who want to join our ranks (as well as the issues they bring with them) will give up and/or go away — which is just a more passive form of exiling, casting out, persecuting, and annihilating.

Emmanuel Church has a reputation for having no residency or belief requirements for membership, weddings, baptisms, communion, you name it. As a result, we end up hosting ceremonies and casts of characters that force us to re-examine what it means to be inclusive, and occasionally struggle with how inclusive we really want to be. It’s good, stretchy work. Like any stretch, sometimes it leaves us feeling uncomfortable. And sometimes, what feels perfect to one group of people feels jarring and disturbing to another group. Still, I’d rather be stretched than frozen any day, even if it means occasionally feeling like we’re a kind of Island of Misfit Toys.

I’m pretty sure that the combination Jewish/Christian ceremonies we had this past Sunday would not have happened without our ongoing and deepening relationship with Boston Jewish Spirit and their Rabbi Howard Berman. PW refers to the relationship as “an interfaith family,” which testifies both to our deep commitment and struggles to understand and work with each other, set in an environment of mutual affection, admiration, and respect. It can be hard work, swimming against the tide of centuries of mutual suspicion and distrust, as well as the overt anti-Semitism that is threaded through much of the Christian Testament. But swim we do, and our two congregations have formed a kind of buddy system in the ways we look out for and help each other.

As a capper to Sunday’s extraordinary liturgy, we had a stunning moment during the Bach cantata. At the beginning of the instrumental prelude for the tenor aria in BWV 96 – “Herr Christ, der einige Gottes sohn,” I noticed that the tenor credited in the bulletin was not moving toward the front for his solo. I looked down at my bulletin to make sure I was looking for the right tenor.

By the time I looked back up, the conductor (who used to be a tenor in the chorus before he was selected to be the new music director) had turned to face the congregation, holding the big, clothbound conductor’s score in his hands. The orchestra continued playing without a conductor and Ryan sang the aria beautifully.

At coffee hour after church, I learned that Ryan found out only that morning that the regularly scheduled tenor was having throat problems and wouldn’t be able to sing the aria. None of the other tenors in the chorus had ever sung that particular aria before, so not even an hour before the service started, Ryan decided to sing it himself.

Several people told me after the service that the expression on my face was priceless when I looked up to see Ryan readying himself to sing. Apparently, a look of rapturous amazement remained on my face throughout, and Ryan told me later that looking at my face helped him get through the aria. I had absolutely no idea that I was providing any assistance whatsoever. I was just sitting there, awestruck by the whole morning.

It’s cool and curious how the simple act of showing up and staying open to the crazy possibilities of life can sustain the people around us. And, most of the time, you’re lucky if you find out that you’ve provided this support. Moments earlier, I myself had drawn similar inspiration and sustenance from the brilliant pink kippot bobbing around the empty chair for Elijah and then the baptismal font.

The other day I read an interview with Tom Waits in the New York Times. In the interview, he shared what he tells the sidemen who play in his band or on his records: “I want you to play like you’re 7 years old at a recital. I want you to play like your mom’s in the room. I want you to play like you’re miles from home, and your legs are dangling from a boxcar. Or play like your hair’s on fire. Play like you have no pants on.”

If you substitute the word “worship” for the word “play” in the above quotation, that’s what church was like for me on Sunday. Full of surprise, sweetness, boldness, jarring moments, and tiny shards of time that took my breath away – like watching the Jewish and Christian parents of a newly welcomed baby walk up to the communion rail together for a blessing, or like watching the orchestra play without their conductor, because he has turned to face the congregation and is singing like an angel. It turns out, sometimes you figure out how to do things you’ve never done before by just, well, doing them.

A song didn’t come to mind for me today, so I’m sharing this fabulous clip from the movie “Three Kings.” It was playing in my head the whole time I was writing.

Psalm/Psong for April 14 – “The Water’s Edge” by k.d. lang

Oh, how I love the nubby texture of a devoted Tibetan Buddhist singing about angels, heaven, baptism, being born again, and the River Jordan. In my experience, Christians require frequent reminders that our symbols, icons, customs, and language are part of a stream of Universal human longing: for clarity as well as mystery, for certainty as well as ambiguity, for answers as well as questions, etc.

I have always been awestruck by k.d. lang’s voice. Even as she threw herself wildly around the concert stage in her younger days, she always had a vocal control that was stunning. The acrobatics have given way to a profound vocal maturity. I really think she could sing in any style she wanted to.

As a former swimmer, and someone whose baptism was of the full-immersion variety (complete with water up my nose), the last line of the chorus of this psong is a goosebumper.

Lyrics to “The Water’s Edge”:

Love was ours, it tasted sweet
Like cherries in the summer heat, love so sweet
You’re the one that I adored
Yeah, you and I were moving forward
A breeze then gently brushed my lips
I held my breath to capture it, then we kissed
With an angel by my side
I was sure I’d died and gone to heaven

Take me back to the water’s edge
Lay me down on that riverbed
Take me down to the water’s edge
Hold me under for the longest human breath

Never had I known a thrill
The world was simply standing still
In your arms I’m born again
And we are floating down that River Jordan

Take me back to the water’s edge
Lay me down on that riverbed
Take me down to the water’s edge
Hold me under for the longest human breath

Take me back to the water’s edge
Lay me down on that riverbed
Take me down to the water’s edge
Hold me under for the longest human breath
Hold me under for the longest human breath

“I renounce them.”

If you don’t spend a lot of time going to Episcopal church services, I’d be willing to bet that you don’t have that many opportunities to say or hear the words, “I renounce them.”  For example, Red Sox fans don’t say, “The New York Yankees?  I renounce them.”  They say, “Yankees suck.”  At the dinner table, people don’t say “Sweetbreads?  I renounce them.”  They might say, “Yuck” or, if they’re well-mannered, they might say, “No thank you.”

When my long-time friend Patricia asked me 15 years ago to be one of her firstborn’s godparents, I enthusiastically agreed before having any clue what I was committing myself to.  This was well before I became partnered with and then married to an Episcopal priest, well before I developed my various methods of getting through the sexism, the formality, and what then felt like the narrow gate of an Episcopal service.  When I got to church on the day of the baptism, the priest walked us through the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer and I broke out into a sweat when I read the first four questions:

Minister: Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in a Christian faith and life?

Parents and Godparents: We will with God’s help.

Minister:  Do you renounce Satan and all of the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Parents and Godparents:  I renounce them.

Minister: Do you renounce the evil powers of the world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?

Parents and Godparents:  I renounce them.

Minister:  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

Parents and Godparents:  I renounce them.

It’s not that I am a big fan of any of the things I was asked to renounce.  I was overwhelmed by the bold, personal nature of the last three vows.  These aren’t “We” vows like the first one is, where you can take some comfort in having the company, or cover, of others who are saying it. When you’re in a group that’s saying “We,” the “we” could be everyone BUT you.  And the “we” could conceivably be an entire group of people who are all feeling that way.  “I” vows are intense.  It’s like the difference between, “We shall overcome” and “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  The latter is a much more personal commitment than the former.

I made it through my goddaughter’s baptism without bursting into flame, or having my head explode.  In fact, I felt pretty good about those two accomplishments as I drove away from the church that afternoon.  I haven’t been as present a godmama as I would like, but I think about my goddaughter and that first experience of making those vows every time I’m at an Episcopal baptism service, which happens a lot more frequently now that I’m a regular at PW’s parish.

A baby girl was baptised this past Sunday, and when we got to the renouncing part of the baptismal vows, I couldn’t help but wonder if either of the godparents was having the Joysian moment of trying not to have their head explode.  With each passing baptism, I feel an increasing kinship with the godparents.  I find myself privately rooting, “Come on, come on, you can renounce them… YESSSSS!”  I haven’t high-fived any godparents yet.  I do have a modicum of self-control.  But don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me.

Since Sunday I’ve been thinking a lot about what else is worth renouncing that’s not already covered in those vows.  I wonder if I could find one thing a day to renounce, either by adapting the language above or something else I might make up.  When I was reflecting on this, I went searching on the Internet for the text of the vows and I found a site that listed them out in big bold letters, with the minister’s questions in huge red type and the responses in much smaller black type.  And there, in living color, was this:

Minister: Do you renounce Satin and all of the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

PARENTS & GOD PARENTS: I renounce them.

Who knew Satin was such a bad seed!?  But, hey, I’m down with it.  I renounce Satin and all of the other synthetic fabric sheets that are yucky to sleep on.

Shawn Colvin sings “Satin Sheets” from her album “Cover Girl”