“You ain’t baptized, you ain’t getting saved.”
Those were the exact words a woman in one of the classes I teach at a local ministry yelled out in response to another woman who said it’s no big deal if a Christian never gets baptized.
The mood up to and until that point was light. Happy. Loving. And then BAM!
“That’s not what MY Bible says,” the first woman said under her breath.
I interjected, under the auspices of time constraints but really not wanting any punches thrown. Internally, I shuddered at the rapidity of how an entire conversation about love can turn on a dime. Everybody always nods in synchronized affirmation and is all “Jesus loves you! and me! and you! and us! and everyone!” until it becomes questionable. Until consensus is replaced with smug human judgment: Jesus doesn’t love you because you didn’t get baptized, but he loves me because I did.
The thought of I am loved and saved and chosen and special because I did or did not do something on the supposed To Do or To NOT Do list – the one the Bible supposedly clearly tells you – is both insistent and amiss.
Unfortunately, most conversations I have about someone’s faith – regardless of their demographic, denomination, or background – inevitably lead to the same conclusion of confusion.
How do I know? How can I be sure?
I am exhausted by this, so forget it – I’m out.
None of us can be sure anyway, so why even bother?
You do you and I’ll do me.
And the list goes on.
I think that’s the part that kills me the most. There is this insatiable desire to know and be known by God and yet, we throw in the towel before we even get to the courting stage.
When I was a little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years-old, I vividly remember sitting on the corner curb outside of our modest brown shingled house, throwing stones (see…maybe I’ve always secretly known Scripture stories) against car tires as they rolled up to the stop sign. Obvious boredom and orneriness aside, I was also contemplating the concept of nothingness. What if there was nothing? What if that hill at the end of the dead-end street was a façade? What if I wasn’t really here? What if…there was no God?
My memory of this is as if it happened yesterday, not almost forty years ago. I had this aching desire to understand the inexplicable. My young black and white mind wanted answers and wanted them now! Somebody explain this thing to me please and thank you, before I drive myself batty!
The last forty years have done a number on me with regard to my own personal theology. AND I COULD NOT BE MORE THANKFUL.
The necessary and lengthy process known as deconstruction has allowed me to breathe again. Getting rid of everything I had previously known to be true – God is an old (white) man with a long white beard on a throne in the clouds pointing his bony displeased finger at me; if I wasn’t really sorry for sinning, I wouldn’t be fully forgiven; only Catholics were getting saved and only a few at that because the rest were going to hang out in limbo, – that list goes on, too – has been more freeing than skinny dipping in your best friend’s pond in seventh grade.
While of course I wouldn’t know about skinny dipping, here’s what I absolutely do now know to be true. And parenthetically, when I say “absolutely,” I mean with every ounce of my being…right down to the marrow in my bones. And that is this: God is all.
He/It/The Almighty/Insert your own Reverent, non-gender specific Pronoun is ALL.
Living, breathing, moving, sustaining, life-giving, comforting, always always always – all.
The rest is just a never-ending list of I’m rights and You’re wrongs.
When you reconstruct or rebuild something, you need a blueprint, a foundation. But not in this case.
My reconstruction will never, ever again allow for God to be put in a box. Because the image of that box looks nothing like your image, and your image looks nothing like your spouse’s, your friend’s, or your mother’s.
Our foundations are cracked at their cores. Why would I pretend to know how to build the ultimate Builder? Hey…let me tell you guys how I now created God in my mind…the image I have of Him now…I’m sure this one is right.
It’s exhausting. And while thankfully we grow and change, God doesn’t need to. He has always been, and He (will continue to) always be.
So, whether you see or feel or just unequivocally know that God is a 75-year-old Caucasian man, an African woman, a faceless body, a rainbow unicorn, a brilliant light, a warming presence, or a blowing wind – you’re right.
God is all those things.