Dennis called on Thursday to talk about Harper.
“She wants to be baptized,” he said as middle schoolers talked and yelled in the background. “She expressed interest last night during service.”
This wasn’t unexpected.
My daughter has wanted to be baptized since late 2019. We were making our way through a workbook our church gave us about preparing to be baptized when the pandemic hit. And then we watched our church community turn proudly hateful and paranoid and selfish. We watched the people who taught our children in Sunday school and sang worship songs from stage use misinformation and fear as biblical principles. We saw and heard them speak ugly words about people God had created and loved fiercely.
We never went back to that church.
It all felt so hypocritical and fake. We couldn’t stomach it, and we definitely couldn’t let our girls think this was how you followed Jesus. So we left the church Chris and I grew up at, the church we met at and served at for decades, the church where we married and raised babies.
It has been two years, and there is still grief and sadness. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. We don’t regret it. But we are still untangling a lot of the mess and hurt and bad theology we learned there.
Long story short: Harper was, in the summer of 2022, still waiting to be baptized.
So when Dennis called from the church camp that we know preaches a lot of the same messages we left our church over, I wasn’t surprised but I was suspicious.
No, we don’t want Harper to be baptized at camp this week.
Her parents would like to be present, and we can’t make it there during the week.
Yes, we can have her baptized when she comes home.
“I assume you have a home church that can do it?” Dennis asked as we wrapped up our conversation.
“Sure,” I said, because Dennis, you probably don’t want to have this conversation with me right now.
It would probably be the same conversation that would start if I came to the women’s retreat weekend on the flyer I was handed as we walked out of the gym after checking the girls in for their week of camp.
After we said goodbye, Chris and I climbed back into the car to head home. I folded the women’s retreat flyer and put it in the cupholder. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Chris said, “I almost told the lady ‘You don’t want my wife at your retreat’ when she handed that to you.”
“That’s the truth,” I said.
Dennis, the truth is much more complicated than you’ve got time for, but we could start with the rules for girls’ swimsuits at camp and why only men can be deans.
I picked the girls up from church camp on a muggy Friday afternoon. They were tired and cranky and dirty. When we got home, Chris baptized Harper in our swimming pool. Harper wore her mermaid bikini, I took her confession of faith, and my tattooed husband submerged her in the cool, crystal clear water in our backyard.
It felt simple and extraordinary.
It felt like the perfect time and too late.
It felt like a reminder that following God doesn’t have to be fancy or within the rules of a denomination or with a crowd of people surrounding you.
A private backyard baptism felt like the most on-brand choice for this moment in our lives. We cannot stomach the pomp and circumstance of church. We cannot abide the culture of religion that has hurt so many people we love. We cannot reconcile the twists of scripture that lead to power and greed and control.
But we love Jesus and we want to follow Him and we want to live like Him. We crave the new birth that baptism offers, the washing away of the old and the renewing of the spirit. We desperately desire the easy yoke of following Christ as we try to operate in a world that keeps making more and more rules, boundaries, and caveats.
So we baptized our daughter, even as we struggle with so much doubt and confusion and mess. We baptized her, even when we’re not sure of our place in a society that forces obedience instead of joy and freedom.
We have so many questions, but Jesus isn’t one of them.
The next morning I sat on my porch swing drinking coffee. I was reading Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans and because God has never stopped showing up in these years since we left church, the next chapter I was to read was called “The Steady Work of Living Water.”
In it, Rachel writes, “My baptism reminds me that I am a Christian because Christianity gives me a name that supersedes every other name the world will try to give me. I am a Christian because my baptism has declared that I am a beloved child of God. There is no failure, no sin, no accomplishment, no success that can change that.”
“Baptism, whether in the Jordan’s water or any other, ties us to the cycle of life, through all of which runs water. It reminds us that we belong. It is, of course, much easier to write that out than to reckon with the reality of what belonging to that larger community—to that fractious assemblage of humanity, prone as it is to hurt as much as to help—really means.”
And that is the reminder I needed: we are beloved children of God and we belong. The details can be figured out later.