“When you left, where did you end up?” I asked.
“Well,” she stumbled slightly, “we never really settled on a church home after that.”
“But fifteen years is a long time to be without a church,” I noted. “That’s a long time to be away.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Life is a pretty busy thing.”
“It sure is,” I responded without hesitation. “Where are you folks living now? Maybe I can help get you connected somewhere.”
“We still live just down the road from you guys,” she said.
A little surprised, “So, did something happen here to make you leave?”
“Not really,” she affirmed. “It’s just that Bob isn’t all that interested in organized religion, and then the kids finished up in your school. Things got busy after that.”
“So are you thinking of coming back?”
“Oh, no,” she said with a surprising confidence. “We’re going to just keep looking. I’m calling because our oldest daughter, Amy, she lives in Indianapolis and she just had a baby.”
“Thanks. She wants to get her baptized there at her old church. She asked me to give you a call to see what we needed to do.”
“Is she a member of a Lutheran church there in Indy?” I probed. “I’d want to chat with her pastor just to make sure everything is in good order.”
“I don’t think she’s a member anywhere,” she stumbled again. “And her boyfriend, Cal, he’s an atheist, but he’s pretty agreeable to most everything she wants to do. Kinda like Bob.”
Still parsing the conversation in my mind, “Well, it sounds like finding a church home wouldn’t necessarily be an issue for Amy and your new granddaughter. How about I call a church in Indy and get the pastor there to connect with them? He could talk with Amy and Cal, not just about baptism, but about marriage, too. You never know, maybe that would be a way for Cal to connect.”
“I suppose,” she said, “but my daughter’s a lot like her dad. She’s not big into organized religion. She just wants to baptize the baby.”
We spoke for another twenty minutes or so, but I only spoke to the issue at hand – baptism. And all along the way I attempted to lead her, carefully and lovingly, to understand that the Lord’s mandate for baptism is two-fold. In Matthew 28:19-20, He shows that baptism is comprised of both the divine act and the teaching that either precedes (adults) or follows (children). With regard to infants and young children, if the intent on the part of the parents is merely to baptize but not to raise the child in the faith as Christ instructs, then there is an awful lot for the parents to consider and eventually confess before any pastor who takes his job seriously can administer the baptism faithfully.
In the end, she was unconvinced and more or less demanded that I give her daughter what she wanted because, as former members, it was, well, their right. They’d given money in the offering plate whenever they actually came to church. She volunteered in the school. Bob helped fix a few things around here on a Saturday or two. We obviously owed her.
Can you guess how she received my decision to forego the baptism until we could, as I humbly suggested, “get some of the situation a little more sorted out?” Yep, you guessed it. She was offended. No, let me rephrase that. She was pissed. How dare I refuse her? And she did her best to unleash a stinging barrage of insults, calling me an unloving Pastor, saying she’s glad they left the church and that she couldn’t figure out how anyone would still want to attend my church. She gave a final jab, “I know another Lutheran church just down the street from you that will do it. They’re very accepting over there.”
She’s right about two things. Sometimes I wonder how folks can continue to be a part of a church like this, one that stands in such stark contrast to the world around her. And second, there is a church just down the road from us that will give this woman pretty much anything she wants. I know the church. I know the pastor. He’d baptize her cat and its litter box if she asked him to.
Anyway, the conversation is eerily similar to my experience with Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey. It began cordially enough, the nose offering an open-minded nous of red berries and vanilla sugar. But then I engaged in the discussion.
It was unbalanced, to say the least. At first, it gave the impression that it could open up into a skyline of possibility – roasted cashews, honey, and strawberries – but then there was a rather sudden turn toward a caustic char, as if the nut, honey, and berry contrivance, which started out pretty well, was left on the burner for much too long resulting in the need to suffocate it with chemical fire foam.
The finish was a medium rant of accusing pepper – too much pepper. It leaves you saddened with the result but wiser from the attempt.
And some people wonder why a pastor would find room in his life for devotion to whisky and its narrative…