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Baptism by Rain and Grace

“As you know, this is the first time we’ve done this, so we don’t know exactly what will happen,” Pastor D. said.  “But don’t worry, I am an excellent swimmer, so no one will drown.”

Excitement buzzed around like little gnats of joy, effectively dodging the disappointment of  rain and gloomy cloud-cover after so many days of hot sun.  The Little Darda Church was hosting its first ever onsite baptism, and seven people in white stood listening to Pastor D.’s instructions. IMG_4500 Some things were up for debate: How to get the elderly grandmother into the pool without injury?  Was it  better to get on one’s knees before submersion into water?  Should the person be dipped backwards or forwards?

The people listened intently, faces wreathed in smiles and eyes teary after the prayer of blessing.

After the singing and sermon inside the church,  everyone haphazardly filed outside to watch the baptism.  Apparently, we had missed our non-rain window during the first part of the service, and  a steady, soaking rain showed no signs of abating.

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People grouped up under the eaves and umbrellas as we tried to get organized—but the  grandmother made a straight beeline to the pool and started climbing in—so we abandoned any formal start and just went with it. Everyone cheered as she was successfully helped in and stood in expectant waiting.

People whooped as they got into the cold pool, and came roaring up out of the water—the shock of the cold reminding them that indeed, they were alive with new life.

Later, Pastor D., as it was his first time to baptize anyone,  told me he had so much adrenaline that he couldn’t remember what he planned to say, so he just went with the standard, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit….”

 

I stood laughing in the rain, reveling in the craziness, the joy, the celebration around me. IMG_4468 This is so typical of our church, I thought.  We are not polished or perfect, but are full of quirky mistakes and unexpected happenings.IMG_4473

 

 

Perhaps this is  metaphor for the spiritual path—to shun the burden of polished appearances for the sake of laughing in the safe space of God’s grace.

 

 

And may I be like the grandmother who hobbled straight for that pool, regardless of the ‘order of service.’

Nobody was going to stop her from getting baptized that day.

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Well, frankly…

Your daily manna…take it and be fed.  Well…thanks I guess,  but frankly, I had a craving for chocolate.

We in the West are groomed in materialism, shaped by the the ‘more, bigger, better, climbing up the ladder’ jello molds until it’s hard to conceive of another shape or consistency of substance.

We can approach mission and development of poor communities that way as well, our thinking of what needs to happen shaped by those same molds.

“Yes, it is tough here in Osijek, ” the  Croatian police administrator told me as she filed some paperwork for me, “and many young people are seeking a better life in Germany or Ireland. But they will lose out on something as well—our pace of life, our families and relationships.  We actually have what we need.”

What do we actually need?

I like the way Walter Brueggemann, in Sabbath as Resistance, contrasts God’s invitation to life to a market ideology that leaves us with insatiable needs and desires “that will leave us endlessly “rest-less,” inadequate, unfulfilled…” requiring that we “want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more”(xii).  Brueggemann’s point is that God’s invitation to Sabbath is both a resistance since it is a “visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods” and an alternative by resting in the provision and gifts of God (xiv).

Laely, I’ve been asking some questions to some Roma pastors for an article I’m working on.  So many sources—NGO’s, churches, European Union, Roma organizations— define ‘what needs to happen’ in Roma communities.  In other words, what the ‘good life’ should be.

“My people are not focused on God’s promises,” one Roma pastor told me recently.  “They are focused on what other people are promising them. God can take care of all families, all people, like he has taken care of me and my wife.  God changed my understanding of life—before, I was just concerned with accumulating material things.  Now I realize—our safety is with God.”

This is coming from a community that is rapidly losing ground with modernity.  Jobs and ways of earning money, often on the edges and corners of the economy, will continue to get more challenging in this global economy.  Because Serbia is not yet part of the EU, many people still collect and sell metal—but this occupation has been virtually shut down for the Roma in Croatia (because of EU regulations) unless they have the money and know-with-all to open a firm.  I was shocked to find out that in this small town in Serbia, 8 hours of hard manual labor in the fields under the burning sun earn only 8 Euros a day…and according to the people, this is the same wage it was 20 years ago.

That is a zero-sum deal—exploiting others’ needs while filling your own basket. In such a context, need looks different as compared to someone who already seems to have plenty.

Trouble is, it’s hard to rest in a daily provision that shows up every dawn, yes, but not what you are actually craving.  Never have I had more sympathy for those Israelites who were just craving some meat.

“What was the big deal?” I used to wonder.  “Why did God get so angry when they were clamoring for meat?”

It’s really a clash of two different orientations toward life: I want to meet the needs in the way that I want vs. I am resting in God’s promise to provide for me in the way that He chooses. It’s a matter of either rejecting God or believing Him.

The first way breeds anxious restlessness…the second—restful expectation.

On Sunday, the pastor talked about Jesus waiting three days before coming to the place where Lazarus was sick.  “He always hears, always responds to our cries for help,” he said.  “But he comes in patience and in the right time. Do we have the faith to wait and believe He is coming?”

“God has complete confidence in the fruit-bearing, blessing-generating process of creation that have been instituted,”  Brueggemann says.  And therefore, “God rests, confident, serene, at peace.”