Not long ago, a large, glossy postcard appeared in the church office. I’m not sure how it got there, but I picked it up and found that it was an ad for one of the churches down the road from us. On one side was a young man standing in front of what appeared to be the ruins of a gothic church. On the other side were photos of more young adults playing guitars, laughing, and standing together in a sanctuary. The text was about how we’re just like you, we’re real people with real questions, etc. The phrase that caught my attention and stayed with me long after I put the postcard down was this: “Aren’t you fed up with pointless rituals?”
Huh. Am I? Are you? After a lot of thought, I’ve made my decision: Yes, I am tired of pointless rituals.
I am tired of picking up the newspaper in the morning and reading yet another story about domestic violence, turning the page, and taking another sip of coffee. Day after day, the same ritual.
I am tired of hearing about members of our government using the rules of debate to waste huge amounts of our time and their energy shutting down conversation about important issues and creating havoc for people in need who depend on governmental support for basic services. Time and again, the same ritual.
I am tired of organizing prayer vigils in response to yet another mass shooting – there have been 7 in our nation in the last year – and getting letters from my children’s school explaining the latest innovations in lockdown procedures. These rituals have become normalized, so normal that new businesses have been created around them. I am tired of the rituals of preparing for and mourning unforeseen shootings.
I am tired of facebook postings of graphs showing how the gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing, growing, growing, each posting introduced with the now ritualized “This is awful,” and I am tired of being part of an army of clicktovists – folks whose response to such graphs is mostly limited to clicking here on yet another online petition. Click here to tell your senator that you want meaningful change. Click after click after click. The same ritual.
Yes, I am tired of pointless rituals.
The photo above shows the contents of a “baptism box” created by my friend Carol for a child in our church. The box allows the child to learn about the ritual of baptism by rehearsing the actions, telling the story, and remembering the meaning of it at home. Baptism is a central ritual in our church – the ritual around which everything else is built here. Is it pointless?
Baptism reveals some pretty amazing things: Our lives have meaning. We are loved. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We don’t have to be afraid, despite all the bad news and grim stats and evidence of human silliness and mean-heartedness. Baptism empowers us to join in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation.
Pointless ritual? You decide.
Apologies to the good people of CGS who heard a longer version of this from me a few weeks ago. The next baptism at CGS will be on Nov. 3rd, when we will celebrate All Saints Day in thanksgiving for the community of saints who passed down to us all manner of rituals.