Fed Up with Pointless Ritual?

baptism box goodies

baptism box goodies

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.

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About amymccreath

I'm a pastor and mother who loves to make connections between people, between ideas, and between stuff we label "sacred" and "secular." I aspire to be like a Cedar of Lebanon in the midst of the changes and chances of life, but like most folks, generally find that I can really only navigate the tumult hand in hand with others. Good coffee helps, too.
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2 Responses to Fed Up with Pointless Ritual?

  1. Alice Smith says:

    Pointless rituals ? They may be pointless to us, but to someone participating in that ritual it may be
    just what they need. I can think of so many times when I thought I would scream if I had to repeat
    a “pointless ritual” and somehow someone’s face or words changed how I felt in the drudgery of
    carrying it out. It was so pointless to me but I tried to be open to another point of view. We never
    know where the grace of God comes through, do we , and what the illumination will be.
    Thank you so much for sending this out. I understand your point but as I thought about it, I had to face it in my own experience and maybe now I can look back and realize that it was worth all the
    time and energy. When a now grown child repeats something and says “Thanks,Mom” , how does
    it seem now?

    .

  2. Mary Anne White says:

    I am tired of all the pointless rituals you mentioned. However, the rituals in which I engage in my church don’t seem to be pointless to me. I find meaning in the baptism, prayers, hymns, eucharist and blessings I find in my worship. I have such a feeling of welcome in being at worship each week. The rituals give me strength to face the pointless things that happen during the week.

    Mary Anne White
    Bonner Springs, KS.

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