Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tomte's thoughts on Baptism

Back in October, p3 said,

Baptism has been a thought as related to our new little one. When/how/where/why? Baptism vs dedication? Any particular scriptures or thoughts out there? With the others we did the expected OALC baptism; we know that's not the route we want this time, but it feels that something should be done...


I never had a clear idea about why we baptized babies in the ALC. I suspect that there really wasn't much of a rationale behind infant baptism other than:


  • The Bible commanded us to baptize. At most of the baptisms I attended this was the main theological rationale. It was an "ordinance." In other words, we baptize because God commands it; now shut up and pass the holy water.
  • All the Laestadianisms baptize infants because they come out of the Lutheran tradition, which also baptizes infants. However unlike much of Lutheranism, the Laestadians emphasize pietism, which in a nutshell means that you're always looking for some kind of sign that yourself and others are really holy and holding up their end of the Christian bargain instead of relying on God's grace.


I've given this some thought. Even though I am no longer Laestadian, I still believe in baptism, and especially infant baptism. No, I don't think that un-baptized babies go to hell. NO, I don't believe that baptism saves.

So what does it do, and what is it good for?

For me, all of the sacraments (including baptism) are what St. Augustine called an "outward and visible sign of inward and invisible grace." That's a fancy way of saying that mysterious things happen in the spiritual realm. God does stuff like confer grace and love upon us.

I think that when a child is born God's love and grace is lavished upon that child. In this sense there are no unloved children and no unloved human beings. God loves us all, for we are all God's children, and what parent worthy of the name fails to love their children?

As we all know, however, the world is often an unloving, cruel and unforgiving place. I believe that everything good comes from God, and that as human beings we are called to be God's hands and feet in the world. We turn the spiritual reality of God's goodness into physical reality.

The same thing happens in baptism.

What is already true on the spiritual plane is "made manifest," focused, given flesh in the ritual of baptism. When the water is poured over the infant's head, when the parents and godparents and congregation make promises, personally guaranteeing that the child will be brought up within the beloved community of faith, what is true in the spirit becomes true in the flesh as well.

It's a beautiful thing to behold. And it encapsulates all you ever really need to know about being a Christian. Love God, and love each other.

-ttg

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Doing Nothing is Not an Option

Am I bigoted for complaining recently that Biblical literalism is ignorant and irresponsible? Isn't it just a difference of opinion? Not if you consider the consequences. For example, a huge number of Christians are either willfully blind to, or "skeptical" of, the science of global climate change. I urge you to watch this video. We can afford to disagree about global climate change, but not what we do about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christian Unity, Laestadian Unity

What is the basis for Christian unity? We all know how unsuccessful Laestadianism is when it comes to unity. What started as a church-within-a-church in nineteenth century Finland quickly splintered into differing and competing groups both there and in the United States, where acronyms like ALC, FALC, OALC, LLC and more denote the many groups --most of whom think they are the only true church.

Of course, all the Laestadian splinters are but a microcosm of the even greater disunity throughout greater Christendom. Depending on which historians you read, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism either parted ways in 1066 or were never one church to begin with. Then in the 1500s the Anglicans split off, and poor, naive, Martin Luther opened the floodgates for split-offs and spin-offs by translating the Bible into the vernacular, effectively allowing each reader to be their own priest, preacher, and theologian. He actually believed that if each person could read the Bible for themselves they'd all agree with his interpretation!

I'd like to start a conversation here about what keeps us together as Christians, as ex-Laestadians, as human beings... I'll start by quoting this excerpt of an article I read in another context but which I found illuminating...

If we are to restore unity amidst our differences, I don't think we will find it in the Bible. After all, the expression of the Word of God par excellence for Christian people is not the Bible. It is, rather, Jesus himself – the Word made flesh. At the heart of our faith, we see Jesus as the most sublime expression of the Word of God, and we are convinced that Jesus as the Christ is not locked into a particular period of history, but is a living presence in the life of the church today and in the life of each of us who seek to be his followers. The Bible is a tool – and an indispensable one – in coming to know the Christ, as are tradition and reason. But the tools can ever only be tools – none of them can ever replace the One whom they help us to find.

St. Paul has been much maligned over the years. He is regarded by many as a misogynistic conservative. But it is closer to the truth, I think, to acknowledge that whatever else St. Paul was or might have been, at heart, he was a mystic whose own conversion to the Christian faith was rooted in an encounter with the Risen Christ that was difficult to put into words. As Paul himself says, when it happened, he couldn't tell whether or not he was in his own body, and after it was over, he had seen things that were impossible to describe. But the result of this encounter with the Risen Christ for Paul was radical transformation – the kind of transformation that made Paul, the observant Jew, able to say – quite astonishingly – that in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." This leads me to conclude that in Christ, there is also neither conservative nor liberal, Global South or Global North, straight or gay. Rather, there are only human beings made in the image of God, baptized into the Body of Christ, each seeking to be transformed through our own encounter with the Risen Christ. Our life in Christ lies exactly there: in Christ. Not in the Bible, nor even in our tradition. And Jesus reminded his followers many times that life in Christ was often an unpredictable and personally crucifying experience.


After making this post, I ran across this funny cartoon on CartoonChurch.com regarding some of things that divide us, so I'm making this update. ;-)



-ttg

Monday, November 12, 2007

Intelligent Design, Laestadian style?

Growing up in the ALC, we took the book of Genesis quite literally when it came to the story of human origins. I assume this is true for the other branches of Laestadianism as well, since if you have no reason to believe otherwise it is a pretty natural way to read Genesis 1.

Biblical scholar Marcus Borg calls this way of reading the Bible "natural literalism." Prior to the beginnings of modern science in the 1500s, it was pretty normal (although still not a universal practice by any means) to take much of the Bible's descriptions of natural history at face value. Given the high status the Bible holds within the Christian tradition, with little evidence suggesting otherwise, a reasonable adherent would have no reason to doubt that the creation story was anything but a straightforward account.

Since then, many of the sciences and humanities have delivered findings that call older interpretations of the Bible into question. Whether one accepts the findings as true or not, I think everyone can agree that the findings do question older ways of understanding the Bible. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is Darwin's theory. One of the many dividing lines in modern Christianity is between believers who incorporate modern science into their understanding of faith, and those who see science and faith as diametrically opposed to each other.

I think it's safe to say that Laestadians are firmly in the "diametrically opposed" camp. ;-) Ex-Laestadians, on the other hand, run the gamut. I bet we have young earth creationists, intelligent designers, people who just aren't sure, as well as folks who fully accept Darwin's theory reading this blog.

I'd love to hear from all of you.

I'd also like to recommend a Nova episode that will air tomorrow evening on PBS. It might be fun to watch the episode "together" and then discuss it here in the comments. If you don't have access to the television program, PBS has a comprehensive web site full of information. Full details below:

NOVA: Judgment Day: Putting Intelligent Design on Trial Tuesday, November 13th 8:00 PM Eastern Time on PBS (check local listings)

Phillip Johnson, the founder of Intelligent Design, defends his ideas

Defending Intelligent Design


NOVA: Why do you think some people do not accept evolution?

Johnson: I think they see a problem. I don't think it's that they're ignorant. I think that they see that what's being given to them as evolution is less than science in that it hasn't really been proved, and yet it's presented as if it were proved. And on the other hand, it's more than science, in that it contains the whole philosophy behind it, metaphysics as it were.


Biologist Ken Miller defends evolution, and explains his views on why faith and science are compatible

Defending Evolution


NOVA: Where do you come from personally on this topic?

Miller: I think that faith and reason are both gifts from God. And if God is real, then faith and reason should complement each other rather than be in conflict. Science is the child of reason. Reason has given us the ability to establish the scientific method to investigate the world around us, and to show that the world and the universe in which we live are far vaster and far more complex, and I think far more wonderful, than anyone could have imagined 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.


-ttg

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Politics, Laestadian Style

My head was spinning the other day, as I read about Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president. Politics certainly makes for strange bedfellows, as the old saying goes.

At the same time, I couldn't help but think about Laestadians, ex-Laestadians, and how their politics has and has not changed over the years.

Growing up in the ALC, most of my fellow parishioners were farmers and unionized workers who tended to vote for the Democratic party. However those were the decades that saw the rise of the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan, and social conservatives as a voting block. Today I'd be willing to bet most of these folks vote for the Republicans because of their opposition to abortion and gay rights.

As an ex-Laestadian, my own politics has changed over the years as well. As a kid I was a staunch Republican, because I was a social conservative and a fiscal conservative. Questioning the faith of my youth also caused political questioning. I've been a card carrying Libertarian, voted for Ross Perot two times, (I'm a bit embarrassed about the second time) and had a brief flirtation with the Green Party before settling into my current configuration of "votes mainly for Democrats, but is still very fiscally conservative."

I'm supporting Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. On the other hand, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate, I might leave that section of my ballot blank (because of her 'yes' vote authorizing the Iraq war.) So if I'm a Democrat, I'm a conflicted one.

How about you? Has your politics changed with your faith? Do the two inform each other? Do Laestadians tend to vote a certain way, or not at all? If you read this blog from outside of the United States, what is your perspective on the role politics and Laestadianism comes together in your country?

-ttg