The two things that pub conversations usually bring up quite quickly with folk who are getting to know me and seeing where I stand on things as a Christian, are whether I know my religious festivals, saints, or other-things-very-religious-people-talk-about, and whether I am as old-fashioned, naive and conservative as they think religious people are.
And once more this week it was true. A German man was slightly shocked I didn’t know his country’s public holidays, which are largely religious festivals. Similarly I still remember the shame of my primary five school teacher as she publicly derided me at the age of 8 for not being able to say the “Our Father” word for word accurately in the translation of the English Bible she had chosen.
Some day, for the sake of loving my friends who value some church’s carefully selected days and Saints, I may sit down and learn them but for now, I’ll happily praise God each day for those who’ve gone before me, both religious and not, who have made this world a better place. (Thus this post was highly unusual and a delightfully “ecumenical matter, Father”)
Whether I am old-fashioned, naive and as conservative as you think religious people are, I’ll leave for you to find out in person. But for now just one more comment that often gets thrown my way:
“Peter, wouldn’t you just love to go to Israel?”
To which, strangely for once, isn’t anything to do with them stereotyping Christians as a right-wing, Israel-supporting (DUP?) people, and more a genuine question that they think I’ll jump at.
“Oh Israel, the land where my God walked! I’d love to go!”
^The line I’ve never said.
And as many Christians run off left, right and centre to go there, why am I not so keen?
Well in all honesty from what I’ve heard from many others, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Lots of guesswork on where exact (fairly unimportant) things were, and for the things that are known, lots of tourist money to be had. And for what reason? To get a feel and experience of where Biblical characters lived and walked. For me, I feel like I’ve had enough theological training and experiences in middle eastern like cultures, that I don’t think I’d come back with any paradigm shift in understanding or experience, but perhaps that’s just my arrogance or naivety.
But more what I was fascinated to know, was that several of my new believing friends were off there to get baptised. To be baptised in the same waters/place that Christ was baptised (they think). To which baffles me given:
- they have largely been baptised already in a faithful Irish church
- the people who are baptising them have no clue who they are, or whether their profession of faith is genuine or not
- baptism is surely a sign of baptism into something…The Church, and so having it isolated from such a local expression of church (elders, deacons, those who will be “one-anothering” each other in future etc), seems bizarre to me
- to do another baptism for the experience of it, makes a mockery of the real thing, which is sufficient and which is there as a lifetime reminder of God’s covenantal love to His (unfaithful) people.
Instead of chasing another spiritual experience like a second baptism, I hope we can:
- enjoy committing to our own church, and letting them enjoy our unity in Christ, reflected in baptism, even when it seems less glamorous. Why not even try chatting with them on why you feel like being baptised again?
- see how you can avail of the spiritual gift of baptism to us, by improving on your baptism! (Now there’s language I don’t often hear used about baptism!) As the authors of the above (linked) post remind us, baptism is not just a cannon that was fired once in life and then sits there rusting as a relic of the past.
So for now, apologies to those who still really want to go to Israel – let me not stop you in that! But when you’re there, please don’t be persuaded that you’ll be more spiritual if you practice certain things over there.