Growing Up

“Obsession is a young man’s game”

–Michael Caine in The Prestige

It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go ten years and hardly age a year. It’s a variable process, it turns out. It’s all about what you learn — what you experience in the space of a year. Having said that, I feel I’ve aged more years than I know how to count just in the last 12 months. Little of it is blogworthy, unfortunately, thus the occasional hiatus in posts. Well, some of it may be perfectly appropriate for sharing with the general public, but I just haven’t always had the time or the nerve.

In another movie, Michael Caine calls Idealism “youth’s final luxury.” I don’t know why both of these quotable quotes came from the same actor’s mouth, but they’ve both been in my mind lately. Idealism has always been a close companion of mine, but over the last year or so I’ve had to bid farewell to this dear friend. Life just hasn’t afforded me the room to keep him around.

Take the decision to baptize my third daughter, for example. Several months ago my six-year-old began asking to be baptized because she professes faith in Christ and could see no reason not to make that public. A couple of years ago I baptized my two older daughters in a swimming pool on New Year’s Eve. Back then, we were still meeting with the same house church that we called home for the last decade, and a swimming pool was the most logical location. Now, however, my family and I have joined ourselves to a (very) traditional Baptist church, and the question of baptism has become more complicated.

I wanted to baptize my third daughter myself, just as I had baptized my two older daughters a couple of years before. As her father, and as one of the two people who introduced her to a relationship with God in the first place, it just made sense. But now that we attend a church with more than a thousand members, I have had to come to grips with how things work in that world. In this world, only the ministers do the baptizing. If I want to do it myself, it’s back to the swimming pool — only now, we’re no longer meeting with our house church, so whom do we invite to witness this event?

A month ago I spoke about this with the ministers of the Baptist church we joined. The preacher was gracious enough to agree to let me do the baptizing, right there in the baptistry, despite their usual tradition of “ministers only.” I guess he trusted me and we have some mutual friends, so I’ve got credibility with him. But a week before the baptism I learned that two other fathers spoke with one of the other ministers and were denied this same request after my conversation with the preacher, unbeknownst to him. This was a dilemma. In order to stay true to his word, he was willing to take the heat for letting me do the baptism. But I couldn’t do that to him. In the end I thanked him for his willingness to accommodate but told him I’d just let the guy who usually does it baptize my daughter. That was a very difficult thing for me to do, but I knew I had to do it.

That’s called growing up. Like obsession, idealism is a young man’s game, I think. Lately here alot of my decisions have been about choosing to do what makes sense under the circumstances rather than doing what fits my ideals. Does that mean I’m compromising my values, my beliefs? I dunno. I still believe the same things, still have the same values. I just realize now that I can’t always have things the way I think they should be, not when they affect other people negatively. In the end, the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever demonstrates love. That may or may not coincide with what I think should be done. But that’s where I’m at these days.

Growing up is scary. It involves changing into somebody you weren’t before. It requires putting away the toys of your youth and handling things that weigh more, that can do more damage to more people. I only hope I handle them wisely.

The baptism was yesterday, and it went great, by the way. Both sets of grandparents drove across two frozen states to celebrate this occasion with us, and one friend from our house church even came with two of her children to be a part of the event as well. That meant a great deal to my family, of course. My wife made a couple of great meals for everyone and they all had a good time together. My daughter Catie felt genuinely honored by the whole thing, and she’ll never forget it. Things turned out great, after all.

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16 Responses to “Growing Up”

  1. Bill Says:

    Yea for Catie and everyone else.

    Boo-Hiss for clergy only functioning.

  2. zoecarnate Says:

    This doesn’t happen very often, but – Amen, Bill! πŸ˜‰

  3. zoecarnate Says:

    In light of this, I wonder what you think of this Christianity Today editorial and this response.

  4. Bill Says:

    Thanks for the amen & links, Mike. I’ve felt strongly for a few years that we must realize something critical: Sustainability and longevity aren’t our goals. Institutionalization is embedded in any “change the world” attitude, and both CT writers made good points about that.

    The Life of God can work within institutions, despite institutions, or outside of them. The Laws of Man that prescribe who can and can’t ____ are specifically designed to keep themselves in control, and thus, to keep God from having opportunities.

    Neil made a good choice because things were already proceeding towards the event. If he’d known beforehand, I daresay he’d have done better to go find another swimming pool. As it stands, I trust Catie knows her father did the peacemaking thing, and so did Paul when he shaved his head for brother James. But I don’t think – and neither does Neil for one second, I don’t believe – that submitting to total hierarchialism is more “mature” than free reign.

    It’s an abomination to cast judgments on who is or isn’t qualified to perform baptisms. The absolute worst that could happen (whatever these men are horrified to prevent) would be absolutely nothing but a hot mess of opportunities for God.

    Cole is onto something. If we’re going to be “organic”, we need to plan ahead towards composting ourselves. I’m starting to believe ever more strongly: The dung heap that people continuously make of things may be *intended by God* to provide ongoing fertility for His gardening.

  5. Bill Says:

    The dilemma of my own comment, I now see, boils down to a question:

    Can we have “the mess” peacefully?

    That may be the rub.

  6. zoecarnate Says:

    Well actually I was asking Neil what he thinks of those articles, but I’m glad you chimed in. πŸ™‚

    Yeah, once again I think I’m basically with you. I like Mark Galli – and I take his well-wishing of the organic church movement to be sincere – but I also understand his reticence against idealism. To be honest with you, the first time I read it – with his quote about Neil Cole and organic churches changing the world – I laughed out loud. “‘Changing the world’ was the last thing our stream of ‘organic’ churches was interested in!” But if you substitute ‘revolutionizing the history and practice of church’ with ‘changing the world,’ I think Galli’s critique can still be read profitably by those in our particular ‘stream.’

    With all that said – you stole my metaphor! πŸ™‚ I’ve been ‘preaching’ compost over ‘torch of the testimony’ for a few years now; I think it’s a lot more ‘organic’ for one, and true to the messes of life and history for two. It allows us to approximate God’s all-inclusion on the one hand (it rains on the just and unjust alike), and particularity on the other (there really is something God’s after, and it just might spring up from this composted soil).

    Processing this for my own life: Even though I’m far more interested in liturgical and traditional elements (from the ‘compost’ of our history) than I once was, I’m as opposed to clericalism as I’ve ever been. Even so, I’m not at all opposed to leadership – even strong leadership – anymore. I think you & I would be in similar places with this. Leadership is, it helps, and not everyone is gifted at it. That said, any leadership modeling itself remotely on that of Jesus or even Paul will be continuously giving power away – “You feed them!” “try this!” and not seeking its own self-preservation. Because while we’re not all ‘leaders,’ we are all priests.

    What does this look like, practically? These days I’m drawing inspiration from the 70-year-old Church of the Saviour cluster of churches in the D.C. area, as well as the 30-year-old St. Gregory of Nyssa congregation in San Francisco. Ask me why if you’re interested. πŸ™‚

    • christinyall Says:

      Looks like we’ve got another Morrelloman debate going! Thanks for showing up, guys, and thanks for the links, Mike. I’ll enjoy reading them.

      • zoecarnate Says:

        Actually, Neil, this is the least ‘debaterous’ we’ve been in awhile! I’m stunned. But yeah, I’ll be interested to see what you think of those articles – perhaps it’ll warrant another post. πŸ™‚

      • Bill Says:

        Our ‘debates’ are usually apples v. oranges, anyway.

  7. Bill Says:

    The ‘Torch’ is another issue, but I don’t see it necessarily contrasting to compost. You raise a different conversation here, imho, and a good one worth having (some other time). But I believe you’re thinking of compost on a grand scale, and (at the moment) I was just talking about the year-in, year-out experience of a single local body.

    You’ll like this, too.

  8. brotherjohnny Says:

    “Things turned out great, after all.”

    This, ultimately, is the point anyway.

  9. brotherjohnny Says:

    “In the end, the right thing to do in a given situation is whatever demonstrates love. That may or may not coincide with what I think should be done”.

    This is certainly worth meditating on for a while. Perhaps even for a lifetime.

  10. Organic Church: Full of Crap? « zoecarnate Says:

    […] that most ubiquitous (and some would say, boring) of tribes: Southern Baptists. Reflecting on this, Carter writes: It’s funny how you can age ten years in the space of just one, while at other times you can go […]

  11. Adam Moore Says:

    Wish I could be in a room with all of you to talk about this. Good to read all your thoughts though.

    Peace to you all.

  12. Sarah Says:

    I disagree with Adam completely. I’m so glad I’m not in the room listening to you guys talk about this. Having said that, I love you all madly, and am excited for Catie.

  13. lawdawg23 Says:

    I appreciate the things you’ve been sharing lately, Neil. Thanks for opening up.

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