Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pizza Prerogatives

1 Corinthians 1:10-18:

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

“The shortest honeymoon on record.” – Gov. Peter Florrick, The Good Wife

If you don’t live within 100 miles of New York City, you may have missed Gotham’s greatest scandal since Donna Hanover threw Rudy Giuliani out of Gracie Mansion.

Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, was sitting happily in front of a huge pizza at Goodfella’s restaurant in Staten Island. Ignoring unblinking cameras and aghast customers, he anchored the pie delicately with his fork and made a surgical incision with his knife. Leaning politely over the plate, he slid a forkful of oleaginous delicacy into his mouth and began to chew.

“Cue the foodie firestorm,” wrote Michael M. Grymbaum in the New York Times.

“Disaster, declared a writer at New York magazine, citing the longstanding city protocol of devouring pizza, no matter how greasy, with the hands, and the hands only.”

Some journalists declared it de Blasio’s first major mistake, the end of a honeymoon that began when the city’s 109th mayor was inaugurated only days earlier.

Luckily for Hizzoner, passions eventually cooled along with two subsequent snowstorms and sub-freezing weather. Unless he inadvertently extends his pinky while sipping a bottle of Brooklyn Ale, de Blasio should soon weather the crisis.

But, really. What was all the fuss about? Up in Central New York State, where I grew up, people were expected to follow rigid codes of culinary behavior. Peas were eaten with spoons, not knives, and Utica Club was sucked from a bottle, not a glass. Corn on the cob was consumed from left to right, as if it were a typewriter carriage with an imaginary bell reminding you to slide your teeth fluidly back to the left. Persons who shaved the kernels from the cob were shunned. Eccentric behavior was not encouraged in my household.

But we always assumed that New York City, the world’s most cosmopolitan metropolis, a city that thrives on diversity, would welcome infinite varieties of manners and behavior. 

That was always the charm of living in New York: unlimited specimens of race, ethnicity, language groupings, accents, religions, ecclesiastical garb, political persuasions, comportment, and – not least – styles of eating. In New York, people always ask you if you want your bagel toasted or your coffee “regular.” The assumption is that everyone is free to choose.

My hope, then, is that New York will allow its citizens the widest possible latitude when it comes to manners.

Admittedly, that’s a lot to ask. Most of us find it instinctive to align with certain habits, points of view, political parties, or church denominations, and assume – egomaniacs that we are – that we are the normal ones, and people who choose other paths are weird. When I was growing up in Central New York, we strove to conform. We all rooted for the Yankees. We all liked Ike. We all watched Howdy Doody and, later, American Bandstand. We all went to the same church.  Or thought we did.

Actually, we barely noticed that some familiar faces were missing among the kids who attended Sunday School in Morrisville’s United Church. These were the same kids who were mysteriously excused from class on Thursday afternoons to attend something called “religious instructions.” 

These same kids rooted for the Yankees and watched Howdy Doody but there was something about them that was different. Indeed, not all of them liked Ike, which seemed distinctly abnormal, but followed a different persuasion one of the teachers called, “sadly-for-Adlai.”

“Religious instructions” and “sadly-for-Adlai” were our first clues that we were not all the same – that we were, in spite of ourselves, separated into involuntary factions. As much as we wished to be alike, we were – as one of my Sunday school mates put it – “Catholics and Christians.”

Gradually we realized that we were merely the latest manifestations of ecclesiastical divisions that had been going on for 2,000 years, and first documented in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.

There is much about Paul’s epistle that I admire, particularly his inability to remember who and how many he baptized. (“I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.”)

We have no idea how old Paul is at this point, but If he is confessing to senior moments, I empathize. 

But whether his short term memory is failing or not, Paul’s main point is clear enough: there is much more that unites the Christians in Corinth than divides them and that unifying factor is Jesus Christ. (“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”)

Growing up in a small town in Central New York, the differences among Christian sects were not obvious. The clerical collar worn by the Methodist minister was not that different from the priest’s Rabat, and we couldn’t see the difference between Catholic and Protestant kids while we watched Bandstand.

After high school, I joined the Air Force as a chaplain’s assistant and discovered many practices that were, to me strange and unfamiliar: the elaborate vestments donned by the priest to say mass, the smell of incense, or the deep reverence for the tiny wafer that was, for some, the physical body of Christ.

Years later, when I worked for the World Council of Churches, the apparent differences among the wide variety of Christians began to coalesce for me in a profound way.

The epiphany moment came one evening in Geneva, Switzerland, as I sat in the home of a Methodist minister from Sri Lanka. Gathered in the living room were a Canadian Methodist, a New Zealand Anglican priest, a Cuban laywoman, an Orthodox metropolitan dressed in black robes with a dazzling golden icon of hanging from his neck, and a Mar Thoma bishop with a long gray beard dressed in pink robes. (We called him the Pink Panther, an epithet that seemed to please him.) 

The host called on the Mar Thoma bishop to say an opening prayer. We bowed our heads, and with a lilting Indian accent, the bishop prayed as I had heard Christians pray all my life:

“God, our heavenly father, we ask you blessings on this group of Christians gathered from near and far to seek and do your will. We ask that we may be given opportunities to serve you by serving the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the imprisoned, the desolate. Open our hearts and give us courage to speak love to the despised and truth to power, and to be prepared to sacrifice our comfort, our fortunes, and our lives if you call us to special service. We pray in the name of Jesus, our savior, who unites us in a common bond of love. Amen.

If I still had vestiges of prejudice that Christians had insurmountable differences, the bishop helped me wash them away.

Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and theologian, puts the differences between Christians in perspective.

“There are some genuine differences between them, of course,” Buechner writes. “The methods of church government differ. They tend to worship in different forms all the way from chanting, incense, and saints' days to a service that is virtually indistinguishable from a New England town meeting with musical interludes. Some read the Bible more literally than others. If you examine the fine print, you may even come across some relatively minor theological differences among them, some stressing one aspect of the faith, some stressing others. But if you were to ask the average member of any congregation to explain those differences, you would be apt to be met with a long, unpregnant silence. By and large they all believe pretty much the same things and are confused about the same things and keep their fingers crossed during the same parts of the Nicene Creed.”

When it comes to variations of faith and practice, I like to say, vive la difference.

I love the many styles of Baptist worship, with their various levels of octane and energy.

I love the poetic liturgies of Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Eucharistic services.

I love the cadences and rhythms of holy liturgy in Orthodox Christian services.

I love the infinite varieties of worship around the world, and smile when pastors of the Church of South India declare, “Christmas is hot and humid where we live, but still we sing, When in bleak, mid-winter.

I love the practice of reciting the Lord’s Prayer in gatherings of the World Council of Churches when 300 churches from a hundred nations are represented and people are invited to pray in the first language they spoke. The Pentecostal mergence of languages, voices, accents, is a powerful reminder that we all have one message, one creed, one Lord.

Buechner sums it up:

“When Jesus took the bread and said, ‘This is my body which is broken for you’(1 Corinthians 11:24), it’s hard to believe that even in his wildest dreams he foresaw the tragic and ludicrous brokenness of the church as his body. There's no reason why everyone should be Christian in the same way and every reason to leave room for differences, but if all the competing factions of Christendom were to give as much of themselves to the high calling and holy hope that unite them as they do now to the relative inconsequentialities that divide them, the church would look more like the Kingdom of God for a change and less like an ungodly mess.”

Paul asks pointedly, Has Christ been divided?

Buechner asserts that the only things that divide us are relative inconsequentialities.

And the single purpose that brings together all the 2.20 billion Christians on earth is this: to proclaim the gospel ... so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Big Mike and Little Mike

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

... For in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you…

Paul seems to be indulging in a bit of public relations hyperbole with the church in Corinth. 

The church members may have been enriched in every way, but they’re not as perfect as Paul makes them seem in the opening paragraph. 

Later he reminds them of their spiritual immaturity and complains about their divisions and arguments. But certainly they are better people than they would have been without Jesus. Each of them – like Paul – can recite the oft-quoted prayer: “Im not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I was.”

This weekend, as we commemorate the 85th birthday of our fellow American Baptist, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., these thoughts are worth pondering.

Looking back on his ministry, we thank God for Martin’s moral and rhetorical genius. In every way, he was clearly enriched by Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind, and used his testimony of Christ to give divine authority to the Civil Rights movement. He gave direction and cohesiveness to the campaign to remove legal impediments to justice and to diminish the racism that demeaned the American dream. His intellect, his courage, his eloquence, and his grit combined to make him one of the great figures of the 20th century.

It is entirely appropriate that we have engraved his image on postage stamps and carved larger-than-life stone monuments to his memory.

But as we celebrate his 85th birthday, let’s also allow ourselves a moment to regret that in making him a cold granite figure, we have lost contact with the warm, passionate, and often imperfect humanity of the man. 

When I started work at the American Baptist Churches offices in Valley Forge, Pa., in 1971, I worked with many people who had known Martin, marched with him, strategized with him, sat on platforms with him, and befriended him. 

As I listened to stories of Martin, I quickly noticed everyone had a different view of him. Even today, if you talk to some of the old ladies at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, they will happily regale you with unique stories no one else knows. “Let me tell you,” they will say, leaning close to your ear, “Martin’s favorite hymn was, ‘Amazing Grace.’” But don’t write that down. The next old lady will get a far away look in her eye and say, “I remember Martin telling me how much he loved, ‘Be Not Dismayed whate’er Betide, God Will Take Care of You.’” And later, as, you sit down in the old fellowship hall for dinner and ask your hostess if she knew Martin, she’ll reply, “Oh, my yes, and he once confided to me that his favorite hymn was, ‘It is well, It is Well, With My Soul.’”

It makes one wonder how many people historians have interviewed when they write their books. The one fact about Martin than I’m sure of, because empty bottles of it are prominently displayed among his personal effects in the MLK museum, is that he liked Aramis cologne. 

Baptists who knew him well remember he also liked to play pool and, when he was with Baptists willing to conspire with him, he sipped Dewars whiskey on the rocks. He smoked True cigarettes. He had stepped out on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel to have a smoke when he was shot in April 1968. 

Reminiscences among my American Baptist colleagues are varied. My first boss, Dr. Frank Sharp, who was head of American Baptist News Service in the seventies, regarded M.L. as “a difficult celebrity,” in part because it was Frank who negotiated with Martin’s staff to get him to last-minute meetings and hastily scheduled press conferences on time, an almost impossible task. Dr. William Scott, ABC executive minister in Buffalo, met Martin shortly after the successful resolution of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and wrote in his diary, “He is young and inexperienced and in no way prepared for the leadership that is about to be thrust upon him.”

Dr. William T. McKee, the first African American to head a national American Baptist program board, was responsible for supervising me as director of communications for the ABC, and I would spend hours in Bill’s office as he tried to keep me out of political trouble. 

Bill, who grew up in Berean Baptist Church in Brooklyn, knew Martin well and often got tears in his eyes when he talked about him. When Bill served on the national staff of the ABC Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board (MMBB) in New York, he was often in contact with Martin England, a white MMBB staff member in the ABC of the South. 

Both Bill and England were concerned that Martin Luther King had no life or health insurance, and they both pressed him to sign up for MMBB benefits. According to Bill, Martin kept putting it off but finally agreed to sign the application form in 1963, five years before his death. Bill’s eyes would overflow when he talked about that. “If he hadn’t, his wife and children would have had nothing,” he’d say. I heard the story often.

“I called him Mike,” Bill would say quietly, almost as if no one else was in the room. It was from Bill that I learned that Martin and his father had been named Michael King when they were born, and the elder King changed it to Martin Luther King, in part to satisfy the last request of a dying grandfather. But close friends continued to address the two by their original names. Insiders knew them as Big Mike and Little Mike. This is not a secret, of course, but neither is it widely known.

Martin was assassinated in 1968. My kids, all of whom were born after 1976, tended to think of him as a distant historical figure, lost in the archival dust along with Frederick Douglass and Thomas Jefferson. Even before my hair began to thin out and fade to gray, though, the kids suspected I was old enough to have encountered some of these old-time figures. But they figured they had really underestimated my age when they asked if I had known Martin Luther King, Jr.

“No,” I replied. “But I knew his father.”

“His father?” None of the kids ever challenged that. They always had trouble figuring out when I was making things up. They still do.

But I did know Daddy King. He remained a loyal American Baptist all his life and attended many ABC biennial meetings when I was on the staff. One time I stood behind him in the J-K line at the registration tables and listened to a young African American woman on the other side of the table ask his name.

“Martin Luther King Senior,” he said, carefully accentuating each syllable.

The young woman giggled.

“No,” she said nervously. “I really need to know your name.”

I was standing behind him, looking at the back of his large gray head, so I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or not. But he did make it clear he was not teasing.

“Young lady, I am Martin – Luther – King – Senior. And I am quite sure of it.”

The chastened young woman handed him a registration card, and the great man wandered away.

I was invited by an ABC colleague to have coffee with Daddy King during that meeting, and not long afterwards The American Baptist magazine interviewed him for an anniversary story honoring his son. He sat serenely at his desk and opened letters with a silver knife as he answered questions. His voice was so deep and cavernous that a staff writer and I argued whether to compare it to “pebbles falling on a tin roof,” but we decided that would be disrespectful. We reported that his voice was “deep.”

We probably asked him questions he had heard before. We asked if he was bitter following the murder of his son and the loss of other family members, and he quoted the King James Bible: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” 

I don’t recall the exact year of the interview, but it was after Daddy King had lost a second son, A.D. King, who died in a swimming pool accident in 1969; and after and his beloved wife, Alberta, playing the organ in Ebenezer in 1974, was shot by a deranged man who had planned to shoot her husband. 

The elder King’s quiet grace and determined forgiveness were almost super human and a marvel to those who witnessed it.

If you talk with aging members of Ebenezer Baptist Church today, there is one thing on which they all agree: Martin Luther King, Sr., was the model of love and the harbinger of justice that molded his oldest son into the singular civil rights leader he became.

Baptists who attended the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ebenezer Church in April 1968 have many stories to tell: how President Lyndon Johnson sat frowning and drenched in sweat in the middle of the congregation, or how Ralph Abernathy saw Bobby Kennedy in the rear of the church and went to the microphone to invite him to the front. 

But many remember a more private moment, when Daddy King saw his son lying in the coffin for the first time. Daddy King began to weep and reached out to his son – some say it was if he was trying to wake him up – and whispered, “He never hated anybody. He never hated anybody.”

Daddy King worshipped at Salem Baptist Church in Atlanta on November 11, 1984. Later that same afternoon he suffered a heart attack and died at 5:41 p.m.

I don’t know what his last words were, but when I heard he died I thought of his four word eulogy for his eldest son: “He never hated anybody.”

What better way to sum up a life? Probably none of us would be comfortable with the opposite assertion, “He loved everybody.” Who among us is capable of that? Even if we have been spared the violent deaths of loved ones, who among us have not experienced insult, bigotry, unfairness, intolerance, xenophobia, sexism, ageism, or discrimination? There are simply persons who cross our paths who are unlovable. And perhaps the hardest commandment of Jesus is to love our enemies. Chances are we cannot, if we are honest, claim that we love everybody.

But with God’s help, it may be possible to get through the snares and thorns of life without hating anybody. That would be grace indeed.

Martin Luther King – Junior and Senior – never hated anyone. But more than that: each had cultivated the divine spark which is planted in all of us but nurtured by few of us. 

Daddy and Martin King had what Jesus bestows: the power to live lives of purpose, a power so vivid that it inspires directionless persons to breathe life into their own divine spark, setting them on the path to faith and endowing that faith with an unwavering moral purpose.

Millions were inspired to a higher moral purpose by the example of Martin Luther King – Junior and Senior, Big Mike and Little Mike – and because they lived, the world is very different than the world into which they were born.

But today’s world is still imperfect, and God is still calling each of us to continue the march that was enhanced so powerfully by Big Mike and Little Mike, and not so long ago.

Like them, we seek to be enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind, praying Christ will strengthen us so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift: especially the gift of humanity, and the grace to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Impossible Standards of an Impartial God

God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34b-35

How disappointing we creatures must be to an impartial God.

God loves each of us with an intensity we cannot comprehend, and it makes no difference to God who or what we are: 

black, white, brown, 
fat, skinny, 
male, female, 
Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, 
young, old, 
liberal, tory, 
gay, straight,
ballpoint doodler, or cybergenius.

It doesn’t bother God if we have a criminal record, and it doesn’t impress God if claim sainthood.

God shows no partiality. Anyone who loves God and does what is right is acceptable.

So, to repeat, how disappointing we must be to God. Most of us base our judgments against one another on the very variances God ignores:

black, white, brown, 
fat, skinny, 
male, female, 
Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, 
young, old, 
liberal, tory, 
gay, straight
ballpoint doodler, or cybergenius.

If we look at someone long enough, we quickly discover traits we don’t like.

I’d like to think humanity is growing out of this tendency to pre-judge others with prejudice. But there’s little hope we will ever achieve godlike impartiality.

My fall and winter reading has focused on generation of my parents, the stalwart individuals Tom Brokaw calls The Greatest Generation.

In his 1998 book, Brokaw praises the generation of the Great Depression and World War II as having gone “well beyond the outsized expectations” of President Roosevelt’s declaration that “this generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

“The young Americans of this time constituted a generation birth-marked for greatness,” Brokaw wrote, “a generation of Americans that would take its place in American history with the generations that had converted the North American wilderness into the United States and infused the new nation with self-determination embodied first in the Declaration of Independence and then in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Brokaw continued enthusiastically:

“It may be historically premature to judge the greatness of a whole generation, but indisputably, there are common traits that cannot be denied. It is a generation that, by and large, made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices. It is a generation of towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order. They know how many of the best of their generation didn't make it to their early twenties, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war the world has seen.”

There is no question there were – are – remarkable women and men in this generation. This fall I transcribed my father’s World War II diary (www.bunadiary.com) and was stunned by how casually he and my mother accepted grim wartime responsibilities. They were precipitously married 20 days after war was declared and were separated for three years: Dad was a combat lieutenant in the Pacific Theater, Mom was a laborer in a war plant near Oneonta, N.Y. They never complained about being thrust into a dire situation over which they had no control. They accepted it stoically and, when the war was over, did their best to resume their lives. When my four siblings and I were growing up, Mom and Dad seemed like ordinary folks struggling to make ends meet in a small town. Now that they are gone, it’s a bit of a surprise to realize how heroic they were. Looking back, it’s easy to romanticize the Greatest Generation as having fulfilled FDR’s soaring destiny.

It’s a shock that not everyone feels this way. A few years ago I was preparing a webpage to commemorate the high school graduation of my class, the Class of 1964. We were the very first of the baby boomers, and I included this motto: “The Greatest Generation Gave Us Our Baths.”

I was surprised when one of my classmates – a Vietnam veteran and government official – complained. “Let’s not get carried away,” he said. “You might as well say, the greatest generation wiped our asses.”

I grew up with this guy but have no idea what Oedipal issues he may be suffering.

As I read several accounts of the Second World War and the Great Depression, however, his words kept coming back to me. The more one reads, the murkier the Greatest Generation’s heroism gets.

For one thing, the generation was distressingly racist, classist, and bigoted.

This was the generation that prevented President Roosevelt from introducing anti-lynching legislation because he feared southern politicians and their racist constituents would stop supporting New Deal legislation.

This was the generation that showed its indifference when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 to sent 110,000 Japanese Americans to “relocation camps” after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This was the generation whose anti-Semitism caused the government to turn blind eyes to the murder of six million Jews in Europe, and to resist raising immigration quotas for Jews who were desperate to escape certain death in concentration camps.

This was the generation who refused to serve on an equal basis or in the same outfit with African American troops and war workers.

This was the generation that seemed utterly out of touch with the startling message in Peter’s sermon: God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

To be frank, the Greatest Generation was no worse than the generations that preceded them. And the Baby Boom generation has not done much better. For the most part, we are stalwart paragons of partiality. 

Unfortunately, the church has not improved us much. As Martin Luther King said decades ago, the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 a.m. Sunday morning, and not much as changed. 

In our own denomination, congregations argue endlessly over whether to declare themselves Welcoming and Affirming Baptists – that is, people who welcome everyone into their sanctuaries, regardless of age, gender, race, language, national origin, economic status, or sexual orientation. 

Clearly, this is a debate Jesus settled with his first human breath. All Christian churches are Welcoming and Affirming. And if they are not, they are not Christian churches.

Looking back over the centuries of human partiality and bigotry, it seems an impossible task to change our obstinate human ways and extend a welcoming heart to everyone.

But Jesus has come to make the impossible possible.

The Gospel Lesson selected for today, Matthew 3:13-17, gives us a sense of the power for change Jesus introduced into our stolid human lives:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus went to John for Baptism not because he needed the life-giving waters, but to demonstrate the power for change that could be tapped through this mundane act. It was a symbolic act as mundane as bathing, but when Jesus did it, the very heavens opened up.

All of us who have been baptized know it is not a magical ceremony that turns us from sinful bigots into lovers of all humanity. 

Baptism, indeed, does not take away all our sin forever.
But baptism does open the doors of our hearts to sense God’s power of transformation. And because of baptism, we know we will never be far from that power or grace when we need it.

“Baptism consists of getting dunked or sprinkled,” Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking.   

“Which technique is used matters about as much as whether you pray kneeling or standing on your head. Dunking is a better symbol, however. Going under symbolizes the end of everything about your life that is less than human. Coming up again symbolizes the beginning in you of something strange and new and hopeful. You can breathe again.”

That something in you that is strange and new and hopeful is the potential to comprehend why God is loving and impartial to all, even to those persons and races and nations our human hearts cannot stand.

“God shows no partiality,” Peter said, “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

We see the reason for that in following Jesus’ example in baptism. 

Peter added, “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all.”

And in baptism, Jesus points us to the power of loving our fellow human beings with an impartiality that will win the heart of our loving and impartial Creator.

Whether we tap into that power, of course, is entirely up to us.