At church, a boy about seven years old was baptized. As is custom before a baptism at our church, the media team shows a video of each person talking about their life, why they chose to believe, and why they want to be baptized.
In the boy’s video, he spoke sincerely, and his contagious smile was memorable because he had lost both front teeth. He said several times in the video that he wanted to be “babatized” and talked about how he wanted someone special from out-of-town to “babatize” him.
Turns out, the special person was the boy’s godfather, a young man in his late twenties who could easily pass for a military soldier. Where we go to church, immersion is the mode of baptism, which means going completely under water from head to toe, or maybe if you’re seven years old, getting dunked. As the video played and the boy talked about his life and “babatism”, the godfather walked down the steps into the baptistery water. He was carrying his seven-year old godson, who was holding tightly to his neck with his little legs wrapped around him chimpanzee style.
It was heart warming to see them standing in the baptistery and know the young boy was about to be baptized by someone he loved, admired and respected. On the other hand, if you haven’t baptized someone before, which the young man hadn’t, it could be a little complicated to say the right things while smoothly placing someone under the water.
It’d be even more nerve-racking looking out at three or four hundred people in a formal setting when you’re about to do what you really don’t know how to do. The longer the video went, the tighter the baptizee held on to the baptizer.
Maybe I would’ve held on tight too if the water was over my head, or maybe the little guy couldn’t swim, but it became fairly obvious that he did NOT like being in the water. Unfortunately for him, the video ended and it was show time.
The godfather nervously asked his godson if he believed and the boy answered affirmatively. The godfather continued, “Then I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
At that, he tried to lower the boy into the water, but the boy would have none of it. He held on around his neck even more tightly.
Perplexed, but knowing the boy wanted to be “babatized”, plus the fact that he was the baptizer, he quickly pried the boy away from his neck. Meanwhile the boy, who was stiff as a board, was grabbing for anything and everything and was trying to go anywhere but in and under the water.
For a split second, it was like watching a murder movie on TV when someone is fighting off their attacker just before being submerged and drowned in the water.
The man realized the boy was resisting. He tried to quickly make it all look natural by putting his whole hand over the boy’s face and shoving him under the water. The boy’s arms were still flailing away above the surface, so he shoved him a little bit deeper under water so he would be completely immersed.
Unfortunately, although it’s probably just a technicality at this point, the boy’s legs didn’t go under water at the same time as the rest of him because he was frantically kicking his legs like he was riding a bike. Water was splashing everywhere, and I’m not sure the godfather was aware of it at all, or he may have shoved him a little bit deeper in the water, just to get it right you know.
When he pulled his godson up, the boy immediately went right back to his neck, except this time with a death grip and no one, and I mean no one, was going to pry him loose!!
I wish I could say what happened as they walked up the steps, but quite frankly, I was laughing so hard I didn’t pay attention. Truth be told, it took ten minutes to stop laughing, and since you can’t belly laugh out loud for a long time in church, I laughed quietly until tears were running down my eyes.
I’m sure some little old lady somewhere in the church looked over and saw me crying like a baby and was deeply touched by what Jesus must be showing me. But truth be told, I’m pretty sure at that moment Jesus was belly laughing in heaven too at His new believer’s conundrum!
One of the elder’s went to the podium afterwards to give announcements. Not really knowing what to say after the mercenary baptism, he simply said, “Isn’t baptism wonderful?” which is about like saying right after JFK was assassinated, “Isn’t 115 grain ammunition amazing?” It just didn’t fit!
Later when the preacher spoke, however, he said he loved baptisms, and with a twinkle in his eye, added that today was the most violent one he’d ever seen.
I’ve been thinking about that baptism. First, I’m not sure under those circumstances that I wouldn’t have done exactly what the godfather did, or for that matter, reacted any different if I was the seven-year old boy.
Second, baptism is supposed to be a picture of Jesus’ willing death and resurrection. Somehow, this particular baptism didn’t seem to frame the willing death part, but on the other hand, I don’t think anyone who was there will ever forget it, ever. And you know, isn’t baptism supposed to be a memorable event anyway? And isn’t it supposed to show a changed life? And even after believing, isn’t there always a war between self and service, right and wrong, good and evil that fights in the inside for a lifetime?
The boy’s desire to be babatized was certainly there, but so was his fear of water, and that same inherit battle won’t end after getting dunked….I mean baptized.
The godfather, who apparently watches a lot of professional wrestling, was trying to do good and help. His technique may need tweaking a bit, but his intent was good, pure, sincere. And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be too?
Both are flawed, imperfect humans, just like all of us, and both were trying to do what’s right and good. Yet for believers, there are still internal struggles and mistakes we all make along the way, even after becoming a believer. The fact is, believing doesn’t make us sin free, just spot free.
And one more thing, isn’t baptism a picture of dying to ourselves, even though sometimes we all go down kicking and screaming, even when trying to follow a higher purpose of Jesus?
I laughed so hard later in the afternoon when thinking about the “babatism” that tears came back to my eyes.
But today, today I don’t know. Thinking about that little boy’s baptism today, I see a bigger picture of it all, and of what I’m really like. Now the tears have come back, except this time, for very different reasons.