We baptized my nephew Markus on Sunday. It has taken a while for us to get our act together and make this happen; Markus is two years old now, old enough to treat the special baptismal candle like a birthday candle, and attempt to blow it out every time it was brought near him. He isn’t as old as his godfather was when he was baptized. That godfather in question would be me, and I was a fifth-grader when I finally got the holy water cross on my forehead. The backstory on my own late baptism, as I remember it: my family was never religious while I was growing up. Things changed in fourth grade, when the Yonkers public schools were rezoned, and my parents reached the end of their patience with said public schools. Plans were made to send me to St. Mark’s Lutheran School for the fifth grade (it’s still one of the best schools I’ve ever gone to, and I’ve gone to many), and we started attended church as a kind of preparation. Once I started Lutheran school in earnest, we went ahead and did the baptism, with confirmation following close behind. Markus’s backstory, while interesting in its own right (and I won’t go into any of it, largely because it involves me failing to make the plans) boils down to something pretty simple: no one involved with the process is particularly religious.
In fact, towards the end of the service at which the baptism took place, a microphone was passed around to all the “guests and newcomers” in the house–a group which was entirely made up of my family (also interesting to note: we were the only Puerto Ricans there outside of the Pastor, who is my uncle, and the reason we chose this church in the first place). So the microphone starts with me, and I introduce myself, and we’re also asked to name our home church, and I’m like…”uh,” so I saw “I currently don’t have a home church.” And of course, predictably, everyone in our crew says the same thing, except for my cousin and his wife who have a daughter in private school, so they could conveniently call up that name, and my aunt, who said she did not have a home church but “God is right here,” gesturing to her heart and drawing mockery from the rest of us for the rest of the day. Ass-kisser.
But here’s the thing: I spent a good part of the last half of the service (the loooong service) holding Markus on my lap and talking him through what was going in. I told him about the communion, and I even took him up for communion, and I even…wait for it…took communion myself for the first time in at least ten years. And then when we did the Lord’s Prayer, I said in into his ear, trying to teach it to him, I guess. What was interesting about the whole thing to me was that I didn’t feel especially religious in the moment. I didn’t feel like I was beginning the stewardship of this little guy’s relationship to God–I mean, I’m Agnostic at best, Atheist at worst, and religion, as a rule, is something that doesn’t sit all the well with me. That’s not changing. The issues I have with religion–organized religion of any kind–are major and fundamental and certainly not going to change.
But there’s the thing, the thing religion does super well, and it’s what I look for in theater and church and sports and bars and education and everything, really: community. I recognize that the value in getting up early and going to church is in the fact that EVERYONE is getting up early and going to church, and doing it together, and being together to share ritual, to share space. And for me, being there with my family, especially when it was pretty clear that none of us were all that invested in the service itself, had a special appeal to it.
So I’m glad we did it, and I’m glad we did it when we did it, and it was nice to be in a church for it all. But I think I’m good for a while now.