Kevin and I sat down at the café in Albany. I felt relieved to see him. I had this annoying itch that I knew only Kevin could scratch and I was determined to get relief. The itch – “BAPTISM.”
The word had been eating at me since Dorynda casually stuck it up on her power point during a typical pre-sermon announcement one Sunday morning. I was half out of my seat as usual – jazzed by Kevin’s talk – but already lost in thoughts of my day. Kevin’s circle of faith – the one we are to aspire to – seemed like Micronesia on the map of the world – a far off exotic unreachable dot. “BAPTISM” – the word whispered from somewhere within. “BAPTISM” I heard it over and over again in my head. Here it was – the sign I hoped to ignore – the decision I hoped to evade…possibly forever. For a while now I had been having these strange punctuating visions of being dunked and pulled out from a river by a man dressed in white robes. The scene seemed biblical, although I must admit I had never used a bible for anything other than to hold a martini in a hotel room. The visions were in slow motion and seemed visceral. I kept putting them out of my mind; however, when Dorynda put that word on the screen, I got triggered. My mind engaged in an almost schizophrenic conversation. I became flooded with emotions. Could I really be baptized? What the hell is a baptism? My self-deprecating inner voice, smelling a threat to my deeply rooted cynicism and skepticism about anything smelling of religion, took over. I could not ignore it though. An e-mail later and there I was sitting across from Kevin, telling him all the reasons why I should not be baptized.
“Kevin, man, I grew up Jewish.” Kevin’s face didn’t change. “Kevin, I think Jesus was an amazing guy but I can't call him my lord – I don’t even know what that means.” Again, Kevin’s face doesn’t move. “Kevin, while I am a generally a good person, I am often cynical, judgmental, and skeptical. I may never call myself a Christian.” This time, Kevin’s face changes a bit and an inquisitive eyebrow rises.
He asks me, “Why do you want to be baptized?”
“Because,” I say, “I don’t want to be these things anymore. I want renewal. I want to be different, more, faithful, full of love and the desire to serve. I want to reach my full potential, whether it be as a father, romantic partner, professional, or whatever else I am in this life. I want to lift off the weight of all this baggage I’ve been carrying around from my past and be reborn – get a second chance.”
Kevin looks at me with a mischievous glint in his eye. I figured I’ve got him. He is going to tell me he’d sooner baptize a mole rat. Instead, he puts his arm around me, and with the enthusiasm, which I have learned authentically is true Kevin, says something like, “Dude, you are the ideal candidate for a baptism.”
“Jesus f-ing Christ.” I exclaim to myself. See, I told you I shouldn’t be baptized. “Kevin, I hope the water doesn’t boil when I step into it.” He chuckled and I left wondering what I had just done, what I would have to do, and how to get out of it.
Two weeks and 5 unsent e-mails of cancellations to Kevin and Jeanne later, this Jew from Florida, with all his mess, and his hopes, and his big heart, and his desires for a connection with G-D put aside the guilt, the shame, the pain, the self-deprecation, and the trauma of growing up, among other things, the rootless child of children of the holocaust, and stood before this amazing community to be baptized. I was scared, but I was determined, as I am now, to know the truth – that I am loved just as I am and that within me contains the spark that moved all the great prophets of this universe. When Kevin dunked me in the water and said his prayer, I did not come out free of my Pandora’s box – like Houdini escaping from his chains. However, I am no longer the same person that went into that water. I am changed…how…that remains to be seen. To be continued….