When I wrote the first entry titled “Why I Became a Baptist“, I never dreamed that I would write “Part 2”. But after the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I’ve made over the course of my life, and in particular, this specific choice.
You see, it has been a pretty busy couple of weeks for me, what with committee meetings and concerts and a whole host of activities that have kept me running hither and yon, as my mother would have said. By the time I finished everything that I had to do on Sunday and finally found myself at home, sitting in my own living room, I felt like I had been threading an obstacle course a million miles long. I was tired, no, I was exhausted…that kind of exhausted where your body wants desperately to rest but your mind won’t let it. I knew that I would not be able to face any serious activity for the next couple of days, but I didn’t care.
I didn’t care. That’s right. Because, despite the exhaustion and the stress and the sense of running for weeks, there was something else: I was happy and I was, believe it or not, at peace.
Sunday was a big day in the church year at the Calvary Baptist Church — it was Stewardship Sunday. I remember my first Stewardship Sunday at Calvary….the sight of all those people getting up and coming forward to offer their gifts to God in honor of their community of faith was so moving, I had never seen anything like it.
In fact, most of my memories of the stewardship season from the church of my youth were instead memories of my parents desperately trying NOT to be at home on the Sunday evening when the Pastor, his wife, and members of the stewardship committee were scheduled to make their annual visit to our living room to deliver “the envelope box”. Don’t misunderstand, my parents were regular tithers and the 10% came off the top no matter what else was going on in our world. I can still hear my mother’s voice as she wrote the checks each week: “Pay God first, then yourself, then, everone else.” But truly, despite that belief, the only thing moving on those stewardship days of old was my family — out the back door, into the car and to the nearest local restaurant for dinner.
I digress, well, a bit. Anyway, last Sunday was Stewardship Sunday at Calvary: we brought our pledges and committments to the altar, we had our fall quarterly business meeting and, well, we had our annual Stewardship Pie Contest.
A weird thing happened. I won.
Yes, I won the pie contest. I have never entered before but this year I was inspired by a recipe in the magazine Eating Well and the fact that, well, someone very close to me was in charge of organizing the competition and was worried there wouldn’t be enough pies. So I did something that I hadn’t done in years: I made a crust from scratch, I rolled it out with a rolling pin, made the filling, and baked a pie.
It was, a truly weird and wacky ending to a very intense week, a week that I started by singing a concert on the Dumbarton House series and ended by winning a pie contest.
So, you might by now be asking yourself, just what does this have to do with being a Baptist? Many churches have pie contests and cake walks and pancake breakfasts and spaghetti suppers (although quite possibly not many located in the heart of urban Washington, DC) — those activities aren’t specifically Baptist. And most churches have committee meetings too, although the quarterly business meeting is a pretty Baptist thing to do with one’s Sunday afternoon. Why did I start thinking about why I became a Baptist?
Because, in my moment of exhaustion and exileration, I realized that what I felt most strongly was: free. Since coming forward, since being baptized, since being licensed, the overwhelming feeling is: I am free. I am free to worship and praise according to my calling; I am free to give life to all the whacky and incongruent parts of me that work together in praise of God’s creation; and I am free because I have found a community of faith that, well, even if they dont’ understand all those parts, they are willing to let them express and grow and well, just be.
And I realize that so much of that freedom comes from a community structure that embraces the Baptist distinctives:
- Soul freedom, or belief that the soul is competent before God, and capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body
- Church freedom, that is, the freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian
- Bible freedom or the knowledge that the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and biblical study available to the individual
- Religious freedom, or the firm conviction that the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion.
No other attempt to express or embrace and live my faith has so inspired me and so comforted me.
Because of my choices of the last few years, I am free in the knowledge that I belong to God, and that you belong to God, and that all of Creation belongs to God.
Because of my choices of the last few years, I am free, and I am at peace. And sitting there, in my living room, in my arm chair, I finally knew it. For these things and for all the people who have helped me learn them, I am grateful.