Pastoral Theology/Understanding Religion/DB replies

 

The Significance of Water Baptism

    Water Baptism is a significant, liturgical practice in my Church. It symbolizes the work of Jesus in our cleansing through uniting us to His Death, Burial and Resurrection. During the act of baptism we embrace the Gospel message and publicly announce our union with Jesus and His followers. I attend a traditional Black Baptist Church and we believe that Christian baptism is immersion in water of new believers. We baptize in the name of The Father, in the name of The Son and in the name of The Holy Ghost, representing the Trinity. Acts 2:38 says: “And Peter said to them, Repent and be Baptize every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Baptism in my Church is a solemn but celebratory service. The person being baptized is dressed in white to symbolize purity, they are completely immersed in the baptismal pool of the Church. Prior to Baptism new converts meet with the Pastor to ensure their understanding of the commitment they are making. We believe that God desires all of His children to be cleansed from sin through Repentance. Water baptism is representative of death to oneself and rising into a new life in Christ. Baptism during Church is a public declaration of our desire to change our lives and live for Christ. 

    Baptists, historically have believed in full immersion in keeping with the New Testament when John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Matthew 3: 13-17 says: ” Then Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? Jesus replied, Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment Heaven was open 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, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased “. Theologically this is why we (Baptist) practice immersive baptism. 

    Family and Friends are invited and encouraged to be witnesses of Baptismal services. It is a time of celebration of a new life in Christ. The Church Body as a community celebrates along with the new candidate for Baptism, sometimes through tears and always rejoicing in the Lord. My personal favorite hymn that is sung during the procession to the pool is, Wade in the Water. When my Church was established as a congregation in 1776, Baptisms were performed in the James River; because many of the congregants were enslaved and everything was done in secret. Historic First Baptist Church continued to baptize in the James River up through 1956. Baptisms are held once a month if there are candidates: always on a 1st Sunday which is also Communion Sunday.

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Narrating Others-

Determining the accuracy of one’s representation, or that of someone else, of another group or person may be akin to approaching absolute zero. Similar to the linear process of infinitely fractioning towards zero (approaching half the distance, then half of that, and so on), whereby we can never actually reach absolute zero, the process of formulating an “accurate” representation is a ceaseless effort. The dynamic impacts of language, power, world-view, and social structure (to name just a few of the many commonly examined variables) make not much of one’s representation static or immutable. If we accept that formulating a representation is based primarily on one’s own cognitive and social development, then the formulations one creates of those outside the social sphere generally follow the templates provided by that social sphere. It also follows that the formulations one generates for others within that social sphere, especially with regard to identity, can be grossly inaccurate and even contentious (Powell, 2020). The self-stereotyping and universal stereotypes that Hedges discusses (2021, p. 150) also present significant “fractioning” towards absolute zero, that is, towards an accurate representation of the other. Given that any one individual comprises a multitude of identities, as Powell asserts, the formulation one generates can easily become simply a snapshot of a range of identities and representations. The representation thus is prone to misconception in relation to one’s representational templates of another person or group. One’s representation may still be accurate, insofar as the other agrees that it is, but it likely is accurate at given times and places only, and not generalizable to the remaining gamut of identities and roles.

It would seem, then, that garnering an accurate and stable representation is approachable yet unreachable. One can nevertheless embark on the journey of understanding the other and adjusting the focus one places on a given representation. This may require excising oneself from dogmatism and presumptive conclusions along the journey. The Key Jesuit Values can provide a compass for this journey, so long as one continually reflects on the limitations of this compass. Cura Personalis, or caring for the whole person (body, mind, and spirit) and valuing human dignity, serves as the impetus for learning. Magis, or working towards something better and towards excellence, serves as the fuel that maintains the trajectory toward understanding. The pursuit of justice, especially for the poor and marginalized, means promoting a voice for the misunderstood. The Unity of Mind and Heart tie one’s burgeoning understanding to the empathic relations we can establish with others, thereby opening myriad environments in which to come closer to intersectional understanding. Putting these contemplatives into action requires taking the learning and applying it toward further understanding and addressing misconceptions and misrepresentations. Finally, Ignatian Spirituality compels one to find God in all things, which even though is based on the Jesuit conception of God, serves to help one accept the notions and faiths of those not associated or cognizant of Jesuit beliefs. The premise is that all notions and faiths are representations of the Jesuit conception of God, and thus this value serves as the gates through which one can understand the other. With this compass, one can at the very least approach an “accurate” representation. Reaching it may not be possible, but it also may be irrelevant, as the target, so to speak, is continually shifting and always just out of reach.

References

Hedges, P. M. (2021). Understanding religion: Theories and methods for studying religiously diverse societies. University of California Press. 

Powell, A. J. (2020). In A. Possamai, & A. J. Blasi (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of the sociology of religion. Sage UK. 

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Narrating Others-

In our readings and discussions, we have learned that each of us has several identities. This creates a challenge for us when we attempt to understand a group or a person, because we don’t know which version we are seeing. Pulling from the content last week in how to study a religion, we should engage in a similar effort to determine the most authentic version, a potentially onerous endeavor. I propose an alternative method.

We should adorn ourselves with a cloak of charity in our attempts to understand people. This is where we cast aside judgement and bias so that we may be open to new understanding. Per Regis University’s page on Key Jesuit Values, as students, we are to “[explore] new horizons of thought and imagination to pursue truth, strive for justice, and cultivate beauty.” We can only see new horizons of thought and imagination and learn truth if we observe visually and mentally with an objective lens. Contemplation requires that we sit with an idea and not be quick to judge. This gives our minds and spirits time to reflect on new truths.

Cura personalis, or having concern for the whole person, is acknowledging their innate human dignity, which includes their autonomy to make decisions about their lives. Guidance may be provided with love. The acknowledgement of human dignity and maintaining our hearts and minds united, not divided, can provide us with a perspective that we are not so different one from another and likely headed to the same destination, just traveling a different road.

Pastoral Theology/Understanding Religion/DB replies

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