I like John the Baptist a lot. I would hang with JtB. Love the hair.
I’d want to talk to him about this whole baptism thing. I do appreciate the show biz factor and the dunking. Even so, I’m guessing the Spirit is even more cagey than we might imagine and that baptism is more of an affirming ritual than a spiritual on/off switch. “Hey Baptiser in Chief, if this singular act floods us forever and ever with the Spirit, how is it that sometimes we feel separated? Or is it something more than a hand stamp that lets us into the big God concert? OK, JtB, put that in your pipe and smoke it. Please pass the locusts.”
While I missed JtB by a 20 centuries or so, and Isaiah by a bit more, I had the great fortune to spend an hour and a half with John Dominic Crossan a couple weeks ago as I interviewed him for Living the Questions. He is gracious, engaging, warm and really funny. He has much better table manners and grooming habits than JtB from what I can observe.
I wish, wish, wish I could take credit for the line “…the subtle difference between a baptism and a lobotomy…” but it is 100% Crossan. He was addressing the opening plenary session at Westar in Berkeley when he rolled out that lovely metaphor.
In their ways, I think JtB, Crossan and Isaiah all get it.
Isaiah speaking through time time machine to the Jews of Jesus’ day said “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” That is so active, there is motion and work to it. It even has a sort of double activity implied because first you make the road then you use it to go where you’re headed.
Isaiah, JtB and Crossan are presenting a challenge. An invitation to active, intelligent, purposeful waiting. Don’t let baptism be the last thing. Let it be a call to the next thing. And the thing after that.
So when the nicely-dressed young man sitting next to me on plane (why does this particularly seem to happen to me) asks, “Have you been born again?” I think the answer might be, “All the time. Every day. You?”
It’s not about a moment and a stop sign. It’s about what can I do today? Who am I going to be? What am I being called to? Crossan doesn’t want us to stop thinking when we have that first experience of Spirit. He wants us to keep writing the story. Isaiah wants us to make the way, build the road. JtB knows that Jesus has work to be about. If it was a slam dunk splashdown and ascent into heaven, JtB probably would have been worthy to tie the sandal straps. What makes Jesus powerful in this story is that baptism is where it starts for him. Not where it all starts, but where it starts that day. Baptism is the ritual of opening up. Let loose the dove. Now get down to business.
Our tagline for the Wait Training Darkwood Brew series this Advent is “Heaven is the Road.” As far as I can figure out, it’s close to a line from Bob Dylan’s grandmother. So I’m just going to paraphrase here. “Heaven ain’t down the road to anywhere. Heaven is the road.”
Keep thinking. Keep working. Build the road then walk on it. Tear it up and start over. Make a better road. Prepare the way every day.