Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A dunk without trunks

One Wednesday night in September of 1982 I was baptized. In the church of Christ you are baptized when you reach the ambiguous age of accountability. No one "tells" you it's time to get baptized you just come to know it. Much like salmon know instinctively to swim upstream at just the right time, church of Christ folks just know when to get baptized. My story of course involves many, many awkward moments peppered with intense fear. Most children tell their parents they are thinking about it, talk to their teacher or preacher--not me too awkward. How on earth could I let someone know that I was thinking something so intensely personal and draw attention to myself. I just couldn't do it.
Wednesday night's at Hillcrest meant many things. First it meant going on an hour long bus ride on the gospel chariot. My Dad drove Gospel Chariot #3. The Pope rides in a Mercedes--church of Christ kids in a 1962 converted bus painted green. This bus was near death and the fact that we made it to and from the church each week was truly amazing. The heater never worked and air conditioning was lowering the windows that had not rusted shut. All of the seats were metal frames with screwed on upholstered cushions. Most of the cushions vinyl was peeling, cracking, or exposing it's guts. There is an unavoidable urge to pick at the foam on the seat and leave the bus peppered with the debris of your obsession. We picked up the Gage kids, Reynolds, and five other kids. The Gage's and Reynolds were related, both lived in deplorable conditions and always unclean, unkempt, and somewhat smelly. The Reynolds smelled of clabbered milk and sweat, the Gage's smelled of bacon fat and clabbered milk mixed in with a top note of sweat. There were five Gage children and six Reynolds coupled with the five other children and we were loaded.
Wednesday night also meant abandoning our post on the North side and attending "the other side" of the building. We always sat, South side sixth pew from the front right by the first huge buttress that held up the roof. On Wednesday night you went straight to class followed by a devo, song, and prayer. By the time we returned to the building to park the bus it was pushing 9:00 p.m.
This particular Wednesday night in September we were standing to sing the invitation, you always stand to sing the invitation in the church of Christ for some reason, and I found myself inching past my Dad, Grandma, and Mom to go forward. I can remember thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm doing this, everyone is looking at me, maybe I should just jet to the bathroom--God I can't let people know I go to the BATHROOM! I'll just get baptized." As I made my way to greet the preacher, Don, He smiled and sat me on the front pew. "What's on your mind, son?" "I am ready for baptism." "You are?....Well do you believe that Jesus is the son of God?" "Yes, I believe that." "Well, then that's all it takes." Song sung, Don stood up. "Be seated, tonight we are thrilled that this young man...[quick look to see who this was again] Bill- I mean Will is coming forward to confess his faith and surrender to the Lord in baptism." That's when it hit me--I was prolonging a service!
Baptisms meant at least three more songs, a prayer, and the actual dunking. I was always a little miffed that it took so long and didn't end on time and here I was the miffer. As the congregation began to sing the first of two "get ready" songs Don said," son just go back there and in to the closet and get ready. When you are ready just climb the stairs and we'll get you baptized." O...K...what door? What room? What do I do? I found the room, which was the custodial closet. Saw the baptism garment and stood there staring at it. It was a vinyl, plastic stiff jumpsuit all white. I didn't know much but I did know that when things get wet that are white you may as well not be wearing anything at all.
As I began to get undressed I realized the this jumpsuit didn't come with underwear. I couldn't get baptized without underwear, but if I did wear my underwear I wouldn't be able to wear them home which I couldn't go commando! What to do...What to do...second song is almost over and I am not even dressed yet. Oh Lord...what to do? I finally decided to go commando in the jumpsuit. Oh Lord, Lord, Lord I was getting baptized completely naked and without underwear!
The baptism water was very warm, like tub water. And when I stood in the water no one could see me because I was too little. Don said a bunch of stuff about sin and how everyone is a sinner bound for hell unless they do like me and get baptized. He squeezed my neck, asked me the same question about my belief in the Lord and then slammed me into the water. Up I came a new creature. A wet, naked, child of God with a super soaked white jump suit showing off all my creation!
After I got dressed and made my way outside there was a crowd of people standing around waiting to hug my neck. I did not want that kind of attention. I remember one guy hugging me and crying on my shoulder. He had a huge wad of skoal in his mouth and was infecting my breathing space with skoal funk. It was so disgusting. I can still remember his nasty skoal breath and tobacco stained lips with the tiny bits of tobacco in the corners of his mouth and hanging from his untrimmed mustache. The rest were kids and the old lady's of the church who were hugging me. I really wished every lady in the church wore the same cologne because when they all come onto one person they do not make a good smell--better than skoal breath though.
Had I known the kind of attention this very personal, between me and God, event would have brought upon me I would have held off until my death bed. That one event caused me to be a designated prayer give in class at family dinners, serve communion on Sunday night, work on Saturday at the church with the other "men" of the church. Holy Cow it was a huge thing to be baptized. Geez!
To this day I do not baptized people that I don't warn them to bring trunks for the dunking.


Tracy said...

i'm reading all this stuff and i'm thinkin - the pope has a mercedes and aren't i glad we catholics get baptised as babies. rotflol