Sunday, March 08, 2009

Baptismal Covenant

The time changed this morning – Liz and I almost missed the change and would have been late for church. This morning we had some special guests – women from the Plainfield Community Church in Plainfield New Hampshire. The Rev. Suellen Luegers, pastor of the church was our preacher. The women had been here for a week, working in various community outreach programs – some based at St. Mary’s and some nearby. But most important, they brought us quilts which the Episcopal Church Women will give to families in a homeless shelter at the end of our block.

Today we had four baptisms of children – all siblings or cousins. As a result, we got to say the Baptismal Covenant – to my mind the best new thing in the 1979 Prayer Book. We promised, with the help of God,
  • to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,
  • to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord,
  • to to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,
  • to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself,
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

We have a fair number of baptisms at St. Mary’s each year, so we get to renew this covenant frequently.

If you Google “Baptismal Covenant Episcopal” you will find that some on the right hand side of the aisle find that the promise to “respect the dignity of every human being” is problematic. In 2007, Canon Gary L'Hommedieu of the Diocese of Central Florida wrote “What is unarguable is the novelty of the final promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." It is this final promise that distinguishes the 1979 baptismal liturgy from all previous ones, apart from incidentals of language. ... It is the final promise that comprises the spirit of the Baptismal Covenant. Or rather, the final promise IS the Baptismal Covenant. ... Even though the language of [the Baptismal Covenant] is purely abstract and non-specific, it typically finds application that is politically motivated and unabashedly partisan, and invariably to the left.”

Canon L'Hommedieu is spot on, save for one thing. He does not acknowledge, perhaps he does not recognize, that opposition to the “invariably left” application of “respect the dignity of every human being” is also “politically motivated and unabashedly partisan.”

I have only recently become acquainted with the relatively new field of cognitive linguistics and cognitive science in general. Central to that discipline is the discovery that most of human thought and reasoning is not conscious, is based of cognitive frames sometimes called metaphors, and, because we exist in our bodies, is embodied and inextricably tied to our emotions. Most of my reading in this field is in the writings of George Lakoff. Lakoff observes that much of our political, and I would say also religious, thought is informed by the metaphor of the family. Now there are at least two models of the family out there. One is the nurturant parent model and the other is the strict father model.

Very recently I read on some blog or other a definition of politics as being about decision making and a refutation that said no, it was about power and who gets to exercise it. In either case, I think I’m right is saying that the ecclesial and theological perspective of both religious progressives and religious conservatives are politically motivated.

to be continued ...

BTW, tomorrow evening PB KJS is speaking at Columbia University, a few blocks from here, and I intend to be there. I hope to report on what she says.

No comments: