BY: K.J. Lewis
I have a bit of a confession to make. My most pious parts of the day happen in the bathroom. Not when I’m on the toilet, necessarily, though the quotes my housemates have posted on the bathroom door do lend themselves to reflection. After washing my hands, I’ve taken to flicking water at the nearest housemate and shouting, “remember your baptism,” a quirk I’ve chosen to think they find charming rather than obnoxious. I first encountered espurgement (the technical term for getting water thrown at you in the name of Jesus) in January at my mentor J’s church, where I’d been skulking for a couple of weeks. I’d zoned out during the sermon, and I grew up boring Presbyterian, so when I saw J wind up a good pitch to splash that water on the stoic old people, her face scrunched and eyes shining, I laughed far louder than decency allows. She managed to look like a five-year-old who’s getting away with something wild and a priest of the Lord of Hosts at the same time. And then she splashed me, and I was in on the joke, and I considered, very briefly, that perhaps God might not always wreck joy.
This scene has stuck with me for months, so much so that the bathroom tap has become my impromptu baptismal font. I like the playfulness of the act—it instigates water fights, which is a plus—but it also poses a question that at times feels strangely urgent. What does it mean to remember my baptism? Or rather, what does my baptism mean? I know I was an infant when it happened, with a white dress and an ear infection and two cranky, balled-up fists. I know it was an inside job, that my father held me while my mother poured the water. But I don’t remember the moment that I was allegedly received into the kingdom of God. I didn’t sign up for or consent to it. Twenty-four years later I can’t seem to get off the mailing list, but recently the subscription has started to change.
I am used to the Micah 6:8 God. The What Does the Lord Require Of Me God. That’s the God of my growing up, constructed through endless hours of Sunday School, Bible School, church camp, communicants’ class, home. I was told that God loved everyone, and that that everyone included me, but I could read between the lines. God loved me because I was part of the inventory, not because he actually cared. Nothing about me, not my sin or my hope or even my various weirdnesses, was ever going to warrant God’s attention. I wasn’t the exciting, prodigal son kind of bad, and my attempts at goodness were annoying at best. Though I didn’t blame God for the position I was in (I ate the Tootsie Rolls at Halloween too, after all. I understood), I knew there was a sweat equity involved for me to be worth it.
The list of things I did to make God love me is long and pointless to recount. The emotions tied to them are not ones I choose to share. But I came to The Road demanding proof that there was a reason beyond obligation to live, and the kindness I’ve been shown has been, as the Episcopalians say, more than I could ask or imagine. I have wrestled with Demarius and thrown ninja stars at Steve and grabbed at Ryan’s elbows. I’ve sung pop songs with Taylor and walked miles in the rain with Mindy. And when I was ready to either leave this apartment or burn it down, my coworker friends took me to dinner, made art with me, got me drunk, let me talk.
In September, we read a book called Life of the Beloved. Its premise was fairly simple: that every single one of us is beloved by God. I read it in a couple of days and thought the author was full of the same shit I’d heard my entire life. I haven’t looked at it since, and probably never will. But Laura has been with me all year and still says that God loves me. My mentor J has heard the worst of it and says God is resurrecting me as we speak. It has taken me a while to arrive at this position, but they are probably not full of shit.
In my earlier blog post, I ended by saying that maybe books would be what saved me. It’s not been as tidy as that, for sure. I heard someone say that in the Episcopal Church, salvation’s more of a “have been being saved” situation, which sounds about right. This year I’ve experienced a kind of love that’s hard to talk about, and I have feared it and I have rejected it, and I fear and reject it still. But some people have been gentle, and even more have been kind. I’m beginning to think I might come alive.