Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tug of War

So I've been thinking about Job a lot this week, no surprise there. And I've been thinking a lot about my daughter this week, turning 14 as she has been doing. And it occurs to me that these two interesect in a sort of interesting way (to me, at any rate) over this question of sinfulness/ righteousness.

When Petra was born, I was in the midst of a snit about baptism. I will explain. I was a second time mother, Larry-O having been born nearly five years earlier, and I had a lot of residue, if you will, from the experience of Larry-O's baptism.

When I was pregnant with Larry-O, I was a 26 year old in the throes of a religious crisis. The church of my childhood (Roman Catholicism) was rapidly losing its ability to feed me. I struggled mightily with all the issues around women in the church-- ordination, reproductive freedom-- and some that were more general human rights/ scripture interpretation issues-- homosexuality, priestly authority. You name it. I was unhappy about it. And my belly was getting bigger. The summer before he was born I remember going to Episcopal services, Quaker meeting... I was looking desperately for a place to feel at home. I asked myself, How can I raise a child in a church in which I am losing faith? But my husband and I were swept up in the tide of events. Translation: my mother-in-law had a Christening gown made for the baby. And so the baptism was scheduled.

My experience of my new baby was that he was utterly perfect. He was born in November, and as the Christmas season came and went, and I nursed and held this beautiful and surprising child, I felt that I got Christmas for the first time, that it was all about the miracle of birth and new life, period. But as we went through with the baptism, I was struck with a sense, somehow, of wrongness. The focus seemed to be on the unworthiness of this child, of his innate sinfulness. It didn't make sense to me. It didn't reflect my experience of my baby. He was perfect.

Fast forward to Petra's birth. I was attending an Episcopal church, which resolved some of my issues (though not all of them), and I was resolved to have her baptized as well. But something else needed to happen. I needed to affirm her goodness, her perfection. Again, I felt that to hold a ceremony saying that, in effect, the womb waters were not sufficient to give her birth, was a terrible denial of her innate goodness as well as my own. So I held a welcoming ceremony for her. I invited a group of woman friends to my home (her dad and Larry-O attended, but they were the only men). I made a little coat of many colors for Petra, and we did readings from women writers, one explaing her name, one by a former professor of mine who bore the same name... we sang, we ate cake, we toasted the woman we hoped she would become, and we wrote blessings in a book (which I gave her last year on her birthday).

I think the same tug of war I felt within myself over the question of baptism is refelcted, once again, in today's lectionary offering from Job, Job 25:1-6; 27:1-6. Bildad asks a question, THE question:

How then can a mortal be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
If even the moon is not bright
and the stars are not pure in his sight,
how much less a mortal, who is a maggot,
and a human being, who is a worm! Job 25:3-6

Is it possible for anyone to be righteous? This veers away from the way I have framed the conversation in earlier posts-- Job's idiot friends assuming he is bad because of what have happened to him-- and towards a much subtler and more real question. Is moral rectitude possible? Really? Who is without sin?

Job has his story and he's sticking to it: he has not sinned.

As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me
and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.
Far be it from me to say that you are right;
until I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go;
my heart does not reproach me for any of my days. Job 27:2-6

It seems to me a different question, then, to ask, "Has Job sinned at all?" Job is claiming total purity, total innocence, total righteousness before God and humanity. But is Job right? Wouldn't Job's position be stronger if he admitted some human frailty? Doesn't everyone sin, at some time or another?

Now I have baptized babies and adults myself, in my duties as a professional religious type. What do I think of that? Have I sold out? Or have I grown up? Here's what I think. I think there is a profound brokenness at the core of humanity. That's what Calvin would call "original sin," though he would have far more colorful language for it. I think we come into this world beautiful but broken. Life bears this out. I am not embarrassed by my earlier attempts to affirm the goodness of my babies. But life-- mine and theirs, and the lives of so many others-- has taught me that, we are all to blame, we all fall short of the glory that God has created us to be.

So. Job is wrong.

At least, that's what I think today.

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