Baptized to Ask Questions

19th Century Baptism. Willisville, Illinois

Raised in the American Baptist denomination, it was up to me to declare that I felt led by God’s spirit to be ready for baptism.

“Who wants to give their life over to Christ?” The pastor asked at the end of worship. He seemed to study each member of the congregation.


I do!

Actually, it was a version of, “We do!” My older sister and I, probably after a few minutes of intense discussion (before scurrying outside to play) had decided to get holy and wet.

Which meant standing up in church when the pastor asked who would follow Jesus.

Which meant taking a class to prepare for the big day.

Which meant we’d eventually find ourselves on the other side of the expansive red velvet curtain hiding the baptismal pool from the pew view. Full immersion, baby! Continue reading →

A Vote For An Angel

People are not taught how to deal with the death of a baby. Friends and family often don’t know what to say. Most people expect the parents, especially the father, to return to work within a few days and be ‘back to normal’ within a matter of months, but the death of a baby changes parents forever . . .

_7903271As I finished a call and cradled the phone, an unfamiliar woman entered and then quickly exited my co-worker Lori’s office. The woman had been carrying a rectangular object. I knew Lori* had left for hospital visit and wouldn’t return for several hours. What had been delivered in her absence? Curious, I eased across the hallway and stopped at the door’s threshold to peer inside.

I gulped. Now I knew what had been brought for my colleague:  a coffin the size of two back-to-back shoeboxes, its exterior elegantly wrapped with soft, padded fabric.

For the last few years, I’ve worked part-time at Hinds Hospice as a so-called Bereavement Support Specialist. Trust me, I’m not much of a specialist in anything, but my employers had to concoct a title for my duties. The part of Hinds where I’m employed is The Center for Grief and Healing and Angel Babies. The diminutive coffin had been brought to Lori’s office by the person who had built it because of the final two words in The Center’s name . . . Angel Babies.

My bereavement work is exclusively with adults. I make follow-up calls to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When a sister or grandparent or father or aunt has died under Hinds Hospice’s care, we make sure those who are grieving know they’re not alone. Not only do we call folks, but we also send monthly letters and sponsor various workshops and conferences throughout the year. Additionally, I lead grief support groups and do a variety of “this” and “that” for The Center.

But I don’t work with the ones who’ll use the handmade coffin waiting in my colleague’s office; I don’t deal with the parents who have, or will soon, experience their baby’s final breaths. I like to think my work with adults struggling with loss allows my colleagues to have more time to care for parents grieving the death of a precious infant. Continue reading →

An Awkward Silence, Please

Isaiah 6:1-8 – First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Trinity Sunday – for June 3, 2012

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar…” (Isaiah 6:6)

Most Bibles, regardless of the translation, contain footnotes . . . and for good reason.

Thousands of ancient manuscripts, from fragments to fully intact books, were used to compile the “Old” and “New” Testaments. Some documents had multiple versions of the same verses and a footnote highlighted the different sentences or words. One well-known example is the end of Mark’s Gospel. Does Mark officially end at 16:8 or, because of other reputable, and very early, source material, does it end at Mark 16:20? That footnoted example is not one of a few, but one of thousands found on the pages of the “sacred text.”

Frankly, I’d love to create a personal footnoted version of scripture to make the Bible less intimidating! Since I read the 6th chapter of Isaiah this week, I’ll use the “Old” Testament prophet for my example . . .

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’A,B,C And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

ASome authorities add:  And I looked around, hoping the seraph did not mean me, but it became clear I was the only one in the throne room of the Holy of Holies.

BOthers include:  And verily, desirous of pleasing the Lord and yet fearful of making a mistake, I kept mute until the seraph smote me with its sixth wing.

CA few reliable sources instead read:  And I said, ‘Why not choose Hosea or Jeremiah? I predict they will be excellent prophets for any task the Lord God Almighty might desire.

This passage from Isaiah, a vision of angels, divine thrones and fiery coals able to burn away guilt, is one of the Bible’s best-known call passages. Who will I send, God asks. As written, the Hebrew prophet answered quickly and boldly. Why couldn’t Isaiah be more like me? Have him hem and haw when God calls. Or how about an awkward silence when God asks, “Whom shall I send?”

Or . . . a response from Isaiah like, Let me pray about it before I give you an answer. Truthfully, that’s often what I prefer before tough decisions. I need time for self-reflection and a selfless openness to God’s gift of a new future. Or, more truthfully, I plead Let me pray . . . to buy a few extra minutes hoping the Lord God Almighty will come to His or Her Holy Senses and realize I’m the worst person possible to respond to God’s call for witnessing or whatevering.

About a month ago the director of the Center for Grief & Healing program asked me to consider a part-time position at the hospice where I’d been volunteering. I knew the potential job meant I’d likely continue making phone calls to grieving families, but there might be additional responsibilities. I asked for a job description. The director emailed it to me the next day, a Friday. My first glance at the document caused me to think it was a boilerplate form, not yet including all the details. On my third or fourth read-through, I noticed the title on the job description included Angel Babies.

Gulp. The Center for Grief & Healing also supervised the Angel Babies program . . .

The Angel Babies program offers a perinatal hospice program designed for families whose unborn child has been diagnosed with a terminal condition, offering support during pregnancy and providing ideas for creating loving memories… Continue reading →