I mentioned in my first entry this season that we are in the process of yet another home renovation project. Living through home renovation while attempting to homeschool your children is an exercise in trying to control chaos, something that even God needed 6 days to reign in. And then Sabbath on the seventh day was a must-have. The project scope this time around is half of our basement. When we renovated the upstairs, one of the structural changes we made was to open the stairwell, removing the door to the basement and the wall on one side of the stairwell so that you don’t feel like you are going down into a dungeon. The nasty side effect of this feature is that every particle of dust from the construction in the basement seems to come floating up that stairwell. The years of dust hiding in the walls and freed into the atmosphere with demolition, the cement dust from cutting the slab for the new plumbing, the sawdust from cutting boards for framing and trimwork, the sheetrock dust from sanding the new walls, the masonry dust from the brick mortar, the marble and travertine dust from cutting the tile…you get the picture. New week, new dust. So my Swiffer and I have become quite intimate.
And when I go downstairs, the mess is even worse: Piles of lumber and tile. Bags of mortar. Stacks of bricks. Broken boards, electrical wires, shards of wood, mounds of sawdust. Holes in the walls, (where we also found the skull and skeleton of a small animal that looks like it must have expired twenty years ago.) But the basement is slowly transforming before our eyes. Our contractor is truly an artist. All the dirt and mess and chaos are becoming something beautiful.
As I looked for pictures to go along with the “grace goggles” post, I began to wonder if we need to rethink our baptismal theology, our baptismal practices. My kids are swimmers, so we have a lot of pictures of kids in goggles, a lot of pictures of goggled, wet heads above water, under water, diving into water. The water always looks so clean and inviting. But the picture of my daughter in her goggles at the mud run, sloshing through the knee-deep, cold, grimy muck seemed somehow much more appropriate. (That is me trudging along beside her, carefully hidden by the goggle-wearing male mud runner in the foreground, so I know just how cold that water was). As I pondered that picture and why it spoke to me, I began to think that maybe, instead of being washed clean in the waters of baptism, we should be baptized in mud.
Christian theology likes to talk about being “washed clean,” as if somehow in the act of baptism we have had a special wax applied that makes all the nasty muck of the world just roll right off of us, like we are now beyond being contaminated. There have been times and places throughout history that we have emphasized righteousness to the extreme. And each time we do so, we run the risk of allowing our own personal opinions of right belief and right behavior to create de facto rules for everyone else. More plainly, we become prideful in our righteousness and turn righteousness into “I’m right-ness.”
Jesus had something to say about this. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Yeast, to Jesus’s audience was a contaminant. It made you “unclean,” thus the call for unleavened bread. And yet, Jesus tells his followers that this contaminant is a way of understanding the kingdom of heaven. And, not only was the yeast a contaminant, but this (now unclean) woman has gone and mixed it into the flour so that all of it was leavened. And when this contaminant is added to the mix, some crazy chemical reactions take place. The bread begins to change. It begins to breathe. And rise. As if it has a life of its own. All because of this contamination.
In my own project, I see the dust flying every day. But if I don’t get into the truly messy parts, I will never witness the transformation that is taking place. And I certainly can’t be a part of that transformation if I stay upstairs, out of the way, pushing around the surface dust. And if I think that I am keeping myself and my own little part of the world clean by some sort of isolationism, the daily settling of dust attests to the fact that this is not how the world works. The world is changing and transforming all around me. By choosing to be intimately involved in the greasy, grimy, gritty process, I can be a part of giving birth to something beautiful.
So much of the political conversation in recent days has been about avoiding contamination. About keeping people out. Out of the country, out of the courthouses, out of the critical conversations. To keep “us” (whoever that homogeneous group is?) clean. And this simply is not Christian.
God’s grace is freely given to all. Our baptism reminds us of this in a very special way. We are baptized so that we may be “workers in God’s kingdom,” a kingdom of contagion, of contamination. We are not baptized to set us apart so much as we are baptized to bring people together. The work of the kingdom is reconciliation, transformation, and life abundant for all people.
Grace is the yeast that sets off the reaction, that leavens the bread, in order that all people may change, and breathe, and rise, and live. And for this, I say, “Thanks be to God!”