Falling in Love with Roger Williams
(A mid-February essay for AWAB.org)
I really resist any attempt to link Valentine's Day with the Christian
tradition. I mean, sure, by some accounts, it comes from a Christian
saint, or at least it's named after one of them. But I think too
often Valentine's in our society privileges a certain kind of love to
the exclusion of other loves. Sometimes, it's romantic love
celebrated as holier than neighbor love. Sometimes it's straight love
celebrated as holier than queer love. Sometimes it's love manifest in
consumerism celebrated as holier than love manifest in... you know,
But this year, there's a thing I want to say about it.
When people talk to me about why I'm Baptist, I don't usually talk
about particular hymns, or even particular denominations. More often,
I talk about what are, in my beginner's mind, the foundational
commitments of the Baptist movement. Things we call “soul freedom”,
and “congregational polity.” I try to explain these to people, and
sometimes they get it. More of them get it when I talk to them about
the 'Roger Williams' school of Baptists, like the believers who will
faithfully vote to accept a congregation like mine into their
fellowship, not because they agree with us about sexuality, but
because they so emphatically proclaim our own right to make these
decisions as a local congregation. People who will fight for your
right to be wrong, for your right to proclaim the Gospel as it has
been revealed to you, as wonky or as incorrect as it seems to them.
Baptists who start with a certain kind of humility about God, a
certain commitment to a diversity of tactics and theologies and
congregations and, well, Baptists.
This is a movement that I think, starts at what I believe. And how I
live out my faith. The unique way in which I engage with the matrix
of scripture, and my congregation, and my experience, and hopefully
and faithfully the Holy Spirit. The unique way that I come to Jesus.
It's not like anybody else's way, sometimes. Often, it has
similarities. But sometimes its way off.
Maybe you see where I'm going with this, and please forgive the sappy
language, but I must proclaim: this foundational moment, when I choose
to love Jesus, and make my commitments and get dunked in the water:
it's not like a lot of other things, but it is like falling in love.
Those of you who are lovers: remember, if you can, falling in love.
Maybe it was with your lifetime partner, maybe it was with your
current favorite date, maybe it was the ridiculous crush that hit you
out of the blue last week. I don't know about you, but here are some
things that I name when I remember falling in love: it is wild. It
has so much to do with all of my thinking, but maybe it doesn't
finally turn on making sense. It is about my body. It is about my
heart. It made me want to talk to everyone I know, both to celebrate
and to have some other voice of wisdom to curb or encourage my
hard-to-understand passion. Other people could understand it, but
only kind of. They could support me, but they couldn't take the
plunge for me. Nobody else could say yes to that first date, to that
marriage proposal, to that every day choice to stay in it. It was
(and is) finally my choice.
Why do I stand in this tradition? Because it's not like joining a
committee. It's not like getting my desk in order. It's not like
stillness or incense. (Though these are all things that I actually
like to do!) For me, this tradition celebrates, first, that mad
impulse to commit wholeheartedly to the Lord of Love, in a way that is
different from everyone else who does it. It is a celebration of a
unique and ridiculous and often-stupid kind of love. It makes us
fight, and it makes us crazy. It makes it so that many of us have to
qualify our religious commitments by saying, “Not that kind of...”
But I'm a Baptist, I think, because it is like falling in love.
I wonder, what else, in this season of stupid cards and worse
advertising, I can learn from the romance of the Spirit? Where will
my crazy body lead me next? Where will my intimate relationship with
that heartbreaker Jesus take me, on this lifelong improvised date?
May I let this love, the love of Jesus- foolish, dangerous, powerful,
courageous, unstoppable love- lead me in all things.