I have promised to take off the masks I have sometimes worn in my life. I have said that at times I will be very personal in writing these columns. Today is one of those days.
I begin by suggesting that all of us are on a journey. Our journey has a past — our history. It has a present — the current role we have chosen or been chosen to play. And it has a future — a destiny to which we are headed.
The problem of living our lives was stated beautifully by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her book, “Gift From the Sea”. She wrote: “How to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” That is the problem we face in living these lives of ours.
To find that wholeness we need to look back and see those moments in our lives which were turning point moments. Let me define what I mean by a turning point moment: a turning point moment is a moment, either large or small, either good or bad, which once experienced means life can never be completely the same again.
One such moment for me occurred when I was 12 years old. The place was the Calvary Baptist Church in Rochester, New York. The year was 1938. That year my Sunday School teacher had been a man I admired greatly. He was a teacher of Mathematics in the Rochester school system. More importantly to me, he was as fine a Christian as I had ever known. Incidentally, he later became my father-in-law! There were eleven of us in the class, all boys. That’s the way it was back then. As Lent came that year he invited us to his home one Friday evening. We always looked forward to those times because they were fun nights, great games, delicious food.
Toward the end of that evening he gathered us together and led in prayer. Then he said something like this: “I want you boys to know that I love you. We have had a good time together and I want you to know that I think you are ready to give your lives to Jesus and be baptized. I hope you’ll join the pastor’s class this year and make your own decision at the end of it. But, boys, I think you are ready.”
I didn’t know if I was ready, but if Mr. Taylor thought I was, that was good enough for me. So I entered the pastor’s class. It so happened that the pastor was my father. That complicated things a bit! We met with my Dad for a number of weeks and he shared with us his faith. At the conclusion of that class we had to meet with the Board of Deacons. Unfortunately my Dad had not instructed us how to behave if one of us got the giggles during the examination which is exactly what happened. The exam was a disaster but the Deacons were not of a mind to turn down candidates for baptism I guess. So they accepted us. I was baptized. Did I understand fully what it meant? Not by a long shot! Was it a moving spiritual event? Not really. It was emotionally memorable because it was my Dad who baptized me. I walked into the baptistry that day with very little understanding of what I was doing. I think the choir sang very softly, “Just as I am without one plea.” Dad asked me whether or not I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior? I said I did. He then said he was baptizing me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and then he lowered me beneath the waters. He lifted me up, led me to the stairs and a Deacon reached out and helped me out.
I tried to be as nonchalant as possible about my baptism. But something happened to me that day. A strong impression was made on me, almost without my realizing it. Looking back on that day I know it was a turning point for me. Despite it probably being too early in my life to comprehend what I was doing, somehow in that ritual I saw all the symbols of our faith. Not only did I see them, in some mysterious way I felt them. The act of going under the water, the fear, the embarrassment, the anxiety and then the triumphant emergence made me different in a way I didn’t fully understand at the time.
I look back to that experience at the Calvary Baptist church in Rochester as one of the most important moments of my life.