For Christmas, I led our church in a candlelight Lord’s Supper service. I’ve never been a big fan of “Pharisee’s Teeth,” those enameled Chicklets we Baptists use for the bread, nor the little shot glasses of juice, so I decided to offer the Supper by intinction. I used a goblet from our wedding crystal as a chalice and baked two goodish-sized rounds of pan de campo for the bread. Before the service began I explained to the congregation how it would work: At the appropriate time they would approach the altar, tear off a piece of bread and dip it into the cup.
What happened next was entirely my own fault.
I neglected to emphasize that we had plenty of bread, and that they needed to yank off a hunk of sufficient size to stand up to the dunking. We Baptists may be non-sacramental but that doesn’t mean we’re irreverent – or even impolite. I stood bemused as person after person stepped up and, as I murmured, “The body of Christ, broken for you,” pinched off a tiny crumb, in some cases virtually a flake, so small they had to douse their fingertips in the cup. The service was still meaningful; many people said so. But I wondered.
Have we become decorous and dainty with a faith that is all about boldness?
Our belief in the crudity of a God made flesh has been giving refined spiritual types the vapors since at least as far back as Gnosticism. Jesus was evidently one for a good meal washed down with a hearty swig of wine (Mt 11.19)
The whole thing reminded me of a favorite line from “Treasure Hunt,” the third novel in Frederich Buechner’s “Bebb” series. The speaker is, of course, that big-top ringmaster revivalist, Reverend Leo Bebb himself. Speaking of one of his long-time associates in various shady “ministries,” Bebb explains to his son-in-law Antonio that, “The trouble with folks like Brownie is they hold their life in like a baked bean fart at a Baptist cookout and only let it slip out sideways a little at a time when they think there’s nobody noticing. Now that’s the last thing
on earth the Almighty intended. He intended all the life a man’s got inside him, he should live it out just as free and strong and natural as a bird.”
A baked bean fart at a Baptist cookout: The simile is indelicate but undeniable. Here we are – here, at least, am I – apologetically crumbling little specks of the Christ-life when Jesus seems to command that I grab it up in fistfulls. I’m choking up on the bat angling for a base-on-balls when the Skipper stands in the dugout giving me the swing-away sign in big, sweeping gestures.
Avery Smith, a friend and fellow member of Windsor Park Baptist Church, recently stated the case eloquently in a New Year’s meditation of her own, which I use here with her permission:
I have always been a cautious person. A cautious driver. A cautious decision maker. But in 2013 I pray that I can be less cautious when it comes to loving and moving towards people.
What will they think? Is this the right think to say/do? How do I be this person’s friend when they are so different from me? Self, sometimes you just need to get over yourself.
When I’m thinking about someone, I should call them. When I see someone I know in the grocery store who I may not want to talk to, I should say hi, instead of ducking into the next aisle (come on, you know you’ve done it too). When I doubt whether or not it is “appropriate” to hug someone who is crying, I should just do it.
Sometimes propriety needs to be thrown out the window. Sometimes loving means risking. Who cares about whether or not it may feel awkward. I want to go out on limbs this year. I want to embrace awkward. I want to be a little reckless. Because people are worth loving. And because looking back, it’s not the “awkward” moments I’ll regret. It’s not the comfort-risking moments I’ll regret. But I just might regret the safe ones. I don’t have a laundry list of resolutions. I just want this–to love with abandon.
As I look back on the past couple of years I can see some neon moments of limb-dancing, some high-dive white-knuckle daredeviling that have led to much good: New friends, new opportunities, a new house and a new dog. (And if that last one sounds trivial, you don’t know me, depression, and dogs!) All this was part of the loaf all along, but my strong sense of etiquette held me back and kept me on subsistence rations in what God intends as a feast.
Of course, if you swing for the fences, you miss a lot. Last time I checked the only record Babe Ruth still holds is for career strike-outs. The few folks who did rip away hunks of bread left a mess behind them. But the only way to avoid under-doing it is to run the risk of over-doing it now and again.
So if I invade your personal space this year, if I blunder across your very legitimate boundaries like a half-grown St. Bernard offering you a chew-toy, I ask that a minimum you tolerate me; after all, I’m new to this gig. And I’d ask at a maximum that you congratulate me (perhaps after you give me some gentle instruction); I’m finally getting my hands around the huge amount of Jesus right there in front of me.