Sunday, March 23, 2008

Online Baptism

I read about it, and said, "Huh?"

I emailed the guy in charge, and said, "What?"

Now I've seen it for myself, and I'm saying "Whoa." Here it is: the Flamingo Road Church "Internet Campus" website, conducting its first ("the" first?) online baptism. If you want to watch it, check out the link:

A first response for me is: How cool! They've figured out how to use the human-made tool of commuication, the internet, to encourage folks to be baptized. They have used the medium of cyberspace to reach across time and space to conduct one of the most powerful and foundational rituals in the life of a Christian. Awesome! I say, Praise the Lord that Alyssa is baptized and has committed her life to Christ! She has answered the call of the Spirit, and that is always a wondrous thing.

My second response is: how strange! Pastor Brian, as he "led" the baptism of Alyssa over the gap of cyberspace, required someone else to "be his hands" for this ritual. Lisa, a believer and relative to Alyssa, followed his instructions by lowering Alyssa into the bath tub after Brian declared the trinitarian formula (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) from afar. Lisa did the baptism, but she was Brian's hands for the event. Why couldn't Lisa have done the baptism herself? Why were Brian and the other pastor on the other end of the internet link necessary?

I could only speculate on why Lisa felt like she needed Brian to lead the baptism. But on the surface it looks like Brian has some sort of authority to baptize. Perhaps he has been ordained as a pastor of Flamingo Road Church, to lead this on-the-edge ministry through the internet. And I think this idea of ordination (calling individuals to use their gifts in certain roles in the Church) is good. Brian ought to be doing the work he is doing.

Yet, if Brian has been ordained to a ministry of online baptism by a community of faith (Flamingo Road Church), where does this community of faith connect with Alyssa? I did not hear any words about how Alyssa has committed herself to living within the body of Christ, in relationship with other believers. I did not hear Brian challenge her to get involved in a local congregation, to worship the Lord with her brothers and sisters. The baptism is presented as an isolated incident in Alyssa's life. In one sense this is quite fitting, for the internet is a place where we can connect with other people without sacrificing our anonymity. We need not draw close to a community that can hold us accountable or walk with us on the journey; we can have the baptism without the connections. And to my generation, this may be the way we like it best.

But is it the way that the Spirit wants it? Does she want us to get dunked, feel good (as Alyssa rightfully does), and go on living our own lives? Or (as maybe you suspect by now that I think) does the Spirit want us to be baptized into a community of people who, being baptized like us, also commit to loving us and holding us accountable to our discipleship?

I come from a tradition and reading of scripture in which baptism is very important, and in which the community function of the Church is just as important. So the Flamingo Road Church online baptism phenomenon makes me both excited and concerned. I see that the Church has discovered how to reach through cyberspace with the call to follow Jesus. I also wonder if the Church has discover how to reach through cyberspace with the call to be gathered in the name of Jesus.


Saturday, March 15, 2008


I recently received news (as it was happening) that a friend was having an encounter with the police. The severity of the crime was not such that I was concerned about having to visit this friend in prison anytime soon. Nonetheless, as a result of this minor incident, I noticed something that gave me pause.

When I heard about the police questioning this friend, I did not feel an overwhelming fear that my friend was in danger. That is to say, I did not bear anxiety that my friend would be treated unfairly by the police or placed in a position where he would have to pay a bribe to fend off corrupt law enforcers. I trusted the police presence to weigh my friend's situation justly, rationally, and gracefully, and to act within the bounds provided by the government.

I thought of how many places there exist in the world where having the police show up at your door causes rightful anxiety and fear. There are so many towns and cities where the police may detain you at the will of the officer, demand a bribe, or worse. There are too many locales where having the wrong last name makes you an enemy of the police and other government officials. In some places, calling the police for help is like calling the mob to do your taxes.

So I give thanks to the Lord for the privilege of peace, such that I can trust the presence of the police to serve our common good. I praise the Lord that, for now, this part of our lives may remain reasonably free from fear. For this not so little thing, I give thanks.


The Utility of Force

"The Utility of Force," by General Rupert Smith, is my latest read. I recommend it to you. Smith surveys military history from the time of Napoleon up to the present-day war in Iraq, with an eye for discerning how military force is used effectively or not.

The book is quite a tome, and explores exhaustively its topic. Smith is thoughtful, with a strong analytical mind and acute perception of the things that go on during war. This reflects his long and varied experience in the field of making military decisions.

Smith does not ask the question "Should nations ever use force?" He is far from a pacifist seeking to convince us to scale back our use of force. Instead he argues that we must learn how to use force better; that is, make it more useful. He argues that our (the European and American West's) current use of force is ill-equipped for the challenges we face. This failure to match use of power with our goals in the world is what produces "quagmires" in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Utility of Force" gave me new questions to ask when I watch the news about events in war-torn areas of the world. Now, instead of echoing the popular cry that "War sucks, but sometimes you just have to go to war," I can think more critically about why and how nations go to war. Best of all, Smith offers a way out of our current spiral of watching heavily armoured vehicles full of well-intentioned coalition soldiers getting blown up by IEDs on a regular basis. The way out, as always, requires a profound shift in thinking. But I, even as someone who only watches the wars from the media sidelines, am grateful for Smith's vision, a ray of hope in what I sense to be an otherwise despairing situation.

If you are interested in a different way to think about war that honours the complexity we see these days--and if you can handle some heavy reading--pick up "The Utility of Force."