Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

NOTE: I have mentioned before that I am weird. I see the world differently than everyone else on the planet, I think. So, just wanted to remind you of that before you read this particular post…

A friend of ours told us last night that their ten-year-old son will soon be baptized. That was great news, and at the same time, set my mind spinning down a path of thought that left me quite confounded. Now, don’t worry, this post is not to rile up the age-old baptism arguments. Actually, it has very little to do with that, and more to do with a piece of me that I still can not figure out. If you have not noticed, I process things fairly often by writing them out. I certainly am not presenting myself as any sort of authority on most things I post to this page (except for maybe Apple computers…) 🙂 It is a place where I can empty the contents of my head on a table, and sort through them, trying to organize and make sense of them.

When the happiness for my friend quickly wore off, what I began to think about was our seven-year-old son, and when he might want to be baptized. I began to think, “Well, my goodness… he’s probably “ready” now…” And then I began to question what “ready” means. When is anyone ever “ready” to make such a life-long decision? Who are we, his parents, to say he can or can not? Then I even started down a familiar path of questioning why even do the event in the first place??? Ian loves God, knows him, lives in the reality of his relationship to him … what difference would a religious ceremony make?

See, I tend to be quite dismissive of rituals and ceremonies. To me, they are only superfluous. They’re meaningless. (Again, I emphasize, to me.) The reality does not exist because of the ceremony, nor is it incomplete without it. Nothing magical happens because we undergo some ritual. I am not wedded to my wife because of some special words I said on October 18th, I committed to spend my life with her on July 17th, 1997. From that point on, I was married to her, in my heart. And, at least for me, that is more real than a pre-arranged moment.

Same goes for graduation. I did not graduate from Clarence High School, or Cincinnati Bible College because of a brisk walk across a stage (while wearing a silly hat and robe), a hand-shake, and a piece of paper. I graduated because of years of study and academic accomplishment.

The best explanation I could think of for my disdain for such events is my loathing of any sort of game playing or fakeness. It seems like to me that such ceremonies are removed from reality and we almost elevate them above the reality. I actually do understand that they are moments that we can reflect back on… I guess it also reminds me of what bothers me about most “events” we plan together as believers. They are contrived. Made up. We created them.

In Growing Kids God’s Way, the parenting course that Jen & I have been through a number of times, there is a bonus lesson called “Memorials”. In this lesson, Gary Ezzo talks about how God gave the Israelites lots of physical reminders of some great thing that he did for them. Rocks placed in a certain location would remind the passerby of the amazing thing God did for them right there. It would inspire an instant re-telling of the story to those who had not witnessed it. From that, we were encouraged to create a “shadow box”. In this box, we place little reminders of some moments in our lives where God did something amazing. For example, there’s a toy train that reminds us of the time that Jen’s grandpa was saved from a train wreck that would have killed him (and eliminated Jen and her Dad and our kids, etc.) There’s a water shoe from the time God led us on an amazing faith journey while on vacation in Florida. Lots of great things reminding us of the goodness of God, and the times where we clearly saw him working.

Aren’t those the same as a wedding, graduation or baptism? Well, no, I would say. Those things are only tiny reminders of the event that happened. Not an event we created to be a reminder. Perhaps that part is very important to me.

I guess in the end it comes down to my super core belief that we must live real life… completely real, no games, no “fakeness”. To me, ceremonies are fake. I know that is not the case for people who do them. Those who love ceremony are not embracing the make-believe. Somehow, there is something in me, though, that can not embrace what is not real.

I told Jen today that if I lived in a culture where ceremony was the core of who we were, I would probably just be killed for not adhering to the “right way” to do things. I love to watch the National Geographic and History Channels, but admittedly it does weird me out when the show is about the tribal cultures who have intense, (insane) rituals for various times and various stages of life. For example, some cultures think you have to go through super-painful slicing of your body, which leaves a scar tattoo, showing you are now an adult. There are various other rituals I don’t need to describe here.

We in America can watch that and say, “Whoa! That’s so crazy! Why would they think they have to do that???” But, I submit that it is exactly the same thing as a wedding ceremony, a graduation, a ribbon-cutting, or any other ceremony or ritual that we accept culturally. They probably think some of ours are weird. I’m sure they do, actually. But in the end, they are very much the same.

I wish my friends well. I am glad they are excited about the upcoming baptism. I am just much more excited that their son live a life-long journey with God than I am about a moment that is supposed to begin that journey. Just as I love the reality of my life-long relationship with Jen much more than I do that day in the middle of our relationship where we dressed up (yes, I know, I was just wearing khakis and a polo shirt, but for me… that was dressing up…) and had a party with our friends. I loved that day… it was fun. But the reality of the relationship – of everyday life – is so much more important to me, I guess. So much so that I could do without the ceremonies.

As I mentioned at the top, I am certainly no expert, and the beauty of posting my thoughts via this medium is that it can be somewhat interactive. I welcome your thoughts on the value of ceremony and ritual. I promise I will listen. 🙂


  1. It’s funny, I’ve had this debate several times, always related to baptism. Nobody ever questioned the marriage ceremony before, though I suppose it’s along the same lines as a baptism.

    I submit the field of psychology for your approval. Most studies these days show that people tend to be MUCH more committed to something when they voice it publically; aka, they go through a “ceremony.” In this case, a ceremony is really just something that gets you to put out to the rest of your community that you are making a committment, and, implied, is that you wish their aid in keeping said committment.

    I think that these ceremonies are really important because, while you personally may have already made the committment, times may get tough for you to keep to it, and that’s when the community gets involved on your behalf. If they never were at your wedding, they probably won’t care as much that you keep your “wedding vows” (which they never saw you make).

    Likewise, with a baptism (which I believe is a ceremony we seriously UNDER-value these days, for these reasons), it brings the community of faith into your relationship with Jesus. It’s not about You and Jesus at the baptism. I mean, it is, but it’s also about You and Jesus and You and your Community and about your Community and Jesus. It’s a three-way thing, which I think that we’ve forgotten.

    Aside from that, the ceremony itself tends to bind something more solidly in peoples’ minds. I won’t get into celebrities and how they’ve trashed the wedding ceremony these days (I think that’s a seperate issue which is worse than the gay marriage debate, because at least they’d most likely keep the committment they made).

    I don’t believe that there are exceptions to this rule. I think the ceremony was just as helpful for you as it is for anybody else. Yours was less formal – that’s a matter of personal taste. But it still helped you set a defining moment you didn’t turn away from. Perhaps the cermeony for you was your proposal. Either way, it was a moment where you made a committment publically (not alone; Jen was in on it).

    And that’s what I think.


  2. Hey Chris
    Good thoughts. Thanks for commenting. I do agree with you that most everyone I know finds some significance (or even a lot) in ceremony. Still, I do not.

    You said: “I don’t believe that there are exceptions to this rule.”

    I have to let you know that a friend of mine once labeled me “The Curve Wrecker” because it’s true… even if there are “no exceptions”… I am the exception.

    Yes, Chris… I am that weird… 🙂


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