Tag Archive: baptism

One of the most powerful passages from the book i am busy finishing at the moment, because it will start with laughter and end in tears. Such a powerful read:

I suppose that the number of homies I’ve baptised over the decades is in the thousands. Gang members find themselves locked up and get around to doing things their parents didn’t arrange for them. Homies are always walking up to me at Homeboy Industries or on the streets or in a jail, saying, “Remember? You baptised me!”

The moment of a homie’s baptism can be an awakening, like the clearing of a new path. You can tell it’s a gang member’s declaration that life will thereafter look different because of this pronouncement and its symbols. Consequently, the moment of baptism is charged with import and nerves. 

One day at Juvenile Hall, I am introduced to a kid I am about to baptise. I have never met him, but he knows who I am. He is saucer-eyed and panicky and bouncing slightly up and down. I shake his hand.

“I’m proud to be the one baptising you,” I say.

He tears up a bit and won’t let go of my hand and my eyes.

“Clockwise,” he says.

I always tell those to be baptised that they have little to do and should leave all the heavy lifting to me. “All you have to say is your name when I ask for it. Then I’ll ask, “What do you ask of God’s church?” and you just say, “Baptism.”

When the moment arrives at the beginning of the rite, I can tell this kid is in trouble. He’s hyperventilating, and his constant jig suggests he didn’t visit the men’s room before. 

“What is your name?” I ask, and the kid booms back at me,


“And what do you ask of God’s church, Jose?”

He stands erect, and his whole being wants to get this one right. “I WANT TO BE A BAPTIST.”

I suggest he walk down the hall to the Protestant service.

Once, as I am about to baptise a kid at a probation camp, I ask him to incline his head over this huge pan of water, and he looks at me with shock and loudly asks, “You gonna WET me?”

“Um, well, yeah… sorta the idea.”


On a Saturday in 1996 I am set to baptise George at Camp Munz. He delays doing this with the other priests because he only wants me to do it. He also wants to schedule the event to follow his successful passing of the GED exam. He sees it as something of a twofer celebration. I actually know seventeen-year-old George and his nineteen-year-old brother, Cisco. Both are gang members from a barrio in the projects, but I have only really come to know George over his nine-month stint in this camp. I have watched him move gradually from his hardened posturing to being a man in possession of himself and his gifts. Taken out of the environment that keeps him unsettled and crazed, not surprisingly, he begins to thrive at Camp Munz. Now he is nearly unrecognisable. The hard vato with his gangster pose has morphed into a thoughtful, measured man, aware of gifts and talents previously obscured by the unreasonable demands of his gang life.

The Friday night before George’s baptism, Cisco, George’s brother, is walking home before midnight when the quiet is shattered, as it so often is in his neighborhood, by gunshots. Some rivals creep up and open fire, and Cisco falls in the middle of St Louis. street, half a block from his apartment. He is killed instantly. His girlfriend, Annel, nearly eight months pregnant with their first child, runs outside. She cradles Cisco in her arms and lap, rocking him as if to sleep, and her screams syncopate with every motion forward. She continues this until the paramedics pry him away from her arms.

I don’t sleep much that night. It occurs to me to cancel my presence at the Mass next morning at Camp Munz to be with Cisco’s grieving family. But then I remember George and his baptism.

When I arrive before Mass, with all the empty chairs in place in the mess hall, there is George standing by himself, holding his newly acquired GED certificate. He heads toward me, waving his GED and beaming. We hug each other. He is in a borrowed, ironed, crisp white shirt and a thin black tie. His pants are the regular, camp-issue camouflage, green and brown. I am desvelado, completely wiped out, yet trying to keep my excitement at pace with George’s.

At the beginning of Mass, with the mess hall now packed, I ask him, “What is your name?” 

“George Martinez,” he says, with an overflow of confidence.

“And, George, what do you ask of God’s church?”

“Baptism,” he says, with a steady, barely contained smile.

It is the most difficult baptism of my life. For as I pour water over George’s head: “Father… Son… Spirit,” I know I will walk George outside alone after and tell him what happened.

As I do, and I put my arm around him, I whisper gently as we walk out onto the baseball field, “George, your brother Cisco was killed last night.”

I can feel all the air leave his body as he heaves a sigh that finds itself in a sob in an instant. We land on a bench. His face seeks refuge in his open palms, and he sobs quietly. Most notable is what isn’t present in his rocking and gentle wailing. I’ve been in this place before many times. There is always flailing, and rage and promises to avenge things. There is none of this in George. It is as if the commitment he has just made in water, oil, and flame has taken hold and his grief is pure and true and more resembles the heartbreak of God. George seems to offer proof of the efficacy of this thing we call sacrament, and he manages to hold back all the complexity of this great sadness, right here, on this bench, in his tender weeping. I had previously asked him in his baptismal rite, after outlining the contours of faith and the commitment “to live as though this truth was true.” “Do you clearly understand what you are doing?”

And he pauses, and he revs himself up in the gathering of self and soul and says, “Yes, I do.”

And, yes, he does. In the monastic tradition, the highest form of sanctity is to live in hell and not lose hope. George clings to his hope and his faith and his GED certificate and chooses to march, resilient, into his future.

What is the delivery system for resilience? In part, it’s the loving, caring adult who pays attention. It’s the community of unconditional love, representing the very “no matter whatness” of God. They say that an educated inmate will not re-offend. This is not because an education assures that this guy will get hired somewhere. It is because his view is larger and more educated, so that he can be rejected at ninety-three job interviews and still not give up. He’s acquired resilience.

Sometimes resilience arrives in the moment you discover your own unshakeable goodness. Poet Galway Kinnell writes, “Sometimes it’s necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

And when that happens, we begin to foster tenderness for our own human predicament. A spacious and undefended heart finds room for everything you are and carves space for everybody else. 

[From the chapter ‘Water, Oil, Flame’ – Tattoos of the Heart – Father Gregory Boyle]

[For another inspiring passage from this book, titled My New Heart Tattoo, click here]

yesterday i attended a baptism and family picnic that our church family, Re:Generation, holds twice a year…

it is one of the highlights for us [and not just because of the quantity of fine meat they prepare – these okes know how to barbecue braai!] because of the feeling of family celebration and togetherness that tends to come out of it… and just a much less rushed time of being able to hang with church folks than the normal sunday in-out vibe that often occurs in the busyness of the day…

this one was a special day as my mate Nate Chamberlain [or Nate Dawg as we call him in this particular piece of blog] was getting baptised and also because he asked me [last minute so good thing i wasn’t wearing jeans as David ‘the Bartaman’ was] to accompany him into the water and be part of his baptism.

baptising my friends is one of my favourite things to do, and something i highly recommend to any and all followers of Jesus.

one thing i really liked was Albert [main pastor and my church bossman]’s approach to the baptism, inviting anyone who wanted to, not just to come out and be a part of the baptism, but to ‘perform the baptism’ if they wanted – “After all there is nothing more spiritual or special about me doing it”. 


that feels like the kind of vibe Jesus had – being accused by the spiritual leaders of the day of not being spiritual enough, but simply choosing the route of being practical and simple and clear to those around him.

the temple was full of a lot of ritual and law and spectacle – Jesus sat around a table with some friends, broke some bread and drank some wine and said, ‘Do this as you remember Me.’

the disciples around Him and other adults tried to keep the meetings orderly and focused on the important teachings of the rabbi – but Jesus stopped ‘the meeting’ and called the children forward and hung out with them – He took time to speak to the women and the lepers and other sick people normally kept to the fringes [out of the way of the important ‘man of God’]

He was accused of hanging out with the prostitutes and the tax collectors…


i can’t imagine Jesus baptising someone in a baptismal font [no offence to any of you who use baptismal fonts – it is a practical way to get something necessary done] over a river or a beach that they happened to be walking by – ‘the thing’ always seemed to trump ‘the procedure of the thing’ and ‘the look of the thing’. i think there is something we can learn from that.

i remember baptising my buddy Mark in his mom’s FREEZING swimming pool on a farmland outside the city.

i remember baptising my friend Kirsten on the beach with a small bunch of her friends gathered round to embrace us as we got out of the water.

i remember baptising my friend Megan in knee deep water [shallowest baptism ever!] at Camp Wortelgat [literally ‘Carrot Hole’ or maybe more accurately ‘Carrot Bumhole’] after walking and walking and walking trying to find deep enough water and then eventually [as the crowd gathered on the edge of the lake started resembling ants] issuing the command of ‘Kneel, we’re gonna do this here!’

i remember baptising my friend Lindri in the narrowest of ICE COLD streams [i see a pattern here] as we also walked and searched a long time to try and find deep enough water, having climbed over a fence and stumbled around bushes and over rocks with a dedicated group of friends to try and find the perfect spot in Stellenbosch.

baptismal font baptisms are fine, but there is something that feels that slight bit more real or authentic to me about doing it ‘in the wild’ or simply in the place where the water is.


the reason i encourage people to baptise their friends is because Jesus did that.

at the end of Matthew, just before He leaves to go and join His Father again, Jesus tells His followers to go and make disciples of all nations and to baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to teach them everything I have taught you.

that command was never to the priests [excepting when in Hebrews we realise that each and every one of us who follows Jesus is now a priest] or to the religious leaders of the day – it was to all of us – nothing excites me more than seeing someone baptise their friend who they led to Jesus Christ. this should be happening with all of us on a more regular basis.

Who is the person in your life that you would most like to baptist?

And how are you living out your Jesus story to them in a way that might make that seem like an enticing prospect one day?

when i saw the theme for this week’s challenge my immediate thought was this picture of my youngest sister Dawn [one of my most favourite people in the world] hanging out with some kids in Umtata [South Africa] on this missions trip we did and the idea of bringing renewal through the simple act of love and friendship and touch and story-telling…

let the little children come unto me…

the second one that came to mind was the collision of serious and comedy as i got the opportunity many year ago to baptise one of my good friends Megan Giggles on this camp that we did as a bunch of young adults – Megan asked if she could be baptised and so i asked the campsite people where the deepest part of the lake was and turns out it must have been low tide or something as we walked and walked and walked and walked and it just didn’t seem to be getting deeper. and so in what must be one of the world’s most shallowest baptisms [focusing strongly on the theme of renewal – symbolically joining with Jesus in His death as you go beneath the water and then rising up out of it symbolising new life, new beginnings, new commitment] we managed to get Megan mostly under the water and the context with laughter interspersed with deep meaning really added so much to the whole experience.

dying to the old, rising up into the new…

[For the previous Photo Challenge on the theme of ‘Geometry’ click here]

continuing my walk through the Gospel of Mark, in this clip i chat briefly about the baptism of Jesus and the full approval given to Him by His Father before He has done anything significant in terms of life and ministry…

to continue on to calling, click here

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