You never know what treasures you’ll unearth in the memory of an old computer. No, no. Nothing naughty – this time. Just a blast from the past, a little chunk of my psyche from days gone by.
In clearing off the hard drive from our 1998 Power Macintosh G3 this week, I came across a couple of novels and short stories that Karen and I both started and never finished and a few letters to various family members.
And I also stumbled upon a document that could be referred to as the first Disciplehood post: a church newspaper column I wrote in 1999, on the subject of my baptism, for the Anglican Messenger (the quarterly rag published by the Dioceses of Athabasca and Edmonton). The article is clipped and in a scrapbook in the basement someplace, but I haven’t sought it out in years. But to stumble across it in soft copy this week was serendipitous indeed.
In case you’re interested, it’s also pasted below.
Baptism bang-on, raves rookie
By ROB PETKAU
I was baptized into the Anglican Church of Canada Sept. 17, 1999 at age 28, and I’m left at a loss for words when people ask me why.
Adult baptisms are rare in our church, so when people inquired about it I got the impression they were looking for an explanation of some blinding realization that this is where I belong. And they always seem disappointed when my answer is less inspiring.
Did I feel more pious the day of my baptism than I did nine months earlier, before beginning regular attendance at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Fort McMurray, Alta.? More spiritually enlightened? More decent, kind or loving of myself or my fellow humans?
No. None of the above. I can’t even say I generally know God or Jesus any better than I did any other day of my life prior to the commencement of showing up at church most Sundays.
About the only thing church has fundamentally changed about me is that now I want to know God and Jesus better. I want spiritual enlightenment.
Most importantly, I’ve realized that, for me at least, Christianity isn’t about achieving spiritual goals, it’s about striving for them.
Up until the beginning of 1999 my life has been almost entirely secular. I wasn’t baptized, because my father had a fairly low opinion of organized religion (he’s sort of a fallen Mennonite), and thought if we kids were going to be religious it should be by choice, not by indoctrination.
My mom tried fairly hard to bring my siblings and I up in the United Church of Canada, but as soon as I was old enough to think Sunday school wasn’t cool, I discovered this religion stuff wasn’t stirring my soul in the slightest.
Apparently a born skeptic, I didn’t know why I should believe the stories contained in the Bible actually happened, and I also didn’t know why I should pay them any attention.
Goodness, I reasoned, is not unique to Christianity. There are billions of decent, pious and devoted people in the world who belong to other religions. I found (and still find) it hard to believe God would damn these billions to hell simply because they worship Him in a way different from Christians.
So if a good Hindu has earned himself a spot in heaven right next to the good Christian, what about the good Atheist or good Agnostic? Why should the Pearly Gates be locked for them? Religion is fine for people who need it, but not everyone does, I reasoned.
Perhaps this won’t sit well with some people, but those views haven’t changed for me.
What has changed is I’ve discovered I’m one of the people who needs religion. I don’t think I’m weak or wicked without it, but I know that it can help me to be stronger and more virtuous.
I started attending church last January because my wife, Karen, and I had decided that when we had children we’d raise them as Christians. It was very important to her that they be baptized, and neither of us wanted to be one of those hypocritical couples who baptize their kids and then never take them to church. ‘If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it right,’ we said.
I came expecting to be bored, but was quite pleasantly surprised to actually enjoy our first service: it stimulated my interest in history, but more importantly, served as a kick in my complacency.
It’s one thing to be good (not that I’d mastered that by any means), it’s quite another to do good. And that’s an area in which I’m sorely lacking.
All religions may have the same ideas about what it means to be and do good, but you’ll find no better teacher, and no better example, of goodness than Jesus. And after 28 years of trying to reinvent the wheel for myself, I’ve discovered it’s a lot simpler to follow Jesus’s example.
Church is a practical weekly reminder of how I can be a better human being: it gives me one or two areas to contemplate and try to implement each week in my lifelong quest to be more like Jesus.
I’m very thankful that Karen grew up in the Anglican Church, because if we’d started attending another denomination, I’m not sure if I’d have been baptized. The Anglican Church seems to be a good fit for me. At least our church and our priest, anyway.
The church’s approach is an excellent blend of Catholic tradition and Protestant pragmatism; its sermons stimulate both my emotions and my intellect, always challenging me to be more than who I am, yet never scolding me for not having achieved that yet.
After all, it’s all about striving.
Rob Petkau is a newspaper reporter in Fort McMurray, Alta.
OK, back to 2012.
In reading this, what strikes me the most is how much my outlook hasn’t changed in the past 13 years. I may have been a bit rougher around the edges, (particularly where my faith is concerned) but for the most part, I’m the same guy at 41 that I was at 28.
One major difference, though, is that even though I talked about striving in this column, I’d thought I’d pretty much arrived at the time of my baptism. These days, I think I’m more in touch with the reality that the journey is only beginning.
And that’s a good thing.
Peace be with you.