When was your last bath? I don’t mean your morning jump-in, jump-out shower routine that leaves your back dry and your rug sopping wet. No, when was your last long, deep soak – a refreshing bath that cleanses all your bits below your body and soul?
Last month my husband, Josh, and I took that kind of bath with a bunch of strangers in Budapest. We had flown across the waters of the Atlantic to submerge ourselves in the cities of Eastern Europe. From Berlin to Bucharest, we soaked up locations that held more history than my American mind could fully grasp.
We wandered with wonder at Roman ruins, Crusade remnants and memorials of two World Wars. We walked cautiously and curiously on cobblestone streets covered by layers of human stories stretching the depths of centuries long before the American Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement, long before the United States declared independence and even before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and stole the land that we call free.
After seven days, four cities and several heartbreaking Holocaust memorials, my spirit was stretched thin – dangling on a noose of zero tolerance for any American news about Christian nationalism or legislation based upon politicians’ morning Bible devotionals.
Century after century, Christians have earned a reputation for ruining the name of Christ. “Christian” has become a label we wear like a Boy Scout badge or display like a blue participation ribbon. We throw so much weight and self-identification behind this label that, ironically, we have deceived ourselves into thinking that claiming to be Christian gives us holy credence to actions that have historic consequences.
“Let’s be Christians who gladly bathe in holy waters where the Holy Spirit will temper our reactionary responses and guide our actions for tomorrow.”
Tragically, Christianity too often promotes reactionary behaviors that lead to the dehumanization of all God’s children. By all God’s children, I literally mean all people. People of color, American descendants of slaves and white people. Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. Migrants, asylum seekers and U.S. citizens. Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, questioning and heterosexual. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and, yes, even Christians. No one wins when any of God’s children are hated or harmed.
Today, Christians in America tend to find ourselves in two reactionary camps: those into apologetics and those into apologies.
Both sides come from a stance of fear. Apologists spend their energy defending their beliefs by beating people with the Bible. They are afraid that if other people don’t agree with their faith perspective then the world will go to hell in a handbasket.
Apologizers, on the other hand, spend their energy saying sorry to those bruised and broken by the Bible-beating bullies. This side fears that others will turn away from faith in God and hate all Christians.
Either way, both of these Christian camps live in fear, rather than faith, reacting and overreacting to the behavior of others.
Which side do you identify with? I lean towards the fearful, apologizing camp. I want to counter Christian nationalism with righteous actions. I want to warm the hearts of those victimized by Christian hate with empathic actions of love that seem to always begin with the statement, “I’m sorry. Don’t worry. I’m a different kind of Christian.”
Maybe you’re like me and desperately want to defend Jesus, Word of God in the flesh and Savior of the world, against all those hypocritical, hate-filled, hell-in-a-handbasket humans who call themselves Christians. But these reactions are merely overreactions to another person’s reaction of someone else’s actions.
The shouting matches that shower online conversations, television debates and Christian divisions only lead to shallow, half-washed solutions. Being Christian begins with something deeper – a countercultural act. Being Christian begins by bathing in being. Reacting to all the chaos, all the pain, all the hurtful, hateful behavior of others isn’t helping anyone. Historically, this cycle of fear-based behavior leads to lose/lose catastrophes that keep followers of Christ living against the world rather than being for the world.
Our reactionary behavior mirrors the actions of the villains we love to hate while justifying our behavior by placing ourselves in the position of hero. If we, the followers of Christ, continue reacting from our defensive postures, then we have learned nothing from scripture, tradition, human experience or, God forbid, the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who hovered over the chaotic waters at the beginning. The same Spirit who calls us all into the holy waters of baptism.
I found such healing waters in a Turkish bathhouse in Budapest.
“Christianity too often promotes reactionary behaviors that lead to the dehumanization of all God’s children.”
One afternoon Josh and I ended up soaking in a large baptistery built in 1542 called a Turkish bath. I was fearful at first, unsure if my fellow coed bathers would follow the important swimsuit rule. Until a few years ago, this communal pool was for men only – so old school that the lack of clothing would not have been considered obscene. Since these healing waters now welcome both female and male, Josh and I were relieved to see that all patrons of the pool were in some sort of bathing suit attire.
Turkish baths are basically large tubs made popular by the Romans. These ancient bathtubs were filled by natural hot springs that came up from beneath the earth. So there we were in Budapest, sitting in a mega bathtub with complete strangers – people who looked different, spoke different and most likely believed different. But all of us exist in the same universe. All of us were created by the same God, came from the same earth and were baptized in the same water. We were all together, doing nothing, simply being.
In those moments and in that place, a universal Spirit hovered all around, uniting the souls of strangers from distant lands and centuries before. Baptism is an ancient practice of reuniting the body and spirit, the spirit that is connected to God and to one another across time and space. Baptism has a way of gently bending the spirit into a posture of humility. The basin’s waist-deep waters relax the body, even seeping beneath the skin, soothing the aches and pains.
Bathing refreshes our faith in God and our fellow humans. Yet too often we choose to shower in fear, focused only on today, only on me, me, me. Fear tells us that our beliefs and behavior against our neighbors are justified. Fear causes us to forget history – a history full of Christians forcing church and state together in crusades that kill children, holocausts that murder minorities, laws that destroy religious liberty and movements that lift up Christian nationalism.
What if all Christians learned to live from the posture of contemplative action, trusting the Spirit that calls us to begin in a bathhouse and then beckons us all back into the work of the world?
Maybe Christians would stop ruining the name of Christ with violence through words and actions. Violence that murders with guns. Violence that oppresses with politics. Violence that turns our Bible into weapons of hate instead of ways of healing.
Today, let’s be Christians who gladly bathe in holy waters where the Holy Spirit will temper our reactionary responses and guide our actions for tomorrow.