Category Archives: Getting older

Conversions

Yesterday was the First Sunday of Epiphany. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

The story was told again, around the parts of the Christian world that follow the calendar of the Roman church, of John the Baptizer and Jesus and the river Jordan and the voice of God the Father saying “This is my beloved son.”

Yesterday, I took a memory journey back to my own baptism(s).

Now please understand that I grew up in an evangelical tradition where a public profession of faith and a public baptism was a pre-requisite for church ‘membership,’ or as I now understand, for being on the rolls of a particular congregation.

I also grew up in a tradition where every single church service concluded with an altar call. A call to repentance. A call to salvation.

So it was that, at age five, I walked an aisle after a church service and made my childish/childhood/childlike profession of faith. We had talked with the minister at the church prior to that evening service at Calvary Baptist in Columbia, Missouri. He assured my father that I understood what I was doing.

Of course I realize now that I understood nothing. This act was a five-year-old boy getting a fire insurance policy so he wouldn’t burn in hell.

But the experience was real enough that it’s emblazoned on my memory, unlike so many other experiences in my single-digit years.

1966, at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia.

I was a good kid. A preacher’s kid. I caused my parents very little worry and trouble as I matured. And in due time I committed my life to Christian ministry (read that as “Baptist church work”), took a college degree in religious studies, went to work for two different Baptist institutions in four years, and ended up employed in the secular world.

But I get ahead of myself.

College.

January 1981. I’m taking a Jan-term course, several hours every day for three weeks, in the topic “The Uniqueness of Religious Language.” On a Friday morning that January forty years ago, Dr. Dan (who died last year, and about whom I wrote on this blog just a few weeks ago) spoke of how the New Testament words “and have everlasting life” (see John 3:16) should really be interpreted not as everlasting length of life (the soul living on in death, whatever that means), but instead as everlasting quality of life (the soul having a relationship with God even in death, again whatever that means).

And I left the dining hall after lunch that day to find myself on my knees in my dorm room in Landen Hall, repenting my childish ignorance. Claiming this quality of everlasting life. Finally gaining access to the salvation from myself, from destruction, from darkness that I thought I had understood at age five. The moment was profound, life-changing.

Two days later, at First Baptist, Bolivar, I walked the aisle on a Sunday morning, made an adult profession of my faith, and was baptized by full immersion a week later. My parents didn’t understand, but I knew in my heart that this was the beginning of my new life.

My father saved all the letters I wrote during and after college. I have read enough of them to note that I quickly became pretty religiously zealous in a 20-year-old evangelical sort of way.

I also realize now I was beginning to flee from the then-uncomfortable realization that I was not suited for a conventional marriage, and to feel self-loathing and shame that came from beginning to understand my own sexual orientation. (That process took fifteen more years.)

Jump forward to 1988 and 1989, the time of a more enlightened adoption and understanding of the fullness of my Christian faith.

Many Christian denominations practice infant baptism and confirmation at the age of 14, when a teenager is admitted into the fullness of the Church, and after chatechisis, a time of teaching and training. The idea is that the young Christian is now old enough to be an adult in the faith.

For me, that point of being adult enough was in the early Bush administration. I recall being vividly aware one day that the world was not binary (yes/no, right/wrong) but instead a thousand shades of gray. That the command of God was actually pretty simple: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and love your neighbors as yourself.” That, unlike what had been taught me as a child, my job wasn’t to find God’s perfect path for me (I mean, what kind of loving god plays perverse whack-a-mole like that?) but instead to walk a path in faith, loving others around, doing good works, being a light.

And when I converted to the Episcopal Church as my spiritual home and in whose liturgy I delight so, and gave up my ordination papers (for I was at that time The Rev. Jeffrey R. Carter) from my Southern Baptist home congregation, and the minister at that church said to me “we all believe the Apostles’ Creed, and the rest is just polity and practice,” I received a confirmation from him that I was now free to walk the path.

So I have for the past thirty years. So I will for the rest of my days.


Age five, an insurance policy. Age 19, an adult understanding of some things. Age 28, assumption of the full mantle of the Christian joy and burden and purpose.

The Lord has shown forth his glory. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The journey continues.

Today.

What’s left?

What’s left?

The carnage of a most dreadful year A.D. 2020 is past.

Or, as Michelle Cottle wrote this week in the New York Times, “This year was a soul-crushing hellscape of a dumpster fire. For sanity’s sake, large chunks of it should be repressed as soon as possible.”

Truth be told, this turning of the year is artificial. Nothing changes overnight just because we start a new month in a year that has one digit changed. But we measure our lives in this way, and so we will, and so I will.

So, the carnage is real. The year 2020 was a veritable beast. The most miserable year in my memory, and that of many others.

What’s left?

As I write, the finches are frolicking and foraging in the garden, so evident through my window above the sink.

And candlelight still illumines the darkness, a much-needed gift in this dark season of the year.

Neighbors and friends still exhibit kindnesses — a wave, a little gift of bran muffins, a “what do you need from the store?”, a perfectly-chosen little something at Christmas time.

Creativity yet abounds. The composer juices are flowing again.

Books are still faithful companions. Said E. B. White, “Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people – people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”

The kitchen still beckons with promises of comfort and other forms of creativity.

Nelson still needs me as much as I need him.

And as of Monday, I have fewer than 150 days until I return full-time to the professoriate.

A new term with the Variety kids is in the offing, also starting on Monday, with new music to explore and new stories to be told.

And there are stories still to be told . . . stories of life and living, of dreams fulfilled, of dreams not yet fulfilled, of people and places.

There are still songs to be sung. To be learned and taught. Voices to be raised and trained. Oh, this gift of singing . . . . What a certain treasure it is!

Perhaps 2021 will be less carnaged, more filled with hope as opposed to doom and despair, a time of fulfillment. And creativity. And song. And love. And hugs.

May it be so.

2020 in pictures

My annual photo review of the year . . . .

Food and kitchen time. Nelson. Garden. Little travel. Hardly any family time. Nine months of no theatre. But plenty of beauty, and of love.

Childhood memories

Various things I’m reading, seeing, and hearing are calling up a wealth of childhood memories.

In no particular order:

  • From my single-digit years, The Bobbsey Twins books, and a bit later, after hitting 10 years old, Alvin Fernald mystery books.
  • The Kroger store in Hannibal. I would have been 6 or 7. I told Mom that I had to potty. Repeatedly. She kept saying I could hold it, and that we only lived a few blocks away. Well, I couldn’t hold it. “Clean up in the baking aisle” and Mom’s hand spanking my butt are two lasting memories of that wet day.
  • An unlimited supply of Smarties at Windermere that summer I worked in the snack bar. I probably should have been paying for them.
  • And speaking of, my lone shoplifting experience was at that same Kroger-of-wetness. I would have been 8 or 9. I palmed a roll of cherry Lifesavers in the check-out lane, and put them in my pants. And I got away with it.
  • That late-70s official Preppy handbook. I only took preppy-dom a little way into my wardrobe, but the penny loafers and a sweater thrown over my shoulders, arms loosely knotted around my neck, sent my sister Karen into a paroxysm of anti-preppy monologue. “Stop trying to be something you aren’t.” If only she knew then how hard I was trying to hide my sexuality as I attended a very conservative Baptist university . . . .
  • Diane Sperber singing “Oh Holy Night” at Christmas Eve at church. It wasn’t Christmas until the soprano sang! And these days the Christmas Eve music, anthems to which I fall asleep on that holy night, is “This Christmastide” by Donald Fraser, sung by the American Boychoir, and Morton Lauridsen’s “O magnum mysterium” as performed by the choir of the Brompton Oratory in London.
  • The electric train I got for Christmas in 1970. After breakfast, Pop set up the oval track on the kitchen table. Too close to the edge of the table. At full-speed, the train did not take one of the turns well, and derailed. Onto the kitchen floor. Pop was angry. I was hurt. And the train never worked as it should after that.
  • Milking a miss-school kind of illness for an extra day, and while at home alone raiding the Pepsi bottles and eating handfuls of red hots.
  • Wanting to drop piano lessons somewhere in my early teens. My parents insisted I stay with it. I thanked them for their foresight while they were alive, and bless them now.
  • With the straightest, most boring hair in the world, sitting under a hair dryer at the dining room table, in the dark, at 6.30 a.m. when no one else was yet stirring. I would get up, then shower, then dry my hair under the dryer since we did not have a blow dryer.

Fire at Windermere

Summer 1978. I was a summer staffer at Windermere Baptist Assembly (now Conference Center) outside of Camdenton.

The snack shop and book/gift shop were in this building, as was a lounge where I whiled away many happy hours.

Windermere structure ‘a total loss’ after Dec. 23 fire

This building — the oldest extant building at Windermere still in use — is a total loss. And a part of my formative years, and a big part of the summer of 1978, went up in flames.

https://jeffreycarter.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/reminiscence-windermere/

Traditions

The run-up to Christmas and Christmastide itself are a mash of traditions for many of us, I do think. Certainly, for my family, and for me.

For instance, I sent this photo of my Christmas morning breakfast to my sisters, featuring the homemade sticky pecan rolls I had made:

The response I got included the word ‘traditional’ from each sister, as they reminded me that they were having orange rolls (Pillsbury!), a long-standing tradition dating back to childhood.

One of my own traditions, living alone as I do, is to hold onto all the greeting cards sent me by others, and open then after the King’s College, Cambridge lessons & carols service on Christmas Eve.

For several years in the previous decade, my sister Karen gave me votive-lighted porcelain Christmas village pieces. Three have survived into this third decade of the twenty-first century. I traditionally on light them on Christmas Eve and for a few nights after, or if I am having guests in the evening (certainly not this year!).

And for me, Christmas dinner features ham, cheese grits, and green beans, with an apple pie chaser as dessert.

Those are my 2020 lime pickles on the side.

Christmas traditions mean family gatherings, this year on Zoom:

And one more . . . not a tradition, but for fun: Jessica the Circus Lady gifted the most whimsical and endearing oven mitt this year: