At around 10:30 AM, September 2, 2018, I was baptized into the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod. Now over the course of my years, I’ve hated organized religion, I detested the church and wanted nothing to do with it. But after transferring to Valparaiso University, confronting myself, and my faith, I wanted nothing more than to escape into it.
It began with an intro to the Christian Tradition Class, one that started at 8 AM, so as you can imagine, I was already grumpy that I was taking such a basic (my thoughts of boring) class, much too early for my taste. We discussed the Bible, something I had never really done in any setting. My opening to theology began with people’s interpretation of the text that faith began with. I had never really opened the book before, but I thought I knew exactly what was in it because people told me what was in it.
This brings a point, though, in the journey of myself. It is no secret that I have and do struggle with crippling anxiety and depression. for the past four years, I have had struggles with self-harm, not being able to get out of bed, and making and keeping meaningful relationships because of it. Upon reading a biography on Martin Luther, I learned that Luther himself also struggled with anxiety and depression, that he called anfechtungen which roughly translates to “to do battle with one’s own thoughts and with the devil.” Luther and I could practically be the same person 500 years apart, struggling with not only faith but with the self. Which is a journey all in itself, but also inseparable at the same time. Luther’s theology, as was the theology at the time, relied on external sources instead of the Bible, another relation since my education also began with outside sources instead of the source itself. Ultimately, that is how I realized my own anfechtungen experience. I did battle with my own thoughts because I relied on external sources to give me information on the ultimate source: myself.
I didn’t really listen to myself too much. I liked what other people had to say about me more than what I could possibly ever come up with. It was comfortable because it made other people happy. In turn, that made me happy. The only person who really knew who I was, was the person I trusted the most, outside of myself. Unfortunately, she was a minority, a spectator to the person I was, she knew because I let her know, without even knowing myself entirely. I didn’t listen for that exact reason. I was scared, I wanted to be different and I thought that the me that she knew me as, the real me, wasn’t different enough. I would never be enough for myself, and that was terrifying. The events that tormented me in abandoning that, would forever haunt me, would be scars on my skin, echoing mistakes that screamed agony. It was devastating, and I needed to get rid of that past. That opportunity arose.
The professor my Intro to Christian Tradition Class took an interest in me early on, when I first met with the pastor on campus to be baptized. Upon reading Augustine’s Confessions, the Bible and other Church father’s, I knew I was missing something monumental in my life. Dr. Jason Gehrke took a chance on me. I was nervous, I knew him as someone a little more conservative than any other professor I had. What am I doing here? would be a question that raced through my mind often. But I let down my walls and decided to trust the situation. He would become the second person to truly know me. And this time I listened.
He didn’t tell me who I was. He didn’t try and change me or force me outside these naive thoughts I had. When I first met with the pastor on campus I walked into his office laid it all on the table as if saying this is who I am take it or leave it, I’m not changing. I don’t know if I was afraid of change, of giving up the parts of me that made me “different” or just the fear of entering the church itself. Over time as we conversed, I was wrong in thinking that. I was prematurely labeling myself before even knowing myself. I loved the comfort of the abyss I let grow around me. When Dr. Gehrke entered my life, everything changed. He questioned everything about me. Where I was from, who was I, why was I here? but with everything, I said deeper, as in who am I? He always asked why? Why. Such a simple word with such complex implications with an infinite amount of answers. I would freeze, groan awkwardly, as I constantly contradicted myself, who I loved, why I loved them, and how to fight against how I labeled myself. He would smile, a curious smile that sticks in my head today. That is when I knew I was making the right decision. It was a smile and an invitation. “Think about all the reasons why you think of yourself like that.” I went home, and I did. For a week it was the only thing I could think of. Everything I did, said, acted out would replay in my mind. For some, this would be crippling, an attack on their own identity. But for me, it was vulnerability plain and simple. I finally knew who I was. Me, Dr. Gehrke and Chuck. This personal, intimate, holy trinity on earth. I felt powerful, confident. I was happy.
In preparing for the Baptism, Dr. Gehrke told me that Baptism wasn’t just water. It was a flood. It was murder. Murder. God, I was terrified, what the hell do you mean murder? It was a way of drowning the old Adam, the vessel of original sin. I was ready, anxious, I knew the Adam I wanted to drown, I knew my soul needed to be murdered. I knew. I was ready. It was time to drown, and I never wanted it to see the light of day again.
This morning, I drowned.