Ice Bucket Baptism

September 04, 2014

By now you've surely seen the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge." You've likely participated - or at least been challenged. It seems nearly all my friends on Facebook have joined in, as well as quite a few celebrities. Interestingly, I've not been challenged. I don't know if that means I'm not cool or people see me as some scrooge that wouldn't participate (and I probably wouldn't have). I'm not opposed to it (yes, there are actually some people throwing cold water on ALS research). I'm just focused on other charities. But kudos to the creators of the challenge for generating a lot more money for ALS research. This has been a popular, effective fundraising idea.

As I watch videos of a number of my friends taking the challenge, it almost seems like a new Reformation with everyone rushing to baptize themselves with ice (or letting their kids revel in doing the deed). Perhaps the ice bucket challenge serves as an apt metaphor for American baptisms today. 

I won't claim this is why I haven't done the challenge. Maybe I would have if challenged early on. Now it would just seem like the nerd getting the cool look so late that the fashions have already changed. I have no problem with people joining in the fun and I truly hope the money helps find a cure to this horrible disease. I'm instead concerned it's as an accurate metaphor for churches.




The ice bucket challenge serves as a way of seeming cool and caring, but without much work. Flip on a camera, pay a little money, throw some ice water on yourself, and  post it online for friends to watch. Too often it seems church baptisms work the same way. Walk down an aisle, say a simple prayer, get wet, and then go off to have fun with friends. The call of discipleship has been replaced with a simple splash as fire insurance. I've actually even heard evangelists talk about needing to get "fire insurance" as if following Jesus was only about not getting punished (oh, Hell).

Too often baptism serves as the climax, not the start. So it will probably be with the ice bucket challenge. I doubt it could really work again, so it's unlikely to be a regular event. Many people will feel like they've already done it. We'll move on and forget about ALS once the next cool charity craze hits.

Perhaps the ice bucket challenge fits our age of "spiritual but not religious." We self-baptize at home, rather than with a minister in a community. We use cold water to create an artificial, short-lived rush. We make it more about fun than sacrifice. We try to outdo the previous videos, just as we rush to the newest, biggest mega-super-duper-monster church (not surprisingly, several hip megachurch pastors have broadcast their ice bucket moments). There's even a common litany in the ceremonies as we note who challenged us and then challenge others. So at least we're evangelistic about the ice bucket challenge (except for the unreached peoples like myself), which might mean it's working a bit better than the church baptismal waters.

If the ice bucket challenge is like baptism, then that means in my faith tradition I would have to go for full immersion instead of this simple pouring on top of the head! I wonder how long it will take to make enough ice to fill my bathtub. That seems even more wasteful than throwing buckets of clean water around.

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