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I have in my possession a bulletin of the order of service for Hope Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, on January 2, 1952, the day of my baptism. Since the Reformed Church In America doesn’t celebrate Epiphany, I will assume that the service was a standard one for Ordinary time. There was an introit, an invocation, a Kyrie, an Old Testament reading, a Gloria Patri, a New Testament reading, and Offertory, a sermon, and me, red, misshapen, and howling, according to my mother, being subjected to the waters of Baptism.
Now, it wasn’t until my father died in 2005 that I learned that the reason I had been present on that undoubtedly cold and blustery morning was because my great-great grandfather had no desire to walk 130 miles in a Wisconsin winter.
Arend had come over from the Netherlands in 1848 with his brother Jacob on the promise of a job in Chicago. During the months that they were crossing the Atlantic and portering up the Saint Lawrence and into the Great Lakes to Chicago, the brothers’ sponsor had passed away, and no one met them at the pier. Jacob decided to try his luck in the Yukon, and left, disappearing into the northern mists and most likely from the gene stream as well. His brother never heard from again, but his name lingers on in the family. ‘Jacob’ was my grandfather’s and my father’s middle name.
Arend, whose name means ‘eagle’ in Dutch, was Catholic, although his grandmother was a Huegenot refugee. He knocked around Chicago for a while until someone told him there was a colony of Netherlanders about 60 miles up the shore in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He walked there, arriving in late October. It turned out that the colony was Reformed, and if my ancestor wanted to stay, he would have to convert to the Reformed faith. There was a colony of Catholic Hollanders up near Green Bay, about 120 miles north, but an early winter was and setting in, and besides, one of the Reformed maidens had caught his eye. Arend decided that my great-great grandmother was worth forgoing a Mass, and accepted the Reformed faith.
He outlived my great-great grandmother and two other Protestant wives as well, who are buried in the Reformed churchyard in Kenosha. Interestingly, he requested that he be buried apart from all of them, in unconsecrated ground.
There is no evidence that my ancestor was particularly devout, either as a Catholic or as a Protestant, but his choice sealed the religious destiny of my family for five generations, and nobody deviated from the norm until I came along. This is interesting to me because it speaks to me that no one makes decisions entirely for one’s own self.
Baptism has fallen on hard times recently. A lot of Christians in the United States would maintain that the baptism that I was surrendered to by my young father and my even younger mother, on that cold January morning accomplished nothing at all. Funny, the less baptism means, the keener people seem to be that you have done it “by the book”. I have been baptized twice, as has my son, my daughter, and my wife. We just barely escaped a third baptism as well. Between the four of us, we have probably spilled enough baptismal water to regenerate a small Germanic tribe in the fifth century. My first baptism, though, fixes me in time and space and history as a member of a family and as a member of a clan, a gens, and an ethne’ in a way that none of the subsequent laverings accomplished. I’ve been all over the map since then, both geographically and ecclesiastically, but my roots are there, and as the Psalmist says, “all my springs are in her”.
If you come by this place, welcome. If you stay, I am going to assume that what interests me interests you as well. So, lets get started.
There will probably be several informal series; one will likely deal with my conversion to the Orthodox faith. There are a lot of conversion stories on the Internet. Some of them are high-profile and generate a lot of controversy. Others are less public, but no less heartfelt.
There’s always room for one more, isn’t there? i mean, it’s a big Internet.
Also, there will be an informal series on the writings of the Inklings, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield.
I am particularly interested in Williams and Barfield because they are so little known. The effort I had to make in understanding Williams changed me from a standard-issue American Egalitarian Transcendentalist Evangelical into a small-c catholic hierarchical Sacramentalist, and I believe that the process is probably irreversible. It is kind of akin when someone tells you that a spackle of plaster on the wall looks like your Uncle Victor. Once you have seen the resemblance, you cannot by force of will unsee it.
With Barfield, I have just began the process of intellection and assimilation. He is very, very interesting. What I like about him is that he appears to offer a way out of our current epistemological cul-de-sac.
I’ll talk about the cul-de-sac, too. I love Epistemology.
Anyway, thanks for dropping by.