Fitbits and family ties: The baptismal call to faithful citizenship
It's hard to believe that after months of campaign ads, primary battles, debates, and commentary, Election Day is still a month away. Each day brings with it a new batch of headlines, claims of he said this, and she did that. At the end of the day, it can be exhausting. And yet, with 31 days until November 8, we are each called to consider this election cycle in terms of what it means to answer the baptismal call as a citizen and person of faith.
This year, in celebration of my 30th birthday, my parents gave me two presents. They are presents that have stuck with me.
The first, quite literally, has stayed on me since May. It is a Fitbit. This little band on my wrist, a fitness tracker, has taken the place of my watch and has counted the number of steps I take each day. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd like it, but now I barely notice that it is there, save for the little reminders it gives me to get up and move during the day and the way it gleefully buzzes if/when I reach 10,000 steps for the day.
The second gift was more of a surprise. It was a letter containing a story I had never really heard — the story of my birth. In it my parents bantered back and forth on the page about what was important to include. My mother made a point of saying I'd taken my time coming out. My father recounted how, because of that, he was able to leave in the middle of the long slow labor to go to a retirement luncheon for my grandfather. I laughed and I cried as I read the story. These were things I'd never known. But even more so, there was such love in their words that I couldn't help but give thanks that I'd been born to these people. Their letter affirmed a part of who I am and poured forth the love parents have for their children.
But what do a Fitbit and a sentimental letter have to do with baptismal call or this year's election?
These gifts give us a good framework for considering the baptismal call that we live out each day. This call traces itself all the way back to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. For all the differing accounts of Jesus' life and ministry in the four Gospels, the baptism of Jesus distinctly appears in each one without exception. This is where Jesus' ministry begins. To put that in Fitbit terms, that's step one on the journey. For everything that will follow, this moment marks the beginning of the rest of Jesus' life, a life that embodies the call to live in and with God, growing daily and encountering the Divine in every aspect of life.
And what is it that Jesus hears as he emerges from the waters of baptism? "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."
Before any miracles or healings, before any temptations in the desert and before any disciples began to gather, before any parables or teachings, there is only Love. God declares right then and there, before Jesus has done anything, that he is God's beloved. And God does the same for us.
The majority of us don't remember our baptism. We were infants and the call we answered was not of our own accord. The people who answered by bringing us to the life giving waters of baptism believed. In their love for us, they wanted us to have the gift of that belief, too.
I imagine God smiled on each one of us that day, no matter our age or the circumstances, and said "This is my beloved child: I love you and you are mine."
And from there, we — like Jesus — stepped out into the world. As with my Fitbit, some days are better than others. There are nights, I find myself walking up and down the block to get the last few steps to 10,000 in before day's end. Yet, no matter the day, in our lives of faith the call of our baptism echoes over and over. Our goal is to strive towards the goodness God sees in us and to share the graces we have been blessed with. This requires attentiveness to our relationship with God and our relationships with others. That's a challenge that requires action beyond steps. We must be active in sharing the love of God, remaining faithful to the challenge of the Gospel in our lives: to be more loving, more merciful, and more engaged.
Nowhere is this truer than in our role as faithful citizens. The Gospel doesn't promise to win us friends or make us rich. It seeks what is right, standing on the side of the forgotten and proclaiming that the Good News begins in the heart of Love. At the Transfiguration, Jesus would be reminded of his "beloved"-ness. Perhaps this is what he needed to go back down the mountain to pursue the Truth that would ultimately land him on the cross.
That too is part of our baptismal call: to stand for justice and to seek God's will in the workings of the world. That will is bigger than our own. It requires a consciousness not only of my security and comfort but also that of the common good.
At the end of the day, I wonder if I am healthier for having a Fitbit. The answer: maybe. But I can tell you I am more health conscious because I have this little tracker on my wrist. The same can be asked of our baptism: Are we as a country and communities healthier for me having lived my faith today? Have my actions been attentive to God's will and call? Did I strive to bring God into the everyday actions and being of my life?
Each day we will answer these questions differently. The hope is that over the span of many days we might be able to answer more affirmatively than not and, in the process, ultimately discover the transformative effects of our faith lived out.
Part of those transformative effects can be seen in our children. My parents wrote to me "You never know how a child will affect the way a family works." Yet, having another child simply expanded their capacity to love.
If we could see each person as an individual inviting us to a greater love, how might our world change? Rather than turning against one another, we might see that my future is inherently tied to yours. This is part of what we say yes to in our baptism, consciously and unconsciously. It is the gift and challenge of the faith we've received. Each day is a chance to better live those promises made long ago, to renew our baptismal call.
As we look towards Election Day, we are again invited to consider that baptismal call.
There are no perfect candidates, just as there are no perfect people. We bring our lives to bear on the future we create. As we face the challenge of voting with faith in mind, let us remember the deep love from which we were called and recognize that it is the same deep love to which we've been given.
May the Spirit — the same Spirit that came down at Jesus' baptism — live in you, so that each step of the journey may be blessed and you may take each step knowing you are beloved: called by name, gifted by Grace, and sent out to transform the world by affirming your baptismal promises not just in the voting booth but every day with your life.
[Colleen Gibson is a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as assistant director of campus ministry at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.]