Belonging, consumerism and infant baptism

Hilary Blake compares the loving welcome of infant baptism and the fostered insecurities of consumerism.

Two things coincided in my diary recently which may, on the surface, seem to have little to do with one another. One was the launch of Plenty! – Joy in Enough’s small group conversation resource – the other was the baptism of my 11-month-old son. So what’s the link?

I was struck by Eve Poole’s words about consumerism at the launch event, and how the church might respond. The culture of consumerism and the advertising we see every day tells us that we are not enough, and if we bought more stuff, spent more money, experienced more things, then we would get closer to being enough. Of course, the system only works if we find that once we have bought the latest thing, we find we’re still not satisfied and need to move on to the next thing. What Good News could the church share in this context? Eve talked about consumerism as a ‘search for self-identity’. But it will inevitably be a fruitless search: ‘This whole consumerism thing is an utter sham’, Eve said. ‘There is nothing on earth that can satisfy us. Once you realise that none of that will ever be enough you start noticing how desperately we need the Christian narrative.’ 

My husband and I met our minister to talk about and plan the baptism service and we talked about how baptism shows that a child is already loved, already belongs and finds his identity in God. The child has nothing to prove before they can be accepted. God’s grace is already present. We hope that as he grows, his understanding and relationship will grow too, but God does not wait to welcome and accept him.

The Methodist Worship Book includes these words just before the child is baptised:

[Name], for you Jesus Christ came into the world,
For you he lived and showed God’s love;
For you he died and rose again;
All this for you, before you could know anything of it.
In your baptism the word of Scripture is fulfilled, ‘we love because God first loved us.’

The Good News demonstrated in infant baptism is radically different from the false promises of consumerism. The child is already ‘enough’ – to their family, their community and to God. They already belong. We wouldn’t love our children more if they had branded t-shirts. Our friends who agreed to be godparents to our son did not promise to buy him a new toy every year in an attempt to make up for some lack in him or in our family life; they promised to, ‘help his parents to nurture him, remembering the love of Christ’.*

But the voices of consumerism and advertising are persistent and pervasive, and we begin to doubt the voice of God’s Spirit that longs for us to hear that we are enough and that we belong. Consumerism is destroying our common home and making us miserable. It’s time for us to listen to the voice assuring us that we already belong, and that the yearning we feel for completeness is found in God’s community, not in consumption. And it’s time to share that message with our neighbours, so that consumerism loses its power over us all.

I know that many church traditions don’t baptise babies and I’d love to hear reflections from others about how we welcome new people into our communities and celebrate our belonging, whatever our age.

*(In fact, so far they have bought him some second-hand egg shakers and written words from a John L Bell hymn, Shake up the morning, on them, and dedicated a tree in a new woodland in the Yorkshire Dales – both beautiful and meaningful gifts that don’t add to clutter and landfill)

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