To see ourselves as others see us

April 13, 2008 | 29 comments
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A sister in Relief Society told us this morning of having toured Salt Lake’s then-newly renovated Cathedral of the Madeleine (our stake had made some contribution so stake members were invited to a special showing). She described the beautiful baptismal font, which was, of course, a basin about ten inches deep.

The guide, knowing her audience, explained the function of the font, saying, “We baptize by immersion. We pour water on the head, which flows over every part of the body. We’re not like you good Mormons — we don’t baptize by submersion.”

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29 Responses to To see ourselves as others see us

  1. Nathan Bunker on April 13, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I had to read the quote twice. I read “immersion” and “submersion” the same way and so it confused me the first time around. Very interesting!

  2. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Apologetics can be interesting when a word is given a meaning / distinction that doesn’t fit the actual meaning of the word. There’s a lesson in there for us, I think.

  3. Carl Youngblood on April 13, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    I don’t like this example. Rather than focus on the word, which this woman was clearly defining incorrectly, why not learn to discuss and respect the differences in belief? Why the need to try to defend her position by coining an idiosyncratic definition? Why not rather call a spade a spade instead of hiding behind words?

  4. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Like whether or not we should insist that Protestants call us “Christian” when their definition of that word does not include us – or whether or not they should insist that we NOT call ourselves “Christian” when our definition of that word clearly does include us?

  5. Nathan Bunker on April 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    I like the guide’ use and definition of the word immersion. It gives insight into her perspective. She sees the water as covering the baby entirely and having the correct effect, in a scriptural sense. What I read is that she is politely saying that she thinks it is very nice way to baptize and in every way as efficacious (and perhaps much more appropriate) than dunking someone in water. I don’t believe in infant baptizing, or baptizing in this way, but I now understand her perspective better.

  6. Ardis Parshall on April 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Let’s not take this too seriously. It’s *funny.* How many times have you said, or heard another Mormon say, something about sprinkling as a form of baptism — not in a formal discussion about scriptural mandates, but in a smug, even disparaging way? That smugness is at the root of even humorous remarks — “Have you heard that the Catholics are now doing baptisms for the dead? They’ve installed a sprinkler system in the cemetery.”

    I loved it that this Catholic guide, who knew her Mormon neighbors so well, could turn the tables on us a little bit.

  7. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Point taken, Ardis.

  8. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Don’t most of us habitually bathe by dousing ourselves in showers nowadays? And since immerse basicallly means “go under,” couldn’t someone who goes under a stream of water say that they have been “immersed in water”? Words are fun things.

    Wtill, the meaning of “complete immersion” would seem to apply to how a person dips herself in a Jewish mikvah so that her “whole body is underwater, and there is no hair sticking out”

    [The immediate context from which this was cut and pasted from is here:

    -Try to spend as little time as you can undressed (unless in water)
    -Men do not make any Bracha (blessing) on the mikvah.
    -Just undress and dip in the water.
    -Make sure your whole body is underwater, and there is no hair sticking out.
    -Also make sure you have no barrier on your body such as a watch or band aid.
    -Dip once to remove impurity.
    -Dip a second time to bring Holliness upon you
    -On Erev Shabbat dip a third time for the honor of Shabbat.
    -After that you can get out and leave, finished.]

  9. Seth R. on April 13, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    “Why the need to try to defend her position by coining an idiosyncratic definition?”

    I don’t know Carl, maybe because she lives in Salt Lake, and has probably been getting smug remarks from pompous Mormons for quite some time. Perhaps? Maybe?

  10. Seth R. on April 13, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Beside Carl, it’s not that idiosyncratic.

    No more idiosyncratic than our explanation of the word “steel” in the Book of Mormon. Right?

    Or is it only “idiosyncratic” when it’s their apologists talking and not ours?

  11. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    rmv “from which”

  12. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    (Richard Land’s) “Four Abrahamic Faiths”:

    I) Converts to Orthodox Judaism: dip (fully immerse in a mikvah).

    II) Unbaptised individuals who convert to Catholicism: douse. (Jewish, Muslim or Mormon rituals, of course, don’t count.)

    III) Whenever a Muslim has become ritually impure, before able to pray: douse (symbolically bathe, including pressing wettened hands over the hair of their heads).

    IV) Converts to Mormonism: dip. (Cleansing rituals performed by other branches don’t count.)

  13. Ardis Parshall on April 13, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    I didn’t know that about Muslims and the hair, Just me, thank you — that explains something I’ve observed about a relative, a convert to Islam, when she visits. Unlike this Catholic guide, I don’t know yet when to ask and when to ignore, much less when to tease.

  14. Trish on April 13, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    #3 Gosh Carl “Why not rather call a spade a spade instead of hiding behind words?”

    What exactly were you trying to say here?

    That saying is thought to come from the derogatory slang use of the term spade meaning Negro – an American term originating in the 20th century. Or from from John Trapp’s Mellificium theologicum:

    “Gods people shall not spare to call a spade a spade, a niggard a niggard.”

    My good mother being from a long line of Southerners would agree this is a rip on Afro-Americans. If you didn’t mean it that way, then may be you should think before you write.

    Why do you give people more ammunition that LDS are racist AND intolerant of other religions. It is hard enough to listen over and over to how Brigham Young and other church leaders made racist comments.

    I think the guide made a “joke” about the differences. I am sure she knows that “submersion” and “immersion” mean the same thing in most dictionaries.

    I have been to the lovely Cathedral of the Madeleine. They are remodeling most of downtown Salt Lake City — you could take it in as part of the tour — not very far from the Beehive House.

  15. StillConfused on April 13, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    As a Southerner, I never heard that “call a spade a spade” was a racial remark. Sounds more like something from an ivory tower type … probably from up north. We Southerners aren’t near as uptight and bigoted as others would have you to believe.

  16. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Plutarch wrote in 178BC, την σκαφην σκαφην λεγοντας. σκαφη—which was translated by Erasmus in 41AD, which in turn was translated by Nicolas Udall in 1542 as

    . . . the Macedonians wer feloes of no fyne witte in their termes but altogether grosse, clubbyshe, and rusticall, as they whiche had not the witte to calle a spade by any other name then a spade.

  17. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks, Just me.

  18. Gene O'Grady on April 13, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    As a non-LDS intruder I don’t like to intervene in the discussions, but I can tell you from my time working with mostly adult Catholics preparing for baptism that “immersion” even in the (very beautiful) small basin in the Cathedral of the Madeleine is a big deal among Catholics. Many older Catholics are horrified at pouring water all over a person rather than just dripping a little on the forehead. Partly has to do with a sense that the semi-immersion is undignified, partly with a fear of seeming Protestant, and perhaps also partly with an assertion of the Catholic sense of the symbolic nature of the sacraments.

  19. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Regarding John’s Trapp’s turns of phrase of 1647 about the niggardly (a word thought to derive from Old Norse hnøggr “stingy” and cognate with Anglo Saxon hneaw “stingy” which did not survive into Middle English) . . . and also noting Obama’s gaffe concerning small town Anglo-Saxon-and-Scots-Irish/Americans’ economic-based “bitterness” maybe we’d all be better off to take pains to avoid disparaging honest upright folks who happen to be rustic-and-frugal. . . . :^)

  20. Clair on April 13, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    After pondering our own “washing” in the temple, and its evolution, I am much less critical of other forms of baptism than I once was. I think the notion of water poured over the head and flowing to the whole body is an edifying spiritual image. We don’t baptize that way, but even our baptism is only symbolic of death and rebirth, not the real thing. And, we have our very own pickle imagery, anyway.

  21. Ardis Parshall on April 13, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks again, Just me; I also find it cited as being the 1542 (i.e., well before black slavery in America) translation of a Latin text by Erasmus: “I have learned to call wickedness by its own terms: A fig is a fig and a spade a spade.” Googling shows that in recent years it has been used by some as a slur in certain contexts, which contexts do not appear to have anything to do with a friendly discussion of Mormon and Catholic baptismal practices. I was unaware of the pejorative use, as were others here, who all apparently have used the phrase as the proverb it has been for centuries. It is neither wise nor charitable to take offense when none was intended, especially in a case where the common, legitimate, and ancient use of the phrase has no negative meaning.

    Gene O’Grady, thanks for stopping by. Your input is very welcome. I hope it is clear, despite the unexpectedly negative turn this light-hearted post has taken, that I posted it because I was tickled by the guide’s familiarity with Mormon terminology and her wit in turning it back on us. That playful sparring signalled friendship, in my view.

  22. Left Field on April 13, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Every once in a while, I find that what I thought was a perfectly innocent word like spade turns out to have been used by someone as a racial slur. Perhaps it speaks well of the crowd that I hang with that I am oblivious to many derogatory expressions. Of course, the downside is that can’t avoid potentially offensive terms if I have no idea that the expression can be used as a slur. I shudder to think what innocent terms I might have unwittingly uttered, knowing nothing of their less savory uses.

    I’m quite sure I’ve never heard “spade” used to refer to anything but a shovel or a suit of cards. Any reference to a “spade” as a person would have left me completely baffled, perhaps thinking that it was a reference to the person being somehow shaped like a shovel.

    I always assumed that “call a spade a spade” referred to the digging implement. However, it appears that both my assumption that the expression refers to a shovel, and Trish’s claim that it refers to an obscure (to me) ethnic slur are both mistaken. You learn something new every day.

    “Niggard,” of course is perfectly acceptable for use in polite company, and has no racial meanings. However, you never know who might misunderstand… In any event, neither “spade” nor “niggard” could possibly have been understood by anybody in 1647 as a racial slur.

  23. Ray on April 13, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Talk about seeing us as others see us . . .

  24. Just me on April 13, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    Errata
    Plutarch (46 AD – 120 AD)
    Erasmus (1466/1469 – 1536)
    (In my post above I apparently mistook page numbers for dates . . . )

  25. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 14, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Senator Orrin Hatch was criticized for using the phrase “calling a spade a spade” a few years back, meaning nowing the difference between a shovel (straight edge) and a spade (pointed edge). I have not idea how the term “spade” came ot be a term used for African-Americans. It goes to show that American English is not quite as uniform a language as we sometimes assume. Of course, any misisonary who has served outside the US us aware that certain hand gestures we use all the time have obscene meanings assigned in some other cultures. In Japan, it is not uncommon for the people to use their longest finger to point to something on a blackboard in church, i.e. the middle finger. Since it si impossible for anyone to kow how his words and gestures could be intepreted by all other people on earth, we should be willing to exercise forgiveness and grant the benefit of the doubt, and admit that our own semantic values may not be the ones that were in the mind of the originator. That is why I am disturbed that the burden seems to be placed on people in the workplace to be able to anticipate how any other person might perceive anything said or done. People looking for an excuse to be offended (and maybe even sue) don’t bother considering that their own intepretation may be wrong.

    I think it is funny, finally, that this issue about the meaning of “baptism” is raised during discussion on my post about Noah’s flood and the objections that the flood has to meet our definitions of “baptism by immersion” and can only do so if the water involved formed a uniform surface deep enough to inundate all mountain tops.

  26. manaen on April 14, 2008 at 5:12 am

    FYI, Catholic churches here in SoCal are beginning to have fonts for full-body immersions, including St. Paul’s which is next to the stake center behind the LA temple.
    .
    A Catholic friend once bested in this conversation:
    ME: We don’t worship saints or anyone else besides God.
    FRIEND: We don’t worship saints, either. We only ask them to pray for us, to use their influence in our favor.
    ME: We don’t do that either. We only pray to God.
    FRIEND: In your church, don’t you sometimes ask other members to pray for you?
    ME: Yes.
    FRIEND: Why do you do that?
    ME: The effectual prayer of the righteous availeth much, etc.
    FRIEND: And what do you call members of your church?
    Me: (awkward silence)

  27. john f. on April 14, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Cool manaen! That was pretty funny.

  28. Trish on April 15, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Ardis,

    That was my point. Why would a person use the “calling a spade a spade” in a conversation at all? May be it is outdated and apparently it does stir up emotions when used.

    I grew up in a nearly all-black community most of my life — so I think I know about racial slurs. No, Mr. StillConfused, I did not hear it in the North or East and the only ivory towers I have been in –at least in recent years– belong to the LDS church.

    By the way Ardis, nice story about the Chinese man in the Tribune yesterday.

  29. Ardis Parshall on April 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Trish, MY point remains: “It is neither wise nor charitable to take offense when none was intended, especially in a case where the common, legitimate, and ancient use of the phrase has no negative meaning.”