Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jessica Ahlquist at S.A.N.E.

It was my honor today to introduce my niece, Jessica Ahlquist, at the Secular Assembly for the North East (SANE). Here's the video, followed by Jessica's talk, followed by the script I wrote for the occasion. When you watch the video of my introduction, see if you can spot the mistake I made.

My script:
I’ve been asked to introduce the next speaker, my niece, Jessica Ahlquist. So I thought I’d tell a little story. Here’s the first line:

clear throat

“There was Jessica, soaking wet from head to foot, shivering in the cold air, screaming incoherently at the top of her lungs, completely naked.”

Let me just say at this point that this story is completely true and that the second line puts the first into context.

clear throat

“It was over eighteen years ago when my brother and his wife asked me to be Jessica’s Godfather at a ceremony to take place at Saint Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church. Now my brother knew I was an atheist. At that time it wasn’t something I led with, as in 'Hi, I’m Steve Ahlquist, atheist.' I wasn’t exactly closeted, I just didn’t talk about my nonbelief all that much.

To me being Jessica’s Godfather and helping at the service was something nice to do for my family. My wife and I never had our children baptized, we weren’t religious, though eventually my wife did become a Unitarian Universalist.

I was honored to be asked to be Jessica’s Godfather, but still, I had reservations. The purpose of a baptism is to two-fold. The first, and the one I don’t have a problem with, is to call together the extended family for a party to celebrate a new addition to the clan.

The second purpose, and the one I object to, is to wash away Original Sin, the sin that Adam and Eve stained our collective soul with when they ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden because of a talking snake.

I look at an unbaptized baby, called a Yerakha in the Armenian church, and see beauty, potential and innocence. The Armenian priest sees damnation, sin and the stain of evil."


"The Yerakha is taken from the Gunkahayr, that’s me, the Godfather, and completely immersed in the water basin at the front of the church. The priest takes the child, and mutters the magic words, “In the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit,” dunks the child, and repeats the process twice more. Three complete immersions, one for each member of the Trinity, get it?

Jessica hated this. She screamed. She sputtered water, she fought and wriggled as best she could, but the priest simply held her in his hands and muttered some incantations, displaying her for the audience like Simba in the Lion King.

I’d like to say that the water fizzled as she entered it, or that a great voice boomed out from the heavens saying, “Behold she who will one day destroy me!” or some such thing, but really, Jessica was just wet, cold and miserable. We wrapped her in a towel and gave her back to her mother, who did her best to comfort her.

As the Gunkahayr, I was made responsible for Jessica’s spiritual welfare. I must have done something right, because I’ve never met a brighter, braver spirit than hers. In truth, she’s taught me more about bravery and perseverance than I could ever teach her.

I am happy to introduce, to the great state of Connecticut, my niece, Jessica Ahlquist."

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