3 months ago, in the sunny warmth of August, I blindly agreed to speak at youth group for the month of November. Kyle, the youth pastor, had invited me to teach on baptism and communion. That’s right: just me and a lot of 10-12 years olds dwelling on the sacraments together. #crushingit
Ha…haha…ha. Thanks, Kyle.
Now the sky had grown dark as I stared at my blinking cursor and poured over the text for my lesson the next day. I’d picked out the passage weeks beforehand—Acts 8, the baptism of the Ethiopian by Philip.
But what I thought I’d talk about wasn’t sticking at all.
I deleted everything from my document yet again, save one phrase that felt significant:
Baptism is about belonging.
My thoughts drifted to the stories of children I carried from the last week. Each weighed heavy on my mind. Since Tuesday, parents and friends had recounted how their 10-13 year olds in particular were experiencing pronounced fear in the aftermath of the election. Many wondered if a friend or a teacher was going to suddenly be forced to leave. Many had heard shocking words that made them feel anxious or confused. And many felt powerless. What should they say? What could they do? What was right? And what did “right” look like as friends and classmates attempted to piece together truth across the political lines of their parents and families and churches?
Just earlier that day, I’d read an article from a middle school not far from where I work where some students had formed a human wall and started yelling at Asian and Latina students to “go back where they came from.” A mother was quoted, “No one can ever take back the fact that my twelve year old daughter experienced overt racism today.”
There is work to be done. Extending the mission of love is about so much more than a vote.
Who does God want to belong in his kingdom? I wrote.
I thought about the Ethiopian, one of the most divinely intentional baptisms of the early church.
I thought of his skin, his clothes, his accent, his cultural practices, his religious experiences, his sexuality… How different he would have appeared to Philip.
That’s the gorgeous heart of this story: the kingdom of God is for everyone.
So often when we think about baptism, we think about ourselves belonging to a community of faith. We forget that we are also called to be messengers of belonging, spreading welcome ahead of the gospel.
You are accepted. You are safe. You are wanted. I respect and protect and celebrate you.
That is what Jesus says to us. That is what we get to say to others.
There’s a movement right now circulating the Internet, birthed in the aftermath of Brexit. People have begun to wear safety pins. Doctors have them pinned to their medical jackets, teachers have pinned them to their ties, journalists have them attached to the lapels of blazers. It’s a tiny gesture, intended to communicate solidarity with targets of hate crimes and to inspire action. It’s a daily invitation to stand with those being oppressed. A chance for all of us to be curious about someone else’s stories, pain, fears, and grief.
To be fair, there is a considerable amount of cynicism on the Internet regarding the safety pins: are they enough? Or do they just assuage people of privilege, inspiring no change at all?
Those are important questions to consider.
I’ve got a safety pin on my scarf. And for my lesson on Philip and the Ethiopian, I decided to conclude by dumping a bunch of safety pins out in front of me. My fifth and sixth graders listened with rapt attention as I told them the story of people and safety pins, just like I’ve told you.
“You get to show people they belong whether you take a safety pin or not,” I said. “But if you would like a safety pin to help you remember to notice people who are different than you, to be kind and curious and brave, you can have one. If you would like to take lots of safety pins and hand them out at your school or to your family, you get to do that too. Tell the story. Because people matter, and you can help ensure that they know they are safe and loved.”
I watched lots of little eyes brighten up with the invitation. I watched most of the safety pins disappear.
I’m keeping the rest in my pocket, just in case someone else would like a reminder: be brave, be kind, be generous with your heart. The kingdom of God is all about belonging. And belonging spreads face to face, one conversation at a time.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 27 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.