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Family business

“I will sing, sing a new song…”

- U2, “40”


“What’s up with your cousins?”

That’s what she asked me when I called her that afternoon to ask about something else entirely. She wasn’t talking about cousins in the sense I was used to. She was talking about my fellow white people.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this use of “cousins.” It gets bandied about in my church all the time.

But this time was different.

It was January 6, 2021. Epiphany. Earlier that day, white supremacists had stormed the U.S. Capitol. When she asked me, “What’s up with your cousins?” she meant “What’s up with all those white people storming the Capitol?”

One of my most cherished understandings of baptism is that it forms a new family. In baptism, we are adopted into a new family, declared children of God and siblings of one another (Ephesians 1:5, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5).

It’s more than a theory. When a Belizean-American grandma in my congregation meets my German-American newborns and says, “Looks like I have some new grands!” - that’s baptism.

When my girls talk about their “aunties” at church - that’s baptism.

When kids grow up with a multicultural god-family of god-mothers and god-sisters and god-cousins all around - that’s baptism.

I know this theological image of family has its flaws. But even in its brokenness I have come to believe in the baptismal family. It gets at something deep and true about what God is up to in the world.

But January 6 showed us that we live in the already and the not yet, in two worlds at the same time.

In “Water-Washed and Spirit-Born,” Dan Erlander writes and illustrates that in baptism there is a great “NO!” and a great “YES!” When we say “YES!” to God’s new family, we say “NO!” to the old order. We say “NO!” to the false families the world creates for us.

I don’t mean your mom and dad - that might sometimes be the case, but that alone is too simplistic, too reductive. I don’t even mean your ethnic heritage, your German bratwurst and your favorite Irish post-punk rock band - those things are not wrong in and of themselves, but part of the vibrant cultural gathering of this world, taking their place at the table alongside Belizean meat pies and Mexican son jarocho.

I mean the way the world flattens all those vibrant details into a false family called “white,” and then structures the world to benefit that family with heaps of nepotism. White supremacy puts its own chosen people at the dining room table, and relegates all others to the kids’ table, or the servant’s quarters. Look around at what we have done. Look around at this deadly distortion of God’s family. Once you see it, once the waters of baptism have cleared your vision, you cannot unsee it. White supremacy is the false family that must be not merely left behind but confronted and dismantled so that God’s new family, where all of us have an equal place at the table, can flourish.

This is not a one-time move, but daily bread, the daily Great No and Great Yes, the daily dying and rising in the waters, the daily and collective step-by-step work of dismantling and rebuilding.

This is why we organize. Sometimes organizing is the dismantling of hierarchy, and sometimes organizing is the building up of another little part of the kin-dom, and most of the time it is both at the same time. It is how we live out our baptism. It is how we create spaces for the family of God to flourish.

For when the family of God, the new family of love and liberation, justice and joy, finally flourishes - oh, what a day that will be.

Can you imagine it? Better yet, can you hear it?

Can you hear this culturally diverse Coachella, this baptismal Bonnaroo, this Revelation rave-up? Can you feel its bass drop in your body, its beat in your bloodstream, its chorus in your cerebellum? Yes, it is the sound of kingdom come! Even now, our Divine DJ is putting together the playlist, and inviting us to do the same. Your songs are there, and mine are too, and we are all caught up in the rhythm of Resurrection at God’s great family reunion.

But maybe that great dancing day in all its fullness still lies on the far shore. Maybe it begins closer to home. Maybe it begins with our cousins.

There is a song we sing at my church at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter. A new fire has been lit, and we are gathered outdoors, on the corner of a busy street. In the hours to come, we will tell the great stories of salvation to one another, and then, as the sun gives way to the moon, we will baptize children of God of every tribe and every nation into the waters of God’s own family, a family of love and liberation, a family of justice and joy. And as we do, the words of that opening song echo through the night.

From every tribe and every nation

From every people and every tongue

From every corner of the whole creation

Comes a new song that must be sung...


You can find a playlist to accompany this piece here:

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Sue Engh
Sue Engh

Wow, Matt; that's really powerful! Thanks for your wisdom and courage.

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