We were invited by the Outlook this month to consider our marks of faith. I don’t have any tattoos or even major scars. I don’t think about my body marking me in faith. And yet, I have been marked in body by at least two things: my skin color and my baptism. These two things may seem unrelated. And yet, both are central to my identity as a follower of Jesus. I am baptized and white. And I think one has the power to transform the other.
In baptism, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.” The language is beautiful and yet has not been foremost in my understanding of my identity. I live in the tension between knowing that in Christ, I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and struggling to live as that new creation. Too often, when I slam up against the tension between who I am and who I could be, I resolve to work harder to change whatever within me needs changing.
I forget that I have been sealed by the Holy Spirit – a promise that it is the Spirit who is working within me on the transformation for which I long. I fail to take into account that I have been marked as Christ’s own; even in my struggles and grief and doubts, I belong to God in Jesus Christ. This knowledge, when I truly absorb it, is freeing. It’s not through hard work that I will change, but through God’s power. Grit and determination are inferior tools for transformation compared to surrendering to God’s grace.
I also sense challenge in this identity. The reality into which I strive – the new creation – is not limited to becoming a person of piety. God promises to make not just individuals, but the whole earth, new. When we live into our baptized identity, we live into the promises of God’s Kingdom. And that means choosing every day to say yes to the reality of God’s Kingdom and no to the reality of our sin scarred world.
God has put several people in my life who have, slowly, over time, are helping me to recognize that I’m also marked by my skin color. In a sin scarred world, this skin color and its accompanying culture and values are seen as normative. I have the privilege of not being different. My husband and I are both American, but my husband is of Asian descent. While I never get asked where my family is from (and I’d love to tell them I’m part Cherokee, part British, part Swedish), my husband gets asked all the time where he is from – with the assumption that even if he’s not from another country, his parents certainly must be. By virtue of his facial features and the color of his skin, my husband is seen as different.
It is gut wrenching to own up to the privilege that comes with being born an Anglo American. My first response is typically defensiveness. I tell my husband that the well-meaning people who asked him where he is from are just trying to make small talk, trying to get to know him. I try to explain away his anger and his hurt. I don’t want to acknowledge that being white comes with privilege and power, because that would imply that I would have to do something about that privilege and power.
But I am not only white, I am baptized. I am a new creation who is sealed by the Holy Spirit. I am marked as Christ’s own forever … and so is my husband. I live into the reality of the new creation when I stop explaining away the experiences of my husband, but instead listen and receive his stories. I live into the reality of the new creation when I invite honest conversation with people different than me, even when those conversations are uncomfortable. I live into the reality of the new creation when I come alongside others seeking social and cultural change and when I risk speaking up against unjust systems that keep people from flourishing (I’m still growing into this one).
God’s Kingdom is already here and it is still coming. And so, as people who have been baptized into the Kingdom, we live into the reality of the Kingdom AND we strive for it … no matter what the cost.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.