Thoughts on race and racism from a mixed chick.

I took this photo during the weekend described in this post. At the time, I was capturing the beauty of a snowy afternoon. Looking back on it now, I see the long road ahead and the work that is still to be done on race, ethnicity, and justice in America. It may be snowy and slippery; it may not be fun to traverse. But look: the road has already been cleared for us by those who came before. We’re already standing on the path. We just have to keep marching.

My junior year of college, a friend invited me to the Posse Plus retreat, a weekend where Posse scholars invite a plus one to learn together and discuss an important campus issue: in this case, the topic “Us vs. Them.” We had a lot of conversation about what divides us over the course of the weekend, including a game where we had to find our group based on a question. We covered siblings, spirituality, and of course, the ultimate divider: ethnic group. As a proud Wasian (biracial White and Asian), I never quite fit into these demographics when the topic of race comes up, but since we were in charge of defining our groups, I quickly found another Wasian and soon had a good group going. 

Once everyone had formed a group, we went around the room and said our group’s name. When it was our turn, I stepped forward and confidently proclaimed us the biracial group–but no sooner had I said it that someone in a much larger group to my left called over and said, “Wait what? We’re the biracial group! Come on over and join us!” 

I was absolutely shocked, and completely embarrassed, to find in that moment that I expected others to appreciate my uniqueness, but had not even considered that the people in the other group might identify the same as me. I had pegged pretty much every single person in that group as Black, not biracial. 

Sure, I knew that the biracial category included many more permutations than White and Asian, but I had no idea until that moment just how much I had centered myself as the “typical” biracial person. Honestly, it’s not all that surprising either: it is my privilege as a Wasian to be recognized as biracial or blend in as White. Blasians, Afro-Latin@s, and biracial Black and White people usually don’t have that option: thanks to the one drop rule established at the founding of this country, they’re Black whether they like it or not (and don’t get me started on the fact that we have next to no positive terms to describe multiracial people). 

Over the last few weeks, my heart has broken over and over again as we have seen in glaring detail how our country is built from the ground up to dehumanize and eliminate Black lives. We saw it when Ahmaud Arbery, going out for a jog, was hunted down by two men assuming he was a thief. We saw it when Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her bed after cops broke into the wrong house. We saw it when Amy Cooper called the police, accusing Christian Cooper of threatening her life when he just asked her to put a leash on her dog. And of course we saw it when a White police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes, while 3 other officers, including one Asian, looked on and did nothing.*

Black Lives Matter, period. While it’s never been clearer than in the midst of this pandemic that every single life is precious, this simultaneous health and economic crisis has laid bare the inequalities that are built into our system. Black people have suffered more severely from the coronavirus than their White counterparts, poor communities struggle to survive in the wake of massive layoffs, and with all of this going on, police and neighborhood vigilantes still continue to murder Black people. Non-Black friends, we need to stand up for justice. We cannot let this moment pass: it’s time to call for change throughout our nation, from education to the workplace to policing. 

I love Dr. King’s remark: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” As we move forward from this moment, as we commit to fighting this fight and building change in our communities, I know that I can’t fuel my commitment to change with the outrage that I feel every time I open my Facebook app. In the last few weeks, I have so easily slipped into this outrage and anger towards the people who “just don’t get it.” But God’s response to me every single time has been the same: to seek Him and aim to be a person of peace in this ongoing conversation. Choose love over hate. Every time I start getting worked up, He has reminded me that Jesus came not for the righteous among us (who I would so love to count myself among) but for the sinners, and that though I like to ignore it, my sin is just as ugly as that of the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

There’s a lot to be done in the wake of what we’ve experienced in the last month. For those who are new to this conversation, it’s time to dig deep and educate yourselves. For the Black community: thank you for doing this work that should never have been yours to take on. Let us do the work to educate ourselves and look for answers. For those who have been in this conversation for years, we’re reminded again of just how broken our country is, and how far there is to go–but I do also feel hope for change. I’ve seen these conversations and calls for an American reckoning with our past get swept under the rug for years at this point, with the same atrocities and conversations calling for change happening over and over again. Maybe this will be the tipping point that we’ve been waiting for.

So where do I go from here? 

That moment at the Posse Plus retreat, three years ago, was a moment of clarity for me. It felt as though the scales had fallen from my eyes: I had always heard, but had never truly listened. So I continued to listen throughout the rest of that weekend, and the rest of that spring, and have continued to listen to Black stories and voices in the years since. I (mostly) have stopped asking “but what about Asians?” when Black people discuss their lived experience. When I actually started listening, I began to be able to see. It’s human nature to center ourselves in the universe, and some of this work for me is to continue to set my own story aside so I have room to truly hear our Black brothers and sisters when they speak. So often I have claimed my Chinese half, my POC-ness, as a way to step out of these conversations. Part of my journey right now is to own my Whiteness and the privileges it has afforded me in my life. 

I’ve been learning (and unlearning) for a long time–my parents have been training me and my siblings in anti-racism from day one. But moments like the one on that snowy January day in Maine show me exactly how racism is built into our system, how we can’t just choose to be “colorblind” or “ignore race.” We all have our blind spots and we all participate in this society that favors light skin over dark. In our broken world, I don’t know that it’s possible to see true reconciliation this side of heaven. But I do take hope in the fact that heaven will be a place where every nation, tribe, and tongue kneels before the Father, worshiping him all together. I believe that every single one of us was made in His image, and that God looks at us, His creation, and calls it good. Until then, Jesus (who was brown, not White) calls us into relationship with him; to be more like him every day. 

Yes, we need room to discuss anti-Asian racism–we need look no further than the beginning of this pandemic to recognize that. We need space to hear Indigenous, Latin@, queer, and differently abled voices too. But there’s enough pain and suffering to go around for everyone. We are starting to fight back against centuries of systemic oppression, where this nation built into its very fabric the idea that Black people are not truly people. So for now, take the time to listen to our Black neighbors. Protest, vote, donate, read. This change begins with you and with me. These are the moments that we as White, White-passing, and Asian people are being called into. Let us repent: recognize our sin and turn away from it. Let us embrace the discomfort. I’m ready to take the next step–even though it’s often hard, wearying, and we will learn things about ourselves that we don’t particularly like. 

Will you come with me?

Nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

-Barack Obama

*The list has kept growing since I started writing as well: Rayshard Brooks. Tony McDade. Riah Milton. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells. Robert Fuller. Malcolm Harsch. Toyin Salau. And more.

Some Light Reading:

Books:

  • Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson
  • Beyond Colorblind, Sarah Shin
  • Be the Bridge, Latasha Morrison
  • White Fragility, Robin diAngelo
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien

Articles:

Video:

Movies:

  • 13th
  • Just Mercy
  • Hidden Figures
  • Selma

Other:

Black Lives Matter.

As a Christian, Asian-American, and Chinese adoptee, I’ve often found myself “in-between” cultures and places.

This is a moment in the history of our nation and in my own life where I need to make it clear that I don’t stand “in-between;” I stand against white supremacy and systemic, state-sanctioned injustice and violence against Black people. I stand against the officers that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others; I stand against Trump and a prideful, selfish, arrogant, propagandized “Christianity” that seeks to assert its own image and righteous personal status over mourning, grieving voices crying out for justice.

I stand against being labeled as a “model minority” who is just docile, easy-going, smart, respectful and complacent.

I challenge myself and my Asian-American, White, and white-passing Christian friends to listen, lament and take action. But first, please listen and lament.

As Christians, we need to acknowledge, question and challenge the fact that our own Christian identity is intertwined in centuries of colonialism, slavery, anti-blackness and the wielding of power over native bodies. Willie James Jennings, in his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, that opened my eyes to the deep, dark history of Christianity – extending back to European explorers and conquistadors such as Cortes who came to the Americas and enslaved native peoples in the name of the cross – says that in order to achieve reconciliation, “we must first articulate the profound deformities of Christian intimacy and identity in modernity. Until we do, all theological discussions of reconciliation will be exactly what they tend to be: ideological tools for facilitating negotiations of power; or socially exhausted idealist claims masquerading as serious theological accounts.” He goes on to say, “it is not at all clear that most Christians are ready to imagine reconciliation.”

We need to lament, repent and ask for forgiveness. This will require reading books, acknowledging that we are wrong, both in our own biases and our position within a system, an institution that has been wrong. It will require listening, paying attention, unlearning and learning again how to be well-informed, humble and resistant to institutions of power and oppression. I’m still working on how to understand my Christian faith in light of its dark roots. How to untangle and understand the true way of the cross and the way of Jesus in light of ways it has been misinterpreted and wielded as a weapon of oppression and violence instead of a lifestyle of love and grace. The truth, as my Pastor, Scott, reminded me of in his sermon this past Sunday, is that Jesus and the Gospel resisted Rome and institutions of power and oppression. Jesus stood with those who were sick, poor, outcast and hurting over and over again – lepers, paralytics, demon-possessed people, a woman who was to be killed for what she had done wrong (Luke 5:12-16, 5:17-26, 7:36-50). Jesus once went into the temple and overturned tables of those buying and selling, those who had turned his “house” into a “den of robbers,” those who were disrespecting a sacred space and taking advantage of others, using it for selfish and profitable means (Mt. 21:12-13). So as Christians, we need to actively resist and reject an institutionalized, propagandized narrative of power or self-righteousness and examine who Jesus is and where he would be in the midst of our modern struggles, because he was never on the side of institutional power or oppression. He was always with those who were outcast, mistreated and hurting. He himself was put to death by Rome. He is with those who have knees on their necks, those who got hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, those who are having tough conversations with friends and family or those lamenting and asking for forgiveness and understanding.

As an Asian American and an adoptee, and for my fellow Asian American and adopted friends, it’s past time for us to have conversations about race with our families. For many of us, most of our family members are Caucasian and may not be active in racial justice conversations or movements. Some may even be openly or more covertly racist. We are all embedded in a society of institutionalized racism, and it’s time that we positioned ourselves in a way that calls attention to that. There are lots of lists out there of things to do; I encourage you to find them and start reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, writing out your thoughts and talking about them with friends and family. The New Jim Crow, So You Want to Talk about Race, White Fragility, The Fire Next Time, Invisible Man, Race Matters, countless other books – are a good place to start. And if anyone has suggestions of books that discuss race from an adoptee perspective, please let me know! We have an intersectionality to our story that others don’t have, where our families likely don’t share the same racial experience as us. Yes, we may be the “model minority,” stereotyped as cooperative, intelligent, driven and quiet, among other things – but we also have likely experienced racist or unjust assumptions in this current time of COVID-19 surrounding the inception of the virus in Wuhan. I’ve heard things specifically told to me in a joking way because I am Asian, “oh, you know it’s being called the Kung flu” or people eyeing me skeptically and avoiding me in grocery stores (more so in the beginning of the pandemic) because of my Asian features. It hasn’t been extreme, but still, it’s noticeable. Now is more a time than ever to start having conversations about race – examining our own racial and ethnic identities as Asian Americans adopted into white families, who share a culture that is different than our racial identity. What does this mean? Where does this position us in regard to a larger racial conversation?

Again, I’d implore you to take a stance. We can’t stay “in-between” forever, or give in to our “model minority” stereotype. We understand, on a level, what it looks like to feel out of place or in-between places. We can use our platforms to seek understanding, engage in conversation, listen to both sides – our Black friends, and Black voices in our communities – and then take that back to our White circles – our family members or friends. I think that our “in-betweenness” can be used to our advantage in that sense. Sign the petitions, make the calls, go vote when it is time, donate money to reputable organizations like Black Lives Matter, this great list by Reclaim the Block, Bail Project, Black Visions Collective, George Floyd Memorial Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, or countless others.

Thank you for reading all this, and please reach out if you have suggestions of resources for Asian Americans, specifically adoptees, in navigating racial topics. Or, if you have suggestions of informed theologians writing on race, lament or reconciliation – I am especially interested in Asian-American or Black theologians (at this time).  

Blessings to you all,

Joy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr., Strength to Love

A divinity for daily life.

I experience the divine in the seemingly smallest things — the way the light pours through the cracks in my drawn blinds in the morning, the smell of a fragrant burning candle, the melody of an acoustic guitar, driving home on the 134 at dusk — seeing that view that overlooks the whole city, sipping a latte with a friend at a local coffeeshop.

I wanted to expand upon my last post, “I don’t think I’m a non-denom, evangelical Christian anymore,” because there are a few more places I can go with that one; I may end up doing a small series on it. Here, I want to talk a little more about my experiences with God and what I’m learning from friends and peers of other faith traditions or denominations about their ways of communing with and experiencing God. It has been teaching me a lot.

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the spiritual care team at Children’s Hospital LA is that I get to learn from the other chaplains about their traditions, how that informs their spiritual practices and ways of offering care, etc. It seems like in a lot of other faith conversations, there is an unspoken (or spoken) idea of exclusivity — this is where/how I practice my faith and in this context, that is the correct way — I don’t need to learn from other traditions or have them inform my practice in any way. In healthcare chaplaincy, it seems the opposite; sometimes the best way you can care for patients’ spiritual needs is to learn as much as you can about the worldviews and specific practices of various faith backgrounds.

For example, there are certain prayers for healing from the Qur’an that a Muslim patient would appreciate; he or she may not be comfortable with any other type of prayer. A Jewish patient will need his/her food kept kosher in a special fridge during the hospital stay — it’s necessary to be aware of and able to accommodate those requests.

In addition, as a Christian, learning about these traditions has been informing my own, in ways I wouldn’t have expected. In my Christian journey, growing up in a non-denominational church, I felt separated from certain practices of my faith — of tradition, liturgy, understanding the sacraments, corporate prayer, etc. because the components of my understanding of God were the Bible, my church, my small group, youth group, communion, service projects and mission trips and that was pretty much it.

When I read my devotionals on my own or Scripture on my own and didn’t “feel” the Spirit in that instance or didn’t understand the impact the words were having on my everyday life, I stopped reading and/or continued to read but felt disconnected. That often left me wondering if I was really “missing the point” or “missing God” in those cases, or was it just that the method wasn’t the best way for me to connect Scripture to a practical experience.

As I piece together a theology and understanding of my Christianity at this point in my life, it’s very helpful to learn about Jewish practices like Shabbat (Sabbath-keeping) or keeping kosher; these are practices that have kept the Jewish people constantly aware of — and connected to — a practical living-out of the faith. Or Catholics using rosary beads to say daily prayers. I understand it can swing to the other side and become “too ritualistic,” separated from the spiritual impetus, but for me, it is helpful to learn about.

My Jewish peer at work speaks so naturally and organically about her theology and spirituality — it has become a lifestyle, a way of seeing everything and understanding the world. As much as I’ve always aspired to that, and hoped that I reflect my faith in that way, I still feel that my Christianity can be easily compartmentalized — especially when it does not feel grounded and connected to practices of my daily life or spheres of my identity — what I’m eating, how I’m spending my time, what I’m paying attention to, what I’m thinking about, etc.

As I figure out what practicing my faith is going to look like right now, I want to remember to be conscious of the divine in my everyday life — whether that’s through a ritual or a liturgy I say with my church or alone, journaling or writing my prayers down — or whether it comes through reading Annie Dillard’s poetry or listening to Sufjan Stevens on a drive home, I believe each and every one can be a spiritual experience, a communing with God. A divinity for daily life.

What does my relationship with God look like when I’m questioning my Chinese-American-ness or adopted-ness — how, practically, can I feel connected to my faith in those moments? Or in moments of vocational questions — like how do I merge what is fulfilling with what is sustainable? The moments where I’m so sleepy and don’t want to pray, how can I still experience God?

I’m looking for rhythms and practices of life from the Christian tradition or borrowed from others that could help a feeling of practical-connectedness to God and to myself.

How do you experience God in your daily life within your tradition or spiritual practices? Would love for you to share with me! Thank you for reading. xoxo

I don’t think I’m a “non-denom, evangelical Christian” anymore.

I am increasingly noticing that certain moments and experiences of life force us much more than others to stop, confront and question who we are, our identity, belief and value systems — sometimes it’s in a halting and rattling way that we don’t expect, sometimes it’s in a more subtle and prolonged way that allows us time to react and process.

I want to spend my time around people who expose themselves to these kinds of moments too — because we can choose to avoid them — but we can also seek them out and learn tremendously from them.

About two weeks ago, I started a clinical pastoral education internship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where I’m part of the Spiritual Care team and training to be a chaplain.

I haven’t even started visiting patients yet; I’m still in the orientation phase, but already have been confronted with so many questions: how do I want to identify myself as a Christian, especially to people who don’t know me and may be wary of spiritual care? Rituals like baptizing infants in emergency situations is common; maybe my dad wouldn’t be okay with that — but I am — which means perhaps my theology has diverged from the theology of the evangelical, non-denominational church I grew up going to — I’ve known that for a long time, but not really ever been confronted with exactly how.

In the vein of becoming independent; over the years, I’ve had various experiences discovering and asserting my adoptee identity, my Chinese-American identity, my identity as a young but competent and intelligent woman — but my Christian faith has always been defined by what I grew up with, what books my former pastor would recommend in his sermons, the mission trips I used to go on, my InterVarsity influences in college, etc. Questions of my ethnic and cultural identity began to intertwine themselves with questions of theology when I moved to LA and started studying at Fuller. The gaps in my understanding of my Chinese-ness and adopted-ness unfolded in critiques of evangelical Christianity or church history — realizing in my modern-day understanding, I didn’t have a sense of anyone’s story except a white, male, upper-middle class, well-educated American one — because that’s the lens through which I’d been taught growing up.

I had noticed dissonance in the faith I knew as a child and the things (I think) I believe now, but wasn’t always in a position to wrestle with them. The recent silence over and within my spiritual journey comes in large part, from this, I believe. It comes from realizing all along — but again, not having jolting-enough experiences that were forcing me to confront anything in detail — that my theology has changed.

It’s a silence that comes out of lack of understanding of my place within the Christian story — location, placement, identity — all matter when having spiritual understanding, I think, because the Bible is a living word that manifests itself in our everyday lives. The people we hear the words from, and the way that they say them, affect the way we understand them. If we’re not hearing it from people who interpret & reflect the story in the way we ourselves are positioned within the story — then maybe it’s not always relatable and we can find ourselves feeling out of sync, silent, unable to grasp on to or experience resonance because we’ve lost our footing.

That’s how I felt, and in many ways still feel when I listen to others’ tell the story. What if the way I had been taught about God wasn’t always how I understood or experienced God? How do I make sense of my other ways of understanding and experiencing God?

This brings me back to the hospital bedside and my introductions as a spiritual care provider — in a state of extreme vulnerability, many times it doesn’t matter to the patient of what faith the chaplain is coming from. But, as a chaplain-in-training, it matters to me more than ever, because I want to have confidence in my faith as I approach the patient. I want my posture to reflect a growing — but confident — relationship with God — one with doubts and questions, of course — but one that knows and remembers why it believes what it believes.

I think it will be a challenging and insightful 6 months ahead in this spiritual care internship. I opened the hospital records the other day to get familiar with the layout and noticed a child accompanied by two foster parents; my heart broke a little without even having met her; I thought about my wonderful adoptive parents — and solemnly wondered if she was as fortunate.

I fight the urge to succumb to smallness or loneliness — “this is new for me, therefore I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not competent.” When we start something new and unfamiliar, often we don’t feel like anyone can relate to how chaotic and overwhelming it feels. How much we’re questioning ourselves. How much we’re needing to rely on our relationships and friendships with others; but not always having the words to say — can you check in and be there for me?

Much learning and growth to come in 2020, I’m sure. Thank you for reading. Keep an eye out for further reflection on this experience, as well as updates on a memoir I’m working on and some songwriting I’m doing for fun!

xoxo, Joy

Self-Concept: How I Found Freedom in Understanding my Identity.

My name is Beth, and this is my story about finding my identity.

I was adopted from China and brought to America when I was seven months old, so most people would say I am Chinese American. But I didn’t always see myself that way. My loving parents made their best effort to educate me on Chinese culture so that I knew where I came from. I vividly remember my mom coming into my second grade class to celebrate Chinese New Year with my classmates by getting little envelopes with money in them and making paper lanterns. So even my friends understood that I was born somewhere else. As much as I enjoyed all the festivities, I still never felt like it was truly a part of who I was.

As I continued to mature, I don’t remember even trying to make sense of this disconnect. Throughout grade school, I didn’t know many other kids who were “like me”, as my school district had an extremely low diversity rate. And, as is typical of most teenagers, I wanted to fit in with the latest trends in fashion, hair, and music, which were mainly flaunted by my White American peers. I thought nothing of it. I watched my sister go off to college and start studying Chinese, and she even studied in China for a year and came back with all kinds of insight on what it meant to be a Chinese American in China. We had visited China as a family when I was 12, but I never got a strong desire to return. My sister’s stories made me wonder if I should be more curious, since we had similar stories and the same upbringing. Nevertheless, after a while, I let it go again.

My slap-in-the-face moment didn’t present itself until I was a senior in high school. One of my best friends at the time was Korean, and she invited me to her Korean church. I was excited to go, since at the church I had been attending, I was one of maybe five Asians, including my sister. That Sunday morning, I walked into church with my friend, and I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of Asians in a Korean church, but I had never seen such a strong minority presence. My attention shifted quickly to the one White, red-headed boy standing in one of the first few rows of seats. As soon as I saw him, I turned to my friend and said, “Hey! I’m not the only White one here!” Big oops. She burst out laughing. It was at that moment that I realized I had no idea what race meant to me.

Fast forward to present day, and I am nearing the end of my college career. I decided to take a course titled “The Psychology of Power, Oppression, and Privilege”. We discussed the idea of racial identity, and more specifically, centrality of the identity. This is the idea that for some, race is an important part of how they see themselves. Even within a particular racial category, membership of that racial group can mean different things to different people. Those who consider race to be more essential to their own self-concept are more likely to be triggered by subtle microaggressions. I was not one of those people. But that’s okay because everyone’s experiences are different.

As I reflect upon the things I have learned through this class and through life experience, I think about how I do identify myself, if not first and foremost with race. If someone were to ask me in this very moment, I would probably say something along the lines of “I am female, a Christian, and a student.” And all of these things are true. Now it is also true that I am Asian American, cisgender, heterosexual, and non-disabled. Just because the latter are not included in my major identifying factors does not mean that they are not true. My experiences as a member of all of these categories listed above have made me who I am. I have just finally come to terms with what is most important to me when I consider my identity and how this drives my behaviors.

Growing up, I thought identity was a checklist for everyone and that people expected me to identify strongly with everything on that list. I have learned that this is not the case. And for anyone wrestling with self-concept, I would encourage you to think more about who you are and less about who people expect you to be. What it means to be you is not what it means to be anybody else. So be proud of who you are because you matter!

Thank you for reading 🙂

Beth

Image Credits: COFFEEANDMILK / IAMBADA / GETTY / NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN

How “Christian movies” frame my vocational dilemma.

As some of you know, I am taking a course this quarter at Fuller on Theology and Film. It is illuminating my life and confronting me with so many questions, and so I want to share some of these thoughts with you all. The whole purpose of this course, its discussions, lectures, books, films, etc. is to spark innovative, creative, intersectional ways to generate dialogue between films and churches, moviegoers and Christians, pop culture and the church, the messy, racy, unmentionable realities of life with the Gospel and biblical truth.

The big question that this class has helped me reach is: How did these spheres become so separate and what can we do to bring them back into dialogue? 

Ralph Winter, the producer of dozens of world-renowned films, including Star Trek, X-Men, The Promise, etc. is co-teaching our class — AMAZING. As a Christian, he has an interesting and insightful perspective on how to live out your faith as a successful Hollywood insider. My last post was about identity, and I concluded that my identity in Christ has to take precedence over my ethnic and cultural identity in order to find ultimate peace or wholeness. But what do you do when your faith-based identity is not the best way for you to connect with others, do your job or bring about change in the world? How do you allow it to still dictate who you are when you don’t always feel free to display it to others? Ralph said something along these lines in last week’s class, “I don’t hire a Christian plumber, or someone who can share the Gospel or recite Bible verses to me when fixing my toilet. I hire someone who can do the job well, and if he happens to be a Christian, that’s great! If he doesn’t and he does his job, that’s great too.” Obviously, right?

I think about how many “Christian films” have been made that just did not resonate with me, my friends, or anyone except a select few churchgoers. To quote Ralph again, “Why didn’t nearly as many moviegoers cry when Aslan died in The Chronicles of Narnia as when Mufasa died in The Lion King?” What happened? Now this post is not intended to bash “Christian movies”; they do a brave thing, and I have a huge amount of respect for anyone and everyone involved in creating films. The power of storytelling and the skill it takes to create a credible, emotionally engaging on-screen story is tremendous.

The question that certain overtly “Christian films” raise, however, is: When and how do we display the different “labels” of our identity?

We all are defined by multiple spheres of identity, whether they are cultural, ethnic, political, religious, our career, passions, etc., some of which we visibly carry with us wherever we go, some of which are invisible until we choose to reveal them. We are not always free to display the invisible, but still fundamentally defining spheres of identity such as our political or religious identities, especially when they may come into conflict with the context that we find ourselves in. This sounds very obscure, but the reality is that we all encounter this conundrum daily. It is why “sacred” and “secular” are so separate; we have relegated our identities to “appropriate” spheres of life because it is just a little too overwhelming to try and navigate them all at once. The fear of rejection, embarrassment or awkwardness when we display our authentic selves is all too real. But is there potential for art, film, music, literature, etc., to tap into multiple spheres of identity and bring the “sacred” and “secular” into dialogue with one another? Could that even be one of the primary purposes of these art forms — to provide us a medium to engage with the often so incredibly polarized sacred and secular worlds? In the words of Dutch historian and theologian, Gerard van der Leeuw, in his book, Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art, “Art can be religious, or it can appear religious; but it can neither be Mohammedan nor Buddhist nor Christian. There is no Christian art, any more than there is a Christian science. There is only art which has stood before the Holy.”

When we want to create something beautiful as an expression of ourselves, our values, our identity; the entire process as well as the method or the medium we choose can achieve this. I often find myself getting anxious, frustrated or stressed with the stage that I’m currently at in life, because there is so much I want to do and so many dreams I have that seem so currently unattainable. I have not yet discovered my “vocation” or discovered the means in which to achieve my dreams. Just like a “Christian film” with great intentions, pure motives and a heartfelt expression, my life currently feels like a series of unreachable goals, bright ideas, and idealistic dreams that just aren’t manifesting themselves in the way I would intend. How do I do something that matters and that makes a difference in peoples’ lives? How do I love, serve, and learn from other people in a meaningful way? How do I do something creative and generative with my time, money and effort? How do I purely, effectively and sensitively express my faith through what I do? These are big vocational questions that I am finding myself asking, with the purest of intentions and the deepest desires for good, but uncertainty of the best medium, method or approach to use to answer them.

Maybe Christians and Christian movies are asking the right questions, maybe we’re not. We definitely need to think about it. We need to be open to being wrong or having missed the mark. We need to be okay with new, different and creative expressions of faith, both in ourselves and others. As the church, we need to recognize that there is deeply spiritual and beautiful art, film, music, and literature that sears the soul in a way that overtly “Christian” art, film, music or literature does not, and that our faith-based identities and convictions can be expressed in different, equally valid ways.

If we are asking authentic questions of each other, of our church, of our political affiliates, of our friends, of our culture and society, are we willing to go through the maybe painful, sometimes messy, always uncomfortable process to really seek to understand the answers we might be hearing?

When we confront these questions and realities, are we willing to allow ourselves to be open to new mediums of expression that we might encounter?

How can we grow through this process?

Thanks for reading, friends! xoxo

*image: Mako Fujimura, Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ)

How Lion helped me think about my true identity.

About a month ago, I saw the movie, Lion, which I would highly recommend because it probes at questions of identity, family, belonging, culture and love in a way that will likely deeply move you, as it did me. I have been inspired to write a response to it for some time. Let me give you a brief summary of the story, connect it to my own, and then use those connections to draw a larger conclusion about identity formation.

A young Indian boy named Sheru is separated from his brother at a train station and ends up taking the train hundreds of miles away from his family. After disorienting weeks of (mis)adventures, he finds himself in an orphanage where he is soon after adopted by an Australian couple. The story then jumps ahead to Sheru in his mid-twenties, about to go off to a hospitality university program away from his parents and brother (also adopted from India). As Sheru eats Indian food with friends at school, he is confronted with questions of his ethnic heritage and vivid memories of his mother, his brother and his childhood. He begins a (long-awaited) search using the (at this time) newly invented Google Earth, to find the train station where he long ago fell asleep and was separated from his brother. I won’t give away the ending, but it is gut-wrenching to watch Sheru struggle with memories of his family back in India and the knowledge that his mother and brother do not know what happened to him. Because he knew his mom and siblings for years before he was lost, these memories are cripplingly powerful.

Sheru’s experience searching for that train station and his family resonated deeply with my own feelings of loss and disconnect from my birth culture. His personal journey to find his family of origin centers much more around his feelings of love, loss and guilt toward the train station separation and less around the sense of lost cultural and ethnic identity that I have encountered. However, despite our age differences when we were adopted or where we were adopted from, I believe that every adoptee faces questions of identity and feelings of loss, disconnect and longing. These feelings can be because of a remembered separation from parents or a culture, like Sheru’s story, or they can be imagined based on cultural or ethnic disconnects that occur later in life, if the adopted child was too young to remember his or her birthparents or siblings.

Even though my personal story of adoption and search for Chinese cultural and racial belonging is very different from Sheru’s search to find his family in India, the feelings of love and loss have a similar origin. At one time, we were both separated against our wills, from a family and culture that we either loved very deeply or never had the chance to love. For years leading up to my return to China, I wrestled with a deep longing in my heart to discover what place China held in what I felt was an incomplete cultural and racial identity. I harbored a fantasy that there was a part of me left behind in China that I could somehow return to and reclaim – it wasn’t like I wanted to find my birthmom or family necessarily, but that I wanted to somehow reclaim some pieces of my identity that I believed had been taken from me against my will.

Lion barely touched upon any cultural disconnects that Sheru experienced (either as an Indian adoptee in Australia or as an Australian returning to India), however, the couple brief moments that were illustrated resonated with me deeply. There were moments in class and at his Indian friends’ home when he has to explain that he’s culturally Australian, not Indian, and so supports the Australian cricket team and doesn’t know how to eat naan with his food properly. Watching those on-screen moments, I felt exactly the unspoken, jumbled feelings of embarrassment, shame and discomfort that Sheru experienced, because this discord between how I look and who I actually am in determining how I am perceived by others and who I consider myself to be has been something I have carried with me for years.

I have been beyond blessed to find myself among family and friends who have never questioned my ethnic or cultural identity in a way that has made me feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, but instead given me the space and support to discover what pieces of my Chinese heritage I want to claim and which pieces I don’t. The moments of discord are random and nothing I can complain about, because they always challenge me to think, reflect and grow in both my self-awareness and understanding as well as my humility, compassion and forgiveness toward others. Blaming others for their ignorance has never helped anyone or solved anything. Laughing off insensitivities hasn’t either, however, and so I am learning the fine art of challenging peoples’ misperceptions and reverting stereotypes gently and humbly. If I hold my identity in Christ above my cultural or racial identity, than maybe over time the ignorant questions about my race won’t cut quite as deeply because they simply are not that significant to who I truly am. Over time, I am learning to respond in a way that reflects this true identity rather than responding in a way that reflects an immediate emotional reaction. This means asking questions and responding with affirming, truthful statements when people misunderstand, instead of acting offended or upset and saying nothing.

Where our devotion truly lies is ultimately revealed when aspects of our identity are mistaken or rejected, because it then becomes apparent what we hold at our core — is it devotion to a racial identity, an ideology, a socioeconomic status, a people group, a nationality, a set of religious standards or values, a level of education, or a vocation? For those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, whether we are adoptees, Asians, Caucasians, Latinos, African Americans, professors, pastors, businesswomen, the list is unending — in moments when these different identifiers of who we are are rejected or misunderstood, like my “American-ness” was by Chinese culture, than how does the way in which we choose to respond reflect the God that we serve and that which is most important to us?

Our self-image, our different identities, our passions and gifts, the way we move and connect in the world, are definitive to who we are, but we can never lose sight of what these identifiers should point toward. They were never meant to be disparate, singular, stand-alone identities, but instead reflections of the fearfully, wonderfully created images of our Creator that we are. We must remember that our various racial, ethnic, cultural and vocational identities are supplements to the identity that we have in Christ, as beloved sons and daughters of the King, saved by grace, on this earth not for ourselves, but to reflect his love.

The Bible and 中文

I have been thinking a lot lately about one of my classes here in Kunming, a one on one class where my classmates and I each chose a topic of our own interest and then were assigned to a teacher with interest or expertise in that area. For the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the history of Christianity in China, with a specific focus on Yunnan. It’s complex enough in English so reading articles and historical narratives in Chinese has been exceedingly difficult.

However, it’s just one of the many blessings I’ve been granted here in Kunming, to have a teacher who is a follower of Christ himself and to be learning in Chinese not only about the history of Christianity in China but also about the church in Kunming today. The last lesson we covered together was about the connection between Chinese culture and Christianity, specifically the Chinese language. I want to share some reflections on what I learned.

There are actually certain Chinese characters that have biblical significance to their composition. For example, we talked about the traditional Chinese character 義 which means “righteous” or “just”. In John, Jesus is referred to as the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Or sometimes we say the lamb who covered our sins. In Chinese, “lamb” is 羔羊, specifically that last part 羊 refers to the animal. So if you look back at the character for righteous, you’ll notice there is a 羊 on top and a 我 on the bottom, which is the character for “I” or “me”. So to pick that character 義 apart, there is a the character for lamb over top of the character for me. Or more symbolically, the ultimate meaning of righteousness or justification is Jesus, the lamb of God, covering the sins of the world and rendering us righteous before him with his blood shed for us on the cross. It’s an extremely significant, beautiful visual with its meaning condensed for posterity into that tiny, meticulous Chinese character.

I’ll give a couple more cool examples. There’s the character 婪 meaning covetous, avaricious or even manipulative. On the top you can see two side by side 木 characters, each one meaning “tree”. Then on the bottom is the character 女 or “woman”. So, according to my teacher at least, each one of those tree (木) characters refers to the trees in Genesis 2 in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And then that bottom character 女 or “woman” refers to Eve, who alongside Adam, ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, sinning and disobeying God. Now, embedded forever in the Chinese language is that biblical story of manipulation and sin.

It may seem a little crazy that Chinese characters have biblical symbolism but it’s not improbable because Christianity had entered China back in the Ming Dynasty (started in 1300s) and even earlier in different forms that we may not consider true Christianity. At this time, the language was being developed and adapted and has continued to be up to present time (as most languages are).

One more example that really struck me, although it’s a little different. The Chinese word for the kingdom of heaven is 天国, 天 meaning “sky” and 国 meaning “nation, state, country”, etc. You see that character 国 in 国家 or 国花, both related to “country” or “national, of the state”.

I don’t know if this was intentional or not but I think it’s remarkable that within that word for heaven is the character for “nation” or “state”. Countries are 国家,America is 美国,China is 中国,etc. Every single country has that 国 character in its name. But it’s also in the word for the kingdom of heaven, 天国.

So if you look at this word with the same analytical lens that I did the other two, I think it speaks volumes to the role of our present world, of this compilation of nation states (国家’s), full of thousands of cultures, languages, people groups, littered by wars, disease, terror, strife, in God’s plan for eternity, His plan for the kingdom of heaven. Revelation 21 talks about a new heaven and new earth; it says God’s dwelling place is now among the people and that He is making everything new. This earth that we all inhabit, these nations we stand behind and belong to, are part of God’s eternal mission to renew the heavens and earth.

This Chinese word for heaven which very serendipitously includes the character for nation or country, can serve as a reminder to Christians around the world that we are stewards of this earth and that in the here and now, even in our world of warring, greedy nation states, there is much hope. As we live out our daily lives, in the people we meet, the way we treat our planet, and the way we view and interact with other people and nations, as Christians we should constantly seek to see things through a lens of eternal significance and ask God to continually remind us of His plan for the kingdom of heaven and the renewal of earth.