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

Crazy Rich Asians from a different Chinese-American perspective.

Who didn’t go see Crazy Rich Asians this weekend?! is the real question … as theaters in and around Pasadena were selling out as my friend and I were trying to book tickets on Sunday afternoon, and even after finding one we spent half an hour parking and barely got seats (as they were unassigned).

Obviously I didn’t come here to complain about the reality that is LA on a pretty consistent basis, but despite our temporary troubles, am happy and highly impressed that this movie has had such an incredible turnout.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to and most things I’ve read and heard have been extremely positive — it’s funny, the characters both have depth and are well-rounded, the main cast is entirely Asian and Asian-American, it’s creative, it broaches the theme of Asian-American identity in the midst of rigid and traditional Singaporean-Chinese wealth, and it raises questions of cultural, ethnic, generational, socioeconomic, etc. identity that challenges even those of different contexts.

Despite the backlash about the lack of diverse Asian representation, it does well at its limited goals. As a Chinese-American woman, it was empowering to see so many beautiful Asian faces on screen in a popular and desirable American context, and to see the way in which a version of the Chinese-American “rags to riches” story was portrayed. A girl (Rachel Chu) basically defends and reclaims her unique mixed identity and history as her very value and worth because of her poor, immigrant background is challenged by her boyfriend’s real estate tycoon mom and family.

All I could do in the theater was laugh and thoroughly enjoy this movie. At first thought, seeing Asian people on screen and hearing an adaptation of a very different story than mine was purely entertaining and barely personal. However, reflecting on it a little bit, and what the Asian representation questions and cultural identity questions it poses mean in a personal context, I realize that it hits me in an interesting way. As a Chinese-American adoptee, I can come into this story at various angles — on one hand, I identify with the backlash that complains about the lack of representation of other ethnic, cultural and/or economic histories of Singapore or Asia, because the story of adopted Chinese girls is almost never told. We are certainly Chinese-American too, but our story and history is completely different than 2nd-generation Chinese-American kids’ stories whose parents immigrated to America (like Rachel’s mom). I have yet to see our story told on the big screen in any way, shape or form.

The other truth and point of identification is that I can wholeheartedly identify with Rachel’s feelings of isolation and rejection by this Singaporean family because I experienced similar feelings (in different contexts) during my time studying in China. China is of course completely different than Singapore, and I was not trying to gain the favor of a wealthy family, but everywhere I went I constantly felt at the very least, out of place, uncomfortable, a too-tan, slightly overweight, wavy-haired, abnormal, non-conforming, maybe-Chinese person in the eyes of locals and natives (they really weren’t sure where I was from, and they didn’t hesitate to say it). On bad days I really let it get to me and I genuinely felt lesser than, completely rejected, disconnected, bitter and ready to give up. It was one of the hardest years of my life trying to learn the language and the culture of a people and a nation that I expected to connect with and be welcomed into — I saw more faces that “looked like mine” than I had at any other juncture of my life — but I had never felt more alone or isolated among them. So, if we’re tapping back into those feelings, I can empathize with Rachel’s frustration, questioning, and anger when coming face to face with cultural values that opposed her identity at its very core. I’m fairly confident, Asian-American or not, whether they were connected to our culture or ethnicity or not, that we have all felt similar feelings before.

I don’t want to give the end of the movie away, so I’ll just say again that the resolution of my story of cultural rejection will never look the same, but my own journey to a place of pride, reconciliation, courage and acceptance in my unique mixed cultural and ethnic identity is taking shape in its own way. I think that if we want to interpret the movie this deeply, despite its particularity, Rachel’s version of her story can serve as a symbol of empowerment and reclamation for people of mixed backgrounds confronting opposing forces, however those may take shape. This movie shows us that there are always two sides to the story and that both can show empathy and pride.

Go see the movie and let me know your thoughts!

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.

Proud to be an American?

Happy Fourth of July to all you Americans out there!

Over the past month in Bangkok, I have thought more about my “American identity” (I put that in quotes because let’s think about what our national identities even mean) than I have in over a year. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about American identity from different slants and very complicated angles, in light of my personal identity crisis, in light of what I am going to call a current (US) national identity crisis, and in light of various global crises that should prompt us all to think about privilege, power and identity.

Personally, I have wrestled with my American identity for years, as a Chinese-born American who really has no cultural identification with China at all, especially when I go abroad and am hurled into the midst of various ethnic and national stereotypes, judgments, misconceptions, etc. that are different from those that I do not often experience in America. Nationally, I think about what makes us “proud to be American” and what does that mean? Historically, America is plagued by a dark and violent history of hate, segregation and prejudice. Today, racism in its various ugly forms is more real than ever and our nation continues to experience manifestations of socioeconomic inequality, prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, selfishness and just plain evil. Is it American food that sets us apart? Because most of our food is from other places. Our accents, pop culture, sense of fashion … what exactly? Are you proud to be an American? Have you ever had to “prove” or defend your American identity to anyone? If someone questioned it, would you care and why? What part of being mistakenly identified bothers you?

These are questions I’ve lately been wrestling with a lot, as Thai people often doubt that I’m American or may address me in broken Chinese after their Thai is met by my confused grimace. If or when they do address me in Chinese, they often receive an even more severe grimace lol. When I find myself getting frustrated (which is more often than I’d like), I think about an aspect of my invisible “western” privilege – how my worldview and attitudes toward both other Americans and people of other nationalities has been shaped by where I was raised.

Part of being privileged (American, European or “Western” in general) is that many of us have been accepted, tolerated and understood by our society for so much of our lives. As a result, we expect people (both other Americans and the world) to treat us with respect, politeness and even reverence at times. Privilege is so multifaceted and I am becoming more aware of its different features than ever. It is not just wealth and status; it also includes racial and ethnic understanding, tolerance and “admission” or acceptance into the dominant ethnic community as a result. As an Asian girl growing up in a privileged Caucausian family in the US (shoutout to my family; love you guys and am so grateful), I have never not been accepted or welcomed into a community in the States or been denied anything because of my race or ethnicity. It has rarely ever been questioned. That is INCREDIBLE privilege.

Note: This is a complete mind-dump of many of my thoughts from the past month, so feel free to disagree or converse with me about this, I would love your opinions!

When I get offended by various interactions of mistaken identity, I have come to the conclusion that it is partly because of my own pride, selfishness and privilege, because I too am (believe it or not!) American and have this engrained sense of entitlement and privilege that I’ll be respected and understood by others wherever I go. I have to fight an internal struggle to not get offended and defensive when people question my national, cultural and ethnic identity.

Today, our world faces many crises, one of which is a global refugee crisis, where millions of people are finding themselves displaced, stateless and seeking asylum (any national identity issues I possibly have pale in comparison), another of which is severe ethnic and religious violence, and others which underlie them all are racism, prejudice and intolerance. Who or what are we going to identify with? As Americans, how do we define ourselves? Are we going to meet hatred with more hatred and intolerance? Or are we going to work for peace, reconciliation, empathy and love? I know I am pushing back a lot here against this “American identity” and white privilege, but at the same time, I believe part of the “Americanness” that we take pride in is individuality and the freedom to craft our own identity – this has collectively come to define the “American identity.” That freedom, privilege, whatever you want to call it, is truly a gift, and if you have been graciously granted it, you can actually use your privilege for good! Firstly build gratitude and empathy for those whose identities have been snatched and trampled over (look around your neighborhood, city, etc.) and secondly use it creatively and graciously to give to others who are not as privileged.

As we Americans and global citizens celebrate another fourth, I challenge us all to reflect on the identities that we have crafted and to brainstorm how individually, if we each put values of love and empathy before arrogant nationalism or entitlement, our identities can shake and shape the collective American identity.

*image: Manzanar Relocation Center (in distance), Ansel Adams, taken from: When America Interned People Because of Their Race

My two mommas

Happy Mother’s Day! Firstly, I’d like to wish all the moms I know a wonderful and blessed day. You’re all really amazing and have made the world such a better place in so many ways. Secondly, I could go on and on for pages about my mom back in Jersey and everything she’s taught me and all the ways she’s supported me and comforted me and how much I love and miss her. It’s all so true! Let’s love on and bless our moms today (as we should every day) and give thanks for the life and opportunities that they’ve given us.

On top of all of the love and gratitude I feel for my mom, today, for really the first time, I’ve been thinking about Mother’s Day in a bit of a new light. I think it’s because I’m in China, probably closer to my birth mom in distance than I’ve ever been, but of course, unfathomably far from her in all other respects, since I’ve never met her and even after living here for a few months, I know I will continue to be eternally perplexed by her language and culture. But I have two moms, and although one I know closely and has loved and provided for me the past 21 years, the other one loved me too, enough to give birth to me and give me a chance at life by leaving me in front of an orphanage. Which thanks to God and my amazing parents, was truly a new life.

Last weekend, my aunt encouraged me to pray for my birth mother, which honestly and a little ashamedly, I never have. It’s not because I haven’t thought about her and my birth father, because I constantly do. However, for some time growing up, and even at certain points while I’ve been in China, all I’ve felt toward her is resentment. It sounds harsh, so let me explain. It’s not resentment toward her so much as a bitterness toward China in general. That sounds really harsh as well, and I’m truly working on it! Again, give me a chance to explain. My year here has taught me a lot about tolerance and patience and how little I understand. I could never be more grateful for the opportunity my birth mother gave me to live, and the life I have had because she gave birth to me. It’s not that I ever resent my life now, growing up in an amazing family in America with all of the opportunities that I’ve had. The tinges of resentment come when I’m frustrated with Chinese culture and the ways in which it constantly rejects me and so many other people. Which is pretty much a constant. Maybe all foreigners feel this way, I’m not sure. Maybe anyone who doesn’t live up to that Han standard feels this way. But I would speculate that I feel this rejection in a somewhat different way than most people. As a little baby left outside an orphanage gate in rural China, any possibility of ever “fitting into” Chinese culture, feeling accepted by Chinese people, understanding the language and lifestyle, etc. was taken from me forever. But in my heart, that desire to fit in was always there. It’s not like I chose to study abroad in China because of its mystique or economic prowess or the complexity of its language or its food. All not bad reasons but nah, I mainly came because of my Chinese face and a constant tapping on my heart since I was young to return to the land of my birth and experience it for myself. I quickly discovered, like upon my arrival in the Pudong airport, that I had clearly been living in a myth for however long I may have thought that Chinese people would welcome me in with open arms in the way they treated me like, “yeah you’ve come home!” I don’t think I’ve ever admitted to anyone that that was an expectation I had before coming to China, probably because I’m embarrassed that I ever thought about it that way, since it’s been so far from the reality of what’s gone down in the past year here. Anyway, more reflections to come on my China experience later, but because of that – the plethora of struggles that have accompanied what sounds on paper like a simple year in China to study Mandarin – I have had a really hard time loving and appreciating a country that rejects so many of its little babies and balks at and scorns difference in anyone. And a country that I’ve had such a hard time fitting into and feeling respected in despite how hard I’ve tried. And truly, China will never know how hard I’ve tried.

My intentions here are not to sound harsh or angry or come across like I’m complaining or ranting, because every day I thank God for the people I’ve met here who have welcomed me with open arms and helped me learn their language and navigate their culture. And there are plenty of them too. Or even the people who have politely inquired about where I’m from and looked me in the eyes with interest and asked me about my story. I am so grateful for all of my friends here and I think there are probably many others here like them, with open and loving hearts and minds.

But back to my birth mother. After 21 years growing up with her genes, I’ve just started praying for her and thinking about her a lot lately in this past week. Thinking about the life she gave me and what incredible things that has led to. Thinking about how I feel back in her country and wondering how she feels in her own country. I wonder if she has any resentment herself. I mean, she was the one who was forced to give up a child. Thinking about all the bittersweet feelings I have toward China as my time here wraps up in a few weeks. Part of me is like, “hallelujiah I’m going home!” To a real home where I am truly loved and accepted. Not sure what could be more exciting right now. Part of me wonders what place China has in my heart and in my future, which I hoped to discover in my time here, but the answers to which are still farther away than ever. Anyway, all big things to ponder on this Mother’s Day 2015. And I’m not even a mom myself; who knew that this day could put so much on my mind.

Reflections on the Identity Crisis

In a world bursting with insincerity, temporality, complexity and duplicity, it is more than natural that people everywhere at every age and stage of life struggle to understand themselves and grasp at the construction or discovery of their personal identity. I have been wrestling a lot lately with the concept of identity, such an intimate, personal, individual, intrinsic notion that drives every person on this planet, but yet so malleable and vulnerable to social, relational, environmental and cultural forces. I always thought it was so cliché and dramatic when kids went through identity crises in middle school or high school and cut off all their hair or got crazy tattoos or went wild and became disillusioned and rebellious. I never understood how people could seemingly so easily lose their way, like they weren’t grounded by anything and everything claimed their attention and pulled them farther and farther away from the truth and a real sense of purpose and identity. Let me note that by no means are all the kids who get tattoos and cut their hair off or rebel against the system lost and disillusioned, but that is definitely a trend in teenage culture today.

So, where is this going? I have so many questions about identity because I’m in this journey too, figuring out what it means to be an alive, thinking, seeking, multicultural young adult and follower of Jesus all at once. And while I’ve been deliberating over what forms identity and what forces and elements can forge the closest truth-seeking, loving, humble, sensitive, aware person to the image of Christ, I’ve come up with an idea of three forces that shape identity, at least for me. I don’t know if I’ve come away with any answers, but I definitely see major challenges out there both for myself, other individuals, the body of believers, and the world. Hopefully you can discover truth and resonance in my words as well.

First of all, I believe everyone has a cultural identity. This can be constructed by where you’re from, your family, customs, heritage, traditions, national pride, patriotism, loyalty to your country or your people. It can be strengthened and formed through language, community, where you live, what you eat, the way you look, or the way you talk. More on this later.

Next, there is spiritual identity. For me, this is clear and has been for as long as I can recall. I know that my value and worth is immeasurable because of Jesus’ sacrifice in taking my sin and the sins of the world to the cross in order that I can live. The ultimate determinant of my identity is my worth, freedom and purpose in Christ. But what does it mean to truly have an identity in Christ? Can that be enough to bring Christians together in a world divided so fiercely along ethnic, cultural, religious, and economic lines? How can the body of believers unite in awe of God’s grace, mercy and love when the world has made us so different? These are some of the questions I’ve been struggling with. Jesus is more than enough, but do our relationships as Christians and does the church and body of believers reflect that?

And lastly, though this one is a little vague, everyone has a relational identity. This is reflected in the people who you choose from among your communities to relate to and develop relationships with, people who understand you and who you feel comfortable around who shape who you are. Maybe you share a common cultural or spiritual identity or maybe your backgrounds are completely different but your personalities or outlooks on the world and common interests draw you together. Your relational identity reflects your deepest desires, what excites you, impassions you, and who you want to spend time with in order to best be yourself!

Of course, you can see that these spheres of identity are full of layers upon layers of complexity and that they cross and overlap unendingly in ways we probably will never be aware of. Your relational identity is likely shaped by your cultural and spiritual identity (and any other aspect of identity that I’m neglecting), because you choose the people you spend time with based on who you are or who you want to become. But there are so many complications and complexities. Like what do you do when your spheres of identity clash? Or when one of your spheres is split? It is a struggle to define and fully comprehend each of the facets of your identity. For me, cultural identity and how it plays into relational (community) identity is the hardest to figure out. I was born in China and look 100% Chinese but grew up in America in a conservative, Christian family. So where exactly do I belong? My spiritual identity has always been clear, but when it intersects with different groups of cultural identity, it makes it hard to relate to even those who share similar core faith and belief systems. Knowing what about my identity is most important and what is adaptable, I continue to navigate a maze of relationships and life circumstances, in search of truth and true fellowship.

How do you create and nurture a balance of all of your spheres of identity in a way that enables you to be loving, aware, multicultural, sensitive, diverse, and Christ-like so that you can be friends with lots of culturally, spiritually and relationally different people? And as Christians, how do we first and foremost cultivate a spiritual identity that is clear and concrete and then strive to build relationships from that? Is this even possible? Ideally, this would create an extremely culturally and relationally diverse group of people.

Though I could never hope to comprehend how achieving this delicate balance of identity is possible, I believe that harmony of personal identity is sort of an allegory for the ideal image of the larger body of believers. As we individually strive to construct an identity rooted in truth, purpose, holiness, awareness and love, our separate but like-minded images will bring us closer together and transform the collective. Reflecting on Pentecost that just passed us this Sunday, when “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in their own language (Acts 2:1-13), clearly God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit moves throughout all peoples and places. Jesus’ commission challenged his followers to go and make disciples of all nations – creating a multicultural, multiethnic, diverse, complex, heterogeneous church. In Luke 13, Jesus says as he describes heaven that “people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

So, as we go forward from this day, let us strive to treat foreigners residing in our land as native-born, loving them as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:33-34), because the image of the kingdom of God is lively and beautiful in its diversity. Let us continually thirst for genuine, God-breathed truth in the answers, relationships and communities that we seek. Let us always remember what binds us together and what parts of our identity are solid and steadfast despite the storms and battles of this tormented world. Think about the ripple effect and the many ways in which you individually can enact reaction and change. Never stop seeking and striving to discover, develop and cultivate new aspects of your identity!

image: artist, Yann Houri, France, 1990