Minimal living.

A few days ago, a friend recommended to me the Netflix doc, Minimalism, and watching it really got my head spinning, as good documentaries often do for us. It was created by the two founders of The Minimalists, who in 2010, launched a nationwide, large-scale movement stemming from their personal journeys away from corporate, high-paying jobs and toward the pursuit of minimalist lifestyles. It is a challenging yet compelling message that they offer, to leave unnecessary possessions, fancy cars, homes and jobs, in exchange for fewer material items but more overall meaning and significance in the things that they do have and in the relationships and non-tangible things that they value most. Their movement offers books, lectures, films, a podcast and more, and I’d highly recommend looking into it!

As a person who has never valued objects that much, and who finds myself in a transitional and mobile stage of life where I don’t own a home or necessarily have strong ties to physical possessions, it is not that difficult for me to consider giving things away and living on less than I do. That being said, I do have a lot of shoes and really need to clean out my bathroom vanity too. I feel a little more motivated to do so after watching this, which is good. What struck me most about this doc, however, were the social, moral and spiritual implications that it posed (this is solely my interpretation, not necessarily the intent of the filmmakers).

The questions that it leaves me with, and that I want to examine are these:

How can minimal living encompass our mental, emotional and spiritual space as well as our physical possessions?

How can decluttering our lives and hearts reveal our devotion?

I saw the minimal lifestyle championed in this film as a metaphor for discovering truth. Let me explain. Minimal living, in essence, requires cleaning out the parts of our lives that distract from what truly matters to us: our families, friends, vocations, passions, purpose. It is a means as much as an end; the significance is in the process as well as the result. We are shaped and formed as we discover what it is to live with less, what we can do without, where our priorities lie, what we cannot do without. This could be paralleled to the spiritual process of being refined and strengthened in our faith journeys, perhaps even a process that could run alongside a physical cleansing of our worldly possessions. In Malachi 3:2, God is described as “the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.” The decluttering process can be spiritual as well as material, and through it, the re-prioritization of goods and values can allow God to do His refining work within our hearts.

Additionally, when we remove excessive physical objects in our lives that are vying for our attention, we create physical, mental, emotional and spiritual space for other things to take their place. The truth is that, as capable, well-developed and sophisticated as we are in multi-tasking in this day and age, as humans, when we are devoted to one thing or a few things, we cannot be as devoted to others. Our attention can only be truly concentrated in a limited number of compelling objects, people or causes. It’s a fundamental fact of our existence. So, I interpreted the movement toward getting rid of physical objects to be a moral statement about elevating in importance our devotion or attention to other things instead. The question therefore becomes: in what do we place our devotion if it’s not our material possessions?

Taking the spiritual parallels one step deeper: I’m reminded here of Jesus’ cleansing(s) of the temple in the Gospels, where he overturned moneychangers’ and vendors’ tables and demanded allegiance to his Father (Mt. 21:12-17, Mk. 11:15-19, Lk. 19:45-47, Jn. 2:14-16). His anger toward the desecration of his Father’s house into a marketplace illustrated a few things: 1) The temple was holy; it was a place of worship of God alone; 2) The temple represented communion, access and forgiveness, where people were accepted without barriers (key point of Jesus’ anger was that Gentiles were being swindled by moneychangers, inhibiting their access); 3) Again, the temple was holy, and it represented more than a physical building; it was Jesus’ body, the church. If you’re tracking with me, this biblical story is sort of a perfect parallel to The Minimalists message made spiritual, because the cleansing or decluttering of the physical space of the temple was a metaphor for something much greater, the reorientation, cleansing, refining and purifying of peoples’ hearts and the church. There was distraction and clutter in the way of people (especially Gentiles in this case) freely accessing and worshipping God in the way He had intended, and Jesus was infuriated by this.

This reorientation of our priorities and cleansing of our homes (and hearts) is incredibly spiritual if we want it to be. Decluttering can be more than a socially conscious action to live lightly (although that is exceedingly important in and of itself); it can also be a spiritual statement in allegiance to God and his ideals of love, care for our earth, and acceptance of its people. In resisting idols of wealth, power, status, etc., we are aligning our hearts with His. I truly believe that when we resist consumerism, capitalism, and cycles of production and consumption that exploit people and our environment, we are making a spiritual statement that we align with Our Creator and His ideals of justice, peace and love.

Joshua, one of The Minimalists’ founders, encouraged viewers if they decide to get rid of possessions, to think through each item, and only keep things that are necessary or serve a tangible purpose that we could articulate and justify. Way easier said than done, I know. I wonder if we can go through this process spiritually too. Can we recenter and refocus our thoughts on things above? Can we invite God in to purify, cleanse and declutter our souls too? Can the material, physical process of cleaning out our home propel forward the spiritual process as well?

Sometimes this looks like it did in the film for the founders or like it did with Jesus in the temple: a force ravages our lives and we are confronted head-on with our priorities and what is getting in the way of focusing on them solely. There is a distinct moment where we come to the awareness that we need to make changes. Sometimes, however, and I can speak from my own experience here, there isn’t going to be a drastic moment of realization or truth where we know exactly what we need to do. A lot of changes are gradual, incremental, and filled with indecision and hesitation, and that is okay too.

I think (and I’m taking my own spiritual liberty here) that we can be patient and forgiving with ourselves too, open ourselves up to change, refining, purifying and decluttering, but still take it slow. Again, the transformation is as much in the means as it is in the end here; a lot more could be changing for us or being refined within us than we may realize. Can we start by opening our imaginations to what we may need to do to either begin or propel forward this process?

Of freedom.

Caught in between
worlds, cultures and faces.
Where do I find myself?
But lost
within a notion of who I have been
conditioned to believe
that I should be.

Shapes, colors, details, bone structures,
have torn the world apart,
have told us who we are,
have told me that I cannot decide for myself.

But when I do decide,
what do I say?
Who am I to know now who I want to
become?

My face is not my culture,
it is not who I am.

But when I am free,
to act on something deeper
than my tiny nose, almond eyes and black hair,
am I ready?
Do I know what my freedom means,
or what it can do?
How do I find something that has always
been missing?

I need to construct, to redefine, to revert
and subvert
that which has been constructed for me.
Freedom is in this power
to discover and create.
Can we look beyond?
Can we look within?

To discover
that we are a human race
never meant to be defined by borders,
shapes, colors, frameworks, details or faces,
but by qualities
of love,
of creativity,
of compassion,
of discovery,

of freedom.

The Truman Show, RBG and changing unjust realities.

It’s amazing how movies help me process ideas and make connections. Recently, I’ve realized how many classics I need to still see, and so have been trying to catch up. Movies have the power to transport us to alternate worlds, help us put into words what we cannot ourselves, or empower us to envision scenes that we wouldn’t be able to construct from our own realities. Movies inspire and particularly for me, help in making connections between ideas or concepts that may otherwise remain separate and unrelated.

Last Friday was a great example of that.

I was introduced to The Truman Show for the first time (checked a classic off the list!) and was immediately engrossed in Truman’s distorted reality and his journey from discovery of a false identity to complete rejection and rebellion against the system which had placed him as a star in his own reality TV show. Shrouded in humor, lighthearted banter, personable characters and happy neighborhoods, at its core, the movie is existential, deep and haunting. Truman is basically stuck in a reality that is everyone else’s but his own, constantly watched by zealous viewers around the world, lied to and deceived from birth by the people seemingly closest to him. His fate has been scripted by people he has never seen or met, who hold ultimate control over everything from what he eats, to where he works, to whom he marries.

In the middle of the movie, the producer, Christof, this metaphorical God-figure who oversees Truman’s life, says in regards to Truman’s situation and his coming awareness of reality, “We accept the reality of the world as it is presented to us.” Deep, right?!

Okay, before I elaborate on that quote, let me fast forward in my own evening to the second, seemingly completely different movie I saw that day, the newly-released must-see, On the Basis of Sex, a biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Firstly, shameless plug for this film — it is powerful, inspiring, informative and provocative. It opened my eyes to a movement of men, women and youth for equality against a discriminate legal system that I had no idea existed. And, apparently, it is helping me make broader, very important social connections.

Basically, RBG, depicted skillfully by Felicity Jones, is one of the most brilliant women ever, who excelled in both Harvard and Columbia Law, taught gender law passionately at Rutgers when denied other employment opportunities that she was more than qualified for, cared for and worked alongside her husband, a skilled tax lawyer himself, raised a daughter and son, and fought tirelessly for gender equality throughout the course of this film. In a quintessential speech in a Colorado courtroom where she was representing a man who had been penalized on the basis of sex for caring for his mother, she delivers a remarkable speech about social change. In her speech, she talks about various laws and cases that brought about social changes, and the pressing need for new precedents and laws to fit a new era. While the opposition wants stasis and stability, out of fear of change and what that will bring to a male-dominated system, RBG and her husband advocate for incremental, step by step change that is needed for a new age.

Now, hopefully this isn’t too much of a jump, but with the premise of this film in mind, I want to return to that quote from The Truman Show, because herein lies my main connection. The basis of that quote is the idea that humanity accepts blindly the norms, structures, systems, realities, institutions, etc. that surround us, maybe on the premise that we are either powerless, lazy, incompetent, unmotivated, whatever, to address or change them. For Truman, there were incredibly active and formidable forces keeping him from changing his reality, so I didn’t see this statement as a remark on any laziness or paralysis on his part to take action, but more of an umbrella statement about the human condition and our tendencies.

For whatever reason, it is comfortable for us to resist change. Or maybe not to resist it, but simply to ignore its possibilities. We are afraid; we’re apathetic; we’re lazy; we lack the foresight to take risks and trust in the unknown outcomes. We cannot often envision futures beyond what we know in the present, or what we have experienced or seen.

This may be the case for menial daily instances like cleaning our room, doing chores, cooking dinner, to larger personal situations like changing a career path, leaving a job or moving abroad. But the idea that we are immobilized or apathetic toward changing larger social things that we know are wrong, unjust or oppressive is very interesting. Why do social systems remain the way that they do — why historically were there hundreds of laws prohibiting women from doing certain jobs and requiring them to live by certain procedures, or preventing African Americans from having equal opportunities and rights as white people? What does it take to uproot a system? Why are we so afraid of change? And why do so many people feel helpless to change things?

Hopefully, you’re starting to see some of the film to social connections that I’m trying to make. Funny how two disparate movies brought up similar questions. My main goal here is to raise the questions that can help us think, and leave you to answer in your own varied contexts.

I now want to bring in a spiritual component to these ideas of social change, resisting structures, confronting norms, and not living within the reality of the world as it is presented to us. The truth for Christians and for my own journey is that Jesus lived both within and outside social systems. He was a Jewish man who in one sense inhabited a human body and died a real and painful death, while in another sense being completely God and effectively subverting and resisting all forces and structures of power and oppression that he came into contact with. The Gospel, as people of Christian faith believe, is not a comfortable reality or something that just fits into a modern or prescribed worldview. We have to notice differences, unethical structures, and step outside the boundaries of what is normal or comfortable to us in order to take action and make changes when we are confronted with them.

The ways we choose to do this depends on the situation and our context, but the truth is that social change, ethical decisions, movements that serve and help others, justice on behalf of marginalized or oppressed peoples, creation and culture care, etc. are not just realities that are presented to us (often reality stands in opposition to them); we must act to propel them forward. This is a biblical and theological precedent as well as a historical one. We are called to take creative and just action and participate in God’s kingdom here on earth, being moved by things that move God’s heart.

So take Christof’s words not as reality but as a warning of what could be; strive to embody social change where it is in line with justice and truth; live within the bounds of earthly systems while trusting in divine, otherworldly realities.

My prayer, both for myself and for you as readers and friends, is that when you do feel immobilized or stuck within a reality presented to you that you know is wrong or you do not want, that you would be able to envision hope and change, both an eternal and everlasting hope, and simultaneously, a tangible and practical hope that meets you in your immediate need.

*Artist: Banksy, Title: Girl with Balloon

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.

As we wait … let’s tell stories.

What a beautiful time we are in.

It’s advent; we walk about our days anticipating, expecting, hopefully waiting for the coming of our Savior, our King and all that he will bring. We sit with those who faithfully anticipated the first coming of Christ, knowing from our place in history that when he came as that little baby in Mary’s womb, the world has never been and will never be the same. And we sit with those who waited for centuries as we wait today for Christ’s second coming.

One of my recent sketches

It is so easy to become disheartened with the brokenness of our world – the war, trauma, violence, racism, injustice, sickness and pain – and become angry or even numb with hopelessness. Many of my posts prior to this have been heavy as I brush up against these deeply broken cycles and reflect on the ways that they have shaped my own story. Advent is a time when the painful events of peoples’ lives throughout history – brutal empires and kingdoms of greed and violence, people who died while poor, sick, and without care or food, people who lived as forgotten victims, people who died in war or as a result of war, people who were enslaved, manipulated, taken advantage of, those who were martyred for their faith, those people who these arbitrary descriptions have not covered – cry out as we recognize the way that their stories are interwoven with a greater story that we find ourselves in the continuing midst of today. The world that baby Jesus entered, as the one we live in today, was embedded with greed, violence, anger, and injustice. The surreally beautiful and hopeful truth is that God chose to dwell with his people in the midst of that chaos and pain and he has never left us. His promises continue to indwell, redeem and transform his people and his world today. The stories of pain, trauma and suffering before, during and after the time of Jesus, join current stories around the globe of patient, steadfast hope and endurance in time of trial. They are by no means just or the way the world should be. Most exist because of immense, powerful systems of evil and darkness. Again, they cry out as a testimony that we live in a broken world that yearns for Jesus to come again; and while we wait, we have committed ourselves to actively combatting the principalities and powers that enslave. The stories that we know and share, live out and tell, are nodes of active resistance and faithfulness. They point to the hope, peace and joy that we have that God came once and has been with us since. 

As this entire season is framed around a story of God’s faithfulness in sending Jesus to walk the earth as a man, redeem us from our sin and depravity, dwell amongst us through the Holy Spirit, and regenerate creation, this time should be more than anything one of gratitude, thankfulness, reverence and awe. This is both a corporate and an individual time of gratitude in the midst of lament and hopeful endurance. Personally, I have been overwhelmed this past year (as I have for the past 22 years), with abundant blessings. I spent a final year at Colby challenged by my classes and professors, joyful amongst my friends and fellowship. I graduated college! I spent a tough but enlightening and worthwhile summer in Bangkok. I was accepted into Fuller Seminary to pursue a Master’s degree that I hope will better equip me to understand the interaction of theology, culture, our world and everyday life so that I can better live in the midst of the things I love to think and write about. I have been reminded every day out here in sunny SoCal of the blessing of family. I have been able to daily enjoy nature and the beauty of God’s creation. I have been welcomed with open arms and hearts into two beautiful church communities. I have a new part-time job! I have found people and communities who empower, encourage and faithfully walk alongside each other. My story and your story are part of a greater global story that spans the past, present and future. Let’s share them with each other!

I hope that you can find time this season to also reflect both individually and corporately with gratitude on God’s blessings in your life and the lives of those in your community. May this season bring you a new or renewed way of understanding and experiencing Christ’s story and the peace, joy and hope that accompanies it.