Photo: Mo Man Temple, Hong Kong via Nicolas Hoizey
If this was all there was to God, I was well on my way.
In my youth, I felt valued and whole in the conservative evangelical Asian American church I called home. This community gave me a foundation for understanding God’s engagement with the world and my role in it. This place provided me a family with mentors who believed in my potential as a leader.
For all of these things – thanks be to God.
At that young age I was certain I wanted to be a minister of the gospel – good news for sinners in need of salvation! This is the most important thing, is it not?
But as I sought to live into that certainty – I was repeatedly derailed and redirected.
God always finds ways to interrupt you – especially when you think you’ve figured it all out.
Christian higher education had the unintended effect of awakening me to the realization that much of “Christian” culture in the United States paralleled whiteness. Service projects for charity’s sake awakened me to the structural roots of sin embedded in race, class, and gender. Overseas missions bore witness to the truth that the gospel as I then knew it was ill-suited for the complexities of lives beyond simple black and white. Friendships pushed me to realize love was love was love, a holy desire without regard to gender and sexuality. Critical studies alongside faithful doubters have humbled my mind and opened my heart.
For all of these things – thanks be to God.
I did not wander away from that genuine yet deeply problematic form of faith because I lost my foundation. On the contrary, I was led into new seasons of questioning the same way God has always guided the lost and seeking – with a hunger for truth animated by love, mercy, and justice over any single form of belief.
And, thanks be to God, the disruptions continue.
Contrary to what one might think, my so-called “progressive” faith has not only pushed me forward, but has also led me into the distant past to re-ground my religiosity in the sensibilities of China’s spiritual heritage: the faith and wisdom of my ancient fathers and mothers.
What if we, Asian American Christians reforming our faith for the future, also took seriously the diverse spiritualities of our past generations? As a second-generation Chinese American, I ponder how the presence of God worked amidst those who sought the wisdom and favor of ancient ancestors, sat in meditative expectation of enlightenment, chanted the name of Buddha or Guanyin to plea for grace, or sought greater unity with the Dao that grounds all living things.
Ages ago, Tertullian* asked “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”* In regard to the formation of Christian theology as many of us know it (even progressive theologies), nearly everything. But as bi-cultural members of a great diaspora rooted in civilizations that are as equally complex and compelling as Greco-Roman heritage – we must also ask: “What do Krishna and the Buddha, Confucius and Laozi, have to do with Christ?”
How is God present in the generations that came before us, those who sought truth but did not explicitly know of Jesus? What do we have to learn from them as we seek to enrich our own faith journeys? What would it look like to ground our Christian spirituality in the diversity of this heritage even as we move forward?
One of the great struggles of the Asian American experience is situating one’s self within the dominant narratives of American discourse and its cultural values. As Americans, we thrive in our search for truth by pushing forward – to deconstruct and rebuild better, stronger, and faster. As a Christian, this cultural context has driven me to recognize new dimensions of God’s love, mercy, and justice. But what if we took the “Asian” dimensions of our identity just as seriously, particularly our religio-cultural histories? What truths might it uncover? Seeking out the answers to these questions is the latest unexpected turn in my journey.
For these questions and many more – thanks be to God.
Where are you in your journey?
Have you asked similar questions?
Wherever you are – may you be blessed with the capacity to see the past not as a burden but a gift, may your present be filled with thankful regard, and may your future path be brightly lit by uncertainties waiting to be embraced.
Whatever your questions – God hears and honors them. As such, our growing community ought to similarly hear and honor one another’s blessed doubts and holy envy. Let us seek truth together where ever the spirit moves us.
Onward, together, in peace and trembling.
*Tertullian was an early Christian theologian from the third century who questioned whether Christians ought to look to other pagan philosophies for God’s truth. He answered his own question in the negative. Others, such as Clement of Alexandria, were more positive – seeing God’s work in the wisdom of other cultures.