I love being Asian-American. I love devoting my life to cross-cultural work cause I believe God is passionate about all ethnic groups and cultures. I love hip-hop with heart, soul, and purpose. I love being from the streets. I love being poor. I love being a family on mission. I love America and I love Asia. But there are also things I hate.
I hate the fact that I can’t be myself at all times.
You see, it bugs the crap out of me when I have to eat tasteless steak with white folks cause you know they ain’t got no spicy Asian dipping fish sauce with chilies. Besides the fact that a whole slab of meat can feed an entire family in an Asian village, I feel that every juicy piece without this magic sauce is a waste of culinary art on my taste buds.
It frustrates me when I visit Mega-Churches (sometimes to speak) and can’t scream from the top of my lungs, “Why the @!$& would you spend a million dollars on new parking spaces and stage lights when people are worshipping in jungles in Asia!!!?” I just tell myself that one, yelling like that is not culturally appropriate and two, God cares more about my venting than the church does.
Living in a communist country in Asia also has its frustration. Only a few people can truly understand the challenges of being Asian-American in Asia. I’ve been here for a decade, shed blood, sweat, and tears for the people, brought my whole family into this culture, pray daily and work hard for the redemption of its people – but I’ll still get called a foreigner. Maybe it’s because I’m tall and handsome but, every single day, local people will stare at me, try and use their broken English with me, and sometimes charge me the marked up “foreign” price for tourists.
There’s no hip-hop that I like here. I can’t dress like I would in the states. Can’t show my tats. Can’t speak against government injustice. I understand the culture. The culture tells me that as a leader in the church and a businessman in this conservative Asian country I have to dress and act a certain way.
I hate the fact that lost people are constantly hassling and threatening my friends, many of whom are new believers and disciples. In the minds of local village leaders, the Jesus way is a foreign white religion, to follow him is to turn from societal norms, local culture, and family tradition. In the eyes of many, we “missionaries” are appropriating people from local cultures and destroying ethnic traditions. That’s just bull@#$%. I don’t know of any other group who are more passionate and respectful of indigenous cultures than missionaries who are trained, cross-cultural workers.
Wherever we go in the world we can’t be ourselves. We can’t do what we want, say what we want, eat what we want, believe what we want and love who we want. Our identities are constantly being hijacked by the masses. Every event, tragedy, and tweet is being politicized and criticized through the lens of race and culture. The racial tension in the states is so high right now that;
-an Asian-American basketball player can’t get dreadlocks but the black baller who criticizes him can get Chinese tattoos,
-a white mass shooter gets only 3 days of news coverage and is labeled as a “lone wolf” rather than a jackass domestic terrorist,
-and both the vice prez and president are more concerned with black football players protesting racial injustice than actual racists congregating in support of white supremacy.
Don’t be fooled, just because we are American doesn’t mean we are free. The world tells us to be ourselves. To be free.
The world is full of crap.
We are not of this world.
We are not commanded to be ourselves, we are commanded to die to ourselves.
Our submission to Jesus is the only way to be truly alive, to find who we really are and to be culturally fulfilled. The real you is found in Christ alone.
Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
Mark 8:34-37 (The Message)
Jesus was clear that we don’t control our destiny, at the same time this doesn’t mean we throw away our past. Our cultural identities do not change but our spiritual one does and this leads us down a new path – one of self-sacrifice. Some of us may think Jesus is asking us to be passive in our faith, on the contrary, true followers of Jesus are passionately and actively involved in the world fueled by their passionate and active surrender to Jesus in private. We are commanded to surrender our entire being, past, present, and future and follow after Him.
The Apostle Paul understood Jesus words and understood his true self. Paul was bi-cultural, one hundred percent Jewish, yet grew up in Tarsus, a Greek city. He was fluent in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. He felt free to leverage his cultural identity for the Kingdom of God. I’ve taken solace in Paul’s pattern of life, that…
“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (The Message)
Paul sacrificed his personal rights and leveraged his cultural identity to reach people. Jesus laid aside his heavenly glory to enter into ours. The way of the Kingdom will always run counter to mainstream culture. Having grace in the midst of injustice is not the way of the world. Giving and receiving forgiveness among ethnic minorities is not the way of the world. Sacrificing our lives for the sake of our enemies is not the way of the world. Laying aside our personal preferences, seeing a different person’s perspective and entering into their world is the way of Jesus.
Stop listening to the voices of the world.
-The idea that we can have more religious or personal freedom by promoting progressive or conservative ideals is like a hamster on a wheel…without the hamster.
-The idea that culture, art, and identity can be separated into sacred and secular genres is like trying to separate the sticky from sticky rice.
-The idea that we can stop gun madness with more guns is ludicrous…period.
-The idea that your culture belongs to you and is better than someone else’s is like having a copyright on rainbows that occur…in the sky.
Our church leaders, our political leaders, dammit our parents, have not always reflected the counter-cultural ways of God’s Kingdom. Generations of ethnocentrism and racial superiority is the story of human history since the Tower of Babel. But we can do better. We can live better.
So, if I have to eat steak like white people in order to mobilize them, then I will. If I have to lead my family into a cross-cultural setting overseas in order to reach the lost, then I will. If I have to pray for our persecutors and bring them peace-meal offerings to show them love, then I will. I don’t just want to talk about it, I want to be in on it.
Wherever I go in the world I am myself cause I’m in Christ and He’s in me. Culture is not something that can be hijacked or given away. It’s meant to be redeemed into all its fullness and color for God’s infinite glory.