Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chinese Take-Out -2-

During college, I left my Chinese church congregation, but not for the reasons I have posted (at least not primarily). A longtime family friend and member of another Chinese church asked me sometime later where I attended church afterwards. I hesitated to say, because I knew what was coming. Her surprised look and slow reply said it all, "Oh, a lo-fahn [white] church...you like that kind of thing?"

1. Christians must love others. Sounds like a benign altruism become cliche. But in trying to answer the question for myself "what's missing in the Asian church?," it just came to my mind that there is a profound lack of the love of Christ to underpin the church. I am not saying that love is entirely absent. I am saying that the overall sentiment is that the Asian church loves too little.

Before I get into that, Asians do have something that resembles love though. Asians have a lot of loyalty. Asians respect establishment and are loyal to the good intentions of a church and to its attenders. Loyalty is a postitive characteristic, but it is no substitute for the unconditional love of Christ.

The difference? For the most part, loyalty seeks the good of an image to maintain or portray, not necessarily the good of the person or entity receiving loyaly. Loyalty can have many motivations, both selfless and selfish. Love, on the other hand, seeks the best for others for their sakes and, ultimately, for the Lord's sake. As it says in 1 Cor. 13:3-7, real love cannot be selfish.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (NKJV)
As I mentioned before, Asian churches give generously and make efforts to meet many needs in the Asian community, which I applaud. I'd like to go even beyond that to personal needs in addition. Among churchgoers, I'd like to see more interpersonal intimacy, sharing and wrestling with sensitive and emotional issues, which include spiritual doubt, character flaws, marriage difficulties, and sex. (SEX?!)

I can hear one objection now, shooting up to my ears from my Chinese roots and more than faintly resembles my mother's voice. It is just not the Asian way (!) to express one's vulnerabilities and uncertainties let alone ask for another Asian to do likewise. It is uncomfortable and embarrassing to share one's innermost thoughts, especially the unpleasant ones. We are culturally not intimate like that and ardently avoid conversations of this nature.

Perhaps we should be--maybe a little more than presently. Perhaps, for our sakes, God asks us to love each other in this way, to find Him through our doubts, to put away pretense, to have godly and fulfilling marriages, and over everything, to experience Him and truly feel safe both inwardly and outwardly.

We can also better express outward love for our sons and daughters. Not just the babies and little ones--our teens and college students desperately need acceptance at their major formative ages in personal growth. As a matter of personal experience, sometimes I felt as if my worth was linked to meeting expectations in the face of my parents (though mine were never as severe as parents of other kids I knew), and the culture of performance pervades most, if not all, Asian families. We have to perform the best at school, on achievement tests, in music, in conforming to social restrictions, in maintaining family duties, and in never being tempted to act contrary to the Asian norm. That's a lot of pressure that easily eclipses the love of Christ. We might consider that many an Asian youth have abandoned the Christian faith for lack of this love amongst other things.

Lastly, I'd love to see increased love for people of other races. I don't suggest this with total naievete. I realize that many Asians are wary of getting close to other major ethnic minorities for fear of prejudice (on both sides), misunderstanding, and for perhaps past unfriendly encounters. I share those same concerns. At this point, though, my theology kicks in and says to me that among Christians, if we truly have the love of Christ, then all we should see is Jesus instead of racial misgivings.

I realize that it not the Asian way to be open or allow inner change. It is not the Asian way to admit vulnerability instead of staunchly holding onto pride, even if we hold it wrongly. It is not the Asian way to tell people they are valuable instead of telling them they have done something valuable. It is not the Asian way, because to do otherwise would involve risk, which makes us a little afraid. My pastor once said in one of his sermons, that the opposite of love is not hate; it is fear. If thinking about all these above things causes us to fear, then how small are we keeping God and His love compared to our collective fear?

What would happen if we made a committment to love a little more like Christ?

o we would prioritize spiritual formation in our families over academic and financial gain. In other words, stop being materialistic. Starting with ourselves, we would care more about knowing God than knowing our business. We would show more care for our children's views of God and Christ than their grades in school. Overall, we would protect ourselves less from foreign influences (God's job, not ours) and more about how to influence others for the sake of the gospel.

o we would confront racial prejudices against non-Asian races and see them as people God created. No longer would we tag the word gwai (for the Chinese-speaking) onto references to someone's color. No longer would we express negativity about another ethnicity's culture and way of life as inferior to our own. Instead, we would take the initiative to build bridges at the risk of personal discomfort and possible rejection all in the name of love and charity. Then, we might truly love our neighbor as ourselves.

In conclusion, only the church can accomplish these things. No other body has the power of Christ to move this mountain. I know the difficulties in overturning those aspects of Asian culture that do not rest on Christ and trade them in for biblical foundations. But this is exactly what the very essence of Christianity is--being the new creature, loving and being loved more than what is even possible without the gospel of Jesus Christ.

One final word on this post (promise!): we can't expect that when the church starts loving in this fashion not to experience repercussions. Those coming to church not willing to trade material safety for the deep love of Jesus (which is very unsafe for the human ego) will be quite upset and likely to either leave or even seek to take it out on the pastor (sorry, pastors!). But, the ones who stay and are receptive will know God and be much healthier as Christians than they ever were before. What would you prefer?

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