I remember the first time I quietly admitted to my college Humanities classmate that I was a Christian. My apologetic tones, my carefully worded defenses –
to put it nicely, I was disoriented, but honestly, I was terrified and panicking.
Identifying as Christian was only half the problem though; the other half was being Chinese.
The Christianity that gets thrown around and bashed up in the humanities is a White Christianity. Even progressive humanities people suffer the blinders of colonial Whitewashing. It’s difficult because it glosses over too much – this narrative of Christianity ignores many things about me.
My childhood was spent crawling under chairs in the cool and dark sanctuary of a Singapore Brethren church, and then reorganizing the furniture in little house churches in Suzhou, China, where our International community occasionally fellowshipped with local Chinese Christians who worshipped in secret. We didn’t have a pastor, a structure or even live music. Our Sundays were singing songs from hymnbooks or lyrics written on paper and hung over the TV, watching sermons on DVDs carried back from overseas, and listening to sharings and teachings from adults in the community.
In crowded and sprawling Hong Kong, my family floated for the longest time with no sense of belonging in church before becoming part of a small community English-speaking church. My school years were plagued with the tension of belonging to a Christian International school system that did not extend much grace to my non-Christian classmates, yet also gave me many opportunities and resources to discover my faith in different ways.
In Toronto I attended first a more missional, liberal Korean church where musical worship was vibrant and joyful, then a more traditional, structured Chinese Baptist church with a long intergenerational history and established legacies; they were very different in style, in community, in way of life. Currently I am a part of an emerging church plant struggling to put roots down and build a community in the heart of a dense, bustling downtown.
But the diversity of my Christian experiences could not have prepared me at all for the towering mess that is Christianity in the “West”, a Christianity that claimed and still claims historical, political, social and cultural legitimacy and dominance, often in questionable ways. I was not prepared for Christianity and colonialism.
I don’t remember the exact moment in my first year of university where I realized it was not okay to be a Christian in the Humanities.
Perhaps it was more of a slow awakening through situations where I heard in increasing occurrences a strong contempt, and intolerance for a faith that shaped my identity. Regardless, I knew it soon enough from the way my professors talked about Christianity with a slight sarcasm, or as a way to throw a joke. I also knew it from the open negativity that my classmates performed in reaction.
Prior to coming to Toronto, I had never seen my Christianity in the political, and historical contexts that shaped these opinions. I remember seeing the Jesus parade for the first time in Toronto, and being completely baffled at the sight of the person dressed as Jesus dragging a cross around Queen’s Park.
Being Chinese made it easier to slip under the radar, honestly. No one would assume my faith of me. But I struggled a lot feeling doubly isolated in faith and ethnicity, in a humanities stream that assumed both a certain type of Christianity, and a certain type of Christian.
Interestingly enough, it was when I encountered post-colonial literature that I found the interrogation of Christianity one that I understood, and one that would take my panicking, and nurture it into a strong critical engagement with my faith.
Understanding Christianity in colonialism from a non-white perspective was the entry point back into my faith, and although I struggled to carry the weight of the implications, I felt less alone. The knots I felt inside, I read over and over in my books. The anger and confusion, the sense of loss and complicit guilt, I felt it all.
Its complexity made sense to me, because I was the product of that complexity.
There was never such a strong divide between my Chinese and Christian identity until I turned 18 and began higher education, and the subsequent seven years have been a rich journey of recognizing complexities, understanding tensions, and getting my hands really, really dirty in my search for meaning and purpose. This process has taken me through countless texts by Christian and non-Christian authors. It has taken me back to the Bible, to new literature, to professors and essays, and my faith communities again and again.
A friend found out I was a Christian in my fourth year of university, and was shocked. I guess it’s strange to be a Chinese woman (brought up in Asia even!!), an English student specializing in postcolonial and diasporic texts, and also to be a Christian.
But as I get older, I find the old tensions in me changing shape.
I am always particularly excited when Scripture shows up in literature, morphed, appropriated and explored in different contexts. I get more excited when the use of it reveals knowledge of scripture beyond surface level interpretations. It’s why I can’t get away from Auerbach’s first chapter in Mimesis, why Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen is so painful to read, why Mahmoud Darwish’s The Presence of Absence lingers.
Being a Christian has made me a better English student.
As my literary adventures took me further into post-colonial, de-colonial, transnational, and diasporic, my activism sprouted with new strength: an activism fuelled by my faith in God’s justice, and his heart for the powerless.
I care very little for the moralizing Christianity that White Secular Humanities still wants to use in juxtaposition to itself.
I care very much for Christianity that looks like Christ’s life. I find it more often in honest, heartbreaking conversations on systematic oppression, the struggle for equity, and solidarity movements against all of the -isms in their various forms and combinations.
Being an English student has made me a better Christian.
Reading the Bible as literature and as divine scripture is doubly powerful, far richer and more complex than I could have ever imagined.
It has always been my goal to study with all my heart, soul and mind, so that people will not use my Christianity against my intellectual voice when I speak. I refuse to be a lazy Christian, or a lazy student.
It is my way of honouring God, my way of living my faith.