I’m a mono-culture guy, born and raised in America. So this invitation to speak at the youth retreat for the Chinese Gospel Church in Michigan expanded my horizons. The young people were born in America but have Chinese parents. Their parents were born in China and came to America and became citizens. These different kinds of cultural experiences impact our identity, so the question we all wrestle with is “Who am I?” How much does our culture influence our identity? How do we embrace our unique qualities without feeling weird or peculiar? (In general, I have noticed that most people do not handle differences well. They either comply, attack or withdraw.) It is the confident person who can stand strong and offer something worthwhile to help everyone live more productive lives.
With four opportunities to dialog with the kids, we dealt with four A’s:
I am an Asian — Heritage tells you where you came from but it doesn’t fully define you. For most of these kids, the Asian culture was very stressful and left little room for leisure and fun. They felt the need to excel and compete to be the best.
I am an American – But do you align yourself with the American culture and values or do you comply with your parents’ values and priorities? What are the pros and cons of each culture? We looked at the good, the bad and the ugly of the American culture by discussing David Brooks’ article in the New York Times, “Five Lies That Explain Our Culture:” (1) Career success is fulfilling, (2) I can make myself happy, (3) Life is in individual journey, (4) You have to find your own truth, and (5) Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people. I was impressed by how they discerned the partial truth in each of these while realizing the lie.
I am an Adolescent – How do I navigate this transition period from childhood to adulthood while honoring my parents and fitting in with my peer group. Like most adolescents, they struggled to keep up with their peers and maintaining close friends when everyone is so busy. Bullying was also an issue, so we took tie to discuss how a well-grounded identity and strong confidence were necessary in standing firm. We all were amazed that the negative view of teenagers by adults is nothing new. This quote is from Socrates around 400 BC! “They [adolescents] now seem to love luxury, they have bad manners and contempt for authority, they show disrespect for adults and spend their time hanging around places gossiping with one another. They are ready to contradict their parents, monopolize the conversation and company, eat gluttonously and tyrannize their teachers….” Read more: http://www.hopefortheheart.org/teenagers/#ixzz5obzprbFj
I am an Ambassador for Christ – If my citizenship is in heaven and I am an instrument to carry the Gospel message to the world where I live, it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m Asian or American or anything else! 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. What does being an ambassador look like for real?
Why is it important to clarify our identity? Because the more clear we are about who we are and what we stand for the more confidently we can hold our own in an atmosphere of differences; the less likely we will be carried away by peer pressure or influenced by trends. Our unity does not come from being alike; our unity comes from worshipping the same God, Jesus! I felt remarkably united with these outstanding individuals that I met for the first time and will long remember them with fondness.
I forget where I saw this, but I shared it at the beginning and the end of our time in Muskegon:
“Ask yourself what is really important and then have the courage to build your life around your answer.”