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The Power of Story in Anti-racism Work

So much of what I’ve been learning in my work is not new, but nevertheless illuminating. There is an incredible amount of power that someone’s story holds. There’s power in sharing our own story, but there’s also power through listening to others' stories. When we see ourselves reflected in the stories of others, it can have a profound impact on our feeling of belonging. So here’s my story. 

My lived experiences as a Canadian born Chinese person navigating the Christian faith and Christian church here in Canada and the United States has often felt two parts welcoming and one part isolating. The gospel emphasizes that salvation is for all, that we are a body together and that community is not only important, but crucial to our understanding of Christ and how to lead a Christ-like life. 

A sense of community could be used to exclude as well. 

I started going to church because of having the chance to spend time with some of my closest friends. Not because I believed a white Jesus had died for me (though I was intrigued), but because it meant I could sit and hang out with people I liked and we had lunch and we talked about things in our lives. Being in community with friends is what brought me to church, but I soon realized, that a sense of community could be used to exclude as well. 

I didn’t come from a Christian family, I didn’t understand some of the language being used in the church, I didn’t feel like I belonged to the youth group since everyone else who went had been going since they were young. I attended a predominantly Chinese church when I was younger, and many of the kids my age were second generation Canadians like I am. I felt a sense of belonging, that we didn’t need to explain certain cultural norms, expectations and values. But the church felt very stoic and cerebral, and there was always an emphasis of putting on a good outward appearance, which didn’t quite align with what I was wrestling with in biblical teachings. 

I really understood the value of belonging and that just because you embed yourself into a church, it’s not something you inherently feel.

Moving away after my undergraduate degree, I experienced what church was like in more predominantly white settings, and it appealed to me. I liked that the culture represented more of what I thought of as my ‘Canadian’ identity. The music felt more moving, the openness to expressing emotion was engaging, and I felt like I had more freedom to ask questions, though it still required thoughtful selection as to what types of questions to ask, and when to just go with the flow. As much as I enjoyed being different in the congregation for how I looked, what I ate and my cultural values, I missed the unspoken understanding that I had in my Chinese church.

It wasn’t until I continued moving from church to church that I really understood the value of belonging and that just because you embed yourself into a church, it’s not something you inherently feel. I realized how I was clinging onto being part of the ‘cool crew.’ Despite churches making a concerted effort to have more diverse congregations, and how every one of them would make that known in almost a tokenistic way, I always experienced a lack of inclusion. 

And so much of that comes back to story and of representation. As a racialized woman, I never spoke about my racial identity when I shared about my struggles, and honestly, I don’t know if I would have even known how to speak about it because I had been so conditioned to internalize that Christianity doesn’t ‘see colour’. When I lived in the United States, and my small group of all white women would talk about racism, they’d turn to me to ask for my thoughts as if I represented all racialized folks. I often felt too stunned to speak. 

Up until that point, I didn’t spend any considerable amount of time processing my positionality in this world. It was always ‘it is what it is, put your head down and work hard’. My grandparents and parents embodied that mentality, and I adopted it too, because what other option did I have? I didn’t see how to do life otherwise because I wasn’t shown it. 

If we truly believe in a God whose love prevails, we need to be bold

What changed that was meeting others who came from a similar background but trailblazed and disrupted that narrative, the narrative of white power essentially. I had long conversations with other second-generation Chinese Canadians who had very similar experiences but were equipped with language that helped them articulate what it was they were experiencing. I was able to take from that and establish vocabulary (which I’m still adding to) that helped me understand my positionality, my place in the body of Christ and ultimately is helping me bring more of my authentic self to the table.

I’ve had my days where anger, frustration and disappointment take hold of my head space when I think about the church as an institution. I’m continually coming to terms with the fact that this institution, the church, meant to hold, nurture, support and transform has been twisted into a place only meant for those who are white.  But now I realize that viewpoint is so wildly narrow, and if we truly believe in a God whose love prevails, we need to be bold, we need to be imaginative, and we need not place limitations on what ‘church’ looks like and who belongs there.

We must be bold to share our story, bold to live a wildly authentic life, because we are enough. I am hopeful that as a society, we can break down these systems, systems that exclude, systems that oppress, systems that tell you to conform, and reimagine a space where all are invited, just as God had intended. But it begins with us sharing our stories and listening to other people’s stories. It’s when we see ourselves reflected in these stories and in the gospel that we are invited to show up as ourselves, and it is when we strip away all the conforming and contorting we put ourselves through, that we are open to transformation.

Read the rest of the series!  The Revelation 7 Church: Stories of Cultural Awareness


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