[Review by Dr. Jack Lumanog]
I have been wrestling with what to post here for a few weeks since being invited to be a contributor to yellowfaith blog. Being an Asian-American is not as cut and dried as you might think. It’s a vast territory and there is not one particular experience to speak of. When you add being a Christian in there too, it gets very, very complicated. Perhaps the safest thing to do is just talk about my experience instead of attempting to unpack what it is to be an Asian-American Christian – as if it’s possible to do that in one blog post!
My experience first as an Asian-American, particularly as a first generation American with parents from the Philippines, can best be summed up as it is very much an honor/shame way of being brought up. And, a win/loss is not just individual, it’s for the whole family. In the Philippines, the word for shame is hiya. As one author put it:
a universal social sanction, creating a deep emotional realization of having failed to live up to the standards of society”. Of course, HIYA is to be avoided at all costs by Filipinos. The greatest insult is to say that someone is WALANG HIYA (WITHOUT SHAME).
-Alfredo Roces and Grace Roces, Culture Shock! – Philippines, 1992
Again, I can’t speak for all Asian-Americans, but I do know the honor/shame part to be very real. My grades in school reflect not only on me, but on my family. My behavior in public not only reflected on me, but my whole family. My decision to leave the church I was raised in and decide to go elsewhere was not only a reflection on me, but my whole family.
My experience of growing up Asian-American was that in order to obtain honor and avoid shame, it involves a lot of DOING. So, “be the best” in order to obtain honor. If you don’t do your best, then comes the shame and it is not just your burden to bear – it’s upon us all.
Now, when one such as myself comes to a saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Redeemer … what now? I prayed to receive Christ into my heart when I was 16 years old. When I confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord, I know that I received His love, His forgiveness and His grace. I’ve never been the same since that day, June 14, 1992, and I have been mission obsessed with bringing this message of the Gospel to as many people and places as possible.
In the midst of all this spiritual transformation, something that seems to be firmly embedded in me and something that I war against in the flesh is still this cultural honor/shame. Because there is always a temptation to always be DOING. When instead, there is a rest that comes in fully receiving Jesus’ work on the cross. The cross covers my shame and my faith in Him brings me honor – in this life and in the life to come. My laboring for the Kingdom of God cannot add to the cross or take away from the cross. The cross is a reminder that everything has already been DONE by Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.
Simply put, the Christian life calls me — this child of immigrants who is constantly entrepreneurial, working for honor and avoiding shame at all costs — to lay down this war in the flesh at the foot of the cross. Our Lord took upon Himself our shame (our sinful nature and even parts of our cultural identity that don’t create new life in Christ) and He raises us to new life in Him. Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Dr. Jack Lumanog is Priest and Senior Pastor of Christ the King Anglican Church in Lansing , MI. He serves in the Anglican Mission in the Americas as the Clergy Formation Advisor overseeing candidates in the process of ordination for the Heart of North America Region. His website is here: http://www.jacklumanog.com.