Embracing My Cultural Inheritance as an Act of Repentance
by SueAnn Shiah
One of the important lessons I learned when I first became a Christian was how to repent. You don't see repentance modeled very often in the world. Sometimes people apologize, sometimes people admit that they were wrong, but you don't see a lot of people whose lives are changed by it.
Repentance is more than just confessing and apologizing. Repentance is the radical act of turning the other way. It's a beautiful thing, a wonderful, miraculous thing.
I made a documentary film called HuanDao as an act of repentance.
I've lived most of my life believing the various lies that are thrown at me. We are all vulnerable to these lies. But one lie in particular has been devastating to me, and it's a lie that, sadly, the church buys into and propagates, because many Christians believe it is a part of the gospel. So when I became a Christian at age 13, it was reinforced. This is the lie of colorblindness, the lie of whiteness as a virtue.
The world had taught me (and the church had reinforced) that I should assimilate, for the sake of harmony, unity, and peace. This, however, is a false peace, a false harmony, and a false gospel. The beautiful thing, though, is that God doesn't just leave us in our lies and confusion and sin. God opened my eyes to the lie of whiteness, and that was the beginning of my journey to learning to embrace my racial and cultural identity. As I dug into Scripture, in particular at a freshman college Bible study in the book of Galatians, the Word breathed life into my weary heart.
But when I saw that they weren't acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of everyone, "If you, though you're a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you require the Gentiles to live like Jews?" We are born Jews—we're not Gentile sinners. However, we know that a person isn't made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law—because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. (Gal. 2:14-16).
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:26-29).
I had internalized the culture of the Christians around me, who were white. Like the Gentiles who believed they had to be like the Jews in order to be Christian, I believed I had to be like the white folks at my church in order to be a Christian. I had added to the gospel, which requires no man or woman to conform their culture—language, customs, and food—to be a child of the covenant, to inherit the Kingdom of God. The world wanted me to blend in and be like those around me, but the Lord made me Taiwanese American for God's glory. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).
In Revelation, all the nations of the world bring their splendor to the New Jerusalem to lay at the feet of the Lamb who was slain; every tribe and tongue (Revelation 21:24-26). We bring the diversity of God's beautiful creation; we glorify the Lord not by assimilating by but rejoicing in how we are made.
I learned that God had made me who I was and placed me where I was, in my specific family, for a reason and purpose, and it was my duty to steward this inheritance well. So I decided I needed to return to Taiwan, the country from which my parents immigrated over 35 years ago. I prepared myself through reading and studying the Chinese language and Chinese culture. Eventually, I returned to Taiwan to make a film in the hopes that I could begin to understand what it meant to be Taiwanese and what that meant to me, a girl born in America.
This film is the fruit of many years of pursuit, of the lessons God has taught me; it is a testament to my journey, my huandao, my completion. God taught me that my story mattered—and then gave me the voice and the words to tell it.
SueAnn Shiah recently led a panel on Asian American representation in media in the ESA-sponsored tent at Wild Goose. She is a Taiwanese American multidisciplinary artist working predominantly through word, music, and film. Her feature-length documentary, HuanDao, was the launching point for the panel that discussed Asian American identity. She is currently looking to book screenings for HuanDao with colleges, universities, churches, and other community organizations or ministries that are interested in exploring the topics of race and identity. Give her a shout if you're interested in hosting a screening or want more information.