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. In fact, 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.
My childhood was spent crawling under chairs in a Singapore Brethren church, and tiny little house churches in Suzhou, China, occasionally fellowshipping with Chinese Christians who worshipped in secret. In Hong Kong my family floated for the longest time, with no sense of belonging in church, before finally landing in the one we are now a part of. My high school years were plagued with the prejudice of a Christian school system that did not nurture or love my non-Christian classmates, yet also gave me many opportunities to discover my faith in different ways. In Toronto I belonged first to a Korean church, and then a Chinese baptist church, very different in style, in community, in way of life.
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 (frankly), in questionable ways. In other words, colonial Christianity.
I can remember the first time I quietly admitted to a classmate that I was a Christian, my apologetic tones, my carefully worded defences.
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 seen as 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.
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.
I’ve written before on how my English journey became an intentional move away from White literature as I pursued identification, relevance and engagement with my education.
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 a strong divide between my Chinese and Christian identity until the year I turned 18, and the subsequent six 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, specialize 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.
The first time I got over my inherent fear of talking to professors, was to chase down a thought I had about Auerbach’s opening chapter of Mimesis, where he uses Homer’s Odyssey, and the Abrahamic narrative of sacrificing Issac to shape the literary analysis he expands on for the rest of the book. I was bothered by the complete glossing over of the contexts and purpose of the Abrahamic text, how it hadn’t factored into our classroom conversation about style. So I went to find my professor, and ask him about Auerbach’s analysis, and it’s white stylistic blinders.
Being a Christian has made me a better English student.
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 a knowledge of scripture beyond surface level interpretation. It’s why Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot was so fascinating, why Indigenous Literature can be so painful, why Mahmoud Darwish’s The Presence of Absence lingers in hurt.
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 have even discovered that meeting progressive allies who do not want to talk privilege and race, is ironically, like staring colonial Christianity in the face.
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.
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.
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.
Six years later, I am much much stronger, getting ready to do my Masters in English, in collaboration with the Centre of Diaspora and Transnational Studies.
I am still on a journey because I myself, am ongoing work.
I plan to search always, and never avoid the hard questions.
I don’t want to ignore pain, nor do I want to block out guilt.
I never want to give up hope, or stop having faith.
Consider this a pep talk to myself; this is an ongoing fight.