Christian Asian American Coming of Age

In the beginning, God opened his arms to the little girl and her single mother. They found Him in the basement of a Chinese church, where for the first time they didn’t feel like strangers in this foreign land they’d just arrived in. They could speak their own tongue and eat their own food, and it was safe. The girl saw her mother laugh and it made her laugh, too, because she thought her mother had forgotten how to do that. Her mother was glowing with a joyful light, and the girl wanted her to have that all the time. But when they returned home to their own basement, the laughter echoed away and the joy was extinguished and it became cold again. So they went back to the church the following Sunday, and every Sunday after that. And the girl saw that the light was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). And it was so: the girl went to God unhindered and she liked that He was her Holy Father because she didn’t have a father. She liked being in a nice room with so many nice people, everyone singing songs together, giving hugs, sharing food. In Sunday School, she memorized her Bible verses and learned all of Jesus’s parables. She was not a liar and she knew it was wrong to cheat and steal, so she was happy to be safe with so many other kids who felt the same way. Even when her Tamagotchi got lost and the next week the pastor’s kid had the exact same one with even the same scratches, she knew it would be bad to accuse him, especially in front of others, and she didn’t want to be bad so she stayed quiet and good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) And it was so: the pre-teen did not want to be condemned so she put on the ivory robe and nervously stepped down into the lukewarm water that her pastor was waiting waist-deep in, in the hole they’d uncovered in the stage. She was trying to hide behind her long black hair because so many people were watching and she didn’t want them to see all the pimples on her forehead. Her mom was being so embarrassing with her camera, please don’t let it flash oh my gosh it was flashing. She tried to focus on repeating the words the pastor was saying to her, and eventually her embarrassment and fear did fade away. Her heart swelled at being accepted into this new tribe, at the tepid water washing her clean of her sins as she was plunged into it—backwards?! Wait this was not what they’d rehearsed! She emerged coughing and spluttering but as the water rushed back out and the sounds rushed back in they were all clapping and cheering so nobody heard her and she could barely hear herself but it was okay because everyone was so happy and she was happy too. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Thou shalt not have premarital sex.” (At least, the teenager was pretty sure He did because that’s what everyone kept telling her even though she couldn’t find the actual verse. Paul said it a lot, though.) On Sundays, she played drums in the worship band and taught Sunday School, passing Jesus’ parables along to a whole new generation of little ones. On Tuesdays, she went to Youth Group with some of her high school friends where they didn’t speak Chinese and could, therefore, say the word “sex” out loud. One time, the youth pastor handed a white rose to someone sitting in the front row of the gathering and asked them to pass it along. It went from one hand to a hundred others, and all the while the pastor talked about sexual purity and holiness. At the end the rose came back to him, broken, bruised, torn, never to be beautiful again. Useless. Her friends nodded in agreement all around her, but she could not. On Fridays, she saw her boyfriend she was trying to save and tried not to think about the rose or the fact that she would never deserve to wear a white wedding dress, but instead she thought hard about both those things and about how she was useless. For years. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

And God said several things that sounded very similar to what a lot of the other monotheistic deities were saying in the young woman’s comparative religions class at college. Everyone was told to check their personal religions at the door, and she found it increasingly difficult to reclaim hers at the end of each session. The Holy Book (all of them) was just a textbook here, and she found she liked it better that way: as history and mythology instead of a literal account and life manual. Plus there was that Apocrypha. The on-campus Christian groups seemed above all else interested in controlling her life, yet she did not find any of their lives to be desirable models. She searched for answers elsewhere. “Wait a minute. Are you looking for absolute truth?” Each professor would ultimately ask when she came knocking. “Yes!” She would answer with great excitement. “Oh, you won’t find that here.” Evening, morning—the fifth day.

And God said … nothing. He was silent when her high school friends grew up and got married and found that they had no identities beyond “virgin,” and sunk into depression. He was silent when her first Sunday School teacher drowned himself in the lake she grew up next to, weighing himself down with a big rock. He was silent when she was the only one willing to drive her sobbing friend to the abortion clinic a few months after the friend had discovered that abstinence meant no understanding of alcohol tolerance, and no understanding of men. He was silent when she realized he couldn’t be real, this all-powerful being that men had created for themselves, whom they believed to be deeply concerned with which women they dated or which stocks they picked. In his silence, she imagined a rug being pulled out from under her, and beneath it was empty infinity, and she was falling. Suddenly, an omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, omniscient being was not looking out for her every move. Suddenly, death really was the end. Suddenly, her life was not part of some grand plan and she was as insignificant as everyone else in the eyes of the universe. But in reality, it was nothing like falling. Instead there was evening, and there was morning—

And the sun rose and it was a miracle of a very different sort than what I’d grown up being told about: perfectly distanced and balanced to sustain life on this particular planet during this particular nanosecond in the unfathomably vast timeline of the universe, and I was impossibly lucky, impossibly unlikely, to be here. Infinity is underneath me and all around me, mysteries that we are unlocking together as a species that evolved to where we are today through just about everything but intelligent design. Death really is the end, it has always been, and this life, every second of it, is all I will ever get and is therefore precious beyond belief. My existence is not part of someone else’s grand plan, I am free to make it my own. Successes are not the blessings of an invisible hand, they are earned and they are mine. Failures are also not the corrections of an invisible hand, they are also earned and they are also mine. I am insignificant in the eyes of the universe, but we who share this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam, we who are real and responsible for the pale blue dot we all call home, we can choose to live purposefully like we only get one chance or we can choose to live complacently like we are just rehearsing for heaven. But that one chance is the closest to absolute truth that I have found.

On the seventh day, god rested. And I got up.

February 09, 2022 21:03

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