An Addendum

I was told a couple of times I made some pretty hard hits on white church in my last entry. I wanted to make a few comments along those lines. It’s a little different from what I usually write, but I think these things should be said.

1. Was it too heavy handed? It may have been. But these are real thoughts that bounce around in any person’s head in cross cultural interactions (they call it red-lining in InterVarsity missions training, read about it here). What I was trying to capture was my “red-line” posture, in which I approach differences negatively. Now, just because it is common or “real” doesn’t make my rant very right. I should have put in a clear disclaimer that my posture was not a good one (And I do write later how God had to change my posture), and perhaps didn’t need to put all the details of my thoughts there. But this is the type of “red-lining” that I have to guard my heart against each day when I’m in North County- a culture that is not my own, but God has called me to make my own. That’s a huge part of missions- making the decision not to approach differences badly and to see and call out the created beauty within the culture we are called to. When we stop seeing the beauty, we fail the mission of missions.

2. Was I making too many generalities about cultures? Yes and no. Yes in that culture is full of generality- in fact, it’s not about the individual, but the collectivized and generalized actions of many individuals. But culture is slippery. It’s hard to pin down what is Asian culture, white culture, black culture, Latino culture, etc… The descriptions of white culture and Asian culture I had were synthesized from my own personal experiences that constructed specific schema for me to operate out of and assume out of. See, that’s the thing- culture is not only the actions and ideas of the group, but the perceptions of the observing individual. And then let’s not forget the unique and anomalous decisions of individuals which will always aberrate from the constructed assumptions (from within and outside) of that culture. Actually the point of the previous entry was to point out that things are easy to hate and be annoyed at (or on the flip-side have a very ignorant type of paternalistic love for) when we refuse to see the nuanced individual aberrations from culture and just pure surprises when we actually take time to get to know the individuals of a different culture.

3. So are white people evil? There is a long history of oppression by white westerners towards the rest of the world. As individualist as a white person wants to be and say that they are separate from their history, it simply is not true. We are all part of our histories, and our histories are what have put us in our specific present places (geographically, socially, etc.). Subsequently, a lot of the expressions of white culture (even when expressed healthily!) are tainted with that history from a minority’s point of view. So yes, white people are evil… but not anymore evil than any other group of people. NT Wright writes that good and evil is not a line between good and evil people, but a line that runs down the center of every single human heart. Every single person or people group has the same potential towards sin, and we all share a common history in sin with Adam and Eve. The oppressed can so easily become the oppressor. The question isn’t really if white people are evil… because the same stain of evil and sin is deep within every culture.

BUT THE GOOD NEWS: We were created by a good God, who originally saw creation and saw it good. Culture is part of that good creation. I serve a God that not only had good original intentions, but is constantly redeeming the fallen parts of our beings and cultures through the power of the cross and the resurrection. We, by ourselves, are suspended within a sinful system and are infected deep within with sin. He is the only one that can redeem us from being suspended within the endless cycles of oppression and sin.

Because I feel that white people get a lot of flack for how much they suck, I thought it would be good to put out a list of admirable things I have observed about white culture in these last several years. It is the created beauty that seems to shine out a lot in white american culture (again, refer to #2, these are generalizations, this is not all white americans, and many non-white people have these traits as well). In no particular order:

  1. Hard work and honesty- They value good hard work. It’s one of their core values. And yes, this value has been manipulated to work against others, but I think at its core, this is a good thing.
  2. Individualism- We love to hate individualism. But really, it’s something that that white American culture offers to us, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I come from a culture of heavy communalism. In its best, we know how to be family and how to have hospitality towards the stranger. We know that we have to stand up for each other and protect each other. We know that we are all connected, and that no individual’s action is done in isolation. But at its worst, it’s easy to just go with the masses and make peace instead of actually standing up for what’s right, or just my own personality. Individualism helps me to make my faith my own, instead of just what everyone else is doing. Individualism helps me know that God has created me uniquely, not for selfish purposes, but to bless others around me. However, I (and everyone else) lose that blessing if I think that I have to be like everyone else. No, God has created us uniquely to be blessings to creation.
  3. Confrontation and truth- Similar to individualism, this is also one that people steer away from. I remember always wincing at the comfortability that some of my white friends and their families had with conflict. But coming from a culture in which our (good) peace keeping tendencies can easily turn to hiding the truth, not speaking up and just being plain silent when injustice is occuring… the expression of dissatisfaction is refreshing. White people have taught me how to be a brave prophet and speak truth, even if it will offend people. In its better form, confrontation helps us speak truth so that we can love even deeper and make even stronger peace.
  4. Indie music. Coffee. Homebrewing. haha i guess hipster culture in general (I always poke fun at it, but it’s really because I admire it).
  5. Engaging the mind. This is something I notice in white worship services. The worship leader gives just as much if not more theology than the pastor that is preaching the sermon! One of my students aptly observed- white people’s services are like a college lecture. It’s not about inspiration but learning. While I am a big fan of honoring God with the emotions (I’m really emotional, in case you didn’t know), what I get from my white friends is an act of worship by offering God their minds.

There’s more. But it’s getting late, and I’m tired. Perhaps you should add. We know how white culture and history has badly affected the world… but what if we did some excavation and looked for what God’s original intention (and is still there) in white American culture? I’ve seen too many white brothers and sisters either ashamed of their culture or unaware that they have one. That shame and/or unawareness only leads to more sin. Shouldn’t we (and especially myself) be calling out the good in our white brothers and sisters, so as to empower and challenge them to also be blessings to the rest of us in the fullness of their cultural identities?

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9 thoughts on “An Addendum

  1. amberhanna says:

    Thanks Daniel. The addition means a lot. I know your heart and that you meant well but I really appreciate you doing this!

  2. awj says:

    This is a really great addendum, D.Lui.

    One aspect of white culture that I really appreciate is the egalitarian nature of relationships. I see this dynamic played out in families when even the youngest child is asked for his/her thoughts, and in the process encouraging him/her to critically think for him/herself. I know that not all white families are like this, but I see these kinds of interactions much more often in white culture than in my own. Also, pastors who have been most affirming of my gifts and ministry have been white men. They’ve treated me as a peer and someone from whom they could learn, not as a younger woman with less experience who could not possibly have anything insightful to say (wow, me. bitter much?). I think a part of this is because my relationships with these pastors are much less hierarchical than the ones I’ve had with Korean pastors in the past…I would also like to add that not all of these affirming white pastors are egalitarian by Christian definition. Just in case anyone was wondering.

  3. Andrew Hao says:

    Thanks for sharing, man. Another thing I appreciate about Western/white culture is the gift of initiative (probably a close cousin of individualism), which I saw while observing HT work in the Philippines. Western agencies did much in terms of being quickly on the ground in terms of disaster relief, implementing good models of social service and encouraged entrepreneurship. Overexpressed, it can be headstrong and vainglorious, but on balance it’s done a lot of good.

  4. daniellui says:

    oh yeah. iceblocking and buck buck.

  5. Dan says:

    Is the white westerner oppressor history really a part of every white person’s history? If I call myself a westerner now, do I also need to identify with that history?

  6. daniellui says:

    good questions.

    First, in America, even if the descent is from a poor white immigrant population (like irish, italian…), it seems from my anecdotal observations that people with white ethnic descent in america seem to be easily assimilated into society as part of the larger “white” identity. Unfortunately race in America tends towards oversimplification of identities. It all becomes a white blur, despite the overwhelming diversity of white identity and places where white folk have come from. The side effect of this is that white western oppressor history is tacked on simply by the color of skin. It’s not right, but it’s how i’ve seen things work. (as usual, these are all sweeping generalities)

    Second, I’d say yes to your second question. When we become assimilated into western american culture, we also inherit the history, good and bad. Nothing to be ashamed of, just to be aware of. It’s the funny thing about living in between identities.

  7. Dan says:

    1. If it’s not right, then is it right to also ask them to also apologize for the sins committed through white western aggression?

    2. And in the same way, if I inherit the Western identity, do I need to also apologize to China on behalf of the Western identity? Would I be able to do that by apologizing to myself?

    I suppose the larger question is, at what point to people become a part of a group to warrant the burden of needing forgiveness for that group? And practically, what does it look like? Do all Mexicans need to apologize when a Mexican guns down a white guy? Do all Chinese-Germans need to apologize for Hitler?

    On a small scale this idea of being a part of a history is easy. If my brother killed somebody I would feel the need for forgiveness. When someone in China murders an American volleyball coach, wouldn’t it be less clear?

  8. daniellui says:

    This is where I feel individualism needs to come in to balance. People are individuals that, although are connected to history, are also responsible for what the choices they make out of the places that historical context. I think that I was emphasizing communal responsibility because I am usually working with white students who are thrown into cross cultural situations. Usually, it’s correct- the history is so separated that they don’t feel connected to any of the bad history they come from. However, even if those influences aren’t within that person’s consciousness, the minority who views this person still holds it within their perceptions. The idea of communal responsibility is foreign to them, and I teach it so that they can be aware of the baggage that minorities have in their perceptions of whites people, whether that is right or not. The flipside of this is for members of the “oppressed” to let go of their perceptions the “oppressor”. It’s loving their enemy and making the choice to separate the history from the individual’s created humanity.

    And none of this *is* clear. Culture is a slippery subject. No matter how strong the overarching generalities are, there are always caveats. Yet at the same time, our individual differences are always in the context of and formed by cultural roots and history. It’s a fine tension between individualism and communal responsibility. The best I have been able to do is just to be aware of all the factors coming into a cross-cultural interaction, but not let it paralyze me in the midst of it. What this really means is just good ol’ fashioned humility and adaptability.

    eh. I am feeling a little circular and not so articulate. Hopefully that’s a good response, dan :). As usual, you always challenge me to think harder ;).

  9. Dan says:

    I asked a similar question to James on his blog in that UCLA video post. Probably better for you to read it yourself, but essentially I’m asking the wrong question. It’s not about do I have the burden of asking for forgiveness; It’s am I seen as one of them, and therefore have the opportunity and the privilege to act as an agent of healing in that way?

    I think if we all emphasized this point when bringing this topic up, there probably wouldn’t be any objection.

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