between.

In a world that demands labels, identifications, and sides, it’s a nightmare to be stuck in between.  To not be “normal”, “average”, “white”, “straight”, “American” or “majority” is a constant struggle between two worlds.  I witness this uneasiness everyday working in a high school.  Students are constantly attempting to conform, change, shove, and push their way into the popular, smart, hip, skater, or emo group.  The labels high schoolers place on themselves and peers add pressure to ‘be’ and ‘act’ a certain way.  I especially see the struggle of my students with special needs as they try to make friends, and try to reach out to students who don’t understand why they look or act a certain way.  It seems as though they are seen as different from the start, and their struggle to “fit in” is so much harder than other students.  My heart breaks for them to know how much greater they are than they can even imagine.

I often reflect on my own life and what these labels mean and do to me now.  Life and it’s labels are given by society instead of the peers and colleagues around me.  The expansion of these labels have taught me a lot- mainly that I don’t belong.  Do we ever really belong?

I am a Christian, half Japanese, half American bisexual woman whose labels don’t describe who I am.  The complexity of a human being is fluid and much deeper than any label could describe.  I have felt caught in between many of these labels- it’s a pretty lonely place.

In particular I struggled with my “Christian” label and “bisexual” label.  When you think of what a “Christian” is, you think of a moral, conservative, creation believing, Bible thumper who has all the answers, right?  They are confident about where they’re going, what they believe and sometimes they seem to tell people they’re wrong if they don’t believe what they believe, right?

When it came to my sexuality, I had a picture that Christians were straight.  If they weren’t, they were celibate, that was expected and taught.  So, when I realized I was bi, I felt my “Christianity” was like oil and my sexuality was water.  They couldn’t and weren’t supposed to mix.  I couldn’t be both bi, and Christian.

Because I was told my number one identity was always supposed to be “Christian” (because I believe in Christ), I shoved my struggles with sexuality away.  I wrote it off thinking “I can’t think like that, that’s wrong”, and most of all sinful.

When I think about sin, I think about actions that pull you farther from who God is in a destructive manner, whether that’s destructive toward oneself, ones relationship with God, or ones relationship with others.  When I look back on my denial, ignoring, and bottling of my feelings towards the same sex, I realize how destructive it was towards not only myself and who I am, but also my relationship with Christ and how I relate to Him.  I felt shame, loneliness, uncomfortable, and stuck between two worlds.  When I began to come to terms with my sexuality, that’s when I felt a weight off my shoulders.  I felt God telling me it’s ok, the struggle is ok, and (most importantly) I am ok, the way I am, the way God created me.

The most dynamic, life-changing, view altering thing I’ve learned since coming out to myself and others is how great, deep, and expansive God’s love for us is.  No matter who we are, what we do, or how we hurt ourselves, His love is far deeper than we could ever imagine.  He has taught me how to love Him more deeply, and how to love others more deeply.  Even others who disagree with me.  I’ve realized Christians aren’t tied down to certain stereotypes, certain labels like I described before.  There are Christians who are liberal, independent, straight, gay, transgender, scientists who believe in evolution, smokers; Christians who drink, who aren’t sure, who don’t know everything, who don’t understand all of the universe, and most importantly who don’t know how God works all the time.  When Christ is involved, labels aren’t needed.  Christ is bigger than Christians in this world.  He’s greater than how we label ourselves, and if we go to church every week, or if we go to the biggest church in the country or the smallest.  He is bigger, his work is bigger, and his love for you is bigger.  He is not contained in a label- he’s not contained in a church, or a culture, or a specific bible passage.  He is so much bigger than all of those things.  I’ve found when I step beyond the labels, when I’m stuck in between the labels, although it’s deeply lonely sometimes, I’m able to grasp more fully an understanding of who I am in Christ- and nothing more.

diversity.

First of all, I’m noticing several things when I decide to write these posts.
1.  I’m sitting in the same cubby hole I was sitting in when I wrote the post “behind“.
2.  I always seem to get ideas from my senior capstone music class.
3.  I always get the best writing done when I should be doing aural skills dictations… :)(for those of you who don’t know what aural skills is, it’s an awful class where you have to listen to music and notate it.  Every music major hates it unless you’re good at it, which obviously I’m not.)

But, onto the post:
Today in my senior capstone class we talked about diversity and race. First of all, I want to define race and ethnicity, both of which I feel like people use interchangeably.  When I say race, I am meaning what you are biologically and the origins of your genes.  When I say ethnicity, I am meaning how you grew up, the culture in which you most relate to, etc.  I don’t know if these are “politically correct” definitions or if they are totally wrong, but I just want to differentiate between the fact that history of your genes is not the same as how a person identifies ethnically.

Ethnically, I’m fully American. I have only lived in America, only spoken English fluently, and I grew up in an American culture. But racial I’m half Japanese, half Irish, German, and some other random ethnicities. What am I then? Am I Japanese? Or am I American? Or am I both equally?  Or am I neither and a fully new race? I don’t think there is a straight answer for this.  The problem with these questions stem from a problem we have as humans: boxing people into certain categories for our minds to easily organize and differentiate people.  The brain organizing and categorizing lets say, different mathematical equations to better remember them, alphabetizing the titles of books to organize them in a library, or categorizing different music to better identify it makes sense.  But the brain categorizing and organizing different people into different groups, does not.  People are not mathematical equations, words on pages bound together, or musical genres. People are so much more complex than any of those things, and diminishing a person down to one category is dehumanizing.

Being placed in groups and categories is a frustration for many mixed people as well as people who are ethnically and racially different.  One of the most frustrating things when taking the SAT or another standardized test or survey, is when they ask me what my race is.  Technically, I would be Japanese, Irish, German, and some other things.  But is that really what the test is asking?  Or are they asking what I am ethnically?  How can I dwindle my own race down to “Asian American” by filling in a little bubble to define the many races I am?

I’ve met many different people who struggle with this same concept, many of which were articulated in my senior capstone class today. One of my good friends lived in Peru but is fully Caucasian. One time we were in TJ Maxx, and a Latina woman came up to me and started speaking Spanish. I tried to tell her I did not understand her and I pointed her to my good friend, who is fully white but fluent in Spanish. It was a rather awkward situation, mainly because the person you wouldn’t have expected to be fluent in Spanish was.  Plus it was a little awkward, because I’m not Latina.  But, my friend and I both could relate to being stuck between two worlds. She spent her whole life (18 years) in Peru, but yet was never fully accepted due to her skin color. She came to America for college, and she realized she knew nothing of American culture, but her skin color allowed her to fit in more easily.  And I, who is half Japanese, am culturally American, but I feel as though I don’t necessarily fit as just an American because of my skin color.

The riding of two cultures is more common than I thought it was (at least at Wheaton).  Many people in my senior capstone class talked about it, some fully one ethnicity living in American culture, and not feeling a connection to their ethnicity.  Some I know are one race, but grew up in another ethnicity, just like my good friend from Peru.  I am inclined to believe that this feeling of “riding two cultures” will become more and more prominent in America.

As the next generation rising up, how do we address this issue?  I don’t have any solutions, but I do have to admit, that each one of us is insanely diverse.  If you take all of the experiences of every human being, the difference is immense. Living in the Wheaton “bubble”, that has a culture of it’s own, I’m excited to leave the comfortability and stability of Wheaton.  However scary and fearful I am.  I was talking to one of my friends today who is doing Teach for America in Mississippi.  She was telling me about the racial segregation in the area where she is teaching, and it really convicted me.  It made me wonder how I am going to fit into wherever I go.  As the church, how do you address race and ethnicity?  Obviously, you love people no matter what, but practically how is that done?  What if you go to a church that has predominantly one race; is that good or bad?  I have no answers, I just have thoughts.

Another issue that came up with my conversation with my friend was education.  This is my “American Education Reform Rant”.  When she was talking I was realizing how we have these national standards that every child is supposed to reach when they get to a certain grade, and if they don’t, then they don’t continue.  Plus, it reflects poorly on the schools.  How effective is this?  I guess what truly bothered me listening to my friend talk about the school she teaches at is, how can we place national standards on a country that is so diverse economically, socially, racially, ethnically, etc.  I definitely don’t have a solution to this, but it is frustrating that because a school district is in a poor area, they can’t afford to hire quality teachers (not to mention the pool of quality teachers who want to work in poor areas probably is not very high), and if they can’t afford to hire quality, effective teachers, than how are they supposed to meet the national standards that the nation requires?  It seems like a vicious cycle that I wish I could end single handedly by teaching everywhere where there are failing school districts. But it seems like the poor areas of America should be where the best quality education should be.  The rich areas of America already have superb opportunities to thrive with private schools.  I could continue, but I am restraining myself.

Obviously, diversity extends far beyond race and ethnicity, but I chose to focus on these two.  How can we as Christians live in a world that is so diverse?  How do we love people who are completely different than us with the love that Christ gives us? We live in a world full of people who are each diverse in their own way.  Ignorance is the enemy of love.  I pray God will open our hearts to hear people’s stories, the patience to listen to them, the wisdom to understand where they are coming from, and the humility to love them with the love of Christ.