I was born and raised in Malaysia, though I’m ethnically Chinese. Just don’t ask me to speak, read, or write Chinese, as I am not fluent. English is my medium, and English literature was my major. I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father. These are all facets of my identity, and behind each lie the stories that define them. But all are woven into my identity in Christ.
In the past I have struggled with my cultural identity, as I did not meet the “normal” standards: neither speaking Chinese nor living the culture. There’s a term for people like me: banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. More Western than Chinese, I didn’t always feel I belonged.
I thank God that my cultural identity is not the most important facet of my identity. I may have struggled to find a place in the Chinese cultural story, but I rejoice in being found by God within God’s grand biblical story of salvation and reconciliation. My spiritual identity, shaped by the biblical narrative, is my core identity. It’s the one story that shapes and defines all my other stories, whether those of being ethnic Chinese, son, brother, husband, or father. In God’s story, I find that “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1).
God created us to be storymaking and storytelling imagebearers of a storymaking God. As Christian psychologist James Olthuis wrote in his book The Beautiful Risk, “Stories-R-Us. Stories shape and form who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming.” We are the only living creatures that tell stories.
We all have unique, multifaceted stories that shape who we are. But our different stories, our different identities, do not divide us as Christians because, like so many subplots woven into a grand narrative, God’s story unites us. On the first Sunday of October, All Nations Heritage Sunday reminds us that God has woven all our different cultural stories into his story of salvation. Disability Week (Oct. 10-16) reminds us that people with disabilities are part of God’s story too. The Protestant Reformation we celebrate on October 31 extends the church chapter of God’s story. These are just a few ways in which we are all part of God’s diverse and unified family.
I appreciate that the fourth desired future of the Christian Reformed Church’s ministry plan, Our Journey 2020, is about our identity. It is an identity rooted in God’s story of grace and reconciliation. Being transformed by and living out of that story, we are to tell it to the world.
Our world needs God’s story. That’s because the world is shaped by other narratives—religious, political, social, and more—all vying for supremacy. And unlike God’s reconciling story of love, the world’s stories tend to divide and rule. They tend to reduce those who are “not us” into a single simplistic story that can easily be dismissed (see Heidi De Jonge’s “A Single Story”). In contrast to the world’s stories, which foster control, fear, and hatred, God’s story fosters faith, hope, and love.
Therefore, let us humbly immerse ourselves in the Word, submerging our multiple stories into God’s grand story so that we can emerge as God’s unified but diverse children.