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So I thought I’d comment on the Paper Tigers article in New York Magazine – because a few of you linked it on FB, and because it’s something the Bible has a perspective on, and we ought to at least KNOW what Jesus’ perspective on stuff like this might be… If you haven’t read it, you can read it HERE, then come back. And even though it’s talking about an Asian American issue, Jesus’ answer to it applies to everyone… So here’s my understanding of it: Asian culture(s) is usually big on two things… Number ONE is cultural conformity… I think everyone really underestimates how deep this goes… Valuing cultural conformity makes some people REALLY (culturally) Asian – but it makes other Asian Americans, totally abandon their Asian culture and makes them really “American.”
My Irish-American friends are proudly Irish, AND proudly American… My Latin American friends, no matter how comfortable in mainstream American culture – would never dream of hiding their Latin cultural roots… But Asian Americans who are more comfortable in American culture will often totally abandon their Asian side. They will so strongly identify with their “Americanness” that they find Asian-ness embarrassing. What I’m saying is THAT is actually a part of Asian thinking… “Conform to the culture…” And since there are many cultures here, Asians typically choose one or the other.
The second thing Asian culture is big on is the one most people notice: institutional recognition. More than the education itself, Asian culture tends to value the institutional recognition that degrees, awards, and certain professions offer. Asian writers know they’ve “made it” when they get mainstream recognition – whereas Kerouac would have balked. Asian musicians know they’ve made it when they win prestigious awards – Sonny Rollins would have walked away… “Greatness” in Asian culture comes through institutional recognition – if you’re smart enough to get a PhD, you get a PhD – and if you don’t it’s because you’re not smart enough. So, oftentimes, Asian Americans would rather go off and get an MBA than run their parents’ businesses…and their parents agree.
So what does Jesus have to say about all this? What’s a Christian perspective? I’ll just mention just 4 things:
1. You do NOT have to seek after greatness… Because real greatness doesn’t come from anything you DO, but from trusting in a great God… God has already made you great. Now I know what you’re thinking – “this is feel good nonsense…” It’s not – consider the implications of really believing this…
2. Therefore we can take our culture lightly. We can put it on, take it off… Your greatness doesn’t depend on cultural conformity, so you’re free to really discover who you (really) are.
3. You do not NEED institutional approval. Jesus was never published in a magazine, never wrote a book, held an office, earned a degree, ran a company, made a large sum of money – these things have nothing to do with true greatness… to over value these things means turning your back on everything Jesus taught and was!
4. You must serve. Jesus said the mark of someone who’s “greatest among you” is that he will be “the servant of all.” Instead of seeking institutional approval – instead of getting promotions and working up the ladder – instead of trying to fit in culturally (all of these things are “me” centered – you’re trying to serve yourself by doing all these – even as you do jobs that claim to benefit others) – instead of all that – you will SERVE people. Fix stuff that’s broken. Make things better… for as many people as you can!
In order to get past the bamboo ceiling – you first have to get off the stinkin’ ladder! Stop trying to conform and earn recognition, and learn to SERVE and do real stuff… Stuff people need. I promise you, IF you do that – you will get the recognition at some point – but you won’t care… because by then you’ll understand what it’s really all about.
Look around and let broken stuff break your heart – and then DO something about it… Forgetting yourself, not worried about your credentials – you’ll go and DO… You won’t have to deal with the glass/or bamboo ceiling, because you won’t be climbing that stupid ladder to begin with… You’ll be out changing the world.
In the time I’ve been learning about Jesus, I think I’ve become more “American” (because parts of me was busy conforming and chasing institutional approval) – and Ive become more Asian (loving its cultures instead of being ashamed of it) – at the same time! It’s because Jesus transcends culture, and as a result, he sets us free to really discover who we are. So we need to follow this world-healing culture-challening (challenging EVERY culture) Jesus, seek His Kingdom (his ways) first, and all these things, stuff you need, will be there when you need them – I’ll bet my life on this… will you?