After having spent much time and energy understanding and working through what it means for me to be an LGBTQ Christian, I desired to then deeply explore other aspects of Christian faith. I saw the Newbigin Fellowship as an opportunity to do that. While I had imagined the fellowship would be valuable, it has impacted me in unimaginable ways. I have often mused over Luke 10:27 “’Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your strength and with all of your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”. Newbigin has challenged me to grow in all of these arenas via the program’s readings, trainings, cohort and group discussions, prayer practices, and individuals.
In terms of heart, I have learned to love God with my heart like never before by better understanding what it means for God to love us first. This came to a life-changing apex on the Silent Retreat where the retreat exercises challenged me to engage with God in a truly relational manner.
In terms of soul, I have been challenged to develop comfort with creating space to still and silence my soul. I have valued engaging in and discussing exercises of stillness and silence as a community while also practicing them alone.
In terms of strength, exploring various topics (the Bible, race, sexuality, science, etc.) have led me to have a stronger commitment to truth by seeking to identify where Christians have failed and continue to fail in understanding and truly advocating for the Christian truth: God and Jesus’ boundless love for all. Newbigin has helped me more than intellectually grasp this and to build a stronger commitment to it. I have explored with other fellows how “loving your neighbor as yourself” is a strong commandment that does not just entail being nice and friendly but truly advocating for the manifestation of God’s love for all via social justice, just as Jesus did.
Essentially, I have grasped through concrete examples how social justice is an essential ingredient to the faith. This has changed how I think about my role in my direct community, generosity, and my agenda versus God’s agenda. In terms of mind, throughout the fellowship I continuously gained more knowledge about God, Jesus, faith, and what this means for humanity via the program content and conversations with Newbigin fellows.
This continual learning has crystalized for me that faith is not an end point but a rather a continual journey of new discoveries. I am coming out of this experience with a richer understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God and to follow Jesus and life-giving relationships with Newbigin fellows with whom I can continue to explore these questions as we continue on our journeys.
As I shelter in isolation, it is a poignant time to reflect upon my year as a Newbigin Fellow. The current pandemic has thrust everyone into a place where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Many have risen heroically to the challenge: first responders, healthcare professionals, food supply chain workers and others are putting their lives on the line for the benefit of the greater community. Simultaneously, fear and panic have catalyzed appalling demonstrations of violence, xenophobia, and greed. How are we Christians called to act, in both extremes, and every situation in between? When I hear of violence directed against fellow Asian-Americans, how do I redirect my rage towards something constructive, or even hopeful?
Our Fellowship began with a process of deconstruction meant to explore our hidden biases as individuals and as the Church. We began with the inherent limitation of strict biblicism as being embedded with the political, racial, and gender biases of its curators and authors. We explored the posture of evangelical ministry to frequently be one of messiah or teacher, without sensitivity or genuine curiosity for either the context or the wisdom of recipient cultures. Having grown up in Taiwan, I have vivid memories of missionaries barging into homes and sweeping ancestral statues from shrines in a panicked zeal to save our heathen souls. I doubt the majority of them were even aware of their inherent ethnocentrism, just as I am unaware of all of my own implicit biases. But rather than leaving us in the cynical mire of deconstructed assumptions, the remainder of the Fellowship led us into an expansive process of reconstruction through a multi-cultural and Christological lens.
James Cone defined Black liberation theology as inextricably tying the gospel message to full liberation of the enslaved and oppressed. Loida Martell-Otero and other Protestant Latina theologians emphasized the tangible presence of the feminine Spirit and the praxis of theology in la vida cotidiana, or “everyday life,” within a context of economic injustice and discrimination. Steve Hong addressed the unmet need of Asian-Americans in their churches to find healing from shame rather than traditional emphasis on guilt. All of these voices and others wove together a narrative requiring a broader, more communal healing far beyond individual reconciliation with God.
So where does this leave me? In ministry, I feel I cannot truly serve someone well if I continue to “help” preemptively before listening more carefully, especially across different socio-economic or cultural backgrounds. When encountering someone who seems opposed to my beliefs, I feel called to persevere in trying to understand and possibly bridge, rather than being solely dismissive or judgmental; each person has their own unique story with their own experience, pain, and insight, and I want to see God’s new creation in each of them, MAGA hats notwithstanding. Mostly, I am reminded to live eschatologically, knowing that none of our efforts may bear immediate fruit, nor might things seem fair or even life-giving in the moment, but that God is committed to a full and complete reconciliation with His people in His good time. Our role is to be part of the larger narrative of bringing this systemic shalom.
The Newbigin Fellowship has created a space for God, myself, and others to challenge my notions of what it means to be a Christian (in a good way). For the first time, I have engaged with texts and conversed with Christians of varying backgrounds and identities around deeply personal aspects of my faith, identity, and very being; conversations that had always felt off-the-table in other faith settings. Through weekly cohort meetings, contemplative spiritual practices, Enneagram study, and a variety of other elements of the Fellowship, I have come to better understand myself in relation to the Trinity, while coming to better understand those with whom I am in relationship. For the first time in my life I have been able to share candidly and without judgment about my sexual orientation, while actually navigating aspects of the coming-out process with the support of my cohort. It’s no understatement to say that the fellowship has profoundly enhanced the integration of my faith with all other aspects of my identity.