It’s an awkward time of year. Christmas and New Year are fading into the distance and two important holidays are here. There was Australia Day on 26 January and then there is Lunar New Year usually around the early weeks of February.
Caught Between Festivals
Admittedly, Australia Day in my migrant family has always been just another public holiday. My parents became citizens long ago and do not join the “almost 80% of new migrants and refugees [who] believe Australia Day is important for the nation”. It was only in my adolescent years that I realised the cultural thing to do was to have a barbecue. I undoubtedly considered myself Australian: born and raised, through and through. Yet the pride I felt for being Aussie was at times tainted by the popular image of a “true Australian” with an Anglo heritage.
Conversely, Lunar New Year was a big celebration. Sometimes we would head into Chinatown to watch the lion dance. I’d see all the red “lucky” signs in houses and shopfronts. And we would buy traditional New Year’s sweets: sticky brown sugar rice cakes, candied lotus root and lotus seeds. The reunion dinner, 团年饭 was especially important. All the extended family would come together for a feast. I undoubtedly considered myself Chinese: Chinese parents, Chinese blood. But really, we children were often passive participants in these festivities: eating with our cousins and reciting New Year’s greetings just to receive the all-important “lucky” red envelopes. In all of this, there was the feeling that this is their celebration—my first–generation migrant family.
As one living between two cultures, will I ever be Australian or Chinese enough? What about my daughter? Will these traditions inevitably be diluted over time?
Our shared memories, stories and traditions play a key role in defining us. Today, as I consider my own family, there is a feeling of ambivalence. I have tried to pass on the important traditions of both Australian and Chinese cultures to my daughter. But is it worth it? As one living between two cultures, will I ever be Australian or Chinese enough? What about my daughter? Will these traditions inevitably be diluted over time?
As I think about the gospel message, how can we Christians pass on our tradition which can feel so distant and disconnected from us today?
The Gospel Tradition
In the Old Testament, the Israelites share the memory of their salvation out of Egypt. Numerous times, they are called to remember how God rescued them as the basis for their future obedience, even generations after the Exodus:
Be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (Deut 8:14)
Even though these words refer to the first exodus generation, Moses addresses them to the second generation, identifying them with their parents as if they were actually there. The Exodus story is continually commemorated by subsequent generations in the Passover. In the New Testament, Jesus also celebrates the Passover. He institutes the Lord’s Supper by asking his followers to eat the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him. Jesus, the Passover lamb, would soon be slaughtered. Through the cross, he would rescue his people from slavery to sin. This rescue is offered to all. Gentiles have been grafted in. We share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree (Rom 11:17). We have died and are raised with Christ (Rom 6:3–10). We enjoy, in communion with the Jewish and early Christians, the same access to the Father through the Son and Spirit.
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone. (Eph 2:18–20)
There is beauty in both Asian and Western traditions—the shared memories and stories which have been developed over time. However, Asian Australians may feel like strangers or foreigners. We are stuck participating from the fringes, unable to truly be “one of us”. Yet in our gospel tradition, through Christ, we are not stuck on the fringes. Instead, we are invited to actively participate at the centre. As those grafted in, we experience the full riches and blessings of belonging. The history of God’s people all the way from Genesis has become ourstory—a tradition worth passing on.
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:1–3ff)
Asian Australians may feel like strangers or foreigners … stuck participating from the fringes. Yet in our gospel tradition, through Christ, we are not stuck on the fringes. Instead, we are invited to actively participate at the centre. As those grafted in, we experience the full riches and blessings of belonging.
Passing on the Gospel Tradition through Culture
But this is not the end of the matter. With each passing on of the gospel, we are unable to separate the tradition from its “cultural accent”—it’s not a matter of “just give the gospel”.We want to avoid gnostic tendencies and cultural naiveté. We can’t simply rid ourselves of Western or Asian culture and be biblical in a cultural vacuum. As Sam Chan points out, not only is the gospel enculturated in Scripture, its audience is enculturated and so are we gospel-tellers today.
When people hear the gospel, do they consider it “not their tradition” or feel they can only engage it at the fringes? How is our gospel tradition and how are we gospel–tellers enculturated?
Many Asian Australian gospel-tellers have received the gospel in a Western culture. At the same time, we evaluate our ethnicity and culture through our families, other immigrants or stereotypes presented in the Western media. And some of us may conflate our negative family experiences with Asian culture in general. For most Asian Australians, the gospel we present is enculturated in a Western worldview. Do we know how to communicate the gospel through an Asian lens in a way that can truly address the specific felt needs of that culture? Do we even want to?
By intentionally considering these questions, we may find a way to pass on the gospel in which people from other cultures recognise their own shared story and join us in passing onthis worthy tradition—a diverse tradition yet one which all can truly call “mine”.