I just got back from Faith and Culture Writers Conference where I shared about Truth Telling and how to steward our stories. There are certain voices/stories/people that just resonate with me about ALL THE THINGS, even when we disagree, and so many of those people were present. The ones who challenge me, and convict me, and inspire me.
We need all sorts, don’t we? We had rich conversations about things that matter. Kingdom things. I’ll be sharing more about what God did there in the coming weeks because it was a lot.
But today I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend, Cindy Brandt. Or at least to her words. Because she’s got one of those voices, the kind that say things that need saying. Please give her a warm welcome and go get her book!
“Help!!” I was inbox-ing Alia.
I’d been blogging for a while, and one of the most life-giving things about blogging is the camaraderie we share among fellow bloggers. I treasure my blogger friends and am floored by the opportunities of this connection age where we can share our hearts in pixels through virtual space.
Blogging is mostly done individually. When opportunities arise to meet off line, it is a great joy, and as it is with all great things in life, fine wine and good friends, we instagram it. Recently, I’ve been seeing pictures of bloggers on special trips or gathering for conferences, and even though I have known these bloggers as individuals I’ve followed online, it never registered to me that when gathered together, they would be so…white.
“Alia, is blogging only for white people?” I asked unreasonably.
It’s not the first time I’ve felt the sting of being different. When I was choosing a college, I decided on a Christian College well known for academic excellence. I wanted to learn and I wanted to be with my people, fellow believers of Jesus. But when I arrived on campus, I was met with a sea of white students, and I spent four years being mistaken for other Asian girls and asked whether I’m from Thailand (I’m from Taiwan).
Despite the pain of loneliness and alienation, a sense of not belonging bears some benefits. Perched on the edge of a dominant cultural narrative, I had to learn the skill of connecting in whichever ways I could. When the outer layers of your culture don’t match your peers, you learn to lean in deeper for points of connection. I didn’t have the comforts of finding friends who grew up eating the same food, watching the same shows or listening to the same music. But I found people who shared the same values, the same love of learning, and the same dreams for the future. Some of them became my life long friends. In fact, I married one of them.
See, my identity is comprised of more than what I consume. People who asked curious questions about my material life growing up in Taiwan didn’t get that those things don’t define me. The things I consumed contributed to the formation of the dynamic woman I was becoming: my values, ideas, and place in this world, those are what make me, me.
I occupy relatively the same physical space in this world as any other human being, but when I am seen as a minority, someone who is of little utility to a dominant culture, my story is diminished, where my only contribution to the dominant culture is some interesting, exotic tidbit of a foreign life.
The people who made space for me weren’t the ones who peppered me with endless questions about Chinese culture. That got to be exhausting. And to the professor who created the assignment to meet with an international student several times a semester, thanks, but no thanks for making us into a project.
The people I voluntarily offered my stories to were the ones who had the ears to hear. They maintained a posture of looking out beyond their view of reality. I didn’t expect people to be knowledgeable about my far away nation and people, but I could tell whether they cared to know by how they interacted with other people on the margins of their social network. I knew they wanted to know my story if I knew they listened to or read other stories.
My time in the margins was difficult, but it perked up my own ears for the stories from the margins. When Jesus sang the beautiful cadence of the Beatitudes, he pronounced blessing on those who were of little utility to a dominant culture. It turns out our salvation may lie in the outcasts, for how they shed light on the biases which blind us; for how their suffering produces fruit of character we can and need to learn from.
I longed for my brothers and sisters within dominant culture to posture themselves outward so that my voice can be heard. it reminds me how much faithfulness in striving for an upside down kingdom requires us to create space for all of God’s image-bearers to reflect all of God’s glory.
Learn more about Cindy Brandt’s book, Outside IN, and get it for free here.
Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.