Displacement & Origin by Nate Chang
Mixed Media Collage, 2019
It has been said that for great powers under heaven,
division, in time, must lead to unity;
and unity, in time, must lead to division.
These are the opening words to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a popular Chinese novel dating to the 14th century and was attributed to the playwright Luo Guangzhong. Indeed, these words prove to be a prophetic summary to the history of China, a history oscillating between deep divisions that enabled corruption to fester in society, and oppressive unities that purchased oneness at the price of warfare and policing. They also resist the common Asian/Asian American simplifications of “Asian cultures” as being more communal and, thus, more unified than “Western cultures” that are more individualistic and therefore fragmented. Luo resists this either/or construct, teaching us in his captivating novel that unity and diversity, oneness and division both hang upon each other. Instead of finding identity in one polar construction and pitting it against another, he offers an alternative possibility: holding the two in tension. It is in the ever-shifting space in between different polarities of human existence that narratives honest to the human condition arise.
The same is true in the interplay of courage and fear, strength and weakness. The casual reader of the famous Psalm 27 can be forgiven to read it as David’s psalm of courage and strength. It begins triumphantly: “The LORD is my light and my salvation! Whom shall I fear?” The strength and courage persists only a few verses before a sense of worry overcomes David, the psalmist. His confidence in God gives way to a qualified trust in God’s protection (4-6), and then moves into lament and supplication. As it turns out, the enemy David was confronting was not another nation, but from within. As a king and politician, he was subject a wide variety of false accusations. The barrage of fake news took its toll and broke down David’s confidence in the power of God to smite his enemies. He ends the psalm tensively. Wait for the LORD. Be strong, my soul, be strong. Don’t fear. Wait for the Lord.
In the space of waiting, David negotiates the complex interweaves between confidence and anxiety, and in doing so, his psalm avoids an unquestioned confidence in God’s strength or a paralyzing fear that betrays no faith in God at all. The space of waiting gives us the time to meditate and allow different voices to enter and contribute to the consideration of questions and problems. In a time and society where Amazon can deliver goods in 2 days or less, David’s entreaty for waiting strikes us anachronistically. Indeed, in times of emergency and danger in the world, our human response is to quickly react to find a solution believing, for better or for worse, that waiting is a privilege that justice cannot afford. Certainly, in some situations of injustice, the choice to engage or wait discloses our privileges and our powers. Yet, waiting can sometimes give us the important space for re-membering ourselves and the facets of society and life that make injustices complex problems. It also gives us the space and time to analyze intractable problems, paving ways for us to contribute more substantively to wholemaking in this world. Lent gifts us with that space, a space that connects the sacred with the secular, allowing for them to converse in search for understanding and resolution.
In doing so, perhaps the Spirit will reveal to us that the sacred and secular are not merely “binaries” or even “dualities.” The sacred speaks through many media and in many modes, some of which may connect with the many ways the secular speaks through its media and modes. In that waiting space where the sacred and secular complicate, new and original ways forward for challenging in our times may hopefully emerge. Yes, the challenges we face as Christians in a world hostile to the loving heart of the gospel are enormous. Sometimes, they demand answers and actions. But at times, it may require our courage to still ourselves for just a moment.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the LORD.