I believe in having a supportive community that keeps me accountable and keeps me learning. And I believe that we should be listening more than doing as part of that. The more people I get to know, I come to realise how many experiences there are out there that I would likely never go through and perhaps couldn’t even imagine. So I feel it’s really important to learn from other people.
I grew up in Vancouver. When I went to LA, everyone was so different from me. Most of my friends and neighbours were black or Mexican. That opened my eyes a lot. Until I was 14 I thought that everyone lived in some kind of Chinatown. I was naïve and I wasn’t exposed to a lot of things. Since I’ve come back, I learn so much from the people I meet through my work organising in the community. People from all over the world come to live in the Downtown Eastside. From talking to other people, listening to their experiences I end up breaking assumptions that I didn’t even know I had.
Me and my Dad are pretty close. Sometimes I feel I know everything about him and then he tells another wild story that just blindsides me. So I think even if you stop meeting people and you only deepen the relationships with the current people you know, you always learn more about other people as well as yourself. My Dad grew up really poor and emigrated here. Starting life all over again. Starting a new language, a new culture and feeling alienated, or foreign or out of place or excluded. And I think he still feels that sometimes. He feels self-conscious about his accent for example even though it’s not particularly noticeable and he’s fluent in English. And seeing how he deals with that, and how he approaches the world as trying to help other people and as willing to learn – he’s worked in HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-conditioning], he was a mechanic, he did IT and he was also a custodial engineer – so I think he could build a house if he wanted to. He just knows a lot. And he’s always humble and open to learning. And I think his faith is really admirable. He’s Christian and he’s really involved in the church. He tries not to judge other people or force his beliefs on other people. And he always encouraged me and my brother to find out for ourselves what we believe in. I find all that really admirable and I learned a lot from him.
I guess I would still say I’m Christian, though I haven’t been to church in a really long time. I think I’m getting to be more okay with that. Because the only people who want you at church are church people so they’re kind of biased [laughing]. My faith grew different and more strongly coming back to the Downtown Eastside to work. I just realise that a lot of Christians aren’t doing what they say they believe in regarding justice or helping the poor. They just go to church on Sundays, which is nice: it’s nice to have community to reaffirm what you believe in and talk to people about it. But if you stay in the same clique or circle and you’re just a judgemental middle-class person, it’s not really going to go anywhere. Or if you just rely on prayers and don’t go into the world, like God orders us to do, then it’s kind of pointless to be Christian. So I get really argumentative with other Christians.
And I think I’m more Daoist now. I’ve been reading more about it and talking to people. My friend gave me a book and I read it and I thought “huh, I think I might be into this! [laughing]”. I think I always try to pursue other religions. I think there’s always good and bad things to learn from other cultures and religions. Every culture has really strong aspects and really negative ones as well. And they’re often the same thing. So Chinese culture is more collective. You think for the team and prioritise your community, which is great. But the bad side is that a lot of times people will do what they think they should do rather than what they want. So it’s suppressing their real selves. And they will sacrifice themselves for something that ultimately isn’t a big deal. It is a big deal for them but it wouldn’t harm the community. They worry just because it’s against the status quo. So there’s a pressure to be a certain way or to play into a certain role. But then in Canadian culture we really value individualism, which is great. And everyone’s encouraged to find out who they want to be and to have their own voice. But we don’t really have strong community – at least in Vancouver. People often don’t think about other people. They just say “I want to do this”, which is fair – you have to do things for yourself. But like [laughing] community’s important too. Like: how does that affect other people [laughing]?
From my standpoint I think I’m doing okay. That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t tell me I’m wrong. I think being called out is a gift. Often people don’t feel close enough to do that. So I think when someone calls you out it’s a sign that they’re close to you and they care about your growth.
I’m bisexual. A lot of Christians don’t agree with that. But I think it’s being my realer self. I used to be quite homophobic and conservative too. But that’s changed [laughing]. I think it’s fine for people to disagree with me on that. But it’s not okay to be disrespectful. Jesus literally said it: we have to love other people like we love ourselves. Especially when you think people are wrong. Most of the Christians I know are gentiles. None of us messianic Jews. And we somehow got salvation [laughing]. So I think we can relax [still laughing]. We don’t pass judgement, we’re not gatekeepers of heaven – thank God! I think God has a lot more grace than we think he does. I don’t think we’re going to fry in hell. I don’t think people who never hear the gospel are going to fry in hell. God knows those people aren’t going to hear the gospel, so I don’t think he made them just so they could get cooked [laughing]. It’s not that black and white. God isn’t that easy to understand.
A lot of people are surprised when they find out I’m Christian. I guess they expect you to be straight-edged, conservative and apolitical. Christians are infamous for being like that. But I don’t know why: Jesus started fights with Pharisees so I don’t see how that’s Jesus-like at all. Or just like trying to protect “Christian values” which are actually like super-oppressive [laughing]. It doesn’t take much theology to debunk that those values aren’t very Christian or Christ-like!