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Tim Tseng update

Aliens, strangers, and patriots

June 30, 2010

Dear Canaan EM sisters and brothers,

Like the word “Canaan” I’ve always viewed the “United States of America” as a promise, a yet-to-be realized dream. I grew up among Black, Hispanic, Asian Americans, and political progressives in New York City who shared the same sentiment about the United State – an imperfect nation worth improving. Not until I moved to Colorado did I discover a deep, passionate patriotism among many American Christians. Most did not put “America: Love it or leave it” or “My country, right or wrong” bumper stickers on their cars, but their patriotism was as palpable as it was awkward for me. Often when I stood up to teach, preach, or address a predominantly White audience, I was made to feel like my perspectives about America were strange. It was assumed that I don’t really belong to this country. I’m convinced that many Asian Americans prefer to live in large metropolitan regions because they subconsciously (or consciously) feel more comfortable where racial and ethnic diversity is a reality. In such places, they can belong to America. America can belong to them.

Thus, July 4th (Independence Day), for me, is less a celebration of America’s innate goodness and greatness than an appreciation for the ideas that tempered our nation’s  aspirations for imperial and racial domination. As I studied the history of American Christianity, I’ve discovered that these ideas were often nurtured in the bosom of the Church – specifically among prophetic voices that refused to confuse the American dream with Christian faith. Because of these voices, the biblically-inspired vision of a just, peaceful, and diverse society is deeply woven into the fabric of the American story.

During yesterday’s staff meeting, Nicole led a devotional based on Psalm 146 – a chapter that articulates this vision wonderfully. The first five verses contrasts our trust in human leaders with our hope in God (especially verses 3-6):

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

Indeed, as we put our hope in God, we learn what this God cares about (verses 7-10):

7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.

Have you noticed how these verses are almost identical to Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4:18-21 (which itself was based on  Isaiah 61:1-2)?

As we continue to examine the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke every Sunday, I encourage you to keep this mission statement in mind. Just as Jesus sought to reboot the mission of Israel, we are also called to help reboot our church and our nation’s mission with these values. Indeed, the ministry of rebooting is not limited to the United States. Just yesterday, China and Taiwan entered into an economic treaty. What are the implications of these geopolitical decisions for Chinese and Taiwanese Christians? How can our brothers and sisters in Christ there avoid the idolatry of blind nationalism? How can they be a positive influence for their nations? (How wonderful would it be if our church could sponsor forums for such important issues like these?)

I believe that Christians can be a positive influence in the United States, Asia, and the whole world by recognizing that they are strangers in their own country. You know, that feeling I got in Colorado. Whether immigrants or American-born, Asian Americans who have experienced being treated as outsiders can teach the wider church the importance of being in, but not of the world (John 17:15-18). This enables us to navigate around blind patriotism and emboldens us to call our nation to live out its highest and best values. Hopefully, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we can also call our American brothers and sisters in Christ away from a nationalism that fears change and diversity. After all, perfect fear casts out love!

So as we celebrate God’s blessings on America this July 4th weekend, let us remember that our true citizenship is in heaven, but our mission is to proclaim that the kingdom of God is coming!


Tim Tseng  曾 祥 雨
Interim English Pastor

RETREAT UPDATE: We are considering raising funds for a retreat scholarship fund to support folks who may need financial assistance. I hope that cost will not prevent you from coming to this important retreat. It’ll be an opportunity to deepen your walk with Christ and strengthen your friendships within our community. On-line pre-registration is now available! Please indicate if you need financial assistance so that we can determine how much funds to raise.


About Tim Tseng, Ph.D.

I am Pacific Area Director of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship's Graduate and Faculty Ministries. I'm also a historian, theological educator, and pastor.


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