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19 December 2014

Who am I? The challenge of contrasting cultures

Who am I? The challenge of contrasting cultures

by Steve Uppal

Identity and purpose

The question: "Who am I?" has echoed throughout history. It's expressed through film, theatre and music. It's debated in universities and in conversations around the world. It's a search for identity –with a longing for purpose. If we can answer this first question, the second may seem easier to answer: "Why am I?" That's a question of purpose. Perhaps the greatest struggle we all go through regardless of race or colour, is one of identity, and therefore purpose.

Both my parents were born and raised in India, but were married here in the UK. They set up home in the Midlands and in 1974, I came along. I was born into an Indian family with a strong cultural heritage, and yet schooled and surrounded by a British culture.We were and still are living in England, but my family wanted to retain their Indian culture. 

"The question of identity is answered best in Jesus Christ.Who am I? Am I Indian? Am I British? Yes, but the most satisfying answer I have a found is I belong to Jesus Christ.I am his and he is mine and his banner over me is love."

Both cultures presented challenges in language and values, and there was the potential for misunderstanding. Differences were often perceived as threats. As if those challenges weren't enough, my parents became Christians. The wider family saw this as rejection of both them and the Indian culture. I found myself with a foot in both cultures, and at times confused trying to navigate through the various challenges, trying to find my bearings. 

The stabilising factor really came in my own personal walk with Jesus.

Clash of cultures

As a 14-year-old schoolboy, I was stopped on a street and questioned by three older Indian boys why I was wearing a badge that said: Jesus. They asked: "Are you English now?" I wasn't sure how to answer and tried to help them understand that following Christ was not a rejection of my Indian culture, but a change of faith. I could be fully Indian and still believe in Jesus Christ. I also remember the struggle in referring to English history as mine or ours. I had to think twice: "Is it my history, is it my country?" My personal conclusion was that it is, as I was born here and feel like I belong. I'm aware that others may answer that question differently and don't believe there is a right or a wrong point of view.

I settled the question very early on, while still in my teens. I am proud to be Indian and absolutely love the heritage I have. At the same time, I'm grateful to have the British heritage too. I count myself privileged to have been part of both worlds and believe myself to be a richer, better person for it. I decided that if a clash of cultures arose, the Kingdom of God would win in my life. 

Conflicts would be settled by what the Bible says and what my heavenly Father expects from me. His way would always win in my life. I am first a Christian – a Jesus-follower – and then Indian or British.

Whose I am defines who I am

My ultimate identity and purpose comes from whose I am as a child of God. Through the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross, the way was made possible for me – and every other human – to be reconciled to Father God. My greatest joy and my deepest identity comes from belonging to Him. And then from that belonging I find my purpose in the family of God.

Paul told the Roman Church that they have received the spirit of adoption and can now cry: "Abba Father." It's the reality of this belonging that really changes everything. The truth of adoption in Christ silences many lesser arguments and tensions; a higher truth is now revealed and accepted. My identity as a blood-bought child of God supersedes my colour or where I was brought up.

It's not that I lose those things, but they find their meaning ultimately in Christ –1 Romans 8:15.

In my Church over 30 nations are represented. I love the diversity and richness of being part of such a congregation. There is always much to learn from others and their way of life, but the one thing that joins us is Jesus Christ. He gave his life for each of us. We know our ultimate identity is in him.Our sins are forgiven and we are washed clean. We are lavishly loved and accepted by the Father.

John the Apostle seems to have a revelation of this extraordinary love and belonging."See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are..." 1 John 3:1.

Yet to all who did receive him – to those who believed in his name – He gave the right to become children of God – John 1:12.

The cross provides the way to a new family, a new name and a significant eternal purpose.The question of identity is answered best in Jesus Christ. Who am I? Am I Indian? Am I British? Yes, but the most satisfying answer I have a found is I belong to Jesus Christ. I am his and he is mine and his banner over me is love.

Our Father's business

As we come into the reality of our identity in Christ and our belonging to Father God, we will say with Jesus: "I must be about my Father's business." Our purpose is to do the will of Him, to whom I belong. So the question of purpose is answered in the truth of belonging. Many Christians may know some of these truths in their minds, but they have never become a reality in their hearts. My prayer is that they will become a revelation to you today. Meditate on these truths, pray about them and the Holy Spirit will make them life to you. And you too can cry: "Abba Father!" 2 Luke 2:49.


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