In my experience working in the community, I’ve seen that we have a lot of issues regarding religion. There’s negativity from all ends on this issue. I’d like to take some time to examine exactly what is causing the miscommunication. I consider myself an agnostic, raised shaman, but have studied Buddhist, Taoist, and most recently, Christian faith. I am beginning a journey to explore the church and develop a relationship with God, mostly because there are areas in my spirituality and development that I feel only Christianity would be able to speak to.
I recognize I’m kind of a weirdo in our community, but in my spiritual wanderings I’ve noticed some misunderstandings about faith that creates problems in our families. We have a lot of misconceptions about faith that create division and break down our community. I think there are ways that we can become better aware of the problems we create in our families that don’t come from our faith, but instead from ourselves.
1. We let faith define us as a community instead of letting our community be part of our faith
Every individual is on his or her own spiritual journey. Everyone has things that he or she has to learn while here on Earth, and there are many traditions to learn from. As a community, we have to reevaluate what matters to us, and what our deepest values are. One of the biggest problems in our community at the moment is that some Christians won’t attend and help at traditional Hmong events, and Hmong folks who believe in shamanism won’t go to Christian events like baptisms, even when it’s a close family member.
This issue creates enormous problems in our community because we have such a deep value of family. Family is what makes us Hmong, right down to our clans and relationships with our relatives. When faith is such a big part of our lives that we let our fears about religion cloud our judgment on whom we support, we do wrong to those closest to us. When we judge our family members for having a different faith, we limit ourselves in how we can connect to and understand them. We even miss out on important, life changing moments of our family members because we’re afraid of not staying true to our own faiths. If we do that, we miss out on the bigger message:
2. Faith teaches that we share the world, not divide it up
I have Mormon relatives, Evangelical relatives, Lutheran relatives, Catholic relatives, atheist relatives, agnostic relatives, and shaman relatives. But we are all able to share the same space at birthday parties, mother’s day, and family reunions. This comes from the fact that we validate everyone’s faith and don’t invalidate anyone’s faith. If several folks want to pray before lunch but there are those who would rather not, the ones who don’t simply stay silent until the prayer is over. There’s no need to walk out, get mad, or be offended. If the only person who wants to pray is the only Christian, he or she can pray on his or her own and nobody will say a thing.
Remember this when you find yourself at a church event or at a Hmong ritual where you may feel uncomfortable in participating in certain activities; you have every right to draw the line and say “No, I’m sorry but I can’t do that.” If someone has to kill a chicken and you don’t feel comfortable participating in it, say that you can’t do that because of your faith but you can help do other chores instead. If you don’t want to join in reading the bible during bible study, feel free to respectfully step out. This individual choice remains yours at all times. You should never feel uncomfortable and forced to do things that you don’t want to do. But even as you do that, understand that:
3. Faith gives our community strength, no matter what the faith is
Without Christianity or our traditional religion, our community would be in a lot worse shape. Without traditional religious events, our families would be fragmented, our youth wouldn’t know each other as well, and we wouldn’t have the deep relationships our community thrives on. Without church, many families, especially those who lost a lot of family on the way here, would be without community and support in America. Christian values and morals have also supported many young people growing up in this country, including myself.
I think the best example of how flexible faith is in our community are the times when I hear that a shaman told a Hmong family to become Christian because the shaman can’t help the family anymore. Sometimes the family can’t have a child or has a grandparent who is ill, and the shaman can’t do anything about it. The shaman doesn’t care that the family stays shaman. The shaman only cares that the family get the faith they need to get better. That’s the kind of perspective that we should all have as a community. Everyone should be allowed to find the faith that helps them grow in the way they need. In truth, there is nothing detrimental about being Christian, agnostic, Buddhist, or believing in shamanism. There is only strength in having a spirituality that guides us as we try to figure out our way in the world. We need to embrace that fact and let go of the “problems” that we are only creating for ourselves and each other and not let our faith divide us but instead enrich our community.