A self-proclaimed ‘bald Asian American Latter-day Saint woman scholar’ talks about living with contradictions

05.21.2019 | The Maxwell Institute

“Which are the best Chinese popsicles—red bean or green bean?”
“When is cultural revolution a bad idea?”
“Can someone be a critical scholar and a believing Latter-day Saint at the same time?”
“If the history of the Restoration sometimes overlaps with the history of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, how can we say we are led by God?”
“How does it feel to never fit in, but to always be at home?”

My children would want to know these things. But, facing a difficult cancer diagnosis in 2017, I realized I might not be around long enough to tell them. So I began the work of gathering things I’d written about such questions over the years—letters to the children, essays new and old. I could give them a book. A book would last. A book born of contradictions.

One thing I’ve developed over the course of my life is a tolerance for contradictions. Contradictions in language, cultural categories, creeds, actions, etiquette, styles, and personality are part of my daily lived experience. Every time I do something “the right way,” I’m always aware of how, in another place or setting or in different company, this is “the wrong way.” This awareness has come not only through the migratory journeys in my life, but through intellectual, relational, and bodily border-crossing as well. My book takes its name from these experiences, referring to changing one’s context or state, and also bridging divides. It’s called Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures through Life, Death, Cancer & Motherhood (Not Necessarily in that Order).

My upbringing as a Latter-day Saint taught me to live with contradiction. I learned to believe, to question, to work, to trust, to strive, to accept. I was encouraged to pursue learning and righteousness, to take people’s beliefs and spiritual experiences seriously, to bear and receive testimony through the witness of the Holy Spirit. I believe God gave us weaknesses so we could learn to become strong. I believe God both gave laws and is governed by laws, that humanity possesses divine agency and intelligence and exists within a universe in which we are next to nothing.

Comfort with contradiction is a gift my religion has given me. I would like to give it back—to fellow Latter-day Saints troubled by the gap they perceive between who we are and who God wants us to be, to people not of my faith who don’t understand how a feminist critical thinker could value a patriarchal religion founded in plain sight by an American named Joseph Smith, to Christians struggling with the question of how people around the world with vastly different cultural assumptions and life experiences can be united in the body of Christ.

Our globalized world in the twenty-first century is full of contradictions. We struggle to live with each other while living with integrity. We struggle to love each other while speaking the truth. Currently the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints manifests growing pains related to planetary scale. At the same time, I believe we Latter-day Saints have the human resources to heal not just each other, but the world. I hope my account of living my faith in an eclectic variety of times and places will encourage people not only to eat more red bean popsicles and study more history, but to value discomfort and to find themselves, and the things that matter most, at the margins.


A guest post by Melissa Inouye. Learn more about her new book Crossings here