Ten Unique Korean Virtues that EMs Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be), Part 7

This is a little overdue, but Pastor Eric Foley has generously provided me with his subsequent articles on the “The Ten Korean Virtues…” series for our consumption. These articles have unique perspective of Pastor Foley who, while himself is not Korean, has ministered in the Korean American context for some time, is married to a Korean, and works for peace among immigrant churches. We’ve posted the previous contributions on this blog, please feel free to search for those, but enjoy the next in the series.

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TEN UNIQUE KOREAN VIRTUES THAT EM’S AREN’T TEACHING OUR KIDS (BUT SHOULD BE)
How to Help Your EM Cultivate Unique Korean Virtue #3: Respect for Elders

In 1967, the great American soul music singer Aretha Franklin produced one of the most popular rock and roll songs of all time—a song that became a battle cry for the feminist movement of the time. That song was “Respect”.

It was not a new song. Two years earlier, soul great Otis Redding had recorded the song on Volt Records. But Aretha’s recording is the one that went on to make history, and part of the reason why is due to an “ad lib” (words she made up herself without thinking about it ahead of time) that Aretha did as she recorded the song.

Here is what she ad libbed:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Take care, TCB

(The final “TCB” is an abbreviation that stands for “Taking care of business”.)

You may be asking yourself what this little piece of music trivia has to do with our subject at hand. Let me surprise you by saying that the future of the Korean church in America hinges on the 1.0 generation understanding and passionately acting upon lines 2 and 4 of Aretha’s lyrics.

In this column, I, am American pastor, married to a Korean wife, raising four children in a multicultural home in an average size city in the United States where Koreans make up 2% of the population, ask the following question:

“Does anybody else—1.0 or 2.0 generation—see the disaster we are already in and the greater disaster for which we are headed if 1.0 and 2.0 generation Korean Christians continue to fail to unite in order to ‘take care of the business’ that God sent Korean Christians here for in the first place? If so, please unite with my wife and me to do something about it.”

My heart cry is that Korean Christians and churches have little understood or focused on the story of why God sent them to the United States in the first place. My belief is that the 1.0 generation has forgotten that story and instead focused on their arrival in America as an effort to do good for their own family, particularly their own children.

Now, with the story of God’s wider plan and purpose for Korean American Christians forgotten and devalued among our elders, the 1.0 generation is reaping what we have sowed as our 2.0 children grow up and take the logical next step: forgetting about their family story and culture of origin and, instead, focusing on making their own way into life as individual Americans according to the typical wants, desires, and goals of all individual Americans today, from whom they hope to become indistinguishable.

In hopes to begin to assemble a group of like-minded people who want to change that, I assembled a list of Ten Unique Korean Virtues that I felt if EM’s taught our Korean children, three things would change:

1. Our Korean children
2. Our EM’s
3. Our KM’s

Here is that list of Ten Unique Korean Virtues:

1. Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people
2. Commitment to being a diaspora people
3. Respect for elders

4. Passionate, whole-being prayer
5. Preparing and eating meals together
6. Chutzpah
7. The ability to suffer well
8. Respect for the office of the pastor
9. Deep, holy reverence for God revealed in both worship and life
10. Sense of Korean history and connection to it; a conviction that Koreans are a people of destiny

Typically, when one of my columns is published, I receive calls of praise from dozens of 1.0 pastors and catcalls of derision from an equal number of EM pastors. Today, however, as I follow up last month’s column on Virtue #3 (respect for elders) with practical suggestions for how to make this happen in your own church, I expect the EM pastors to hoist me up on their shoulders like a hero while the KM pastors shout loudly for the cancellation of my column!

Here’s why: There is no more divisive subject facing the first and second generation today than the question of what respect is due to the first generation from the second generation. And my prescription for fixing this problem calls for the change to come entirely from the first generation.

My prescription is for the first generation to begin to act in such a way as to earn the respect of the second generation.

Now, please—before you first generation Korean Christians become too upset—I would ask you to re-read my previous sentence carefully. It does not say that you do not deserve respect. Of course you do! The sentence simply notes this:

The most monumental change between the first and second generations, between Korean culture and American culture, is that in America, respect does not come from position, title, or age. It is earned in personal interaction. If we fail to realize this and simply demand that we be respected for our position, title, or age, the only “respect” we ever receive from the second generation will be what they must yield to us out of necessity. It will be all form and no heart.

I have a homework assignment for every KM pastor who reads this column: I would like you to go to an American video store and rent the movie, “RV”, starring Robin Williams. It is not necessary for you to speak even one word of English to benefit completely from the value of this homework assignment. Here is the assignment:

Watch the way the children in the movie act toward their father. Look at the disgust on their faces. Listen to the contempt in their voice as they speak to him (or, rather, as they taunt him, insult him, and talk back to him). Then understand this:

This is the typical way—totally acceptable and culturally approved—that American children (particularly teenagers) interact with their parents.

Now, think a step further with me:

This is the typical way that Korean American children see their friends interacting with and talking about their parents, not to mention other authority figures like teachers, pastors, and government officials.

This may be the point at which it’s tempting for 1.0’s to say, “That’s why we need to demand that our children respect us!”

But this is a temptation we must avoid because of the wider American culture in which we now live. As a husband and father in an intercultural family, I have the benefit of existing at the intersection of two worlds. Because I am American, I have raised my children like an American father would. It’s all I know how to do. But I have not raised my children like Robin Williams did in the movie. I have raised them as an American Christian father. And that means that I have sought not to demand their respect but to earn it through my character.

This had led me to an insight that I hope may be valuable to you:

When my children, they address me with deep respect. They do not talk back to me. They deeply value my opinions. They want to spend time with me, and they almost always follow the counsel that I give to them without me having to enforce my will on them.

At the same time, when famous Korean pastors and guests drop by our house, my children line up dutifully, bow at the right times, and say, “Annyonghaseo”, in a polite but monotonous voice.

You’ve seen this same phenomenon, I’m sure: 2.0’s who know how to show the formalities of respect to their 1.0 elders, but who do so with eyes glazed over like zombies, going through all the correct motions and saying all the right words but never being impacted by the character of the 1.0 whom they are greeting!

It’s at this point that the Aretha Franklin song lyrics I quoted earlier are germane.

Aretha sings, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Find out what it means to me”. And here is the key point of this article:

If we are serious about repairing the breach between our first and second generations, it is going to be necessary for 1.0’s to do something very humbling and difficult. It is going to be necessary for 1.0’s to find out what ‘respect’ means to Americans in general and 2.0’s in specific. Then, rather than demanding respect on our terms, we are going to need to earn it on their terms.

Nothing less than the fate of the Korean American church hangs in the balance. That’s why we—first generation Korean Christians—must take this challenge deadly seriously.

Please rent the video, “RV”, and tune in for the continuation of this column next month.

Or, if you’d like to talk before then, please feel free to e-mail me at efoley@dotheword.org. Since, unfortunately, I don’t speak Korean, you may wish to speak to my wife, Ahn Hyun Sook, at hsfoley@dotheword.org or (719) 360-1819.

Until then, annyonghashimnika!

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Comments

  1. Josh says:

    would’ve liked to hear him use “love” a little bit more than “respect”…

    It wasn’t that long ago that I was the teenaged rebellious high school kid that didn’t give a whip about what my parents thought (that leaned more towards the side of drudgery in anything my parents wanted from me). My, things have changed. I’d say the reason I give them a whole lot of respect and honor is because I’ve seen their wisdom in their relationship with God. The thing that got me to see their wisdom, however, was because I initiated our “spiritual relationship” by asking them for spiritual advice. And the reason I did that, as opposed to looking towards an IV staffer or older brother in my fellowship, was because they had always been ready to help me along in my walk with God; it was just a matter of time. The point is, they have always loved me and I now love them more than ever because of it.

    Ironically enough I have just read parts 1-6 just yesterday. I do understand what these columns are written for, so pastor Foley’s words may be strict and commanding for a reason. It still turns me off a little bit.

  2. elderj says:

    It is ironic, but understandable, that a non-Korean would have this kind of view of the virtues of Korean Christianity – something that I have found sadly missing among many 2nd or even 1st gens.

    Foley raises some important issues here that are probably very uncomfortable to hear, but which are very important. If the Korean church cannot teach what it means to be Korean AND Christian what then is left?

  3. David Park says:

    These articles are hard for me to read, personally.

    My own father thinks that a lot of Korean-flavored Christianity is pathological, and he’s seen a lot as a pastor for the past 25 years or so in America. First of all, I don’t think these values are unique to Koreans and when Koreans have a particular strong propensity for some of these values, I think it should be tempered. For instance, “the ability to suffer well” can often be contorted into some sort of Spartan glorification of pain. That’s not always healthy nor Godly.

    I think the great challenge for 2nd gen is #10, reconnecting with our history, but other than that, I’m convinced that the Korean church in America is more about the appearance of Christianity than the Christian life itself. I think there is too much self-interest that gets passed off as “good works” with us. I’m sorry, I’m cynical like that. I’m hoping the 2nd gen can give it a good kick in the pants, that’s all.

  4. elderj says:

    You are cynical, but I guess that comes from an insider’s perspective. My assessment is that of an outsider so I am admittedly very ignorant. I agree that much here is not unique to Koreans. However, I know that the American church is just as pathalogical and just as much about the appearance of Christianity as any other variation, so that doesn’t bother me much.

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