Last Tuesday night’s conversation at the Korean bakery/coffee shop, Cafe Mozart, was iconoclastic from start to finish. Friends from the local cohort, EmergingPhoenix, braved a visit to a less-frequented-by-non-Koreans Korean coffee joint outside the perimeter of Atlanta. They ordered bubble tea and Korean pastries and we sat at the table to discuss the intersection of culture and the Asian American church with people of different races, cultures, and churches. For starters, the bubble tea wasn’t a hit. Tapioca has “no flavor” and its addition to the otherwise fruity drink content as a “texture thing” was a bit of a stretch for my friends Troy and Melvin. Melvin, in particular, suggested that perhaps bubble tea could be improved if the tapioca had flavor, or perhaps replaced with raisins…I’ll throw that one out there for any budding entrepreneurs out there — Raisin bubble tea = gold mine.
But you if you think that Melvin’s mind is limited to entrepreneurial genius, you’d be sorely underestimating him. At one point, as my friends and I asked the question of whether an Asian American church was a valid repsonse to merely an Asian American subscription to the white church , he responded powerfully,“Nationalism is the only defense against imperialism.” In other words, in order to understand where the American empire ends and we begin, is to re-evaluate the unconscious rate of assimilation. He and others implored us to create the space and expend the energy to explore our particular response to the Gospel as opposed to accepting the married doctrines of Western materialism, consumerism, and faith even if our fathers fail to separate the two.
Troy asked us to join with others in our generation to find those critical voices that help define Asian Americanism. That same type of iconoclasm may help to create synergies in giving an Asian American voice in church and even vice versa. He posited the example of Karl Marx and his critique of the church in his time that was essentially a cultural critique; perhaps Asian Americans who are unchurched can help in the development of an AA church in diagnosing some of our inadequacies. It is one thing for those who are vested in preservation of the status quo to criticize it, but re-invention requires fresh eyes.
Something else that was shared was the notion of reaching back to excavate things from our Asian history and culture as we grow forward in our understanding of our cultural gifts. Troy likened it to Presbymergent — of retaining and drawing from rich Presbyterian and Reformed traditions to see the Kingdom grow in new ways. Confucianism and Korea’s Independence movement were mentioned as places to start. However, a key comment was that our gift was to be shared with others. For instance, Pat mentioned that he was moved by Andrew Sung Park’s notion of Han for providing him a new language to address sin. It appears what we stand to gain in our excavation is gold for us all.
The subtext to the conversation and the ways in which it was explored shed a new light that perhaps the standard definition and ambition of a “multi-ethnic” church is/was somewhat fallacious. The “ideal” multi-ethnic church was one that subscribed to the American dream, without challenging each race and culture within that community to find their voice. The unity was purchased by accepeting a default to be “white”, or “American” not to celebrate or explore the ways in which God made us — that is to say, different. It seems that culture was to be checked at the door, when instead a true multi-ethnic church might instill us with informed, redemptive tools to pick up and engage our culture even more. A pan-Asian church then, could be a multi-ethnic church that might be closer to something that can achieve unity and diversity in its ability to instill a comfortable launching pad for us to reach back and forward at the same time.
So we shared about what this meant for all of us at the table– White, Black and Asian, to share visions of the church together. So exhilerating to think that we were exhibiting a picture of it that night in that coffee shop — free to be ourselves and choosing to be together. Next time, no bubble tea — just more of us.