Laying down tracks

For those of you who have been reading NG.AC for the last year or so might know where I stand on issues of conservatism negatively affecting the Asian American church. And in a most real way, it’s taking a toll on me…

I feel pretty lonely, ecclesially speaking, but I feel guilty for it. And it might be the Asian conscience within me telling me to “put up or shut up” but I just don’t know where to turn to. Although I would feel more of a theological connection to a mainline church, I honestly feel no ethnic, emotional, and social connection to what is usually a mostly white American congregation. Although I would feel an ethnic, emotional, and social connection to an Asian American church, I don’t find much theological affinity with them.

[Read more…]

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Reclaiming Chinese religious identity

**If you don’t listen to Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett, you’re missing out on a top-notch podcast on religious faith. Highly recommended.**


I’d like to share the latest podcast episode from Speaking of Faith where Krista Tippett interviews Mayfair Yang, a scholar and director of the East Asian Center at UC Santa Barbara. Mayfair Yang speaks about the effects of modernity and Christian (how ironic) Western influence and its oppressive effects on the indigenous religious expressions in China.

http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2010/chinas-spiritual-landscape/

[Read more…]

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Pushing the Boundaries Together

David and I were approached by Emergent Village to write a post for their blog. It is reproduced below for our NG.AC friends. Enjoy (and critique):

http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/park-pushing-boundaries

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David: The joke goes something like this: when a Japanese person goes to a new city, he looks to start a business; when a Chinese person first arrives in a new place, he looks to start a restaurant; but when a Korean comes to town, he’s going to start a church. As my Korean immigrant father is a recently retired pastor who planted or shepherded at least seven churches that I can count, I can attest to the above punchline—Koreans love church. And we’ve taken to church planting and the Christian industry by storm, a sort of ecclesiological Kim Yunah phenomenon for those of you who watched the Winter Olympics. [Read more…]

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Reflections on Christianity from a Japanese-American Painter

An effort to define beauty will ultimately fail, but we can speak of beauty, and point to the source of beauty.

Friends,

In order to prevent any more cobwebs from appearing on this beloved site, I’d like to share a wonderful interview with Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese American painter where he talks about his views on faith, how art reflects the mystery of faith, and the Eastern nature of Christianity.

http://goo.gl/0na0

Here’s an excerpt:

East/West distinction is also a categorization that is very difficult to define. The Bible is an “Eastern” book. The Bible is much more culturally “Eastern” than “Western,” if by “Western” we mean post-Enlightenment rationalism. Certainly, the Old Testament Hebrew culture was far more eastern than what we consider to be western. The Last Supper makes more sense in a Japanese context (that eating and drinking wine can bond a community together) than American. Early theologians like Augustine and Origen were influenced by African and Egyptian culture, which is more East than West, and certainly medieval art and theology has much to do with Eastern influence, while “Western” theology grew out of them. I know what you are asking pertains to our fascination with Japanimation, Eastern New Age mysticism, etc., but I would be careful not to fall into unhelpful distinctions.

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Trampled Under Foot

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In Shusako Endo’s absolutely-must-read novel, Silence, Fr. Rodrigues, an initially idealistic Portuguese monk, goes to Japan with his companion in search of a highly-respected monk thought to have committed apostasy. From his arrival in Japan to his reunion with the apostate monk, Rodrigues experiences a serious loss of the long-held notions of his faith as he witnesses the torture, suffering, and death of Japanese Christians who barely had a life to begin with. The triumphant, glorious, and powerful Christ does not provide him respite from all this, despite his pleas for help. This Christ is absolutely silent.

The Japanese leaders demand one thing to save these Christians from oppression. They demand Rodrigues to step on a picture of Jesus. Rodrigues is horrified by the thought of committing such an act before his Lord. However, it is the Christ of weakness, and not strength, that tells Rodrigues, “Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.”

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[This was a very difficult post for me to write. I am passionately opinionated, at times quick to denigrate, and ungracious with regards to those opinions, theologies, and ideas I find abhorrent. Thus, this post (like many posts) acts like a mirror, exposing my sin. Please keep this in mind, and please forgive my hypocrisy. Kyrie Eleison…]

This will most likely be the 5235th post on Deadly Viper since its birth in the consciousness of already self-aware Asian American Christians. And it was this controversy that birthed a new consciousness about being self-aware Asian American Christians for the first time. Even the flaws of gender stereotyping (an equal problem in this mess) quickly surfaced as an issue. And so began a power discourse.

This incident was necessary for Asian Americans. For much of our modern American existence we were (and still are) seen as the passive, obedient, and over-achieving patch in our multi-colored quilt. If the DV incident did one thing, it made known the fact that Asian American Christians need to be taken seriously as a contingent of the American Christian fabric (no, I don’t quilt). No longer would it be assumed that we would brush off–or even accept–stereotyping or generalizing of our complex cultures by the dominant majority. Or this is what we hope.

There is a fine line between power struggle and reconciliation when it comes to Christian dialogue. And Christians need to be uncomfortable with it. Christians on the left look at the Christians on the right with disgust. I am self-admittedly a left-leaning Christian. And I have looked at a bumper sticker that reads, “The Christian right is neither.with some level of haughty amusement. But when Christians on the left are saying that Jesus would endorse the public option, are we not playing the same game as our siblings on the right? Let’s face it. Christians on either side want a theocracy. The liberal Christians just deny it, while the conservative Christians would love one (which would ironically look like Islamic states). Let’s move a step further. Evangelism could be a discourse of power. Monthly session meetings to determine how to attract more parishioners could be a discourse of power. Zondervan’s marketing strategies could be a discourse of power. In fact, Christian marketing IS a discourse of power… and wealth!

What would Michel Foucault think of this?? I’ll stop lest my cynicism of truly believing “power equals knowledge” kicks in.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but think that Asian Americans, even in our need for this to happen, have won a battle for power, while Mike and Jud patch their wounds. But what else could’ve been done? Was this an exchange of power that needed to occur? I say, emphatically, ‘yes’ because we needed to fight back our stereotypes. But what stereotype of Christianity does this perpetuate? Do we say ‘Jesus is our glorious king!’? Could we say, “Jesus is silent like the silenced, impoverished like the poor, and stereotyped like us”? My emphatic yes finishes off with a wince, like a cheap scotch whiskey.

The call from our fellow brothers and sister is clear. Let’s move forward to reconcile with Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan. And not only reconcile, but partner in the kingdom. But if and when we do partner, let’s do it for the broken and silenced Christ. Because our attempts to correct our siblings may end up with a Christ that commanded the angels to destroy his enemies.

This entry is a power discourse.

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The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

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High Church for Asian Americans

liturgy2Those of you who know me well know that I have a love for liturgical worship. In the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn to Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox expressions of worship. The icons, rich artwork, incense, ritual, mystery, and a deep sense of beauty is what draws me nigh. Every ritual practiced in these liturgies has meaning and history. There’s a purpose for everything that is done. I also appreciate that in high church settings it is the Eucharist, not the sermon, that is the high point of worship. Thus, partaking in the Eucharist weekly is important to me. All these things I do not experience in a low-church, namely evangelical (even most mainline denominations), environment. However, one major issue I have with these high church expressions is the lack of whole body interaction with liturgy. For example, in the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the male priestly figures do all the ritualizing while the congregants sit/stand and observe or receive.

Lately, I have been asking myself, “What would a rich, deep liturgy for Asian Americans look like?”…

Wouldn’t it make sense for Asian American Christians to experiment with such a worship style? Our long cultural heritage points to religious practices deep with intention, deliberateness, meaning, and mysticism. Would recapturing that in a form of ritualistic liturgy, where there’s no spatial division between clergy and congregant, no 40-minute sermon, no front man for the band, be faithful to who we are as Jesus followers and as Asian Americans?

What would it look like where all are participating in rituals that is familiar, meaningful, and communal to all those who worship together?

What would the practices be that combine a deep sense of cultural re-imagination with the mystery and the beauty of the Gospel?

What would the worship space look like that can heighten the sense of awe in worship God together?

And can Asian Americans even begin to worship in this way?

Thoughts…?

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For Asian-American Christians, The Elephant In The Room…

The following words below are my thoughts alone, and not representative of NG.AC.

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I’ll say it outright. I believe one of the most important things that needs to be addressed among Asian-American Christians is the fundamentalism that pervades our expression of Christianity, propagated especially by the likes of John Piper and his brand of neo-puritan protestantism. Also, I will leave Tim Keller out of this. I think he’s much more reasoned and intelligent with his faith.

Some personal history…

My college church was multi-ethnic in name, but Asian-American in reality. It was also typically conservative in its theology. So naturally, John Piper’s work was standard summer reading. Desiring God would be found on our proverbial recommended reading list, as well as his “secondary” work of Let The Nations Be Glad and Future Grace. However, it wasn’t till my post-college church (very similar in demographics, but more puritan in theology, in comparison to my college church) that I had celebrated and defended the neo-puritan theology that Piper preached. I remember listening to sermon after sermon on my iPod and watching his sermons on the One Day DVDs with delight. Regardless of how embarrassing this is to tell, I even once cheered, yelling “PIPER!!”, when his face came up on display at a 7.22 event I went to about 4 years ago.

However, it was when a white-American couple came to our church that the foundations began to shake. Knowing they were fervent and passionate Christians, seminary-trained, and experienced in overseas missions, I was saddened to hear that John Piper considered their faith as secondary due to their being Arminians (Methodist). Here, in front of me, were two upstanding and wonderful Christians, who were actively being judged and pitied by someone I had looked up to so much. A conflict of interest began to take form within me.

But it was only when I had left my post-college church that I learned the notion of theological idolatry, this idolatry that i had committed for 7 years…

I consider theological idolatry an active assumption of God-ordained certainty regarding one’s theological worldview. One commits theological idolatry when she assumes her interpretation of Scripture is incontestable, as defended by self-referencing biblical arguments. It is this theological idolatry that I believe Asian-American Christians who subscribe to Christian neo-puritanism (i.e. new fundamentalism) engage in. Brothers and sisters, we must exercise humility.

Recently, John Piper’s rhetoric has been crossing my path upon reading about his relative disdain towards multimedia and hateful judgment towards homosexuality. It is these things along with his theological views of gender, culture, and God’s sovereignty that I believe are negatively affecting Asian-American churches.

Drew Tatusko wrote of Piper’s comments to the ELCA:

This sort of “theology” tries to divine God’s pre-destined program for us by picking and choosing natural events that appear to confirm a pre-existing ideological condition. It’s not theology, it’s insurance to justify one’s own ideology.

It is not theology, but idolatry. It is extracting what you want God’s will to be from nature rather than attend to that progressive revelation which may, and likely will, send this sort of Pharisaism asunder. For that is what we learn from Jesus. The more you think you have the Gospel cornered, the more you are relying on your own divinations and ideas. When this happens, as with learning anything new, one is less attentive to revelation. One becomes more attentive to one’s own whims and God looks just like you – an epiphenomenon of your own foolishness and absurdity.

I agree with Tatusko. Furthermore, although I cannot say that it is Christian fundamentalism alone that is driving many 2nd-gen Asian-Americans away from the church, I firmly believe it is one of the key motivating factors. Kelly Chong, an Asian-American sociologist and professor, wrote an article in 1998 surveying the 2nd-generation ministry of two Korean churches in the Chicago area. These churches embraced a very conservative theology, while exhibiting behaviors of conformity, exclusivity, and judgmental behavior towards others not like them. 11 years later, things are changing, but not changing quickly enough to where I can confidently say things are healthy these days.

Friends, my request is that when we preach, teach, encourage, and admonish, we do so with humility and fear and trembling. There is a philosophical notion which states that when we say ‘God’, God escapes our assumptions. Likewise, when Meister Eckhart prayed, ‘God, rid me of God,’ we must do the same. I believe it is imperative that we Asian-American Christians practice theological humility and be militaristic, instead, about love, (hey, militarism and love co-exist easily with Asian-Americans) grace, and justice. This is not a call to teach watered-down theology or preach a culture-neutered gospel. Rather, it is a call to do what Asian-American Christians have the worst time doing while following in the way of Christ, loving the world as Jesus did.

Let’s repent and change our ways, for the sake of our future generations.

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