Swan Songs

The phrase “swan song” is a reference to an ancient belief that the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is completely mute during its lifetime until the moment just before it dies, when it sings one beautiful song.1

Thursday night from 7pm, at Communitas, we’ll be discussing worship in the Asian American context. Here’s a quick description from the asianamergence blog:

Have you ever considered these questions: When you go to a church full of Asian-Americans and you close your eyes, what do you hear? Would you be able to detect any distinctiveness coming from our ethnicity or culture? When you read the words on the screen, who penned those words? Where is the melody of our ancestors? Are these even valid questions at all?

Dr. Paul Huh

On Thursday, Dec 4th, Professor Paul Huh of Columbia Theological Seminary will lead us in singing worship songs to the tune of our ancestors. Reminiscent of Western monastic singing, the eastern style of worship has simple, meditative, and powerful melodies that centers the worshiper.

Professor Huh’s research interests include liturgical musicology, space, time, history, theology, and arts in both Korean and North American settings.  Additionally, he is interested in the praxis of bilingual/bicultural performing, designing, leading, and evaluating worship in an ecumenical setting.

Perhaps the swan song metaphor is a bit much, but I feel that in order to be healthy with regards to the notion of culture, we must acknowledge that many of us as second generation Asian Americans have been silent in our worship for our entire lives. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve borrowed hymns and praises, but they have not been ours and we have been mute – all of which makes me wonder if there is a beautiful swan song welling up in us and if this generation is dying in terms of church, is there a song for us to sing on the way out? or on the way in?

If I Were A Boy

Found this by chance on Youtube and thought it was so a propos to the post. Beautiful voice and a cover well done!

At the last Amergence meeting, we watched the Grace Lee film, and having seen it, we gathered our chairs in a circle – 5 women and 5 men – to discuss. Eunjung, a PhD in women’s studies (i think?) facilitated the conversation about this film by an Asian American woman about Asian American women, and as soon as she asked her first question, I noticed that men spoke up first. The thought struck me that observations on race revealed a similar dynamic where White males did the same thing in mixed race settings and here we were doing the same thing, as Asian American males! Ouch.

And so when I got a chance, I asked the question: what is Asian American male privilege? and how does this play out in church?

It’s a big question and one that probably required a bit more thought than was possible in that type of setting. After much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth, Eunjung moved the conversation in the direction of where do we have privilege period. We as able-bodied, well-educated, heterosexual people have enormous privilege, we realized. And to be aware of privilege needs to sensitize us to the needs of others.

But I’d like to return to the question of women, and women in church. What things am I unaware of as an Asian American male? What privilege do I wield that you do not? Let me know in the comments if you get a chance.

A little more food for thought: h/t to jadanzzy for this Kelly Chong article on Korean women in Evangelical Christianity entitled, “AGONY IN PROSPERITY: Conversion and the Negotiation of Patriarchy Among South Korean Evangelical Women”. Here’s a few excerpts to get grease the pan (yay, overextension of food-for-thought metaphor!). Again, this is a fascinating read and I hope you take the time to read the full article:

Why do so many women, across classes and cultures, enthusiastically embrace religions whose beliefs and practices seem designed to perpetuate their subordination?….

I suggest that a good place to begin understanding the recent conversions of South Korean women is to view them as women’s response to a crisis of family and gender in contemporary South Korean society—more specifically, the contradictions of the modern Confucian-patriarchal family.

one of the most important roles played by evangelicalism for women is as a spiritual and institutional resource for coping with and resisting domestic conflicts, although women’s efforts to resolve these conflicts also result in their serious recommitment to the principles and practices of the traditional family. Given that the patriarchal family is so much the source of women’s current problems, this appears particularly ironic.

I suggest that while submission, as highlighted in some of the other cases, may indeed be viewed in some ways as a kind of strategy—especially for negotiating domestic relations—insofar as submission also involves dimensions of powerful normative consent on the part of women, it is also something far more complex, requiring a closer exploration of women’s motivations.

Korean women find themselves caught in a family system that, while modernized in certain respects, still subjects them to a remarkably traditional set of ideals, norms, and demands, generating a set of acute contradictions and conflicts in their domestic lives

The problems of Korean women—which center ubiquitously around the themes of loveless marriages, intense conflicts with mothers-in-law and husbands, and stresses of unexpected domestic burdens—are, then, all expressive of some of these fundamental contradictions of the modern Korean family and gender relations. While conversion is a highly complex process involving an interaction of various factors—religious, psychological, and social—my findings strongly suggest that these experiences of domestic crisis constitute a major background factor that plays a large part in predisposing women toward conversion.

So even though women are often consigned to support-level roles in the church, and advised, as one member put it, “to be quiet and do as one is told,” church work nevertheless provides important opportunities to pursue extra-domestic achievement, even to “exercise the mind,” particularly in a society where there are few other such avenues available for women outside the domestic arena.

Indeed, many women told me that receiving “recognition” from others, but most of all from the pastor, was one of the leading motivations for enthusiastically taking on church work, even if they often felt overburdened and exploited.

we can, at an important level, start by understanding women’s accommodation to religious patriarchy as a strategy, a means employed by women to improve their domestic situations that can have unexpected consequences. I have found, for example, that many women initially embraced submission (even if they weren’t entirely convinced of it) because they saw it as an important means of reforming the behavior of others, especially the husband.

Submission is embraced by Korean women as more than simply a strategy for resolving domestic conflicts, or even for furthering themselves within the family; it is a way of pursuing the deeply held goals of promoting family integrity, and fulfilling their obligations within it.

Although it remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the churches’ efforts will be, it is perhaps this dual role of Korean evangelicalism, as both a vehicle for helping women negotiate their domestic frustrations and for re-domesticating them for the family, that has made it, for now, an effective instrument for maintaining the cohesion of the current family and gender system.

A New Kind Of Gathering: Asianamergence

Calling all Asian American Christian exiles in the Metro Atlanta area ~ there is a new gathering in town that will be meeting the first and third Thursdays of every month called Asianamergence.

This means we meet this Thursday at 7pm at Communitas (directions) in Chamblee. You can read about Thursday here on our new blog as we gather to watch the film, “The Grace Lee Project.”

This is not a new church plant. This is an experimental community to ask questions, explore, and create what it means to be an Asian American Christian.

It will be part Bible study, part emergent cohort, part discussion, part poetry/psalm readings, part pecha kucha night, and part wherever the Lord leads us. If you come, you will be both audience and participant. We want to hear every voice and encourage every question and journey together.

We would like this to be a space in the middle – a wilderness of sorts – where we can ask questions about our identity and faith, the collisions of our different cultures, and seek to the connect the dots back to a Jewish messiah.

Quite ambitious I know, but it’s only in community that we can find these answers or at least companions. And here you will find myself and a few friends (from Merging Lanes) and Danny Yang and Consider this an open invitation if this resonates with you at all. Hope to see you there.