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A Prayer for our Troubled Times

A Prayer for our Troubled Times
A few days ago, I received a private message from an old friend who’s now living and working in Taiwan. We hadn’t corresponded in years, but he had heard about the recent shootings in San Bernardino and wanted to check-in after realizing that this was second set of mass shootings that I’d experienced so close to home (i.e., I live in a city just west of San Bernardino County and was faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007 during what became known as the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S history). As anyone keeping up with current events in the U.S. well knows, the news has been terrible of late. While liturgically speaking for me as a Christian, the season of Advent should inspire hope, it can be easy to grow despondent upon hearing about the latest act of global or domestic terrorism, the latest heartrending story of desperate refugees, the latest victim of U.S. police brutality, the latest occasion for heightened racial tensions on a college campus, or the latest sound bite of hatemongering by a politician or so-called “Christian” leader hoping to capitalize on the rising fears of an increasingly anxious American voting public. In such times, I find that I am at a loss of words. I feel like I can offer no critique of xenophobia (be it directed at Syrian refugees or at Muslims in general), no argument for greater gun control, or no commendation of nonviolent peacemaking initiatives over the recourse to violence to resolve conflict that has not already been offered by others. Though I’m much more a woman of action than of silent contemplation, it’s strangely times like these that I find myself turning to the wise and thoughtful prayers of others for guidance on how to articulate my own thoughts. So I’ve turned once again to one of my favorite collection of prayers, Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) as edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. The following prayer by a fellow Presbyterian layperson and director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rick Ufford-Chase, really resonated with me and I’ve reproduced (the majority of) it below. For Those Torn Apart by Violence O God, we confess that we are a fearful people. Each day we grow more afraid of those who are different rather than becoming more open to embracing that difference as the mysterious and marvelous gift you intend it to be. We assume the worst intentions in those whom we meet, and all too often we act in ways that fan further the flames of mistrust, causing the culture of fear to grow greater each day. …. We weep with you, O God, for countless families that have been torn apart by violence and war…. We confess our complicity in the vicious spiral of violence that grows steeper with each passing day…. We take what we want at the point of a gun or a missile. We misread the resistance to our tyranny by sisters and brothers around the world as an irrational hate that must be met by force. We turn to simple, foolish answers of violence as we feel more and more afraid. We are seduced by the ways in which we ourselves profit from our involvement in the vast military-industrial complex that drives us deeper and deeper into war. We confess, O God, that we are numbed by our media’s unrelenting reports of irrational acts of terror. Even as we are repulsed, something inside of us continues to be drawn inexplicably toward the commodification of suffering. As...
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A Prayer for our Broken World

A Prayer for our Broken World
The news of late has been terrible. I read about the following headlines yesterday (July 17, 2014): 1. A Malaysian Airlines passenger plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers aboard. Both the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia separatists have denied responsibility and it is still (at the time of this post) too early to assess blame. I feel for the families and loved ones of those lost, the people in the war-torn region of eastern Ukraine, and Malaysian Airlines for the tragic year they have already undergone. 2. Israel begun a ground offensive in Gaza “after 10 days of aerial bombardment failed to stop Palestinian militants from showering Israeli cities with rockets.” I had been following reports of Palestinian and Israeli children being caught up in the cycle of violence and my heart has been heavy with sadness. 3. Closer to home, I’ve been reading about escalating protests by both sides of the immigration debate as throngs of “unaccompanied alien children” (to use official parlance) from Central America who have been apprehended at our southwest border await their fate. As a Christian, parent of young children, and an American, I am totally baffled about what to think about this humanitarian crisis and political-legal quandary. So it is days like these where I find myself speechless. I have no witty analyses to provide, solutions to propose, or words of comfort to offer. Instead, I find myself turning to the eloquently written prayers of others to see if their words can help me form my own. I found myself thumbing through my copy of Prayers for the New Social Awakening: Inspired by the New Social Creed (2008) edited by Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty. The book commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed by featuring prayers with social justice themes from well-known Christian leaders. I was especially moved by eminent process theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki’s prayer entitled “For Peace.” Beloved God, you have shown us through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that you feel the pain of the world, the sins of the world, the griefs of the world. You have shown us that our relentless turn to violence is ever more gall, more nails, more spears. And our hearts cry out in sorrowful confession that we crucify you anew through every pain we inflict upon our world.  Beloved God, you have shown us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that you receive our ills for the sake of transforming our ills, that you experience our deaths for the sake of renewing our lives, that you feel our many forms of violence for the sake of impelling us to join in your own loving will toward reconciliation and peace.  Beloved God, upon us to sharing more deeply your own love for this our world. Pull us into your will toward reconciliation and peace. Transform these agonies of war into agonies for peace, until we yearn for peace so profoundly that we become your channels for its accomplishment.  Through Jesus Christ our crucified and resurrected Lord, Amen. May Suchocki’s prayer, or that of another (including your own), bring us peace. Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and her co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics is forthcoming (with Baylor University Press). She is also co-editing a volume with Rebecca Todd Peters that is tentatively entitled “Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives.”  This blog was originally posted on the feminism and religion...
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No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith

No Parenting Anxieties (Yet?) About Passing Down the Faith
I’ve recently read Jim Belcher’s In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity (2013). Even though I had several issues with the book, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading and finished it in the space of one day. What’s the book about? After spending a decade planting and leading a church, raising four children, writing his first book, and fixing up an old house, the author found himself totally worn out and in deep need of spiritual rest. So, too, did his wife Michelle who desperately craved “some time away from the bubble that was pastoral ministry, where every decision or action was open to scrutiny, where private life was difficult to maintain.” So the couple took their four school-aged children and embarked on a yearlong sabbatical across Europe. In addition to recharging and recuperating, the plan was for them all to explore the biographies and places of some of the great heroes of Christian faith. Their pilgrimage sites included C.S. Lewis’s Oxford University, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary and place of imprisonment, Vincent Von Gogh’s asylum in Saint-Rémy, the French village of Le Chambon that served as a haven for 5000 or so Jews fleeing the Nazis and their French collaborators, and the key places in the life of Maria von Trapp (of Sound of Music fame), among others. The book was an inspiring read. I found myself entertaining thoughts of how some day in the distant future I, too, might manage to take an extended family trip that would also be rejuvenating, educational, and spiritually uplifting. What I had (and still have) a hard time identifying with, however, is a parental fear explicitly named by the author that served as another part of the rationale for the pilgrimage. In his own words, “we worried about [our children’s] faith—would they grow strong in their trust of God or would they fall away?” Belcher was especially concerned about what would happen when his kids went to college “and faced all the temptations of university life, both morally and intellectually”: would they “abandon the faith because it did not mean much to them…[because it would get] in the way of their happiness and success?” I can’t say that I share this fear, let alone concern. Granted, my kids are only 4 and 6 and so perhaps my time to worry will come later. (At this stage, my husband and I are preoccupied with much more basic concerns than spiritual maters, such as getting our 4 year-old to be less picky of an eater and teaching our 6 year-old how to have better impulse control.) On deeper reflection, however, my inability to relate to this apparently widespread  concern about passing down the faith is probably tied to my own baggage. When I majored in philosophy and religious studies in college, countless individuals from my evangelical Christian community (though fortunately not my parents) expressed worries that I would “lose my faith.” I remember being warned away from taking academic courses on Christianity or the Bible because they weren’t taught by “believers.” These fears of others only grew when I pursued a doctorate in theology and philosophy in graduate school. I resented their paternalistic interventions and wanted to pursue “the truth”—wherever that led me. [It would be appropriate here to note an important contrast: the Belchers tackled their fears for their children by providing them with more knowledge and experiences while members of my home community wanted to prevent me from having either.] Sure enough, one doesn’t emerge from a serious study of philosophy, theology, and religion unscathed and the faith that I had prior to these studies is...
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A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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A Feminist Eulogy?

A Feminist Eulogy?
My grandmother, my last living grandparent, recently died. She was 84 years old. Because I’ve just come back from Taiwan where I participated in all of her funerary rites and delivered a eulogy therein, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing the dead.  Is there such a thing as a “feminist”  or feminist Christian way to remember the dead? What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy? My grandmother saw incredible change in her life: she was born under Japanese rule, lived through the decades-long imposition of martial law (after Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists fled the mainland in defeat from the Communists in 1949), and witnessed firsthand the “Taiwan miracle” of rapid industrialization and growth in the latter part of the 20th century. I knew her best, however, in the context of family: as a woman who worked alongside of my grandfather who was a doctor in southern Taiwan, who served as something like a home caretaker/nurse for him after he became semi-paralyzed mid-life from a  stroke, and who capably raised four kids and then came to cherish her ten grandchildren from them. I reproduce below a slightly redacted version of the eulogy I delivered, which my mom then translated into Taiwanese. I confess that as I was writing (and even delivering) it, the feminist in me was worried that I would be reinforcing–as opposed to interrogating–the idea that “good” women should serve others selflessly. (And that was a particular concern of mine because I knew a good portion of those assembled believed that). A-ma was a constant presence in my life, even though she triangulated between our house, my auntie and uncle’s house in San Marino, and her own and other relatives’ homes in Taiwan. My earliest memories of A-ma was of her cooking, cleaning, taking care of A-gong [grandfather], and reading the Bible. I can’t recall one episode when I heard her complain; she accepted her caretaking responsibilities with grace. Even with our language barrier, she did whatever she could to help my brother and me. When I was in elementary school, A-ma would generously send a large package of new clothes every summer for my brother and me to wear – this was in the late 1970s and 1980s, before clothes became inexpensive in the U.S. I also remember that in fifth grade, A-ma sewed me a beautiful pink dress and pink hat for “Civil War Day” and I won first prize for my costume. She was very proud. My fondest memory of A-ma when I was little girl, however, was when we used to go digging for clams. We would roll up our pants and the sleeves of our shirts and feel for clams with our toes. A-ma always managed to find the largest ones. After soaking and rinsing them, she would steam them for our whole family to enjoy. These were some of the best meals of my life. Apart from the birth of my two children in the last five years, Ama was present at every major milestone in my life: from my college graduation, to graduate school graduation, to my wedding day. I will also never forget the fun times we had when we were on vacation. I especially remember the look of glee on her face when she helped to reel in a 150 lb. marlin in Cabo San Lucas and then began practically lecturing the person cleaning and filleting the fish not to waste any of it and to keep the eggs. The only memory I have of A-ma upset about anything was on our trip to Alaska. When we were walking around town one afternoon, we...
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No More Of This in Academe!

No More Of This in Academe!
Last week, social media was ablaze over a September 18 Pittsburg Post-Gazette column entitled “Death of An Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik that had the following teaser: “Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83.”  Inside Higher Ed reports that the column went viral as “adjuncts across the country reported seeing something tragically familiar in her story.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education likewise covered the story with this tagline: “An Adjunct’s Death Becomes a Rallying Cry for Many In Academe.” This tragedy involves all sorts of issues with which readers of this blog are concerned: power, structural injustice, job insecurity, underemployment, unions, healthcare, and Catholic values (the last of these since Margaret worked at a Catholic institution), to name a few. To pay homage to Mary Margaret and to the plight of many today facing similar obstacles and difficulties, I invite you to read Daniel Kovalik’s full column. On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to. On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court…follow link to read the rest. Daniel Kovalik is senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union (DKovalik@usw.org). First Published September 18, 2013 12:00 am How can we work together to prevent more of these stories from happening? November 17, 2013 update: According to a recent Slate magazine article by L.V. Anderson, “the story…[i]s more complicated than the story that went viral. The reasons Vojtko’s life ended in misery had much less to do with her status as an adjunct professor than tweeters using the #IamMargaretMary hashtag might believe.” Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on a co-edited anthology providing a theological exploration of women’s...
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The Future of Christian Ethics

The Future of Christian Ethics
The annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics is just around the corner (Jan 3-6, 2013). One of my responsibilities will be to meet again with members of the 2020 Future of Christian Ethics task force. Our “charge” according to the chair of the committee, Charles Matthewes, is as follows: The 2020 Committee will explore the current status of, and future prospects for, the field of ‘Christian ethics’ as a field of scholarship and teaching in the academy. It will do so with an eye to reporting the findings of its inquiries, and communicating what recommendations may be derived therefrom, to the whole Society of Christian Ethics, in order better to inform and guide the actions of the Society, now and in years to come. The Committee has two objectives. First, it seeks to understand, using all possible evidence, the current state of the field of Christian ethics — both in terms of its pedagogical, intellectual, and institutional presence in the academy, and in terms of its role (both pedagogically and institutionally) in American churches and ecclesial bodies. Second, it seeks to use that understanding to offer tentative practical recommendations regarding how best to commit the resources of the Society to the present encouragement, and future cultivation, of the field of Christian ethics in the academy and for the churches. In preparation for our meeting, each task force member submitted a 1000-word piece on the future of Christian Ethics. What follows below is a slightly revised version of my submission. — Several of the major tasks assigned to the SCE 2020 committee have weighed heavily on me in recent years, coinciding with my move from undergraduate to graduate teaching. While I have long taught “Christian ethics” (previously, as a portion of my undergraduate courses in “religious ethics” and now in a stand-alone manner in both introductory and advanced seminar courses at a seminary), I am now institutionally responsible for selecting and recruiting talented students for doctoral admissions and then training them to become the next generation of scholar-teachers. Many of the questions that Stanley Hauerwas discussed in his 2003 Journal of Religious Ethics piece “Between Christian Ethics and Religious Ethics: How Should Graduate Students Be Trained?” are accordingly my own: (1) What does it take to train graduate students in our field today—what do they need to know, with whom (if anyone) must they be taught to think, and do they “need to travel the same intellectual path my generation traveled in order to do the kind of work they associate with Christian or religious ethics?” (p. 406) (2) What should I understand myself to be doing in producing graduates in the “field,” when the nature and boundaries of the field are under dispute and when the realities of the job market, coupled with shifting church and religious affiliation demographics, may suggest different answers (i.e., it might be the case that training a competent Christian ethicist and training someone who can get—and keep—a job are two different things entirely). Here are some preliminary answers to these questions: (1)  The next generation needs to continue to know the moral vocabulary of and various approaches to character formation and decision-making that have long been associated with Christian ethics. (Let me add that while I am an unabashed defender of “rights talk,” the study of ethics would be enriched if we all remembered that our tradition of ethical thinking is much broader than the moral vocabulary of rights). (2)   The next generation should ideally do #1 in service to the church (particularly for those who teach Christian ethics to those training for ministry) and for the larger academy. (Yes, the first...
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A Prayer From the Privileged

A Prayer From the Privileged
“As we approach Memorial Day Weekend (and the militaristic patriotism it promotes), as the 2012 election cycle heats up, and as I meditate more deeply upon my and my country’s many riches, one of [Walter] Brueggemann’s prayers in particular spoke to me.” One of the three books I took with me on vacation is by the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann. It’s not actually on the Bible, but something he published in 2008 called Prayers for a Privileged People. A book like this is well-suited to me for two major reasons. First, I live among what Brueggemann identifies as the “haves” because of my “education, connection, power, and wealth.” Unlike far too many children in the world, I received (free) public education from K-12; unlike far too many families in the United States, mine never struggled financially to send my brother and me to the colleges (and then to the medical/graduate schools) of our dreams. Today, I may not rank among the 1%, but I live a very comfortable middle class life and thus must be counted among the privileged. The second reason I originally bought this book (and am reading it now) is because I would like to develop my spiritual life. While so much today is made of the growing numbers of the “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR), I have always thought of myself as inclining towards the opposite, of being “religious, but not spiritual.” Frankly, I’m terrible at contemplative practices. Even in my (former) evangelical Christian years, I struggled to do my “quiet times.” While reading the Bible was something I could (and did) do, just “being still” in silence in an attempt to “listen to God” (or even taking a “nature walk” to bring about the same result) has always been very difficult for me. As we approach Memorial Day Weekend (and the militaristic patriotism it promotes), as the 2012 election cycle heats up, and as I meditate more deeply upon my and my country’s many riches, one of Brueggemann’s prayers in particular spoke to me.  I’ll reproduce it below in full. The Noise of Politics We watch as the jets fly in with the power people and the money people, the suits, the budgets, the billions.   We wonder about monetary policy Because we are among the haves, and about generosity because we care about the have-nots.   But slower modes we notice Lazarus and the poor arriving from Africa, and the beggars from Central Europe, and the throng of environmentalists with their vision of butterflies and oil of flowers and tanks of growing things and killing fields.   We wonder about peace and war, about ecology and development, about hope and entitlement.   We listen beyond jeering protesters and soaring jets and faintly we hear the mumbling of the crucified one, something about feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, about clothing the naked, and noticing the prisoners, more about the least and about holiness among them.   We are moved by the mumbles of the gospel, even while we are tenured in our privilege.   We are half ready to join the choir of hope, half afraid things might change, and in a third half of our faith turning to you, and your outpouring love that works justice and that binds us each and all to one another.   So we pray amid jeering protesters and soaring jets. Come by here and make new, Even at some risk to our entitlements. I am at a stage in my life where I would like to (re)learn how to pray. I would also like to be in fellowship with...
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The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim

The Boldness of Grace Ji-Sun Kim
“The Grace of Sophia is an openly ‘syncretistic’ work….That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman.” It’s that time in the academic year when classes are winding down and when faculty and students alike are looking forward to the summer. While putting together a final oral exam study-guide for my doctoral students, my mind kept returning to one of the books I assigned in my Spring 2012 Asian American Christianity course—Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology (2002). The two things that shocked me about the book when I first read it still do not fail to amaze me now. In the first case, Dr. Kim unabashedly champions a concept that many believe is hopelessly laden with negative connotations—syncretism. In the second, Dr. Kim not only writes from her particular social location (as many feminists and other contextualists are wont to do), but devotes her book (only) to the same niche demographic—Korean North American women. The Grace of Sophia is an openly “syncretistic” work. It adopts an explicitly “multifaith hermeneutics” by “relating Christian biblical interpretation positively to other religious texts and traditions” (p. 24). It affirms that truth and wisdom are found in the “cultures, histories and religions of other people”—not solely in the Bible (p. 26). It offers that when syncretism is done well, the “insights of two or more religions are genuinely integrated without violence or loss of identity on either side” (p. 37). That’s fairly radical for an ordained Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) clergywoman. More specifically, what Kim does constructively in her book is link biblical wisdom (Hokmah, Sophia) to the feminized notions of wisdom in Asian cultural and religious traditions (e.g., prajna, Kuan-yin) as well as to the ancient near East (e.g., Isis). In my view, Kim’s boldness on this first count has less to do with how ultimately comparable or assimilable these models of wisdom are than with her willingness to even attempt to syncretize them. Kim’s second move is no less shocking, particularly when one keeps in mind current realities in the academic publishing world. Kim doesn’t offer her Sophia Christology to all Christians or even to all feminists. She doesn’t even present her findings to all Asian Americans. No, her book is explicitly for Korean North American women, for she hopes to present a model of Christ that can liberate them from their han—from their unresolved resentment against injustices suffered. Why is this move so bold? The answer, in short, is that Kim has deliberately narrowed her target audience. While I don’t know the figures for Asian Canadians (n.b., Kim emigrated to Canada at the age of six), Asian Americans in the U.S. make-up a small minority—5.6% (17.3 million) of the total U.S. population and among that racial categorization, Korean Americans comprise only the fifth largest ethnic group (behind Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and Vietnamese) at 1.6 million. I don’t know anything about the negotiations she might have had with her publisher, but I can imagine that there might have been pressures to market the book not specifically for Koreans, but at least for Asian Americans (and still much better: for Christian women in general). Even putting aside the issue of marketing are the larger pressures that many of us experience to homogenize our discrete experiences under a pan-Asian umbrella and accordingly minimize our differences. But because I am an Asian American who also takes seriously her particularized second generation Taiwanese American identity, it is precisely because this book was NOT written for me that makes me appreciate it all the much more. Grace Ji-Sun Kim is Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her...
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The Power of Feminist Rituals

The Power of Feminist Rituals
“These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful.” Jeanette Stokes’ 25 Years in the Garden is on my bedside table. It’s a book I read several years ago with a small group of feminist Christians when I was living in Blacksburg, Virginia. The following passage from one of her essays got me to thinking back to the 2012 PANAAWTM conference (Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry) I had attended just two weeks ago: “Rituals are part of everyday lives: reading the newspaper, checking the weather, waiting for the mail to come, or talking with a family member at the end of the day. Rituals can also mark the extraordinary events in our lives: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a birthday, marriage, anniversary, or divorce” (Stokes, 2002, p. 37). We PANAAWTM attendees participated in two rituals that, while neither “everyday” nor “extraordinary,” were nevertheless symbolically very rich, meaningful, and unifying. As I mentioned earlier in a previous blog, all PANAAWTM participants had been instructed to bring 3 oz. of water “from a source of nature near [o]ur home.” This water ended up playing a large role in our opening and closing worship. During the opening ceremony, each of us was invited to introduce ourselves, say something about the origin of our water, share a prayer or concern, and then pour our water into a large crystal bowl on the altar. One by one, my fellow Asian and Asian American sisters took turns sharing the water they had collected locally—from the tap, the rain, the Hudson River, the River Jordan even (the latter definitely got some “oohs” and “ahhs.”) We laughed together as one sister shared how she was inadvertently offering shampoo-contaminated water (in light of the 3 oz. travel-size bottle she had used to transport it on the plane), while another admitted that she had misunderstood the purpose behind the instructions, which is why she had brought drinking water from Costco. At other times, the mood was more serious and reflective. For instance, many of us nodded empathetically as one student shared her pain and then noted that she had thought of offering 3 oz. of her own tears. After two days of inspirational speakers, workshops, and genuine fellowship over meals, our time together drew to a close. We collectively sang songs, exhorted one another, and then ended in a way consonant with which we had begun: each of us took turns sharing a burden we were leaving behind and a new insight or sense of direction or confidence that we were taking with us as we made our journeys home. As each of us came forward to speak, we washed our hands in the communal water. Each of us remained at the front until the next person came up to speak, and then we dried our sister’s hands with a small towel. That cycle repeated until all had had their turn. These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful. I loved the highlighting of individual experience and corporate togetherness, the juxtaposition of solemnity and comedy, and the sharing of trials and triumphs. I also loved how the drying of hands (with the towel) conjured images of Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet. The more I think about these two simple rituals, the more I think how appropriately contextualized they were for me. Culturally, I come from people who take ritual and ritual propriety very seriously (that’s my Confucian heritage). Religiously, however, I was raised among people who do not—the conservative Taiwanese evangelical Christian church I grew up attending was of the “four...
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