Archive for October, 2007
As part of my ongoing desire to learn and testimony to my thoroughgoing nerdiness, I have put together a list of almost 20 books that I hope to read this academic year. Here is the list so far, which is certainly open to change:
City of God by Augustine
Monologium & Proslogium by Anselm
The Cloud of Unknowing
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
Pensees by Pascal
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevskii
Orthodoxy by CK Chesterton
Dr Zhivago by Pasternak
Christian Letters to a Post Christian World by Dorothy Sayers
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Analects by Confucius
The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor
Does God Exist by Kung
So I ventured yesterday to the bookstore to end the procrastination based on the notion that I would simply order the books online, and splurged to by some books new. This is just as well. My first read is Analects by Confucius.
As a philosopher, he has arguably had the largest single impact of any person in the world except Jesus. Without ever being schooled officially in Confucian thought, many East and Southeast Asian people are influenced by his principles. I hear people regularly refer to the legacy of Confucius and wonder how many have actually read what he said. And so I am taking the plunge to read him. So far as I have read, I myself may yet embrace his philosophy, insofar of course, as it does not conflict with my covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ.
I leave you with this, “If a man is correct in his own person, then there will be obedience without orders being given, but if he is not correct in his own person, there will not be obedience even though orders are given.” (XIII.6)
“Koreans are stupid.”
“Koreans are too stubborn.”
“Korean people have too much drama.”
“Korean people are too prideful and cliquish.”
“Korean people like to fight about dumb stuff.”
“Koreans are too materialistic, too divisive, too petty, too…Korean!”
These comments, and others like them, have been standard fare in conversations I’ve had with people since becoming involved in Asian American ministry and a Korean Church; comments that sear, burn and bite and reinforce all the worse stereotypes of Koreans specifically and Asian Americans more broadly. If phrases like this where directed to the Black community they would be fighting words; but not now and not in this community. These comments are the words of Koreans, or more properly speaking Asian-Americans, themselves. And since I work in the context of ministry, these words come from the lips of those who love God, serve the church, and would not be caught directing such venomous words towards any other ethnic group.
In my time in ministry in and around Koreans and Korean Americans, I’ve becoming somewhat accustomed to hearing these types of sentiment expressed; accustomed, but not comfortable. And in general, the positive comments I hear about the community do not come from within it, but from those like me who are in, but not of the community. Early on in my exploration of this world, I compared this type of attitude to that which I find among Black Americans. We are indeed our own worst critics and I can with angry and vehemence decry the foolishness and sin of my own people. I indeed grieve it and I grieve the consequences it brings. So I thought it might be something similar, and indeed there is a need for self critique, a need for humility that counters our naturally sinful bent towards self promotion.
Yet this is different. For my experience in the Black community suggests that we are as ready to celebrate the beauty and grace of our ethnicity and culture as we are to critique its depravity. When asked recently by a colleague where I say the grace and beauty of God in African American culture, it was not difficult for me to recognize his handiwork and to inwardly give a quiet prayer of thanks that God did indeed make me Black, with all the joys and challenges that brings. But in another setting, when pressed by another (Asian) colleague to say what things were good and beautiful about being Asian American, my students sat silently, unable to articulate or even call to mind anything other than good food and hot Asian chicks (the group was mostly guys after all).
Over and again through the years I’ve heard the comments repeated. When I’ve mentioned that I want to learn something of Asian culture, the response is a disdainful, even disgusted, “Why?” as if everyone knows there is nothing of value there to learn. When I’ve commented about some thing which I find beautiful or intriguing, there is always a rebuttal indicating that what seems to be beautiful is really horrible and evil. And every time, I inwardly cringe, restraining myself from asking the question that threatens to escape from my lips, “Do you really hate yourself so much?” I do not ask it, because it does not seem my place. I do not ask it, because I don’t feel the freedom to comment on another man’s story.
This is no self effacing humility that comes in response to recognizing the bigness of God and the smallness of man. Nor is it countered by an equally poisonous Asian pride that exalts a caricatured stereotype of Asian-ness or Korean-ness over and above others. It is, quite simply, a sinful and disgusting disdain for God’s creation that culminates the quite sad response of my Korean American friend who said to me with a straight face and firm conviction, “I am not Korean.”
To be clear, he did not say this as an affirmation of his identity as an American citizen or in recognition of his embrace of American culture. In fact it came after a discussion in which we agreed that essentially American-ness is largely equated with being White; and he is most assuredly not White. No, it was rather a negative affirmation. It was a rejection of an identity that for him is tainted with some stain that cannot be washed away. The best that can possibly be hoped for is that the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin will as a side effect eliminate the unpleasant and unfortunate reality of his Asian ethnicity.
As a Black man, such self hatred (if it can be called that) is all the more painful given our own history in this country. Our bodies, our histories, our languages were all stolen from us, and yet, by the grace of God we refused to allow our identity to be stolen as well. It took many years to wrest the name “Black” that had been used as little more than an epitaph and make into a proud label of a proud people. It took courage to face the historical and cultural racism that made us ashamed of being associated with Africa to the point that many call themselves African American and celebrate the association with joy. It took persisting in our belief that though we were despised by men we were loved by God to craft a tradition of preaching and worship that is arguably the most distinctively recognized and emotionally stirring in Christendom. So it grieves me deeply to see my Asian brothers plunge themselves wholeheartedly into a mental and culturally slavery, to hate their image and their names, to despise their legacy and remain ignorant of the grace and beauty of who they are, and to run willy-nilly after the worship of a White Man’s god.
Thanks to David Park for highlighting this important upcoming event.
The name uses a loaded term, which I’m well aware may cause some people to furrow their brow with suspicion, so allow me to add text from the brochure to articulate what the hosts mean by the word “emerge”:
The purpose of the Asian student conference is to empower a generation of Asian American students to “Emerge” from the shadows and step into the destiny and spiritual leadership to which God is calling them; to “Emerge” from spiritual complacency to Spirit-filled witness; to “Emerge” from brokenness into wholeness.
Yesterday as I visited numerous outreach ministries in my community in preparation for a mission training project we’re developing, one question arose belatedly in my consciousness: Where are the men?
You see at every agency except one, the directors, coordinators, facilitators and usually the clients were all women. And many of the women and children served by these facilities were without men in their lives or, in some cases, found themselves in desperate circumstances because of the action or inaction of the men they had known. Children there were plenty – evidence that at some point in time men were involved, if for no other reason than to contribute their share of genetic material. But mostly, these men were absent.
In my local community as well, which could reasonably be called “the hood” men are often absent. Walking or driving the streets of my inner city neighborhood there is certainly no shortage of male bodies, but most of the children and their mothers are unattached to any male influence whatsoever. The absence of these men from the lives of their children and their “baby’s momma” leads to all kinds of dysfunction in the lives of their children, the community and the society.
Unfortunately much of the social service system in this country, in an effort to empower and support women, ends up reinforcing the things that discourage the involvement of men in the lives of their families. Men are viewed as dangerous and superfluous at worst and paychecks at best. In an international context, I have increasingly heard of development efforts that are geared towards offering micro credit to women both to empower them and to free them from economic dependency on the men. It is ironic to me that efforts are not being made to educate and empower the men to be responsible husbands and fathers.
From a strictly economic point of view, there is little incentive for such a man to stay with his family or to support them, since his wife will control the economic resources.
At one of the agencies I visited, a place working to resettle and acclimate refugees, the director made a point to emphasize how important it was to educate the women culturally. They were, she said, used to only staying home with the children and depending on their husband to provide for them. Now that they are here, they should also work and have equal say. For the refugees this is a cultural shock; for the director, it is empowerment. For me, it is disturbing. Aside from the relatively minor issue of both names being on the checkbook, why should a wife not expect her husband to provide for her and his children? Why is her staying home and only caring for the children viewed as less valuable or less empowered? More importantly, what message does this send to the men who are being stripped of their defining roles in the family: leader & breadwinner?
Even more unfortunate is the fact that the church, although generally led by men, is geared towards the needs of women and children. So there are many women and few men in the pews. This is a well recognized problem, and there have been many efforts to understand and address it, but to little effect. And as women continue to outstrip men in college and seminary enrollment, the church will likely become less and less a place where men are present and involved.