Questions posed by DJ Chuang in ongoing discussion of the book, “Growing Healthy Asian American Churches” (see Recommended Reading).
- How have you seen grace demonstrated in your Asian American church experience? Is there more of grace that you wish you could experience in that context?
Grace. Other than the name Grace, as in the Grace Lee Project, I don’t believe that I have associated grace with my Asian American church experience. Not to seem jaded, but I did grow up as the son of an immigrant pastor who had a streak of sadomasochistic tendencies towards ministering smaller churches in smaller towns. I witnessed some grace at the micro-interpersonal level, but for a good portion of my adolescence remember a great deal of strife even when my father’s church was the only church in town. While I suppose I could venture to guess that perhaps my father was to blame, I believe that many who came to church were not yet really Christian. Some immigrants come to survive, others to run away, and others to succeed; but not many came to be saved. I believe that my father faced some of the most difficult church situations in reaching out to people who were first generation immigrants as well as first generation Christians. I have witnessed a dozen or more chuch splits, and only have witnessed one church unification. Grace is something that is considered beautiful, but not realistic; convenient for self-righteousness, but mostly considered weakness.
I believe that grace can be made known in Asian American churches in our generation, but only if we withhold judgment, withhold condemnation, and be patient with the next generation. I believe that we must stand up for those who do not fit the definition of success as it was defined for us. I believe that we must abandon the notions of security for security’s sake. I believe we must forgive one another, beginning with our parents and our children and ourselves, not in some sort of Dr. Wayne Dyer-feel-good manner, but in a way that is ridiculous and hideous. In a way that will make martyrs of us all – redeeming the homeless, the bankrupt, the jailed, those born of Asian mothers and non-Asian fathers, those who look Asian but don’t know how to “go home”.
- The chapter lists Asian cultural values that most Asian American ethnicies hold in common: hierarchy, community and family, education and achievement, conformity and humility, respect for tradition and elders. Would you add any other values to this list?
At least in a paradoxical way, in some Korean circles, I would list pride;but in some ways, I see it growing in Asian youth. I get this sense of pride that places people in destructive relationships as opposed to constructive and healthy, all in the name of cultural solidarity. It is a cult of sorts that creates a subculture that honors neither Korean nor American culture. It is part romantic gangster and part inflexible loyalty as though in order to be a band of friends, there must be a band of enemies. This mentality it is always exclusive and creates cliques within the culture where you get marauding, wandering bands which are untouchable by church and feared by the youth who are too clean to get involved.
- How do you think this affects the call for the church to demonstrate the outrageous generosity of God?
I wholeheartedly agree with the above call. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it exhibited, at least not in the corners of church where I’m from. This gets to be very challenging from an ecclesiastical level as well as on a microcosmic level. For instance, how many of this generation, a generation that has tasted success and live well into the satisfaction of our parents’ labors, have given up much to have little? How many of us choose to live below our means in order to give away the rest? How many of us even tithe? Really. The church cannot persist for the sake of funding buildings and programs when our material wealth doesn’t improve the quality of the communities around us.
- Before we dig more into the book, it might be helpful to also explore what the book means by the term “Asian American church.�? Is it talking about the 1st generation ethnic Asian church? the intergenerational ethnic Asian church? the English-speaking pan-Asian church? the Asian church becoming increasingly multiethnic in ethnic diversity?
Wonderful question. I believe the term applies to the intergenerational ethnic Asian church as I don’t believe there are enough Engliish-speaking pan-Asian churches in the country to justify the book, although there may be enough longings for one. I believe that currently the notion of an Asian church becoming increasingly multiethnic is not sustainable without losing the sense of its Asian-ness, which is integral to being an Asian church. I believe that while there may be some churches pushing the envelope on the West Coast of pan-Asian and multiethnic churches, I believe that the rest of the nation simply does not know what to do with this, that these identities are still very much in motion and the battle for faith in these postmodern times is very much being fought on difficult and ever-changing soil. I see a reality where Asian youth are still grappling with their own cultural identities, never mind spiritualities. I hope for the more progressive definitions of Asian American church, but I believe that by and large, we are not ready to move forward yet. I’d like to think that I am, but I cannot help the feelings that my small and struggling church feels like home.