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Ten Unique Korean Virtues That EMs Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be), Part 3

So in this spirit of getting all this out on the table…this article from Eric Foley accompanies the post I made last month which you can find here. It was about the first unique Korean virtue of deep obligation to family, friends, church, and Korean people that EMs should be teaching to the next generation. Again, this article was originally published in the "Diaspora Leadership", a publication that is for the most part in Korean circles amongst 1st-gen Korean pastors. In this addendum to that article, Pastor Eric discusses how to implement the transmission of this trait of Korean Christianity to the next generation. With no further ado then…

How to Help Your EM Cultivate Unique Korean Virtue #1: Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people. The purpose of this monthly column is to identify and promote the value of the unique elements of Korean Christianity, and to ensure their robust transmission to the next generation of Korean American Christians.

The firm conviction of my heart is that unless EM Ministry changes radically, the result will be that traditional Korean culture, traditional Korean Christianity, and traditional Korean virtues will cease to exist within two generations.The way this column works is that one month I present a unique virtue from Korean culture that EM’s aren’t teaching our 2.0 kids but should be. The next month I present a list of practical ways and creative ideas that you can share with your EM pastor to help him teach that virtue to the 2.0 kids in your own church.
Here is the list of Ten Unique Korean Virtues that our 2.0 kids will never learn from American culture and can only learn well if EM pastors teach them:

  1. Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people
  2. Commitment to being a diaspora people
  3. Respect for elders
  4. Passionate, whole-being prayer
  5. Preparing and eating meals together
  6. Chutzpah
  7. The ability to suffer well
  8. Respect for the office of the pastor
  9. Deep, holy reverence for God revealed in both worship and life
  10. Sense of Korean history and connection to it; a conviction that Koreans are a people of destiny

Last month I wrote about Virtue #1: Deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people. For information about the nature or definition of that virtue (and a description of exactly how it’s missing from American culture), please see last month’s issue of Diaspora Leadership.

This month’s column, then, is a set of practical ideas you can use in your church to make sure that your 2.0 kids grow in this virtue.

There are two main things to remember when trying to teach Korean culture to 2.0’s. First, the teacher must teach Korean culture from an American perspective. Second, the teacher must make it fun to learn.

The first idea sounds very counter-intuitive. After all, shouldn’t Korean culture be taught by Koreans from a Korean perspective?

My answer is emphatically, NO. When Korean culture is taught from a Korean perspective, 2.0’s—who are more American than Korean—have no way to connect it to their daily lives. 2.0’s think like Americans. They listen to American music. They study American history. They watch American TV shows. When Korean churches teach Korean culture from a Korean perspective, 2.0’s will almost always respond negatively. They will think things like, “Why should I care? What’s cool about this? Why do I have to learn this anyway? This is boring. They’re so weird.”

In order for 2.0’s to be excited about Korean culture, we cannot build a bridge from us to them. Instead, we have to build a bridge from them back to us. That means we have to think like Americans and teach them Korean culture from an American perspective. We have to ask questions like, “Why is this particular aspect of Korean culture cool or interesting or useful from an American perspective? What American analogies can I use to communicate this concept to make it come alive? What examples can I use from American music or TV shows or websites to explain this Korean concept?”

Secondly, 2.0’s are like any other kid of kids: They only want to do something if it’s fun. No 2.0 will ever care about Korean culture if it’s taught to them like the subjects they learn in school the rest of the week. Korean culture has to be taught to them with humor, games, and American style teaching techniques. In Korean culture, the student never talks in class. He only listens. But in American culture, the students are encouraged to talk more than the teacher! If we want 2.0’s to learn about Korean culture, we will have to teach them with American style teaching techniques.

With this perspective in mind, here are some specific games and activities you can use to teach your 2.0’s to develop deep obligation to family, friends, the church, and Korean people:

Hold an intergenerational kimchi making party

  • Have the youth group read books together by Korean American authors like Linda Sue Park, Susan Choi, Helie Lee, Patti Kim, Chang-Rae Lee, or even Leonard Chang detective novels. Do these as a summer reading program, or encourage youth to read these books for class assignments in their schools. Have these on hand at church for easy access.
  • Keep a list of famous Korean and Korean-American historical figures (scientists, patriots, presidents, sports figures) that Korean youth can use for their reports in school. Sometimes the school teacher will need to be contacted to permit the Korean youth to study a Korean historical figure, since Korean and Korean American historical figures are often ignored in American and world history books. Stock Korean and Korean American history books in church; all the recent ones can be purchased even from for a few hundred dollars.
  • Do a teaching session called, “What are the top 10 Korean things that your parents do that drive you crazy?”, and then work to help the Korean young people discover why 1.0’s act the way they do. You could do this as an interview event where teams of youth interview 1.0’s to ask them why they do these specific things; then the youth can report back to the class what they learned.
  • Do a movie night for 1.0’s and 2.0’s using movies with subtitles like Taegukgi. After the movie, divide the youth up into small groups and give each group a facilitator and one 1.0 adult who had interesting experiences during the Korean War. Have the 1.0 adult tell his or her story, and then have the youth ask questions.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

6 responses to “Ten Unique Korean Virtues That EMs Aren’t Teaching Our Kids (But Should Be), Part 3

  1. djchuang

    This seems to me to be a good case for becoming Korean for Korean sake, but I’m having a little difficulty understanding how this helps 2.0s to be stronger followers of Christ, how this encourages 2.0s to love the global church that consists of mostly non-Koreans, and how this helps 2.0 to learn a deep obligation to their friends. Granted, this virtue does seem to cultivate a deep obligation to the Korean people, Christian and non-Christian, and a deep obligation to 1.0 Korean family members. There’s value to this virtue for those who are called to be Korean to the Koreans the way Paul was called to be Jew to the Jews, but not all 2.0s are necessarily called to that, right?

  2. Good point DJ. My feeling is that this series of articles is written for a particular audience. Obviously, some of this can easily be turned into “isolationist” thinking, but I’m assuming it is way to encourage 1st gen Koreans to interact with 2nd gen., as opposed to an attempt to shut out others. The dynamic that I’ve witnessed many times, somewhat in my own case, is that the 1st gen interacts very little with the 2nd gen and vice versa. When there are efforts to bridge the gap, it’s mostly efforts for the 2.0s to do things for 1.0s,(e.g. do skits in Korean, but rarely the other way around. As you might expect, many 2.0s are open to the 1.0s investing in their faith, investing in their personal and cultural growth, but often it is minimized to high expectations for career, marriage, education, success…not really a transmission of culture. To that end, many 2.0s, emulating the pragmatism that they see simply choose to self-discover their culture and enculturate themselves, or simply merge what they are into the society at large. More along the “slow-track” vs. “fast-track” thinking we’ve discussed before

  3. JumboBody

    DJ, perhaps there is some value in teaching someone to be an X for the sake of X when we take David’s suggestion that this was written for a 1st generation audience. Although Mr. Foley’s remarks really do seem to be a ‘let’s transfer more of our Korean Christian values b/c it is good’ perhaps what he means is ‘let’s transfer more of our Korean Christian values b/c this is the only environment in which the 2nd gen KA’s will have an opportunity to hear the gospel and we need to understand one another’. Since the immigrant church is the primary (or perhaps only) place where the 2nd gen will have an opportunity to witness the gospel being lived out (for a number of reasons), perhaps all that is meant is for the KM to be the initiators of finding common ground in this dialogue with what they know best – namely Korean Christianity. (However, I have to echo Samshua’s sentiments that although I find Mr. Foley’s articles very insightful, I still don’t see how the inferences drawn give support to anything unique to Korean Christianity.)

  4. sam shin

    Jumbobody, DJ, and David, I am still wrestling with this idea of the KA teaching the EM about the Korean culture-church. I write that with a hyphen because it seems to me that idea of church and Christianity is subtly secondary to the culture. Of course there is a place for cultural context, as Paul had to do at Mars Hill in Acts 17. But for Paul, the forefront was the Gospel and the means were always secondary to that primary focus. If that is not kept in view at all times, the slippery slope of culture over Christ becomes very slick, to say the least.

    Mr. Foley is writing to a KM, and I know David, that’s what you’re asking the reader to remember. You’re asking us to keep in mind that he is trying to get the KM to get EMers to not outright reject EM/KM because of culture alone. But that seems to be the inherent problem, as I noted in my response last time. Culture too often trumps faith in KM/EM circles. In my previous EM experience, we had a conflict that typifies this. The KM church I was ministering at had a Korean language school that met on church property on Sunday mornings before worship. The kids and volunteers for that Korean school were so exhausted after that school, that I found their attentiveness during worship to be far from sharp. When I addressed this with my Senior Pastor that we consider moving the timing of the Korean school, he said that it would be inconvenient for the parents to have it any other day. And that is exactly the problem. For these Korean KM parents, there is a syncretism between culture and Christ. Their assumption is that because they are learning Korean language at a church, it is a spiritual thing. And this syncretism, in my humble opinion, is the greatest challenge for the Korean church, here and in Korea. If Kimchee making in the church does not have the ULTIMATE goal of leading people to worship Christ, then it shouldn’t be in the church, or it bears the same effect as the moneychangers.

    I in no way think commenting on the Korean church should be left solely to Koreans. That is chauvinistic and narrow-minded. If I as a Korean can go to South Africa and make an assessment of the church there on the basis of biblical standards, then surely anyone can do the same for the Korean church, to our ultimate benefit. But the key is the biblical analysis, and not just mere opinion. I think what I do not see enough of in Mr. Foley’s articles is how all of this is in light of the Bible. Even the unique virtues lack biblical anchors, even thought I agree with some of those virtues. But are they biblical virtues simply found in the Korean church? I hope so.

    I do not want to brush in broad strokes, so I want to back up and say that there are many KMers that I appreciate and admire for these same virtues. But I simply hope that we can have a balanced perspective on this issue by giving the other side.

  5. All valid points, Sam. And of course, part of the reason for bringing on Foley’s articles was to generate discussion about this notion of culturized Christianity. Your comments have done a great deal to “balance the perspective”. I have always been a little skeptical myself of whether or not KAs really had any particular traits that led to a different facet of worship (i.e. the African-American church and their unique Gospel sound), that somehow you could somehow know by the nuances, style, presentation, and/or delivery of the worship, message, gospel, etc. that you could know that this was a KA church. However, as much I feel that way, I am intrigued by the fact that the bible points out distinct cultures and the perpetuation of those cultures, “tribes”, “tongues”, et. al. even in heaven, and the case could be made that those cultures bring out particular facets of worship that God enjoys out of redeemed cultures (or why else would they remain intact?). I agree with you wholeheartedly that there is a great deal of syncretism, but I’m also afraid to say that Christianity “in a vacuum” or void of culture is unreasonable.

    Culture, for better or worse, is largely the medium through which we communicate – it is the water that we swim in. When the Gospel is introduced, to maintain the analogy, it challenges us to leave the water behind, but sometimes a change like that requires certain increments that allows people to follow along without the change in pH alone to kill them. I know it’s not a worthy metaphor, but for instance in the example that you yourself gave, based on the people’s attentiveness dropping in Sunday worship due to a Saturday Korean school. By simply making Sunday worship the primary focus doesn’t necessarily make the people focus on worship, if that makes any sense. And to cut out all other options to worship in an effort to purify it is much like training a dog without distractions in the privacy of your own home, which is to say, the dog won’t listen to you outside the home. In other words, if we could get people to understand that Korean school can be worshipful, that Monday through Saturday can be made worshipful, that culture is not antagonistic to Jesus, but must be redeemed in every way, perhaps then our culture will be redeemed (and not just on Sundays!). But the polarization of the faith and culture is detrimental to both elements and what we are trying to do ultimately through our discussion is to delve into how our faith can influence our culture, not the other way around, which as you rightly say, is currently how the KA churches seem to operate.

    Needless to say, you’ll not hear any glorifying of the KA church here – nor of any South African church either if you can point us to one. However, I think that the road to critique, especially according to biblical standards, is to speak the truth in love, which is where many of us commentators can easily stumble. I, for one, will be spending the rest of my life proving that my faith in Jesus is more important to me than my Korean heritage, even if Koreans should disown me despite it, but I’m not giving up on them nearly as easily.

  6. sam shin

    Thanks David for your thoughts. They make me think always about the words I choose. I really really want to be gracious in my response, and more than what you say, I am humbled by thinking that I am utterly finite in my wisdom on such things that speak of our gracious Lord. So I hope I am not sounding haughty in my approach to Rev. Foley.

    I must again note though that concerning my example, I agree with that you said. 1 Cor 10:31 says in ALL things, I would hope that it would be for God’s glory. I do not believe in an ostrich mentality, where we stick our head in the sand as soon as we are confronted by culture. I believe God’s grace is absolutely essential in dealing with culture and so we guard ourselves against blatant hypocrisy and self-righteousness through the examination of our own sinful nature. So is Korean school in a church inherently evil? No, absolutely not.

    But is Korean school in a church that HINDERS a corporate of God on the Lord’s Day wrong? Yes, I strongly believe it is and I think you do too. Our current church worships at 1:30p because we rent a church building. In no way do I give the people in my congregation a list of what they should not do in the morning. I don’t say to them, “You should not golf, or watch TV, or watch a video, etc.” on Sun morn before church. But I DO tell them how keeping our hearts and minds focused on Him benefits our souls and gives us a heart hunger for God that certain distractions in our lives do not. I do not think going to the movies on Sunday morning or learning Korean on Sunday morning is a sin, per se. But I think, given our sinfulness and biases, generally they do not give us a yearning to worship Him with the Body of Christ.

    My point of that example is that culture is not evil. But culture, in the wrong perspective, can lead us away from Christ, rather than drawing us towards Him. And frankly, I feel as though in the Korean Church, culture quite frequently, even unknowingly, can and does trump our pursuit of Christ.

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