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If A Culture Went Underground, Could You Find It Again?

“Under the culture” is what the word subculture really means, which bothers me about Asian Americans becoming this hybrid of sorts as we assume it is a viable, sustainable identity. After all, there is Asia, and there is America, so in many ways, it would be so much easier for us to subscribe to either of those dominant cultures, but when we carve out a middle way for ourselves and for our churches, could it be that we are endangering the very thing we are trying to protect? Obviously, in the postmodern world, we are a nothing if not a respecter of niches, but when there is this overarching consumerist, atheistic culture, and we quickly move to protect our culture, our subculture, by going underground, in what strange ways will our own manufactured culture be distorted, perverted, and deformed?

Out of Ur had a recent post that interestingly cites Japanese church history and asks the question of whether or not this is happening to the American Christian subculture. Will Christians around the world recognize us and our brand of church? or as with the Japanese Christians (Kakure) who went underground in the 16th century, will they say:

“Although the faith followed by the underground Christians had the outward appearances of Christianity, the vital content and spirit of the religion evolved into something entirely different…It would be more accurate to call it a folk religion altogether Japanese in spirit and content.”

The writer of the post makes the point that “ironically it is our zeal to protect our faith that leads to its loss.” But I think that statement is not complete. It’s not zeal…it’s fear.

I think they were trying to protect their way of life, perhaps rationalizing that they could have both their faith and their culture. Or perhaps even with the noble fear that the faith would die with them if they were not careful, which we know from our historical vantage point, would not happen. But their fear, albeit in the face of horrific persecution, led to hiding, which meant that the evangelion stopped, which meant that someone deemed that the “good news” was not “good enough” for right now. They took the gospel in their own hands and thought they could preserve it, protect it, and that it would protect them.

In essence, the Kakure became like Smeagol/Gollum of the Lord of the Rings. The very thing they tried to protect distorted and perverted them.

All the more telling when the post recounts:

When Pope John Paul II visited Japan in 1981 he met with the leaders of the Kakure community to welcome them back into the fold of the Catholic Church. “We have no interest in joining his church,” one Crypto-Christian said; “We, and nobody else, are true Christians.”

The post rightfully asks a timely question in closing:

Was Walter Brueggemann correct when he wrote, “The contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that is has little power to believe or to act.”?

Ironically, what about the Asians in America who worship Christ? We are who more like the Kakure in our subcultural tendencies to protect and preserve, silently suffering, self-righteously sacrificing…how is the very thing we are fighting for disfiguring us because of the ways in which we seek to preserve it? Is it really what the Gospel compels us to do?

What is it that we’re really afraid of?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?


About David Park

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

2 responses to “If A Culture Went Underground, Could You Find It Again?

  1. Excellent topic, and something I have been thinking about myself. For one, as we realize that culture is a major part of our identities and how God created us in His image, it is a worthwhile cause to maintain it. But at what cost? Are we stubborn enough to hold on to our culture at the loss of our own true faith?

    I suppose it does raise the question: do faith and culture collide? Can we maintain both? Asian-Americans experience an always-evolving culture–the blending and/or clashing of their Asian roots with American life. There are some who might say that it is impossible to hold on to culture without sacrificing some part of faith. I believe it is not only possible, it is God’s intention. Culture is the lens through which we see and experience all God has provided for us. I believe that it is impossible to separate, and that God does not desire for us to do so.

    What about posterity? When we realize the priority is to have our children have faith, what price are we willing to pay? As society evolves, our children will have a different cultural experience than we do. What I am observing in bilingual churches is the resistance of the “mother tongue congregants” to sacrifice for the (often) younger English-speaking, more Americanized generation in letting them come to faith in their own culture. That is one of the weaknesses of this church model, and I believe that God desires to bring redemption to that.

  2. Speaking from a Canadian perspective, I have to admit that I think we love our new subculture more than Christ…

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