#prayforjapan

The heartache and loss of the Japanese people in the aftermath of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the tsunami it triggered, and now the potential nuclear meltdown are almost impossible to describe.

Below, the following bloggers offer insight and perspective on this massive tragedy:

When faced with tragedy on such a massive scale (over 10,000 people killed, thousands missing or unaccounted for, 500,000 homeless or displaced, billions in damage), it is easy to turn away or shut down. However, let us not forget the stories of those who are grieving, even as they search for loved ones.

Yomiuri Shimbun /AFP/Getty Images: This woman was calling out the names of her family in the city of Soma in Miyagi prefecture earlier today (March 14, 2011).

How to Help:

  • CRASH (Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope) Japan: “A network supporting Christians to do relief work in Japan and around the world.  CRASH equips and prepares churches and missions to be there to help their communities when disasters strike and coordinates Christian volunteers to work with local ministries in the event of a disaster.”
  • Evangelical Covenant Church: “Covenant World Relief is responding to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan with our sister denomination, the Japan Covenant Church.”
  • World Vision: “World Vision plans to distribute relief supplies to meet the daily needs of quake and tsunami survivors. We will also focus our efforts on responding to the emotional needs of children, who are the most impacted after such a traumatic event.”
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance: “This designated account supplements the One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) offering to enable a significant response for relief and disasters in Japan.”
  • Asian Access: “Pray for Japan, for the Church and for us as we prepare to come alongside the Church and other partners to deliver aid and respond with well-prepared teams as the opportunities arise.”

Key Series: Why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans

Read this insightful series by DJ Chuang about why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans. It is a powerful introduction to many of the conversations we have here at Next Gener.Asian Church.

As DJ writes in his initial series post:

All to say that our American society needs more Asian Americans to be Asian American. It is to say that at this state of the union, we have too few. We certainly don’t have too many. We’d do well to have a few more to stand up and represent. We’d do well to think through and have more robust conversations about what it means to be Asian Americans. We’d do well to allow the richness of our Asian American’ness to overflow and not hide it under a bushel.

The disclaimers DJ writes at the outset are, alone, worth the price of admission:

Continue reading

Pushing the Boundaries Together

David and I were approached by Emergent Village to write a post for their blog. It is reproduced below for our NG.AC friends. Enjoy (and critique):

http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/park-pushing-boundaries

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David: The joke goes something like this: when a Japanese person goes to a new city, he looks to start a business; when a Chinese person first arrives in a new place, he looks to start a restaurant; but when a Korean comes to town, he’s going to start a church. As my Korean immigrant father is a recently retired pastor who planted or shepherded at least seven churches that I can count, I can attest to the above punchline—Koreans love church. And we’ve taken to church planting and the Christian industry by storm, a sort of ecclesiological Kim Yunah phenomenon for those of you who watched the Winter Olympics. Continue reading

Reflections on Christianity from a Japanese-American Painter

An effort to define beauty will ultimately fail, but we can speak of beauty, and point to the source of beauty.

Friends,

In order to prevent any more cobwebs from appearing on this beloved site, I’d like to share a wonderful interview with Makoto Fujimura, a Japanese American painter where he talks about his views on faith, how art reflects the mystery of faith, and the Eastern nature of Christianity.

http://goo.gl/0na0

Here’s an excerpt:

East/West distinction is also a categorization that is very difficult to define. The Bible is an “Eastern” book. The Bible is much more culturally “Eastern” than “Western,” if by “Western” we mean post-Enlightenment rationalism. Certainly, the Old Testament Hebrew culture was far more eastern than what we consider to be western. The Last Supper makes more sense in a Japanese context (that eating and drinking wine can bond a community together) than American. Early theologians like Augustine and Origen were influenced by African and Egyptian culture, which is more East than West, and certainly medieval art and theology has much to do with Eastern influence, while “Western” theology grew out of them. I know what you are asking pertains to our fascination with Japanimation, Eastern New Age mysticism, etc., but I would be careful not to fall into unhelpful distinctions.

Trampled Under Foot

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In Shusako Endo’s absolutely-must-read novel, Silence, Fr. Rodrigues, an initially idealistic Portuguese monk, goes to Japan with his companion in search of a highly-respected monk thought to have committed apostasy. From his arrival in Japan to his reunion with the apostate monk, Rodrigues experiences a serious loss of the long-held notions of his faith as he witnesses the torture, suffering, and death of Japanese Christians who barely had a life to begin with. The triumphant, glorious, and powerful Christ does not provide him respite from all this, despite his pleas for help. This Christ is absolutely silent.

The Japanese leaders demand one thing to save these Christians from oppression. They demand Rodrigues to step on a picture of Jesus. Rodrigues is horrified by the thought of committing such an act before his Lord. However, it is the Christ of weakness, and not strength, that tells Rodrigues, “Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.”

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[This was a very difficult post for me to write. I am passionately opinionated, at times quick to denigrate, and ungracious with regards to those opinions, theologies, and ideas I find abhorrent. Thus, this post (like many posts) acts like a mirror, exposing my sin. Please keep this in mind, and please forgive my hypocrisy. Kyrie Eleison…]

This will most likely be the 5235th post on Deadly Viper since its birth in the consciousness of already self-aware Asian American Christians. And it was this controversy that birthed a new consciousness about being self-aware Asian American Christians for the first time. Even the flaws of gender stereotyping (an equal problem in this mess) quickly surfaced as an issue. And so began a power discourse.

This incident was necessary for Asian Americans. For much of our modern American existence we were (and still are) seen as the passive, obedient, and over-achieving patch in our multi-colored quilt. If the DV incident did one thing, it made known the fact that Asian American Christians need to be taken seriously as a contingent of the American Christian fabric (no, I don’t quilt). No longer would it be assumed that we would brush off–or even accept–stereotyping or generalizing of our complex cultures by the dominant majority. Or this is what we hope.

There is a fine line between power struggle and reconciliation when it comes to Christian dialogue. And Christians need to be uncomfortable with it. Christians on the left look at the Christians on the right with disgust. I am self-admittedly a left-leaning Christian. And I have looked at a bumper sticker that reads, “The Christian right is neither.with some level of haughty amusement. But when Christians on the left are saying that Jesus would endorse the public option, are we not playing the same game as our siblings on the right? Let’s face it. Christians on either side want a theocracy. The liberal Christians just deny it, while the conservative Christians would love one (which would ironically look like Islamic states). Let’s move a step further. Evangelism could be a discourse of power. Monthly session meetings to determine how to attract more parishioners could be a discourse of power. Zondervan’s marketing strategies could be a discourse of power. In fact, Christian marketing IS a discourse of power… and wealth!

What would Michel Foucault think of this?? I’ll stop lest my cynicism of truly believing “power equals knowledge” kicks in.

Looking back, I couldn’t help but think that Asian Americans, even in our need for this to happen, have won a battle for power, while Mike and Jud patch their wounds. But what else could’ve been done? Was this an exchange of power that needed to occur? I say, emphatically, ‘yes’ because we needed to fight back our stereotypes. But what stereotype of Christianity does this perpetuate? Do we say ‘Jesus is our glorious king!’? Could we say, “Jesus is silent like the silenced, impoverished like the poor, and stereotyped like us”? My emphatic yes finishes off with a wince, like a cheap scotch whiskey.

The call from our fellow brothers and sister is clear. Let’s move forward to reconcile with Mike Foster, Jud Wilhite, and Zondervan. And not only reconcile, but partner in the kingdom. But if and when we do partner, let’s do it for the broken and silenced Christ. Because our attempts to correct our siblings may end up with a Christ that commanded the angels to destroy his enemies.

This entry is a power discourse.

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The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.

High Church for Asian Americans

liturgy2Those of you who know me well know that I have a love for liturgical worship. In the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn to Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox expressions of worship. The icons, rich artwork, incense, ritual, mystery, and a deep sense of beauty is what draws me nigh. Every ritual practiced in these liturgies has meaning and history. There’s a purpose for everything that is done. I also appreciate that in high church settings it is the Eucharist, not the sermon, that is the high point of worship. Thus, partaking in the Eucharist weekly is important to me. All these things I do not experience in a low-church, namely evangelical (even most mainline denominations), environment. However, one major issue I have with these high church expressions is the lack of whole body interaction with liturgy. For example, in the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the male priestly figures do all the ritualizing while the congregants sit/stand and observe or receive.

Lately, I have been asking myself, “What would a rich, deep liturgy for Asian Americans look like?”…

Wouldn’t it make sense for Asian American Christians to experiment with such a worship style? Our long cultural heritage points to religious practices deep with intention, deliberateness, meaning, and mysticism. Would recapturing that in a form of ritualistic liturgy, where there’s no spatial division between clergy and congregant, no 40-minute sermon, no front man for the band, be faithful to who we are as Jesus followers and as Asian Americans?

What would it look like where all are participating in rituals that is familiar, meaningful, and communal to all those who worship together?

What would the practices be that combine a deep sense of cultural re-imagination with the mystery and the beauty of the Gospel?

What would the worship space look like that can heighten the sense of awe in worship God together?

And can Asian Americans even begin to worship in this way?

Thoughts…?

For Asian-American Christians, The Elephant In The Room…

The following words below are my thoughts alone, and not representative of NG.AC.

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I’ll say it outright. I believe one of the most important things that needs to be addressed among Asian-American Christians is the fundamentalism that pervades our expression of Christianity, propagated especially by the likes of John Piper and his brand of neo-puritan protestantism. Also, I will leave Tim Keller out of this. I think he’s much more reasoned and intelligent with his faith.

Some personal history…

My college church was multi-ethnic in name, but Asian-American in reality. It was also typically conservative in its theology. So naturally, John Piper’s work was standard summer reading. Desiring God would be found on our proverbial recommended reading list, as well as his “secondary” work of Let The Nations Be Glad and Future Grace. However, it wasn’t till my post-college church (very similar in demographics, but more puritan in theology, in comparison to my college church) that I had celebrated and defended the neo-puritan theology that Piper preached. I remember listening to sermon after sermon on my iPod and watching his sermons on the One Day DVDs with delight. Regardless of how embarrassing this is to tell, I even once cheered, yelling “PIPER!!”, when his face came up on display at a 7.22 event I went to about 4 years ago.

However, it was when a white-American couple came to our church that the foundations began to shake. Knowing they were fervent and passionate Christians, seminary-trained, and experienced in overseas missions, I was saddened to hear that John Piper considered their faith as secondary due to their being Arminians (Methodist). Here, in front of me, were two upstanding and wonderful Christians, who were actively being judged and pitied by someone I had looked up to so much. A conflict of interest began to take form within me.

But it was only when I had left my post-college church that I learned the notion of theological idolatry, this idolatry that i had committed for 7 years…

I consider theological idolatry an active assumption of God-ordained certainty regarding one’s theological worldview. One commits theological idolatry when she assumes her interpretation of Scripture is incontestable, as defended by self-referencing biblical arguments. It is this theological idolatry that I believe Asian-American Christians who subscribe to Christian neo-puritanism (i.e. new fundamentalism) engage in. Brothers and sisters, we must exercise humility.

Recently, John Piper’s rhetoric has been crossing my path upon reading about his relative disdain towards multimedia and hateful judgment towards homosexuality. It is these things along with his theological views of gender, culture, and God’s sovereignty that I believe are negatively affecting Asian-American churches.

Drew Tatusko wrote of Piper’s comments to the ELCA:

This sort of “theology” tries to divine God’s pre-destined program for us by picking and choosing natural events that appear to confirm a pre-existing ideological condition. It’s not theology, it’s insurance to justify one’s own ideology.

It is not theology, but idolatry. It is extracting what you want God’s will to be from nature rather than attend to that progressive revelation which may, and likely will, send this sort of Pharisaism asunder. For that is what we learn from Jesus. The more you think you have the Gospel cornered, the more you are relying on your own divinations and ideas. When this happens, as with learning anything new, one is less attentive to revelation. One becomes more attentive to one’s own whims and God looks just like you – an epiphenomenon of your own foolishness and absurdity.

I agree with Tatusko. Furthermore, although I cannot say that it is Christian fundamentalism alone that is driving many 2nd-gen Asian-Americans away from the church, I firmly believe it is one of the key motivating factors. Kelly Chong, an Asian-American sociologist and professor, wrote an article in 1998 surveying the 2nd-generation ministry of two Korean churches in the Chicago area. These churches embraced a very conservative theology, while exhibiting behaviors of conformity, exclusivity, and judgmental behavior towards others not like them. 11 years later, things are changing, but not changing quickly enough to where I can confidently say things are healthy these days.

Friends, my request is that when we preach, teach, encourage, and admonish, we do so with humility and fear and trembling. There is a philosophical notion which states that when we say ‘God’, God escapes our assumptions. Likewise, when Meister Eckhart prayed, ‘God, rid me of God,’ we must do the same. I believe it is imperative that we Asian-American Christians practice theological humility and be militaristic, instead, about love, (hey, militarism and love co-exist easily with Asian-Americans) grace, and justice. This is not a call to teach watered-down theology or preach a culture-neutered gospel. Rather, it is a call to do what Asian-American Christians have the worst time doing while following in the way of Christ, loving the world as Jesus did.

Let’s repent and change our ways, for the sake of our future generations.

Black, White, or Yellow…should it matter?

A common point of view from many that have looked at the discussion of recognizing an Asian-American church is that by the time people (of any race) have existed as 4th generation people (and beyond) in America, they lose their ethnic identity and just blend in. Is this really true?

When we as Americans look at the church, we almost always agree that there are white churches and black churches. Why? We’re dealing with many African-Americans that have gone beyond the 4th generation here in the United States, yet they are still connected in the black church and recognized as existing within their own church. Can we recognize that African-American culture requires a church of their own, yet call upon Asians to just blend into the predominantly white American church? To do so either glorifies African-Americans as unique amongst all minorities or that we are afraid to tread upon blacks for fear of being labeled racists. With the polarizing remarks relating to the recent arrest of African-American Harvard professor Henry Gates, race is definitely an issue in our society today. Race definitely colors how and what we say.

Can we come to a point where we look at the culturally ethnic church and seek solutions to advance the gospel or is it just about making people feel important and catering the gospel to their needs? If we as Americans can acknowledge and recognize a black church as necessary, then why do we bring a different argument when it comes to discussing the Asian-American church?

Am I the only one that sees the disparity in this?

It’s in the blood

While I am not Korean, I have been to South Korea 15 times from 1999-2004 on business trips. While I was a total foreigner in Korea and their culture was completely new to me, I did learn some things. For one, I learned that the stereotypes and prejudice my Japanese mom had for Koreans was unfounded. In fact, I came to recognize that most of her issues with Koreans was due to the elitism that many Japanese have. I also learned that instead of looking at commonalities, we as Asians tend to look at what separates us.

From my experience in my secular, atheist worldview I one day found myself a Christ follower and youth pastor of a Korean-American church. I led a monthly youth ministry of praise & worship nights where several local churches would bring their youth groups to in a spirit of unity. However, I went outside cultural lines and invited everyone. One night there were several teens there that were not Korean and the church that was leading the worship music sets were Hmong. Once one of the Chinese teens realized that the group leading were Hmong, she got totally offended and exclaimed that didn’t we know what the Hmong did to the Chinese? It was said quietly to her friends that brought her and I heard about it later, but I had to admit that I had no idea what the issue was. Hmong people reside in China and I had no idea there were tensions. Kind of like I had no idea beforehand that there were tensions in Korea between Koreans and Japanese.

While on one of my business trips I was in the car with a Korean business partner and were talking about something. It was in the context of something being Korean and I mentioned again that I was not Korean. He told me that I didn’t have to be, but that it was in my Asian blood. In other words, from his perspective there was something that united us as Asians, rather than separate us as Korean vs Japanese. I understood what he meant, yet in my own mind there was still a difference. Culturally Koreans and Japanese are different. Just as Chinese and Vietnamese or Thai and Filipinos. If we add Indians as part of being Asians then it gets even more diversified.

With the pride and felt need that ethnic churches must exist to serve first generation Asians coming to America, why does the ethnic church have such a problem with ministering to second and third generation Asians? If many second and third generation Asian-Americans are migrating into the predominantly white church, then what about those that stay in the English ministry of their ethnic church? Should we speak to us all having Asian blood that unites in some way and move forward collectively as a pan-Asian church or should we look to change the perspective of the ethnic church to better meet the needs of second and third generation people? Will we always have English ministries in the ethnic church, yet find some second and third generation people migrating and congregating with those outside of their own ethnicity?

How do you define church?

Before I address the question from the subject line, let me state this: I am not quite sure how the intersection of church and Asian-American culture can really exist in the same sentence. I feel as if I’ve killed off some brain cells pondering this question.

steepleHow do you define church?

Can we come to a clear consensus as to what church is so that we can then explore the context of church and faith from an Asian-American perspective?

When I spoke with Daniel So yesterday I began to wonder if our perspective should be the church focusing on Asian-American awareness and cultural issues or if it should be used as a way to compliment American culture at large from a third culture mindset, as Dave Gibbons discusses in his book The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership For A Third-Culture Church.

Should we be defending our right to gather as Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong or rather should we be reaching out to other Asian cultures and inviting them to begin the process of being a third culture church? Can we be critical of the American church if we don’t first look to engaging other Asian cultures within our church settings first?

Again, the question to ask first is, how do your define church?