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.

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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.

The Fruit of The Tree Was An Apple?

The buzz is on and I confess, I have a tendency to lust after technology, especially sexy technology. And Steve Jobs’ Apple oozes sexy technology.Today at 1pm EST is an expected announcement of Apple’s updates to the Macbook/Macbook Pro line.

As a converted Mac user after many years of PC use, I have to say that the Mac OS and hardware have really made the computing experience very pleasant for me. The iPod and the iPhone (which I do not own (yet)) have only deepened my affection for the innovative company out of Cupertino, CA.

Lately however, I’ve been wondering how much Kool-aid I have been drinking. This is not a Mac vs. PC issue, it’s the thought that I have so thoroughly immersed myself in consumerism that I don’t know exactly to unravel myself, a la Shane Claiborne. There is that tension between engaging vs. dis-engaging, spending vs. giving, simplifying vs. cluttering, and I’m finding that I’m standing on the wrong side of the fence many a time. So as I watch for the news of the line of Macbooks, I find myself acutely aware of what exactly the hell I am doing.

I live “in tension,” but do I live intentionally? Even as the national economy is sputtering and crumbling (Daniel So provides some resources and reflections on this as well), do I really understand that my propensity to spend money that I cannot see (credit) and the things I spend it on is part and parcel of the problem? Sure, I can objectify it and get angry at the notion that the rich are going to scapegoat the economic woes on minorities, but do I take responsibility in this matter and look at my addiction as characteristic of the rich? I am the rich oppressor. My good friend shared with me at the last election that he has Democratic values, but a Republican lifestyle.

I have Christian values, but do I have a Christian lifestyle? Not just morally, but economically. What does God’s economy look like, and I don’t mean substitutionary atonement or grace, I mean what are God’s economics? What about my plethora of coats or my multiple pairs of shoes?  I am simultaneously in admiration of Shane Claiborne and ashamed by him. I don’t mean to beat myself up or to compare my calling to his or to Mother Teresa or whomever, but all that to say is I realize that I have taken the fruit of Apple and I find myself naked and ashamed.

When We Fail Both Christ and Gandhi

Forgive us, O God, for we do not know what we do.

The death toll in the continuing anti-Christian violence in Orissa state rose to 50 as India celebrated the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation and champion of peace.

Gandhi led the first non-violent independence movement just over three score years ago. And while the notion of ahimsa (non-violence) existed in ancient Hindu tradition, Gandhi revived it inspired partly by what he read in the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi made non-violence a viable political force and understood that unlike pacificity, non-violence was active and paradoxical – one had to be violently non-violent, not passive at all. How far have the politics fallen?

I can’t say how far, but we have some idea as to how much:

Some 20 people have been killed, 50,000 displaced and 4,000 homes have been destroyed over the last ten days, as a result of the “worst ever communal riots against Christians,” according to a report by the Forum. Of those who have fled their villages, some 13,000 are living in nine relief camps run by the government. Some 200 villages were affected, with hundreds of churches burnt down.

How is it that we as Christians and Hindus can enter into violence with one another? Christians are accused of murdering a Hindu priest (it was denied of course, which in addition to the immorality of that, it defies common sense as they’re outnumbered 9 to 1 based on national demographics) and Hindus are burning churches and homes in retaliation, even though local Christian groups have condemned the killing. Have Hindus done the same? Why in the world do we even call ourselves Christians or Hindus if we are to commit these acts of violence? This doesn’t signal to me that our beliefs cause or condone violence, but that we have little faith at all. Or perhaps that politics can do many things under the banner of religion, but if we were to live up to our faith we would look more like Jesus and Gandhi than what is happening now.

May the people of Orissa have peace. May the righteous rest tonight. May the killing stop.