Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dao De Jing and my calligraphy

Yung Suk Kim

I am interested in cross-cultural, comparative study of wisdom literature. One that I love so much is Dao De Jing by Laozi (about 5th century BCE). I may read this along with Jesus's parables and Paul's wisdom thoughts as in his letters. I translated the Dao De Jing into English and Korean. Someday I will publish my research on these wisdom writings. We can find happiness with us when we become truly human. 

Below keywords are taken from the Dao De Jing. These are my calligraphy, and the translation is mine.

Keeping softness is strength

Those who conquer themselves are strong

Seeing small is enlightenment

Knowing self is enlightenment

Treat both grace and disgrace as wonders

What is most straight seems devious

Humans must follow earth

The Way of heaven reduces what is excessive and supplements what is insufficient. The way of human is different. It reduces the insufficient and increases the excessive. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Learning from golf putting practice: focus on yourself

Yung Suk Kim

I used to play golf long ago when I lived and worked in Panama, Rep. of Panama, and later in Miami, Florida. At that time, I was a businessman and was expected to play because of that. I was sent to the foreign business office by a famous Korean company. I don't play golf anymore, but I still keep my golf club. In my living room, sometimes I play with these balls and practice putting. I do this rather from a perspective of mental gymnastics. I learn life lessons from this.

Here is one. I must keep a focus on myself when I putt a ball toward the target area. I must keep a hold on to my posture after putt. The habitual mistakes are made when I lift up my head to see where the ball is going. Life lesson one: When you have a goal, you must keep a focus on yourself.

Here is another one. I have to believe myself. I don't worry where the ball is going. At this very moment of putting, I am the only one whom I can and must trust. All other things are external. The result is all good. The ball went to the place I wanted to reach. Even if it does not go in the intended direction, I still have to believe myself because trusting is nothing wrong with itself.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Good news (gospel) begins with God, not with Jesus

Yung Suk Kim

For most Christians, the gospel (euangelion, good news) is equated with Jesus. Or, easily, they say "let's spread the gospel of Christ." What they mean is as follows: Christ died for sinners and he dealt with sins. His redemptive death resolved human problems of sin. So he is the savior who made a perfect sacrifice for humanity. Salvation is done once and for all. Whoever simply believes this and repents will be saved once and for all.  

But he did not simply come to die. Rather, he came to testify to the truth (John 18:37); he came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45); he came to save the lost (Luke 19:10); he came to fulfill the righteousness (Matt 5:17). For Paul, the gospel of Christ has to do with what Jesus did for God; namely, he revealed God's righteousness to the world through faith (Rom 3:21-26).  

Strictly speaking, however, the good news begins with God. All good things about God constitute the good news (euangelion). According to Mark 1:14, Jesus as the Son of God began to proclaim "the good news of God" of which details are in Mark 1:15: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." In Rom 1:1, Apostle Paul also says that he is an apostle called (like a prophet) and "set apart for the gospel of God." Then, in verse 2, he relates God's gospel to Jesus, who was declared to be the Son of God with power because of his faith.

Eventually, this gospel of God proclaimed by Jesus must continue with his followers. I am still convinced that Paul's theology is thoroughly theocentric, Christ-exemplified, and Christian-imitated. The church is God's, not Jesus's. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Cause and Meaning of Jesus’s Death: History, Theology, and Interpretation


Yung Suk Kim

There are historical facts about Jesus's crucifixion that cannot be fabricated or oversimplified. History is one thing, and what it means to people after the event is another thing. We must know why he was brought to death. The main reason is that he said and did something against Rome. He could not overcome violence and torture.  

Now all those who hear the story of Jesus and his crucifixion are challenged to live differently because of his tragic death. On the one hand, people must say his death is a tragic one and wrong. Evil and torture are wrong. How can an innocent person be crucified? Injustices must be named and those who responsible for his death must be judged and condemned. It is not God's character that allows his innocent Son to be killed for vicarious death paying for sins. On the other hand, Jesus's terrifying death is a holy sacrifice of love for God and the world because he did not spare his life to proclaim the good news of God in the world.

Therefore, the statement "Jesus died for us" (Rom 5:8; 2 Cor 5:14) can be understood as a moral challenge, as opposed to the payment understanding of sins. Namely, the challenge is that people must live a moral life of justice for others, moving away from an egoistic lifestyle.  

We need the correct interpretation of Jesus’s death. In other words, not all interpretations are valid. Especially, the problematic interpretation is found in the following lyrics, which show a most selfish form of religion: "The Lamb of God in my place, your blood pour out, my sin erased. It was my death you died. I am raised to life; Hallelujah, the Lamb of God." In other words, the point of the song is simple: “Jesus died for me, and I don't die. I am raised to life. All done and no worries."  

A Proposal to an Alternative Christology: The Messiah by Weakness

Yung Suk Kim

In 2016, I published Messiah in Weakness: A Portrait of Jesus from the Perspective of the Dispossessed (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016). The book's synopsis is as follows:

Kim raises a perennial question about Jesus: How can we approach the historical Jesus? Kim proposes to interpret him from the perspective of the dispossessed--through the eyes of weakness. Exploring Jesus' experience, interpretation, and enactment of weakness, understanding weakness as both human condition and virtue, Kim offers a new portrait of Jesus who is weak and strong, and empowered to bring God's rule, replete with mercy, in the here and now. Arguing against the grain of tradition that the strong Jesus identifies with the weak, Kim demonstrates that it is the weak Jesus who identifies with the weak. The paradoxical truth with Jesus is: "Because he is weak, he is strong." In the end, Jesus dies a death of paradox that reveals both his ultimate weakness that demands divine justice and his unyielding spirit of love for the world and truth of God.

I have an issue with the "strong" Messiah, which is the Western view of Jesus characterized by triumphalism, colonialism, and supersessionism. In this view, he is fully divine and all-powerful. He defeated death and evil and completed salvation for humanity through his voluntary redemptive suffering. This is the Western Jesus of triumphalism. In this Western view, Jesus also appears as a colonial ruler who is the way. Likewise, John 14:6 ("I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me") is interpreted exclusively. All countries and cultures must accept him as the way and the truth. Non-Christians and their countries are forced to convert to the Western gospel of Jesus. It is our known history in the 19-20th centuries that commerce and Christianity went to other countries hand in hand. Colonialism and Christianity are hardly distinguishable in many colonized countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Similarly, this kind of a triumphant, colonial Messiah opposes Judaism or Israel. Namely, the issue is supersessionism or Antisemitism in that Jesus replaces the old covenant with Israel. Jesus's sacrifice is perfect once and for all and completes salvation. The law's time ended with Israel. Now is the new time for the church through Jesus. Old religion and tradition are rejected and relegated to inferior things.

But Jesus was born into a poor abnormal family and experienced weakness as a poor Galilean Jew. He did his best proclaiming God's good news and was executed by the Roman authorities. He showed God's way and truth; nevertheless, his work is not complete, the end did not come yet with his resurrection, and his work must continue with his followers.

Jesus was a devout Jew who never denied his Jewish identity and his loyalty to God. He affirmed the law and prophets. He did not preach about the heavenly kingdom of God. Rather, his primary concern was the rule of God in the here and now. His claim is: God rules, not the Roman emperor. He proclaimed "the good news of God," not that of Rome. He broke the laws of Sabbath and purity to advocate for the sick and the marginalized. This led to his death. In other words, he did not come simply to die for sinners but to testify to the truth of God (John 18:37). His death is the result of what he said and did in proclaiming God's rule, not Caesar's. His "dangerous" teaching and action cost him a life.

The Western view of Jesus with an emphasis on his power and glory is in error because we ignore his humanity with weakness in the first-century Palestine where so many people suffer, including Jesus. There are physical ills, social ills, famine, economic exploitation, and slavery. Why should we deprive him of his humanity and his weakness? Why do we not talk about his struggle to understand the chaotic world lacking God's rule?

In 2 Cor 13:4a, Paul also admits the fact that "he [Jesus] was crucified 'by or from weakness' (eks astheneias)." That is, he insinuates that Jesus could not avoid or overcome Roman violence because he had to continue preaching God's kingdom against Rome. In this regard, the often-made translation of "in weakness" for eks astheneias does not convey Paul's meaning. In fact, Paul contrasts eks astheneias ("by or from weakness") with ek dunameos theou ("by or from the power of God") with that phrase. Paul's point is clear in 2 Cor 13:4: 1) Jesus was crucified because of his humanity, which is weak; 2) But he lives because of the power of God.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ruth: Survival, Race, and Transformation

 Yung Suk Kim

Survival and transformation are very important to a family of suffering going through economic hardships and/or family crisis. There was a famine in Judah, and Naomi’s family (her husband and two sons) moved to Moab to find food and economic prosperity. While staying there, worse things happened. She lost all men in her family: her husband died, and her two sons also died leaving two more widows beside her. So Naomi decides to return to her homeland only after losing everything. So she tells her two daughters-in-law to go back to their homes. The story may have ended at this point if she returned to the land with empty hands. But the story goes in different directions because of Ruth, a Moabite woman who insisted on following her mother-in-law. Ruth becomes a model of an ideal immigrant or foreigner who confesses the God of Jews to be true and follows her mother-in-law and widow. But Orpha, the other daughter-in-law, returned to her home. That is her decision that must be honored. It is nothing wrong with it.

From the perspective of Jews who hear this story, Ruth is a model foreigner/minority that can be part of Jews through confession of faith and through marrying one of them. Even as a widow, she must follow her mother-in-law to become an ideal foreigner/immigrant to Jews. So finally, Naomi reluctantly allowed Ruth to follow her to Judah, the land of others to her [Ruth]. At this point, Naomi may have felt that it would be okay to take Ruth with her because she may be a very helpful means of her survival and redemption back in Judah. In other words, things happening in Judah were roughly imagined of by her, especially about her redemption through Ruth from her goel, Boaz. Ruth was asked to glean in the field and happened to meet Boaz, having sex. Soon, the redeemer, Boaz, married Ruth, and she bore a son to Naomi. Ruth is a surrogate. Naomi’s success (redemption from poverty and recovery of her family through Ruth) sacrifices Ruth. Does the end justify the means?

But if we hear from the underside of this story of Ruth, we cannot help but imagine her own struggle when she got to live in Judah. She is surrounded by strange people and the unfamiliar hostile environment. She was a foreign woman who was committed to the God of Jews, showing respect to her mother-in-law. Because she came to their country by her decision, she had to endure all hardships, economic or psychological. But she certainly suffered from those conditions. She could not have her full humanity in the foreign land of Judah. She was still a Moabite woman who bore a son to Naomi. While she came to Judah with hope and was successful in some way, she was caught up in the middle. Was Ruth's decision to immigrate to Judah with her mother-in-law a good one? Does she not regret not having stayed in her homeland?

When it comes to the transformation of Naomi and Ruth, we can see its complexities. Naomi was hopeless when she lost everything in Moab. But because of Ruth, she hoped for a better future and made it through her goel, Boaz. But she used Ruth as the means to achieve it. Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law out of her loyalty to the God of Jews and also to Naomi. She also hoped for a better future with her mother-in-law. She persevered and survived well with Naomi. Other than this, we do not know how terrible her life was because of her Moabite identity. Did she feel happy throughout her days? Did she feel complete integration into the Jewish culture? What role did she play in raising her son? 

"Thanks for sharing your blog. Very interesting read. The story can certainly be read differently. Ruth can be interpreted as a model foreigner who gives birth to the future Messiah of Israel--a line connecting David and Jesus. That is, Jewish ancestry has foreign blood in it. But Ruth remains ethnically a Moabite and we can imagine behind the text that she may have had an identity crisis although the text is silent about it, perhaps because she is a model foreigner. Elsewhere in the Bible, Moabites and other non-Israelites are vilified. So Ruth may be rehabilitating the image of the bad 'other' in the Bible." 
--From Dr. Robert Wafawanaka, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Who wants "unity"?

Yung Suk Kim

Those who have power prefer unity to diversity. They do not want a diversity of thoughts. They are afraid of losing everything if their rule or leadership is challenged. But everyday people are not really concerned about unity. Rather, they need more of respect, dignity, and equality in their lives.

Often unity becomes the language of control. This is true to the case of the Roman Empire. Even if diversity is allowed in the Empire, it is limited to religion and culture. That is, people are prohibited from protesting against the rule of Rome. They must speak the language of Rome and its Empire. They are forced to stay in their place of identity. They are told again and again that society is one body with an emphasis on unity. In the name of unity, the unfortunate are taken for granted and suffering is taken for granted.

Even in the church, pastors talk about the unity of the church, based on 1 Cor 12:27 ("You are the body of Christ and individually parts of it"). In their preaching, members of the church are expected to think in the same way without asking questions about church doctrine or any teachings about God. In a traditional frame of interpretation, scholars read "the body of Christ" as a social body with an emphasis on unity (homonoia) just like Stoics who tell members of the society to be one without asking about injustices (c.f., the fable of Menenius).

But Paul does not mean that members of the community have to be in consensus in all matters; rather, his point to the Corinthians is they have to have the same mind of Christ. In other words, they must live like Christ, being ruled by his spirit, imitating his faith. An alternative reading of this body metaphor is "a way of living" (I wrote Christ's Body in Corinth (Fortress, 2008) about this issue). That is, Paul's point is: "you are Christic body. You are to be ruled by Christ, individually and communally."

This way of reading of the Greek genitive is certainly plausible as we see in Rom 6:6: "the body of sin might be destroyed." Here, "the body of sin" is construed as "sinful body" or "sin-ruled body."

In this alternative reading of the body metaphor in 1 Cor 12:12-27, Paul's emphasis is not the unity of a community but the lack of true diversity due to the lack of Christic embodiment. Some Corinthians claim that they are wise in Christ and saved already. Others boast about their gift of the spirit: speaking in tongues, prophesying, and even their knowledge.

Given these problems of the disembodiment of Christ, Paul asks them to identify with Christ and his spirit. For example, in 1 Cor 6:12-20, the Corinthians are advised not to sleep with prostitutes because they are parts (mele) of Christ. Here, we have an image of Christ's body (as a human, not as a social body). Because they are connected to Christ, they must behave accordingly based on Christly manner. Then they can glorify God in their body (1 Cor 6:20).