I have a passion for human transformation, rooted in self-knowledge and self-criticism. Traveling many Latin American countries during my business career, I learned a great deal about cultural diversity and the need of human solidarity. With a new vocation of theological education, I now ask: What does it mean to live in this world in relation to each other (i.e., meaning of the Other -- which resonates Emmanuel Levinas' "the face of the other," Paul Ricoeur's inter-subjective narrative identity, or Jacques Derrida's "relationless relation"), and How can we do theology in our thoughts, deeds and action, while moving pointedly away from individualism? How can we read biblical stories with each other in a critical context? What are some viable definitions of cross-cultural hermeneutics, if any, by which we can improve the sense of living together in difference?
My approach to the Bible and human transformation is based on kenosis. Let me illustrate it. Once upon a time there were a father and his son; they were beggars. One day just across a river a big fire broke out and saw a big house being burnt down by the fire. The father said to his son proudly, "My son, we are so fortunate because we do not have a house to be burnt down." This comic but pithy conversation speaks of some lessons about our life. There is a saying in the Buddhist book banyasimkyung: "sak-jeuk-see-gong and gong-jeuk-see-sak," which can be translated as "all visible things are empty, and all that are empty are visible." It is hard to explain here what it means. I can say like this: life is nothing (empty) but your nothingness (emptiness) makes you something.
Similarly, Christian understanding of kenosis (Phil 2:6-11, emptying of oneself) reflects nothingness attitude in our lives. It is also found in the Q gospel: There was once a rich man whose lands yielded a good harvest. He thought to himself, "What should I do? I don't have enough room to store my crops. I know, I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones so that I can keep all my grain in them. Then I will say to myself, 'I have enough to last me for years. I can take it easy, eat, drink and have a good time.' But God said to him, "You fool! This very night you may die. Then who will own this hoard of yours? So it is with those who pile up possessions but remain poor in the treasures of the spirit. Jesus says, "If you try to gain your life, you will lose it; but if you lose it, you will gain it." St. Paul also says, "I die everyday on the cross." If you gather more and more and do not give out, you will become slaves of riches. But if you give up more and more, your freedom of heart will be greater and greater. Furthermore, your self will live a meaningful life, a perfection of life with a sense of living with others in the community. In this way our life extends forever; it is not different from the idea of “eternal life” in the Gospel of John. True spirituality begins when we feel the same fate with others and act out by giving what we have. God wants a fair balance between the rich and the poor. God wants the light and life for all because God is the God of all. That is how I read the Bible.
As for me, truth is deeply experiential, confessional, and contextual. It should be engaged in a community that he or she lives, embodied in a world beyond his or her immediate community, and testified at all costs because of the love of God for all people. Bellah also comments on the mistaken view of truth: “The mistake arises when we take language which is deeply contextual, that is confessional, and in the case of Paul probably also liturgical, and turn it into objective assertions of a quasi-scientific form that give us information about the eternal fate of non-Christians.” Robert Bellah, “At home and not at home: Religious pluralism and religious truth” Christian Century, April 1995.
As I wrote elsewhere, the role of critical imagination is important in biblical interpretation:
“We will need a critical imagination that engages both history and theology seriously in Paul’s texts and contexts. The use of critical imagination can be explained by the following illustration. Suppose that a person wants to fly like a bird, which is a good and necessary imagination, and so jumps off from the mountaintop in an attempt to fly. That person will be killed because of his or her naïve imagination. But if a person devises a fyling machine, then he or she can fly; this exemplifies that a critical mindset and creative imagination should work together.” Yung Suk Kim, A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 5.
Similarly, Amos Wilder cautiously emphasizes the role of imagination:
“Imagination is a necessary componment of all profound knowing and celebration; all remembering, realizing, and anticipating; all faith, hope, and love. When imagination fails doctrines becomes ossified, witness and proclamation wooden, doxoligies and litanies empty, consolations hollow, and ethics legalistic … Then that which once gave life begins to lull and finally to suffocate us.” Amos N. Wilder, Theopoetic: Theology and the Religious Imagination (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 2.