15 July 2013

July 2013 Notes from Teleconference with Grace Ji-Sun Kim

"Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit"
July 10, 2013

WATER thanks Professor Grace Ji-Sun Kim for her spirited presentation on her new book, Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit. NY: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2013. We highly recommend the book and offer the following summary of the conversation to augment the audio.

Dr. Kim began by outlining the present global context. It is a world full of slave labor in which wealthy people collude by buying cheap goods made in inhuman working conditions by those who are paid little. She insisted that Christians and other people of good will are called to changes of heart, habit, and life style. She laid out the damage caused to the planet, air, and water by unjust business practices. Since all life is interconnected, damaging earth in one place leads to widespread destruction. Her example was the recent factory fire in Bangladesh where more than 100 workers died. She alerted us to recent protests at Gap stores in Chicago as one response to this unspeakable situation.

The myth that money brings happiness is just that. In fact, having too much is greed and results in stress on other human beings and on nature creating a grave imbalance. We need a new perspective on the planet, on the divine, indeed on how we live. Climate change, for example, deepens the distance between rich and poor; misuse of natural resources knows no borders. Professor Kim told the story of her Nicaraguan student who detailed the way in which small fishing efforts became big business in a globalized economy. Rather than making the community prosperous, it led to a few people doing well and many people being without work. They were reduced to taking the garbage from the factory to scavenge fish protein to eat from the bones that were thrown away.

Professor Kim asked what we living in the U.S. and Canada can do to change such conditions. She referred to a movie, Mardi Gras Made in China, that depicts the making of beads to be thrown at Mardi Gras parades. The beads are made in near slave conditions and sold cheaply. She urged new levels of engagement with biblical resources, doing theology as a resource for the empowerment of those on the underside of world.

Theology is about God, but it is the Trinity that allows us to see our connection to others. Her emphasis was on the Spirit that breaks down barriers. Spirit is in a component of all major religions. Spirit connects us. Spirit forces us to rethink who God is.

How do we reverse problems that humans have created by lifestyles of greed and egoism? One way is to reimagine selves as created in the image of a God of love, beauty, life. We can look to the universal erotic Spirit of God for guidance. It is time to act now for ecojustice. In fact, it may be too late for many parts of the world. The Greek word oikos (house), which is linked to “ecology” and is also linguistic root of “economics” is useful in this regard. We need laws that guide the globe. If God creates all then we need to learn to co-habit with other creatures to live sustainably. Values of fellowship, friendship, caring, comfort, and sympathy can lead to human flourishing.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim spoke briefly of han as destructive, noting that Gina Messina-Dysert talked about in an earlier WATER teleconference. She concluded with an invitation to reimagine flourishing life where Earth can replenish itself, where the Spirit of God resides in all of us and in all of creation.

Questions and Discussion followed:

1. One caller asked Dr. Kim to say more about han from her perspective. She directed us to her book, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology as well as to the work of Chung Hyun Kyung and Andrew Sung Park. She described han as “unjust suffering”—something done to someone through no fault of their own. Poverty and rape are examples of han. Ecocide is damage to earth; when we over consume, for example, we cause earth to suffer. That is han that needs to be released.

2. Another caller asked about han pu ri. Grace spoke about the relationship of Christianity in Korea to other religions including Buddhism, Confucianism, Shamanism, etc. that have existed for thousands of years in Korea during the various times of colonization. Shamans traditionally released han. There is collective han and individual han. Han stays within one or within a group if not released in positive way. It can cause harm to others. The process is like a spiral; for example, a rape victim who has not released han may want to murder rapist. Releasing han is key so that it does not take hold of our lives.

3. A participant who studies theology and farms cited Off the Menu as a useful resource. Grace spoke of   as the other side of han. She also talked about communication that takes place through Spirit in aboriginal traditions. Spirit, she said, gives life and wholeness. She cited the Hebrew Ruah and the Greek pneuma as well as the German Geist to signal the ubiquity of Spirit in the world. She linked Spirit with immigration describing how helicopters on the US/Mexico border blow things around such that people die in the desert as they try to cross over.  Instead, she suggests welcoming immigrants who are part of one Spirit.

4.  A Canadian colleague asked about the disconnect between poorer parts of the world and richer countries. She asked about how faith communities can act now to bring about social, economic and ecological justice. Dr. Kim cited a recent World Council of Churches meeting on ecojustice in Geneva. She talked about how churches can monitor their utility bills to live with less, how they can use and promote Fair Trade products, how the Gap protests in Chicago focused attention on the horrible working conditions in Bangladesh. She mentioned fair wages, improved working conditions, and concerns about child labor.

5. One of our Buddhist colleagues brought up the Zen tradition of the Oryoki Meal—“just enough.” Diners think about where food comes from; they eat slowly, dedicating their meal to the welfare of all. When finished, they wash bowls and put water on plants.

6. Another caller raised the conundrum of poor people who of necessity shop at big box stores. She said sometimes people have to go places to purchase things that are cheap as they live on a fixed income. She asked what is responsibility the churches have in offering alternatives, creating food/clothing banks, selling Fair Trade goods that are affordable etc. since sometimes it can be very expensive for poor people to shop healthily. Dr. Kim said that churches need to take more responsibility for poor people. Church people usually have so much. Seminaries need to recycle, reuse, and realize that ministry students have limited incomes for the most part.

7. The final speaker observed that churches need to start at home with passing on clothing; taking care of mother earth starts at home. Dr. Kim agreed, saying that homes and small communities are the starting points for change. Children need to be taught that they do not need the latest clothes, and toys. She shared that talking about Sophia, wisdom, the “feminine side of God” is helpful for providing leadership in this arena.

WATER thanks Grace Ji-Sun Kim for her work.

There will be no WATER Teleconference during August.
Our next WATER Teleconference will be Wed. September 11, 2013 with Linn Marie Tonstad of Yale Divinity School on “The Sexuality of God.” All are welcome.

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