“Contemplations from the Heart: Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine,” by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Last summer I had the delightful experience of participating with Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim in a focus group in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Dr. Mary Ann Beavis, religion professor at St. Thomas More College, facilitated this group of thirteen women reflecting on the ways we integrate the Female Divine into our Christian faith. The stories Grace told of her experiences as a Christian feminist theologian especially impressed me. After our focus group meetings, I asked Grace if I could interview her for my blog, and she graciously agreed. In the following weeks, we had a wonderful email exchange that resulted in this blog story: https://jannaldredgeclanton.com/blog/?p=2055. Grace’s story will also be included in my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World (scheduled for publication in the fall of 2014, by Skylight Paths Publishing).

On my blog I have featured three of Dr. Kim’s books: The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology; The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global Intercultural Pneumatology; and Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit. Recently she has published her fifth book, Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine. (https://wipfandstock.com/store/Contemplations_from_the_Heart_Spiritual_Reflections_on_Family_Community_and_the_Divine; http://www.amazon.com/Contemplations-Heart-Spiritual-Reflections-Community/dp/1625645422/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397039624&sr=1-1&keywords=grace+ji+sun+kim)

Here is my endorsement that’s included on the back cover of this new book:Contemplations from the Heart is an impressive blend of compelling personal stories, incisive theological reflection, and prophetic call to action on major social issues of our time. With wisdom and passionate clarity, Dr. Kim demonstrates the intersectionality of racism, sexism, other “isms,” environmental justice,  and economic justice. Her openness and honesty about her own personal challenges invite readers to adopt her practical suggestions for promoting change. I highly recommend this inspiring, transformative, and accessible book for personal devotions and for group study.”

From the beginning of Contemplations from the Heart, Grace’s honest writing about her own struggles engaged my attention. She doesn’t gloss over the challenges of being a working mother in a patriarchal culture that gives her messages that she should feel guilty for not spending enough time with her children. One story she tells is of the criticism she received from friends and family when she accepted an invitation to speak at Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon, and took her ten-year-old daughter along. “I have often felt torn between being a good mother and being a reputable scholar,” Grace writes. “I lived with the constant guilt growing from the tension of trying to establish myself as a scholar and trying to be the best mom I can be. I felt criticized by other mothers because teaching or research took so much of my time away from my children. On the other side, the academy often criticized me for bringing a child to a scholarly event. I tried to rationalize that I was not such a terrible mom by remembering how much I was trying to do. I gave birth to two children during my Ph.D. studies. My third child was born while I was searching for a job. I nursed all three children until they were one and I speak in Korean to them as part of sharing as much of my cultural heritage as possible. I drive my children to Korean school, ballet, soccer, basketball, and school events. I even serve home cooked meals as often as I can. Surely that showed that I was not such a terrible mom, but my doubts still lingered.” She goes on to relate that when she in Yangon, she arranged an event for her daughter, Elisabeth, so that Elisabeth wouldn’t be bored listening to her three-hour lecture. But Elisabeth told her she was disappointed because she wanted to hear her lecture. Dr. Kim writes that she then realized that Elisabeth might think she was a wonderful mom. “In my daughter’s eyes, I was the greatest mom in the world, who took her out of school to visit Yangon. I was a fascinating mom who people found interesting enough to come out to hear me speak on a day that the seminary was closed for entrance exams. It was in that moment in Myanmar that I—for the first time—felt whole as a mother and as a scholar. To my daughter, I was not a ‘terrible’ mom. I did not have to live with the internal tension of trying to please either my Asian culture, which expects a good mother to stay home, or the competitive world of theological scholarship, which expects me to continuously contribute to theological discourse. I can be who I am. I traveled half way across the world to realize that I can be both mother and scholar. It does not have to be either/or. All my guilt lifted during that precious moment with my daughter. I have my daughter to thank for this affirmation after struggling to please both sides. She showed me how I can be both scholar and mother at the same time. And Myanmar helped me embrace both the beauty and the struggle inherent in each.”

In Contemplations from the Heart Grace tells stories of overcoming racism as well as sexism. “As an Asian American woman and an immigrant from Korea to Canada to the United states, I have experienced racism,” she writes. “I battle racism on different fronts and try to bring it from the shadows to reveal it as the anti-Christian reality that it is. Racism confronts people of color and produces discrimination, to which the people often react with frustration and anger. Due to racism, it is difficult to join the dominant culture, which exacerbates alienation. Asian Americans feel an invisible boundary that prevents our belonging to the mainstream culture at work, school, or community. Racism and cultural separatism have set up walls that Asian Americans cannot seem to climb. This has been a constant struggle for me and it will remain one as long as a dominant race maintains the abil­ity to hire and promote. Therefore it is necessary that we all work together to remove these barriers by equalizing power among all segments of society.” With passion Dr. Kim expresses her belief that schools need to teach our children about the nature of racism, sexism, and privilege. “Since racism has gone underground after the battles of the 1960s, it must be taught and brought out into the light. If it goes unchecked or unchallenged, it will continue to perpetuate preju­dice, discrimination, and white privilege. This will have negative effects on all of society. This issue needs to be addressed at an early age. Children need to be able to understand, tackle, and overcome this barrier in society. They need heroes and models who look like them, and they need to see them from the very beginning of life. Children must understand their own pride, and the ways racism is an acid that erodes that pride. All races need to see their leaders standing side-by-side, free of discrimination, condemning discrimination, and vilifying discriminators. And, in order to do that, the teachers of children must be taught how to handle this subject. The younger we start adding these important matters to our school curriculum, the better society that we can build. The better society we can maintain, the closer we come to building the reign of God in this world. Let us dream together and envision a society that will accept all people regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender.”

In her new book Rev. Dr. Kim devotes a whole section to “Environmental Concerns.” She expresses her deep convictions about caring for God’s creation, and she challenges faith communities to take actions to sustain the earth. She reflects deeply on the connections between her Christian theology, eco-justice, and economic justice. “Bloated by consumption, we need to develop a new perspective on our living and our planet rooted in how God calls us to live. Our environmental habits lead us to destruction. We must recognize the terrible path we are on, so we can find a new way to preserve the wealth of our planet instead of leaving a barren desert for our posterity. Climate change deepens the injustice between rich and poor. The rich can grow richer from exploitation and move their residence to the most desirable climate. The poor are stuck where they are, where the means of creating wealth disap­pear. Unjust distribution of resources and goods leads to unhealthy ways of living that include overuse of goods, misuse of natural resources, and pollution. Faith communities need to join together to act immediately if eco-justice is to be achieved. The word oikos (Greek for “house”), which is the base of the word ecology, is also the linguistic root for economics and ecu­menicity. There is a connection between our domestic economics and our stewardship of the earth’s economics. As we search for just ways of living together, we need to find common ground on economics policies that can guide us to live sustainably and justly on our earth. Economics, ecology, and the­ology need to be tied more closely together, rather than separated as we have done thus far. As we reflect theologically on this problem, and as we find ourselves deeply complicit in the destruction of the environment, we can rethink our understanding of God, creation, and each other, and choose to act justly. By pursuing a deeper level of engagement with biblical sources—an engagement consciously rejecting the interpretive grid of colonial power structures—we can rediscover and begin to live in the power of God’s transforming love. The gospel unequivocally calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as our­selves. We cannot claim to love God yet op­press and neglect our neighbor. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures equate pursuing economic justice with knowing and serving God. Jesus, whom we are called through the power of God’s spirit to imitate, identified completely with marginalized people and placed serving the poorest people of the world at the very heart of knowing God.”

Here is the publisher’s general description of Contemplations from the Heart: “How do we find God in a world where God often seems to be hidden? How do we love one another and seek social justice? This series of theological and spiritual reflections on family and community helps readers see spirituality in daily life, exploring current issues such as global warming, environment, racism, child rearing, and sexism in relation to the church to offer readers new insights and directions for living as faithful Christians. This book’s brief, daily reflections on universal concerns give voice to what many people feel but struggle to articulate, bringing emotions to the surface to help readers apply theology in their everyday lives. The book’s thirty entries make it ideal for a month of daily personal devotions or group study and discussion.”

Here are several other endorsements of Dr. Kim’s new book: “Grace Ji-Sun Kim should be commended for her sincerity, courage, and thoughtfulness, for her book is a gift to the church. The church is in need of a fresh Asian-American woman’s voice on issues that challenge the church today. What an enjoyable, insightful, and delightful read on the theological reflections that matter to us most—God, family, and community.”—Jesse Jackson Sr., civil rights leader and President of Rainbow PUSH Coalition

“To be human is to be bound to this earth—to its concerns, frustrations, passions, pains, loves, vulnerabilities, and hopes; but to stake all on the claim that the bounds of humanity interplay with the movement of God is to be a theologian. Kim’s reflections on a wide range of subjects are an invitation to think further about what this claim looks like in the turbulence of the ordinary.”—Jason Goroncy, Dean of Studies, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin, New Zealand



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