Note: Making Paper Cranes is a weekly engagement with Mihee Kim Kort’s New book . . . uh, . . . Making Paper Cranes: Towards An Asian American Feminist Theology. Mihee handles complicated things gently. Also, she’s got deadly opposite field power.
Making Paper Cranes turns to theological reflection in its fourth chapter, “New Flock: Currents from Asian American Theology.” Here the reader finds expositions of Christian theological pillars like Revelation, Creation, Incarnation, Justification, Ecclesiology, and Pneumatology. Mihee’s main conversation partner in this unfolding is Reformed stalwart Shirley Guthrie (who’s Christian Doctrine was required reading for my “Basic Christian Beliefs” class in college.) Along the way she converses with a whole host of Asian American theologians you’ll probably be meeting for the first time: Boyung Lee, Anne Dondapati Allen, and Gale Yee, just to name a few.
It’s an ambitious chapter well worth the effort it takes to read it carefully.
Tucked neatly into her exploration of Pneumatology is a sparkling little defense of “syncretism,” a theological boogeyman of ages past. My seminary studies of the Christian missionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries taught me that syncretism–the blending of the Christian gospel with elements from a “non-Christian” culture–was a crippling theological (and moral) fault. The syncretistic theologian “went native” and forgot his Christian (read: European/American) moorings.
How refreshing, then, to read Mihee’s ode to syncretism. It’s the ultimate reversal. If syncretism = doom to American male missionaries venturing into, say, Korea in 1884, then syncretism = life for the female descendent of Korean immigrants to America in 2013.
Syncretism simply means “relying on the Spirit to reveal God outside of our own contexts and limited assumptions.” Mihee leans heavily on the work of Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Chung Hyung Kyung to advocate a theological posture of openness to the Holy Spirit’s movement beyond one’s inherited cultural experience. What’s she’s after is “an intentional incorporation of other cultures with the attitude that they will help us understand our own stories even amidst conflict and differences.”
There’s an imperative to descriptive theological work here, over against prescriptive theological pronouncements. Yes please. Show us the way, Mihee. Show us the way.