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, her fastball touches the low 90’s.
The fifth chapter of Making Paper Cranes spins out the vivid metaphors of “Collision” and “Fragmentation” that have been maneuvering behind everything the book’s been doing up to this point. “I use collision,” Mihee explains, “as a metaphor to mean the ongoing encounter of stereotypes, expectations, standards, and conflicting realities that lead to fragmentation.”
In order for Mihee’s Asian American Feminist theology to move the needle, theologically, culturally, or ecclesially, she’s convinced that it must involve the risk of uncomfortable–even painful–collisions that move people’s real, physical bodies, to transformative action.
The result of these collisions is the fragmentation of the body involved, a gritty (if not violent) image. But it’s also creative and constructive. For Mihee, this fragmentation involves “a continuous recognition of the numerous sources of my identity, deconstruction of these influences, and then, most important, a work of intentional reconstruction.”
The sources of identity for a woman of Asian ethnicity living in the United States are multiple. Being an Asian American Woman in a church context adds yet another source. Making Paper Cranes spends a lot of time tracing these identity sources and unfolding them for the reader’s examination. As a white American man working alongside Mihee in that same church context, there’s tremendous value in listening to her description of the collisions she undergoes. But also, as she describes the strain and the promise of “reconstruction,” I’m given new eyes to behold the value that my Asian American brothers and sisters in the church are contributing to our common life, value I was ignorant of before.
As the verbs “collide,” and “fragment” indicate, this value emerges from mess. It has to. It’s produced by flesh-and-blood experience in real time. It grows in particular, real, places:
For collision and fragmentation to resonate as metaphors, theology must be rooted in the physical and flesh-and-blood—in the mess and chaos of humanity. This theology of embodiment is grounded in the reality of God in Christ Jesus. It finds its roots in a doctrine of the incarnation of Christ that highlights the importance of apprehending Jesus Christ in a particular human, social context. This, then, becomes the basis for validating our own social histories and situations. We are able to view our own lives as the center and subject of stories rather than in relation or association to what is considered normative. The emphasis is placed on human experience in the body more than on abstract ideas of the mind as the starting point for understanding God, so body experiences are positively viewed as occasions of revelation.
And so it is that I realize the errors of how I’ve been approaching this book, looking for analogies to my own experience instead of listening for the “social histories and situations” unfolded in its pages. Making Paper Cranes and its Asian American Feminist theology is not an abstract exercise in metaphysics or cultural anthropology. It’s one human beings testament of God from where she is, as who she is.