Theological reflection is an ordered inquiry into an individual or corporate experience in conversation with the wisdom of religious and cultural traditions. It produces a conceptual framework that leads to action.
About five years ago, I published “The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora” (IVP Academic, 2014). I was motivated in that book by the observation that the so-called center of gravity for Christianity had shifted from the Euro-American West to the global South (Asia, Africa, and Latin America).
The church father Tertullian’s question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” has long challenged theologians to interrogate the relationship between theology (Jerusalem) and Western philosophy (Athens). By reframing the question to, “What has Jerusalem to do with Beijing?” the theologian K. K. Yeo frames Asia as the primary context for doing theology rather than the West.
It was the first week of Christmas break in 2010. I was halfway through my final year of college and had picked up extra shifts at my part-time job at Panda Express. Walking across campus, exhausted from work and carrying my groceries, I ran into my friend Taka, an international student.
I believe in ghosts. As a young boy, I visited my father’s village of Ofu, Manu’a in American Samoa, which is known throughout the Samoan islands for its ‘aitu (spirits). One day, after an eventful afternoon of shooting pigeons (faga-lupe) with my cousins, we lost track of time and began our walk — more like a hike — back home later than expected.
After graduating from college, I bought a one-way ticket to South Korea. A professor had invited me and two close friends to join a radical progressive group of activists in Incheon, where they were looking for English teachers.
Growing up in a conservative Christian household, I saw Hell as the final punishment of a long escalating list of discplinary options. To hear my evangelical Chinese American parents tell it, a fiery eternity was the greatest argument to keep a young kid in line and out of trouble.
Just like the aggressive profile one gets from the heat of the chili peppers or the funkiness from the fermented soybeans with a sweetness that comes at the end of every taste of gochujang, one can find parallels in the Korean diaspora and the flavor profiles that come with it. One serving of rice provides a taste of comfort, but also highlights the Han — the bitter notes of emotional pain, injustice, and a sense of incompleteness — and the Jeong — the bright notes of hope, love, loyalty, compassion, and emotional attachment.
“I want you all to know that you are now in an arrestable situation ... ” These are the words I and 30 others were told by an NAACP lawyer as we attempted to block an entrance to one of the terminals in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I was there with fellow organizers, activists, and seminarians to protest the airport’s process of detaining specific travelers of color as a result of Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Meesh tells me about a conversation they had with a friend, reveling about the solar eclipse. “It is such a beautiful natural event. With technology, we know when it’s happening, why it’s happening, and where it’s going to be. But we wondered, what if we looked at this thing 100 years ago, and didn’t know what it was? Would we still think it’s beautiful? Would we be scared of it? Would we think the world is ending?”
“Today we are at day 356 of detention. August 29th is his one-year anniversary since he was picked up by ICE,” Montha Chum says of her brother, Chamroeun Phan, who she calls Shorty. “Not much has changed, it’s just the Board of Immigration that has to make a decision.”
My soul was riveted as I read the story of Marie in Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”. Marie was a Chinese Canadian who grew up with an absent father. The reason behind his trek back to China was a mystery — that is, until the unexpected arrival of the daughter of one of her father’s closest confidantes.
I eagerly returned to my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, in May of 2017. I arrived early, thankful that the light rail prevented me from having to seek out parking.
I told my partner one morning that despite going to bed early and sleeping in, I was still exhausted. We chalked it up to my recent responsibilities emceeing a conference, but upon closer examination of my calendar, we came to a different conclusion.
For the seven years I studied theology in Hong Kong in the 1970s, I didn’t have a single female professor or academic role model. I never imagined that I would spend a lifetime in academia and would later become the president of the American Academy of Religion, the world’s largest professional guild of religious scholars.