The Making of Asian America // Erika Lee.

Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 4.33.33 PM.png

Despite attempts to lump them together or tell their through a simplistic and monolithic “model minority” lens, Asian Americans and their histories are in fact exceedingly diverse and complicated. To be Asian American in the twenty-first century is an exercise in coming to terms with a contradiction: benefiting from new positions of power and privilege while still being victims of hate crimes and microaggressions that dismiss Asian American issues and treat Asian Americans as outsiders in their own country (Lee, 391).

There seems to be an existential crisis every time an Asian American, like myself, attempts to answer “am I American (enough)?” If yes, then what do we mean by “American (enough)”? If no, then what prevents us? What has infected our imagination of who belongs and who does not in this so-called “Land of the Free”?

America, seems to me, has a unique ability to remember things differently and selectively. Reading The Making of Asian America was a speechless experience — how have I never heard of these stories before? Truly, the phantasm of Asian American histories attests and perpetuates the non-visibility of Asian Americans. The reading was also heart-wrenchingly painful — oh, how much we, as a collected lump of diverse Asian Americans, suffered so much and so silently! One does not need to understand much of politics or policy making to see the one thing American history has made clear: things get done fast when — not if — people discriminate. Many preposterous laws, such as you have to be born in the states and be of white skin tone (many early petitions and appeals have been shut down because Chinese or Japanese Americans born in the States do not shimmer white tones; there was even one Middle Eastern who argued on the grounds that he is actually a caucasian but was still denied), have passed and lasted because of unbated fear and hatred.

Of course, Asian Americans are not without faults and blame. I cannot blame all of America, where my citizenship is tethered to, for my own ignorance of our checkered histories.

This is not to say reading and learning history solve moral corruption — far be it! Rather, history provides both a window and mirror: a window to our expansive past, enriched with valuable resources for virility and grace, and a mirror to match and differentiate how our current situations, personal and public, relate to prior ones. Matching and differentiating are crucial for understanding the complicated nature of diagnosing personal and social ills and implementing prescribed healing. In short, learning history must be paired with both constructive-critical lens and untiring hands and feet.

The Making of Asian America is a must read. Do not be stumped by its length (402 pages). By the time you finish, you’ll wish she wrote more.

The Drama of Doctrine // Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

drama-of-doctrine.jpg

About five years ago, while Kevin J. Vanhoozer had his itinerant time at Wheaton, word of this book, his magnus opus, was buzzed as the book to read for eager students of theology. So, wanting desperately to learn more, I bought the book, read the first few pages, and closed the book. His verbosity dwindled my fragile excitement.

Now years after the fact and having just finished the book, I both bemoaned my prior weak grit and celebrated how much I have learned since then. His verbosity, rather than stifling, was a delight to thumb through — he’s a word-wizard.

The purpose and thesis of the book are fairly simple: to restore the Bible and doctrine as trusted twin sources of authorities for the glocal church. The scope and the means by which he staked his claim, however, are vast and deep. To be fair, I felt him to be a bit redundant, yet knowing the projected scope suggests to me that, perhaps, Vanhoozer even condensed and shorten some! Again, it was impressive how he juggled and argued on multiple fronts: against anti-intellectuals, reductionistic accounts, liberals, postliberals, modernists, and more. He constantly returned and re-tested his hypothesis, at times, to his readers’ grief and, at other times, their enlightenment.

One of Vanhoozer’s great concerns and, consequently, the book’s strengths is the broken bridge between theology and praxis, theory and practice. As systematician and committed Church member, he bends over backwards to convince readers and fellow “in Christ” members of the role and benefits of doctrine for the local church. Originally, doctrines are meant to expand the mind and heart to overlap one another into truth, so that what Paul said of “renewing one’s mind” (Romans 12:2) is fundamentally a sanctifying endeavor. In other words, the more you know is not merely for knowledge’s sake, but for holistic integration of the Christian self to itself, to others, and, most importantly, to God.

Just as I heard The Drama of Doctrine as the book to read for budding theologians five years ago, I cannot help but continue the buzz.

Economix // Michael Goodwin (Illustrated by Dan E. Burr).

EconomixCover.png

I’m not sure how and what sparked my interest in economics, perhaps it was Kathryn Tanner’s Economy of Grace or the fact that I’m disillusioned by both capitalism and communism or the fact that I am in near constant financial crisis (aka, the normal graduate student life and post-American-college-with-their-stupid-student-debt). Nevertheless, I am glad I read this.

Economix came up as one of the most recommended introductions to the history of economics — according to Reddit. I appreciate how Michael Goodwin opens the book: he confesses that modern economists are, at times, beyond confusing and inconsistent and that primary sources are the way to go. When he went back to the original sources, the sources all the modern economists were quoting, he found that (1) primary sources were more often than not taken out of context and (2) primary sources had some faulty assumptions and ideals [like the Supple and Demand chart assumes an ideal economy with stagnant desires, resources, political climate, etc. In this sense, the Supple and Demand chart is a very flat, 2-dimensional model]. For example, laissez-faire (“let it be”) might have worked in a pre-industrialized, pre-technologically-advanced, pre-globalized country–but the success was short lived. Most 20th century communism models picked and choose what they liked from Marx (to his great frustration, assumingly). Reagonomics, tickle-down economics, and tax cutting the rich and major corporations pretty much ruined everything. So, along with Reddit, I cannot recommend this enough. Plus, the comic book form is amazing. The book, though, is not without faults, but as an introduction it is very informative.

Economics is much more than just money — it is political, psychological, sociological, philosophical, and, agreeing with Tanner, theological. So, as much as I did not want to learn a lick of economics, as someone who wants to be a theologian, I must learn more economics: it is both exciting and dreadful.

From a Liminal Place: An Asian American Theology // Sang Hyun Lee.

41+Y-P7sXXL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Originally known for his impressive scholarship on the philosophical theology of Jonathan Edwards, Sang Hyun Lee takes a more autobiographical note and pens this short appetite-whetter: From a Liminal Place.

For Sang Hyun Lee, liminality has a narrow definition drawn from anthropologist Victor Turner: “A transitional time in which persons are freed from social-structure hierarchy and role playing and, therefore, may be more open to what is new, experience a close communion with other persons (communitas), and become capable of prophetic critique of the existing social order” (Preface). What makes liminality different from marginality is the creative potential of the former (I believe Sang Hyun Lee is making this distinction to clarify what he saw as a confusion of Jung Young Lee’s Marginality. For Jung, “marginality” describes both the negative and positive sides of being on the peripherals of power centers). This creative potential of liminality is ultimately, I believe, for communitas. Communitas seems to be akin to Martin Buber’s Ich Und Du (“I and Thou”) encounter. At the root of it all, Sang Hyun Lee cements his liminality-communitas construal on his understanding of what the Triune God does in history according to Edwardian philosophical theology. In short, the Triune God “repeats” his infinite, inner-trinitarian in creation’s time and space. The result will be the Triune communitas established in creation.

I find Sang Hyun Lee’s proposal intriguing but wanting. However, 150 pages is not nearly enough space to fully develop his thoughts–a problem he is very much aware of.

An Introduction to the Old Testament // John Goldingay.

51S5Xh2n-TL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

What a superb primer into oft-forgotten-and-misunderstood Old Testament texts! John Goldingay, David Allen Hubbard Professor of Old Testament, renders an accessible work that summarizes texts, offers approaches, and covers issues with such brevity and clarity. The format, though not in depth per se, is a fresh welcome for those who are easily discouraged by academic jargon and layout: Goldingay tries to limit himself to two pages for each topic. For those just genuinely curious about the Old Testament, this is a great place to start.

Asian American Christian Ethics // edited by Grace Y. Kao and Ilsup Ahn.

35289967.jpg

It is both unfortunate and fortunate, lamentable and celebratory, that Asian American Christian Ethics is a first of its kind. Both timely and awkwardly delayed, this collection is truly ground-breaking. I cannot recommend this book enough–it is much needed and, as you’ll find, much wanted not just for Asian Americans.

If ethics are attempts to answer the questions of “now what?,” then Christian ethics might offer unique perspectives and, even, new questions. However, unqualified Christian ethics betray the norm: Euro-American (mostly male) perspectives, questions, and resources. Thus, (Euro-American) Christian ethics answer some but not nearly all Asian American questions. Additionally, (Euro-American) Christian ethical answers are not wholly satisfactory for Asian American contexts (not because Asian Americans are “stubbornly sinful against good advises,” but because some answers are not appropriate in certain contexts). Therefore, the book not only offers one possible (for the diversity within Asian American is much more vast than the categorical label assumes) Asian American Christian ethics (AACE) to common and unique questions (such as family and cosmetic surgery) but also a methodology to continue the work of formulating both sharper and more fitting response. The format of each chapter generally follows suit: introduction, previous Christian responses (mostly Euro-American males), just one possible AACE model or methodology, and conclusion.

Below are the topics with author–nearly every chapter is a wonder.

Gender and Sexuality // Hoon Choi
Marriage, Family, and Parenting // Sharon M. Tai
Virtue Ethics // Ilsup Ahn
Peace and War // Keun-Joo Christine Pae
Wealth and Prosperity // Christina A. Astorga
Racial Identity and Solidarity // Ki Joo (KC) Choi
Health Care // SueJeanne Koh
Immigration // Hak Joon Lee
The Environment // Hannah Ka
Education and Labor // Irene Oh
Cosmetic Surgery // Jonathan Tran (one of the best and personal favorite).

The Problem of Pain // C.S. Lewis.

51gJd11gfOL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

In this, one of C.S. Lewis’ earliest works after his conversion, Lewis tries his hand on the troublesome problem of pain. Taking a much more classical Christian philosophical approach, Lewis begins with Divine omnipotence and goodness–the two most challenged (and oft pitted against each other) divine attributes when dealing with the problem of pain/evil. He continues onto sin and the evils that come forth from it (oddly, Lewis is silent on natural disasters). When discussing human pain, Lewis cannot help but mention how scripture spins pain as real moments ripped with opportunity.

My best comments and critiques actually follows the older Lewis in A Grief Observed. The problem with The Problem of Pain is its lack of catharsis and limited use. The Problem of Pain might be beneficial for those wrestling with the question of pain but not with the reality of pain, to that I could not recommend A Grief Observed more.

Last note: in the preface and sprinkled throughout the book Lewis is very clear that he is an amateur when it comes to philosophy or theology (though an expert in all things English literary). I highlight this not only to show his modesty but also to confirm to serious readers that Lewis is a door into the discussion, not the house itself filled with wonders of various sorts.