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Book Launch 040My friend and colleague, Dr. Steve Simmons introduced my book, Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit at the “Book Celebration” (May 1, 2013) at Moravian Theological Seminary.  I really appreciate his insight and observation of my book.


Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit

Every once in awhile, a word enters the Christian lexicon, often a loan word from a distinctive cultural setting, that shapes the character of theology from then on. Homoousion, sola scriptura, Heilsgeschichte, perichoresis, conscientization, and, now, mercifully, a Korean word of one syllable, han.  Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, though, because this little word packs a punch.

While Grace didn’t introduce the word han into theological discourse, her most recent book connects it up with issues of globalization, on the one hand, and with feminist modes of theologizing and environmental consciousness, on the other, in a way that will further help integrate this very useful little word into our various theological conversations.

The theologian Andrew Sung Park tells us that “Han is the rupture of the soul caused by abuse, exploitation, injustice, and violence.” Han is a deep and unresolved resentment at wrongs suffered. Over time, it becomes an internalized sourness of the soul in the face of repeated humiliation. It is the alienation of the one sinned against, and, in a sense, the alienation of the sinner as its mirror image. It is a corruption of basic human reciprocity, dissolved in the resentment of the oppressed and the cupidity of the oppressor.   Again, as Dr. Park puts it, “[Han]is entrenched in the hearts of victims of sin and violence, and is expressed through such diverse reactions as sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, resentment, hatred, and the will for revenge.”

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Drs. Timothy Luckritz Marquis, Steve Simmons, Craig Atwood

In our own day, han is often the product of economic exploitation of the poor by vast multinational conglomerates, on the one hand, and of the consumerist colonization of both them and folks like us, on the other (I think one could make a good case that, in many ways, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy is an extended meditation on what han does to the humanity of both victors and victims).

Under the guise of hyperconsumerism, the colonized in whatever part of the world can take on all the trappings of affluence while remaining trapped. With the commodification of everything, including people, simple, local, human culture risks becoming increasingly irrelevant, becoming a mere ornament on the body politic and economic, while people suffer and the natural order dies. This is as true of those of us who live in the consumer colonies of the developed world as it is of those in the so-called Third and Fourth Worlds. We ourselves become ever more “de-natured” as we despoil the planet, and as, increasingly, the planet bites back.

41Y6cTMUryL__SY380_And in the midst of this, han abounds, casting its shadow over everyone, poisoning the social well out of which we all drink. In a world in which the head of Nestle can say that human beings have no right to something as basic as clean drinking water, something is clearly amiss. Some basic humanity has been lost.

We often speak of “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” as though the sinner, the one sinned against, and the sin itself, could be neatly distinguished from one another, when in fact the concept of han helps us to see the corrosive effect of oppression and injustice on all parties involved.  A good tree produces good fruit, sure; but what about a tree that has been persistently contaminated through no fault of its own? It may produce toxic fruit, but that fruit signals something much deeper and more pervasive for which we all may, indeed, bear more than a little responsibility. What if destructive behavior is the consequence of a deep woundedness that is “environmental” in every sense of the term? What if a lack of responsibility is the result of a long-nurtured inability to respond without defensiveness, fear, or shame?

If one is, as it were, inhabited by han, one will habitually act out of a dark place; on the other hand, if one knows oneself to be a habitation of the living God, one becomes habituated to love, joy, peace, patience – in short, to the fruits of the Spirit, and to the pursuit of justice for all God’s creatures.

It’s not complicated. We know what the opposite of han looks like. It looks like doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.  It looks like love.  We just need to get jazzed up enough to do it.DefaultWallPaper_win_wide

This is why, Dr. Kim argues, we need a new erotics of the Spirit, one that emphasizes Sophia as well as Logos, emphasizing the energizing, unifying, transformative power of God. As Rita Nakashima Brock has written, “Through the erotic as power we become less willing to accept powerlessness, despair, depression, and self-denial. The erotic is what binds and gives life and hope. It is the energy of all relationship and it connects us to our embodied selves.” Incidentally, this idea could, as many of the medieval mystics knew perfectly well, move us past all those stuffy arguments about whether the Song of Solomon is “really” about human love or divine love.  False choice. Think Spring. Choose life, both for yourself and for others. This, finally, is Dr. Kim’s counsel to us. May her book provide nourishment and guidance, and be itself an instrument of God’s transformative Spirit, as together we seek to drain the world of han and to sink deep wells of living water for all God’s children. Thanks, Grace!

[read also: EthicsDaily.com: “Colonialism, Han, and the Transformative Spirit” &  Steve Simmon’s Review of “The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other”]


Rev. Dr. Stephen Simmons, Adjunct Professor of Theology and Director of Continuing Education, Moravian Theological Seminary.