Book Review by S. J. Deal
Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s book ‘Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love’ is an excellent introduction to the creation of a more just world, she comes from the perspective of the ‘othered’ and builds her theology and philosophy of justice from there, she provides an excellent overview of several topics, ranging from feminism to injustices faced by the black community, she speaks about immigration and the challenges faced by immigrants, a topic that has been in discussions of late, and to the great shame of the United States, those discussions have not been just, but to the furthering of the other for the protection of the priviledged and those in the center who hold the power, this is shameful and clear in my mind while reading this book.
In the past, Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s books have been instrumental in reshaping my views of the world, filling in the gaps I had, answering questions of my own, and challenging notions that need correction. It was Grace Ji-Sun Kim that first presented to me a view of God that I found to be relate-able, in her book ‘The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American’s Christology’. Her book ‘The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology’ was instrumental in bridging my questions with an answer that finally made sense, I had already encountered the concept of Chi through my language studies, and it was this particular concept that began the questioning in my heart of the White Christianity that I had grown up in. That was the first time that my faith had really been shaken to the core of its identity, and the book ‘The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other’ provided answers to the questions I had after that occurrence, as well as reminding me that White Christianity is not God’s ideal. Another book, ‘Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine’ felt as though I had sat down at a dinner table and listened to someone sharing their heart, as though it were a conversation with a friend. Having read these books and each of them holding a profound impact on me, I approached this book with eager expectations, and was not disappointed.
In the early chapters, she tells her story as an Asian North American growing up in North America, experiencing racism, prejudice, discrimination, and alienation from a white dominate society, she speaks of the experiences of being othered both within her own community, as well as by society as a whole. She speaks of how Christian theology and patriarchal views contribute to or develop systems of oppression. She tells of the plight of foreign women in the Hebrew Bible, bringing a historical perspective to her own story from the scriptures and how parallels are established between them. In regard to the Bible she tells of Ezra and how the foreign wives were expelled from the land. So too today, under the names of things such safety and yes, holiness, prejudice remains a dividing force. How the foreigner, and the foreign woman, is objectified, dehumanized, considered a threat, or ignored, something seen in all corners of white society, from the white feminism’s general disinterest in the plight of women of color to the assumed normality and self-assigned superiority of a white male-centered theology, a theology where the actions of Ezra are held up as a positive example, that men were willing to live holy lives, etc. This book establishes a much more honest perspective, that it isn’t about holiness, but prejudice.
I really liked a paragraph on page 27 (paperback):
“Can we replace xenophobia with the gospel claim of all now being God’s people (1 Pet. 2:10) through the adoption of grace? All ethnic groups are part of the family of God and are equally accepted and loved.”
In regard to today’s world, I find it alarming how the foreigner is treated, for example we have several Presidential candidates in the 2016 Presidential Election promising to oppress and expel the foreigner as key parts of their policies, even more alarming is that much of the white-centered society is not only okay with that, they are actively supportive of it. This is utterly and completely wrong.
The book spoke of the plight of the foreign woman, and other ways in which women, particularly women of color, are treated by a white and patriarchal society.
The book contrast Ezra with Hosea, and while Hosea does contain a great deal of patriarchal imagery, it also presents that expulsion is not the answer.
Other things that the early chapters spoke of that I really liked or found thought provoking:
She speaks of the beginnings of hope that one day the world will find all women to be important.
She speaks in detail of the lives of Asian American immigrant women, and how Asian immigrants are often viewed as being a perpetual foreigner.
She speaks of how women are made to be the other, particularly in the third chapter, a chapter that explores feminism, colonialism, and the limitations of liberation theology among other topics.
She speaks of the subject of western Christianity’s image of God, and how damaging that image really is. I like how she spoke of the need for a more life-giving, and culturally-transcending, image of the Divine. This is the subject of much of the remainder of the book.
She speaks of overcoming the gendered division of humanity, and introduces Spirit God and Shalom justice.
The last chapter, the transformative spirit of Love was excellent, teaching me new things I had not encountered before, as well as teaching me to look at things in an alternative light. I admit, I had been a bit nervous before reading it due to the chapter’s centering around the word Eros, but my nervousness was unfounded, and in the end the chapter was both liberating and illuminating, tying together some of the threads of the mysteries in my heart.
To sum up my thoughts about Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s ‘Embracing the Other’, the book is an excellent book, and I feel it delivers a desperately needed message.
This is one of the books that I’ve read over the past year that has held a profound impact on me, The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other being another one as well as Cindy Brandt’s book ‘Outside In – Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore’. Outside of that personal perspective, the book provides a much needed voice and message, and I recommend it highly.
Like I often do, I read the book slowly, it is the sort of book where one wishes to linger over the pages with eager ears and eyes, trying to take in all the knowledge presented within.
Again, I definitely recommend Embracing the Other.
(This is a slightly longer version of a review written for Amazon.com of this book, mostly the difference is featuring time relevant statements, such as referencing the 2016 Presidential Election.)
- watch my youtube interview of my book Embracing the Other.
Shane Deal, is a 30 year old American who is interested in words, in thinking, in art, in music, in film, in language, in philosophy, in food, and trying to find humor where I can. He loves to make others laugh almost as much as he enjoy laughing at himself.
Please read more of his bio here.