deadly viper character assassins [updated]

Deadly Viper Character AssassinsI prefer to stay away from the arguments that so often characterize  blog-world; don’t we get enough of that in real life?  However, on occasion there are disagreements of substance worth pointing out, ones that have the capacity to teach.

Yesterday Dr Soong-Chan Rah (whose book and blog I’ve recommended before) wrote about a new book by Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, whose cover and promotional materials he finds offensive.

So the “Kung Fu” part got my attention, as well as the dragon on the cover and the Chinese characters. I guess I was hoping against hope that it was the story of an Asian-American Christian rather than another example of Asian culture being pimped out to sell products.

In a more recent post Dr Rah shares his email exchange with one of the authors.  There’s no need to recap that dialogue here but it does raise an observation.  Rather than defend themselves to Dr Rah and other Asian Americans who’ve taken issue with their use of stereotype and characture, couldn’t the authors listen to the concerns, frustration, and anger that is being expressed?  One friend put it this way on Facebook,

Why do these authors (both are white) feel the need to use a bizarre amalgam of Asian cultures as a means to sell more books? Do they realize how many people (myself included) have been mocked and ridiculed by very similar caricatures and stereotypes that make up the premise of this book?

There are moments like this one when those of us who are white have the chance to learn something about the experience and perspective of those who haven’t shared our privilege.  I probably miss most of those chances because of my defensive instinct, but during those times when my mouth has stayed shut there has always been much to learn.  It would be a pleasant surprise if this turned out to be one of those moments for these authors and some of their readers.

Keep an eye on Dr Rah’s blog for more updates as this story develops.

One final thought.  Stories like these are poignant reminders to those of us committed to the reconciling implications of the Gospel of how gritty the work can be.  How grateful we are that with God all things are possible.


Update, 11/5

Since first posting this a few days ago there has been a lot of conversation online and, apparently, in person.  This morning Dr Rah posted a nice summary of what sounds to have been a very productive phone conversation between the book’s authors and a few Asian American Christian leaders.  After some initial missteps it appears as though this thing is moving in a redemptive direction.

I’m hoping that a friend will be posting some of his reflections about this here on the blog within the next day or so.  Check back soon.

soong-chan rah reviews “gran torino”

Soong-Chan RahI do my best to keep the Regular Reading list of blogs on the sidebar to a manageable size.  There are a handful of additional blogs I follow, but the ones on this list are good conversation partners with the general thrust of this blog.  I’ve just added Soong-Chan Rah’s blog to the list.  You might remember my review of Dr Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism back in June.  Have you read it yet?  Dr Rah also spoke at our church a few weeks back about some of the themes from the book and took a number of insightful questions from the congregation.  Those of you with an interest in the future of the church in America would enjoy following Dr Rah’s blog.

This morning Dr Rah posted some thoughtful critique about the recent Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino.  His interpretation of some of the film’s themes differ from my own over at Out of Ur, but that’s what makes films interesting conversation starters.  Those of you who’ve seen Gran Torino will appreciate this blog post, “Gran Torino or Clint Eastwood is my Savior.”

“i choose the city” by francis dubose

Tall Skinny Kiwi calls Francis DuBose, who passed away in June, an urban missioligist and notes that the seminary professor is responsible for the current use of the word “missional” by many within the church.  I’m unfamiliar with DuBose’s many books, but this poem from Mystic on Main Street has me intrigued.

by Francis DuBose

I choose the city…
Not simply to live in it,
to see it,
to hear it;
But to touch it;
yes, to embrace it,
to hold it,

To feel the wild glory of its
pulsating soul,

To move over its wide,
hurried broadways,

To stand stilled and sobered
at the nowhere of its dead-end streets,

To be trapped with it in its
pain and problems,

To be at once chilled by its ill
and covered with its confetti.

I choose the city because I choose God,
Because I choose humanity,
Because I choose the divine-human

The struggle which will be won
Not in the serene path through
meadow and wood,
among the bees and birds, and flowers,

But in the city street
Made by the hand of man
Through the gift of God–
Main Street: the final battle field,
The scene of the ultimate struggle,
Where man chooses right
Because he is free to choose wrong.

Babylon, dirty and daring–
Babylon, yes–
Babylon today–

The New Jerusalem!

Francis DuBose, Mystic on Main Street, Chapel Hill, NC: Professional Press, 1993, pp. 78, 79.

If I’d had the chance to ask professor DuBose a question about this poem, it would have been this: Who can choose the city? Did he have in mind those who moved intentionally into a city, or does this poem include those who are native to their urban setting?  Soong-Chan Rah points out in The Next Evangelicalism that choice and mobility are the prerogative of the middle and upper-classes, but surely the ability to choose to participate with God’s mission in the city is not limited by socioeconomic factors.

The poem is a personal expression, so it’s not fair to read into it too much.  I seems however, that DuBose would say that every Christian, regardless of class and status, can “chooses right because he [or she] is free to choose wrong.”  Fundamental to Christianity is the idea that the mission of God is accessible to all because God has become accessible to all.  This doesn’t downplay the social realities that Dr Rah points out in his book.  But I wonder if this conviction allows those of us at the higher end of the economic spectrum to see the work of God among those we have reduced to categories of need.  To push it further, those of us privileged enough to choose to live in the city ought to pay incredibly close attention to those without the same options but who consistently have chosen the will of God.

the next evangelicalism

The-Next-EvangelicalismI’d wager that a lot of folks within the Evangelical world have picked up a copy of The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah.  We are a people, after all, who are interested in the latest trends and methods .  Authors who claim to know what’s around the cultural corner are attractive within a movement that often feels one step behind The Next Big Thing.

Readers hoping for this type of how-to insight from Professor Rah would do well to take seriously the book’s subtitle: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Even more telling is how the author qualifies “Western captivity” with “Western, white captivity.”  It turns out that welcoming the next Evangelicalism often means rejecting and repenting of certain aspects of the current Evangelicalism and Professor Rah isn’t shy in pointing out the specifics of white culture that need to go.  Of the many who first pick up the book, how many will actually finish?

The Next Evangelicalism is divided into three parts.  Part I describes the Western white captivity of the church (individualistic, materialistic, and racist), Part II examines how widespread Soong-Chan Rah believes Western white influence to be, and Part III explores the way forward.  Rah’s critique of the American church can be scathing, and some will be turned off by his view of the Evangelical movement.  (A quick scan of the blogosphere turns up reviewers who seem disappointed that Professor Rah didn’t write about more of the positive contributions of evangelicals.)  Whatever one’s emotional response to the book’s content, there are at least two very good reasons this book deserves a wide audience.

First, the indictment leveled at the American church by Professor Rah is profoundly theological and must be taken very seriously.

When one culture is elevated above another, we are stating that one culture and the individuals in that culture are made more in the image of God that others… [We] fail to fulfill our human capacity to create culture reflecting the image of God by elevating one culture over another.  Do we not have a responsibility to our cultural mandate of putting forth the uniqueness of every culture and contributing to the global expression of Christianity? (134)

In other words, when the Evangelical movement is defined by the dominant characteristics of just the majority white culture, than it has ceased to be a movement that reflects the image of God.  If this is true, than we must swallow hard and look carefully at any aspect of our church structures, methods, or leaderships that has succumbed to individualism, materialism, or racism.

Secondly, while many are lamenting the decline of American Christianity, Soong-Chan Rah sees a different development.  Along with scholars like Lamin Sanneh and Philip Jenkins, Rah sees a global church that is growing- including within the USA.  Because the growth is not generally white, mainstream Evangelicalism has either completely overlooked it or seen these vibrant immigrant and minority churches as exceptions rather than the rule.  Reflecting America’s ongoing demographic shifts, these churches can no longer be ignored or patronized.  The Next Evangelicalism strongly suggests that the future American church will be formatively influenced- as it should be- but these overlooked congregations.  How quickly will the current Evangelical movement acknowledge this changing landscape and make the deep-seated changes necessary to more accurately reflect God’s image and coming Kingdom?

In the book’s final section the author suggests what some of these changes ought to be.  I’ll not summarize them here; Professor Rah’s proposals are best heard after grappling with the difficult implications of the first six chapters.  Whether or not the reader agrees with all of Rah’s analysis and suggestions, hopefully the time of ignoring his basic premises has past.  While we may welcome the growth and vibrancy of the changing American church, we must be willing to look closely at the shortcomings within Evangelicalism these changes have exposed.  The Next Evangelicalism is a very helpful starting point, providing a view of both the struggle and hope that is just around the corner.