Monday, August 17, 2009

Korean Women and Christianity

Korean Women and God by Choi Hee An is a book published by Orbis: the publishing arm of the Maryknoll Society. A disclaimer makes clear the views expressed are not the official position of the Society but it is an attempt to invite dialogue. As a Maryknoller I do have some thoughts which I will express in this blog.

The author is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and on the faculty at the School of Theology at Boston University. In the introduction knowing God as a Korean Woman she mentions how as a child she had an experience in which she could not remember her own face. Her mother reassured her that this was a natural phenomenon. While studying in the States she realized that this was not universal and began to wonder why Korean woman were not able to remember their faces.

The author introduces her understanding of woman's health by proposing three significant elements which she considers important:

The first is healthy women love themselves and remembering their own faces can be an aspect of this love. They should love their bodies no matter how they look. They should love their psychological strengths and warm hearts.

Secondly they should live their lives with joy and happiness for themselves. They should celebrate their own happiness. She would say that much of the joy of a woman comes from their children , husband and others. They should find joy in themselves without feeling guilty,

Thirdly healthy women can express themselves. She would say that many Korean woman are socialized to listen to others not to themselves. Their feelings remain deep inside and they do not know how to express them.

She concludes the section saying she has difficulty finding these three characteristics in the lives of Korean Christian women. "Korean Christian Woman are taught to sacrifice themselves for others and to deny their own needs as a noble cause. Loving themselves and enjoying their lives for their own happiness have been defined as selfish acts. Others' needs and wills always come before their own needs and wills, even in the family."

Sacrifice is an important part of Christianity. Many women both in Korea and the States have an extreme dislike for patriarchy; in many cases there is a justification for this feeling. The author also mentions the influence of colonialism on women. These have not been helpful to either women or men but neither do I see them as negatively as the author. In her writing she does generalize but leaves open the possibility that not all Korean women have been scarred. Adversity makes the person and Korean Women have grown strong in this environment.

Korean women sacrifice for the family and deny themselves for the good of others a trait that all of us Christians should not be ashamed to hear. I have no doubt internalized aspects of patriarchy and also have been scarred but this attribute of being for the other was my understanding of why we are baptized. This life of sacrifice for family was part of women's life even before the introduction of Christianity. It would be good for all men and women to sacrifice for others but I hope they love themselves, and live their lives with joy and happiness and are able to express themselves. I do not find a contradiction in a person living for others and at the same time experiencing true joy and love of themselves. It is both/and and not the either/or fallacy that we so often fall into when we are dealing with something that is not obviously evil. It is when we die to ourselves that we become truly happy. It is a central paradox of Christianity that works for men and women. The Korean Christian woman I have met have no reason to be embarrassed in any way being compared to those in the west.

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