Wednesday 6 August 2008

Ruether & Chung - Seminar

Ruether & Chung - A Seminar

Chung Hyun Kyung

Chung Hyun Kyung, is an Associate Professor of Ecumenical Theology, she graduated from Ewha Women's University in Seoul with the B.A. (1979) and the M.A. (1981). She holds the M.Div. from the School of Theology at Claremont (1984), a diploma from the Women's Theological Center in Boston (1984), and the Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary (1989). She studied in North America for 9 years before returning to Korea to teach. Her teaching and research interests include Ch
ristian Buddhist dialogue; feminist and eco-feminist theologies and spiritualities from Asia, Africa and Latin America; as well as mysticism and revolutionary social change; she also has a focus on history and critical issues of various Asian Christian theologies and traditions. The two dominant Christian traditions in Korea are the United Church and the Presbyterian Church, Chung is a Lay Theologian and teacher in the Presbyterian tradition.

She was 30 years old before she met her mother. Her father's wife could not bear children, so he found a beautiful poor woman and paid her to be his mistress and bear children for him. After he had his children she was discarded. Chung upon her return
from North America was encouraged by her best friend, a Buddhist monk to seek out her mother and break the social stereo type, that of being a surrogate's daughter. After finding here mother they performed a ritual to recreate bonds, they bought turtles in the market to set free again in the sea, and the turtles would take away their pain and hurts and bring healing and wholeness to them. Chung stated "I have a PhD, in systematic theology and I felt uneasy doing the ritual of the turtle." Yet she soon came to realize that her illiterate mother had a wisdom that she lacked. From then on she only wanted to only do theology her mother could understand. She began to seek spiritual renewal in different places, one place she found it was in the markets, and the women there who struggle to survive each day. Chung states "I go to the Market as a spiritual place of renewal, by seeing and speaking to the women who are struggling to live. I go to the mountains sometimes for spiritual renewal and sometimes I go to the market." The biggest accusation against Chung is that she is a Syncretist. She herself states: "My Bowel is shamanist, my heart is Buddhist, and my head is Christian. So I have to build this whole reality and I can not cut anything from me to be a real Christian. Who defines a real Christian?" From this we see that she does not fight against the accusations but lives her life as she see's her calling to do so. Her best friend is a Buddhist monk and together they are looking for truth. They both believe that religions can learn from each other. The Merging of religions help us to see the hidden teachings in our own traditions and for Chung Buddhism has helped her to understand contemplation, silence and symbolism which she thinks much of protestant Christianity has lost. She also has learnt from her friends that the best way to grow is to ask questions. Another of her close friends was trained as a theologian and yet works as a painter, a liberation theologian painter. Chung has the walls of her lecture hall covered in the paintings by this friend. Showing the empowerment of women and some of their pains and struggles from the past. Chung says that there are many ways of doing theology, theology as dance, song, painting and like herself in the world of academia, as long as it is a reflection of the divine in the midst of their life.

She writes and speaks much against the traditions of her Asian world, She states the old way is "When you are young you obey your father, in midlife you obey your husband, and when yo
u are old you obey your oldest son." Yet she has become involved in a movement to liberate the marginalized of her country, and this group focuses on women. One thing they do is provide child care so women can have other options, school, and work. She believes if she just stays in academic life all the time she will not know what is going on in the real world, at the bottom of her society. Much like Simon Weil who went to work in factories to understand the oppressed in Europe, Chung spends time with the poor and most oppressed in her country. For Chung Liberation theology to be real and vital it must focus on the non-human, or those perceived as non-human and how do we regain humanity and dignity for them and through that for ourselves. That is the main issue to Chung.

In the larger work Struggle to be the Sun Again, the first few sections focus on some interesting area's, the historical and social context of Asian Women's spirituality, Humanity, Who is Jesus?, Who is Mary?, and then our selection Emerging Asian Women's Spirituality. So let us now turn to our text. The poem that begins our section is by Ting Ling, in a collection titled O'Grady, Chung in her footnote stated that she originally was going to drop this quote for it's individualist nature, as she see's spirituality and spiritual development as communal. Yet she decided to leave it in. This poem is intriguing for though it is written for Asian women and their development it can be applied to anyone who wishes to grow and develop as a person of character and integrity. One of the things I think we need to be aware of is that when a theology becomes so narrowly focused it can loose it's power for liberation. I think back to some of our earliest writers writing when the church was oppressed and persecuted and how their faith was vibrant and alive. Of people like Vibia Perpetua, and Irenaeus of Lyons who's writings had a universal approach, not a narrow view. Even feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether states: "All theologies of liberation, whether done in black or a feminist or a Third world perspective, will be abortive of the liberation they seek, unless they finally go beyond the … model of the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressed must rise to a perspective that affirms a universal humanity as the ground of their own self-identity, and also to a power of self-criticism … Quite simply, what this means is that one cannot dehumanize the oppressor without ultimately dehumanizing oneself, and aborting the possibilities of the liberation movement into an exchange of roles of oppressor and oppressed." Thus there must be caution taken in any endeavor to work at liberation that it does not in turn need to be overcome in a new liberation. On page 92 at the top of the page "Asian Women say that their emerging spirituality takes into concrete relational reality into consideration…" This appears to a central point of Chung's theology that it is communal, the women of her country and region need to work with each other, draw strength when needed and lend the hand when it is called for. At the bottom of that same paragraph it states "There is no place for dualism between body and soul in this spirituality, because it arises from women's everyday, mundane, bodily experience" Chung attends a women's home church, each person has a chance to speak and share. On the video Gentle but Radical, they show one service, with worship, bible reading, then the women passed around a red scarf and shared stories about menstruation, and children, and ended with Chung giving a lesson about the women with the Hemorrhage. For them faith is about every aspect of life, and every aspect is open to the church service.

The next section focuses on characteristics of this emerging spirituality, it is Creative, flexible, prophetic, and historical, Community Oriented and Pro-life. These characteristics should be evident in any church that wishes to grow in a post-modern world. We can learn much from these new religious movements and bring it back to our own traditions.

Chung presents a view of religion that many in a postmodern world could embrace. It should not be limited to Asian women because that is the tradition she emerges from. But
should be offered for all to examine and draw the strength to stand up for the humanity and dignity of all people, in all places and from all classes.

Rosemary Radford Reuther

mary Radford Ruether is the Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology she has a B.A., Scripps College, 1958; M.A., Claremont Graduate School, 1960; Ph.D., Claremont Graduate School, 1965. Rosemary Radford Ruether is a pioneer Christian feminist theologian for nearly five decades and is among the most widely read theologians in the world. Her book, Sexism and God-Talk, is a classic, and is reported to be the only systematic feminist treatment of the Christian symbols to date. With her very wide-ranging scholarship, Dr. Ruether has edited over thirty books and hundreds of articles and reviews as well as published over two dozen books of her own work. Her primary research and her specialization in teaching interest is that of women and social justice in theological history. Her work explores how Christian theology has been biased by the exclusion of women's experience and female symbolism, and thus she seeks to shape an inclusive theology. She has always been a strong voice for those without a voice, women, children, minorities, yet she was a faithful wife and mother to three children. So with all this in mind let us now turn to our text.

It is interesting to note at the beginning that we are back into a predominantly biographical text again. It appears that through out each of the five periods of Christian history that spirituality is often demonstrated through personal example, and story. Through 'our story' we are the continuing church, the book of acts from the bible, the Acts of the Apostles is continued by each person who shares there story and their interaction with God, Son, and The Holy Spirit, and through them with the communion of sain
ts the body of believers. This piece is her story of how she came to begin thinking in feminist ways, and from the excerpt we have we see that such thinking began at a very early age.

From the very first lines we hear her voice state: "It is hard to trace my awakening to feminism … because it seems to me that I was implicitly always a feminist, if by being feminist one means a woman who fights for her full realization." But such a statement could be true of any Christian seeking to become all that God has called them to be. For her it includes the title Feminist and role of Feminist theologian. On the first paragraph on page 455 "My older sister remarked …" Was her first internal realization that some would put limitations on her, or roles they saw for her, and from that young age she stood firm against these stereotypes. In the second full paragraph on that page she speaks about Mary, as the one to turn to in prayer, for having been raised by women, and being in school with an all women faculty, men were a distant presence.

In the next paragraph she sums up her experience of this environment and how it nurtured her future idea's: "Although I occasionally glimpsed a narrower and more authoritarian side of nuns, most of my memory is of a cozy, female-run world where I felt myself a favored daughter." She thus grew up believing she could be anything she wanted to be, a position her mother encouraged. Men were a curiosity to her she states "But secretly, one suspected that their aura of superiority was a fragile façade, a bombast concealing secret impotence." And further in the paragraph, "For endless generations women have paid public deference to male authority while, privately, not really believing in or counting on it." This resonates with my experience growing up, I was raised in an Irish Catholic home, and the Irish are one of the few remaining Matriarchal societies. Andrew M. Greeley in many of his theologian and fictional works affirms the Matriarchal nature of the Irish culture, he states often "Irish women let their men think they make the decisions and run the home, but they know that it is not so." Later on the same page Ruether shares how she started her husband with the goal of an academic career but he adjusted to that reality quickly.

I the final paragraph on page 457 she states, "It takes a new consciousness to go back and isolate the whole body of material as a problem rather than as normative tradition." She here advocates that Christianity and Christian spirituality must re-examine it's roots and origins, and traditions if it will be a c
hurch that draws women, and embraces them. She does not want to destroy the church but to reform it. To make it a church that is appealing to men and women. As I quoted earlier in the section on Chung, if a theology does not go beyond it's own narrow focus it will become the oppressor. Ruether does not want a new women's only spirituality. She would like to see a new spirituality that speaks to both men and women, black and white, European and Asian. But one that grows out of the needs of individuals to be fulfilled and growing.

  1. Gentle But Radical Korean Theologian Chung Hyun Kyung, Video
  2. Gentle But Radical Korean Theologian Chung Hyun Kyung, Video
  3. Gentle But Radical Korean Theologian Chung Hyun Kyung, Video
  4. Gentle But Radical Korean Theologian Chung Hyun Kyung, Video
  5. Liberation Theology, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Paulist Press, 1972, p.16
  6. Struggle to be the Sun Again, Chung Hyun Kyung, New York, Orbis 1990, p92
  7. Struggle to be the Sun Again, Chung Hyun Kyung, New York, Orbis 1990, p92
  8. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.454
  9. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.455
  10. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.455
  11. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.456
  12. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.455
  13. Paraphrased from memory.
  14. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. Tyson, John R. New York: Oxford UP, 1999, p.457

Tyson, John R. Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology. New York: Oxford UP, 1999

Placher, William C. A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction
Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983

Chung, Hyun Kyung Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women's Theology. New York: Orbis, 1990

Ruether, Rosemary Radford Liberation Theology, New York: Paulist Press, 1972


Gentle But Radical Koren Theologian Chung Hyun Kyung
Kilimann Production, From the World Council of Churches

(First written for RS 383 Shapers of the Roman Catholic Tradition in the winter of 2003.)

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