Contemplations from the Heart is written by Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a Korean-American academic in religion. Dr. Kim has written Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit and many other books related to Asian Theology and feminism. I rarely review books that are related to such topics. Even less do I review books written from the perspective of spirituality, but this book deserves an exception. In recent times, soft-focused self-help books have filled shelves of Christian bookstore, in the thin disguise of pietistic devotional book. Kim’s is not such a book. Instead, Kim reviews topics that are globally relevant and socially impactful. She does not stop at the level of talking about the topic in high and mighty terms, but relates all such topics to our daily living. This devotional has a social conscience. As such, it is a necessary breath of fresh air among the many tiresome self-development books.
Kim’s book starts with personal issues, especially issues related to women. With a decidedly feminist bend, Kim started talking about seasons in a woman’s life where life could get in the way of a woman (e.g. seasons of childbirth; gender prejudice from people of your own race; racial prejudice from people of the other races etc.). At the same time, the informed woman would take charge for a second chance of change for the better. Kim continues to discuss personal life in the modern settings and its various challenges including balancing motherhood and work. One outstanding feature of this book is its economic awareness. Kim sees problems of economics in many social issues including abortion and equal pay. These are hard issues that Christians need to address, especially if we have to address them spiritually.
Besides personal issues, Kim moves on to an issue that is dear to her heart, the environmental issue. The environmental problem, as Kim puts it, is a temptation to exploit both people and nature. This brings a seemingly social issue home as a spiritual problem that impacts our daily lives. Here, she calls on the church, not just individuals, to model and advocate for better lifestyle that is faithful to God’s creation plan. In order for all this to happen, Kim suggests that people need to gain a better understanding between human and other parts of creation in relation to the creator’s law. Especially important is her claim that human law is not greater than God’s law. While this is self-evident for any believer, this is not always the case in practice. This is difficult because many are not even aware of such a pattern of thinking. Her call includes using less resources and thinking more in terms of sustainability.
The third section of the book talks about the church and society. It deals with life as a racial minority in the US where one is forever viewed as a foreigner due to skin color. This is an aspect that may or may not strike a cord for my Chinese readers, but it is an important issue. More important is the theme of justice which resonates throughout this third section of the book. This idea of justice has to be first reimaged. Reimagination requires risks before activism. In this book, Kim challenges us to live daily in that new and evolving image of what justice looks like. This includes developing awareness of leaders who use “God” in their campaign politically or otherwise to get what they want. Kim calls for changes in both the heart and the head of the believer. As we read through her narratives, we find more questions and solutions, but Kim has happily provided glimpses of solutions in her own life that can be uplifting to many who are discouraged with the many challenges modern life presents. Why in fact does Kim write such a book? Ultimately, it doesn’t only encourage us with the stories, but also encourages us to TELL our own stories. Storytelling is therapeutic.
Based on the above topics, Kim’s work has very important implications for believers. As a man, I find insights from her stories that other writings by men do not give. Yet, her reflections should not remain in each individual’s mind. Kim prepares group discussions for the community to study and converse about these topics because she realizes the importance of a deep conversation. This conversation is the starting point of activism. Collective and cooperative thinking can bring creative action.
I think her reflections have heavy theological implications. One example would be her environmental concern where she advocated God’s rules, but what God’s rules are we talking about? Clearly, we’re dealing with general revelation here. As such, Christians can’t stop at special revelation. I think it was John Stott who said that Christians have a robust doctrine of salvation but a puny doctrine of creation. When I read Kim’s work, I’m beginning to wonder if we can have one robust doctrine while neglecting the other. Both are related. Her chapter on race seems irrelevant until we begin to view the story from the perspective of foreigners whether those foreigners are Filipina, Indonesian or African. Part of the problem of racism is assumption of superior status from the person of power. This challenges us about whether we assume superiority over other races because of our race. The book also informs those who plan to immigrate to the West. Such people will need to know that they and their descendants will have to face the same issue after their move. Are people ready to move from being powerful to being relatively less powerful? Due to the fact of the reflection and conversation, Kim encourages the head, heart, mouth, hands and feet to work together for a better world. As a devotional study guide, the book also serves our church’s witness in the world. Kim also eliminates the dichotomy between personal piety and public responsibility. The two can be comfortable companions. I hope that it will become the blessing to others as it has me.