In Struggle to be the Sun Again, Chung Hyun Kyung develops an Asian Women’s Liberation Theology. She begins by speaking of her own theological development based on her personal experience growing up in Korea. Beginning with the Korean student movement, she became aware of her ”Third World-ness,” a term she uses to describe her economic status as she journeyed through school. The student movement taught her the role neo/colonialism plays in the suffering of her people (1-2). It is from here that she brought the tools of Third World awareness as well as a “hermeneutics of suspicion” into the realm of theology, deconstructing the imperial systems placed upon it. Most of her work had been in deconstruction of these systems. It was in her trip back to Korea in 1987 that brought her to a critical redirection, in which would move her work from one of deconstruction to reconstructive theological work. This is in her meeting with her biological mother. It was in hearing her biological mother’s struggle with patriarchal structures, Confucian laws as well as economic hardships that forced the mother to give away her daughter (3-5). These two events provide the impetus for her formation of a alternative way of doing Asian Women’s Theology.
In the first chapter, Kyung purveys documents from national as well as international conventions which shows the initial development of an Asian Women’s liberation theology. Important here is the realization that in order for liberation to take place, the oppressed must “find their own words to name their own world” (16). The Asian women must tell their stories in order to articulate the issues they are liberating themselves from. True theology begins from this starting point.
The second chapter provides the social context for developing an Asian Women’s libration theology. Here she describes the women’s situated-ness, there surroundings and connections that have caused their oppression. They are “very Third World,” in that their reality is “marked by poverty, oppression….Colonialism, neo-colonialism, militarism, and dictatorship” (23). From these situations they are called to survive, to create in the midst of chaos, to embrace and sustain their loved ones in the midst of their surroundings (Ibid.). They are “very Asian” in that they are “religious, cultural” and have “linguistic heritages” (24). They are “very women” in that they are oppressed “economically, socially, politically, religiously, and culturally” because they are a women (Ibid.). One cannot separate being Asian and being a woman; There can only be an Asian Women, and from this starting point is where one begins to experience and tell the story.
In the third chapter, Kyung describes what it means to be fully human. This question is paralleled with the reality of Asian women’s lives as having their “bodies….beaten, torn, choked, burnt, and dismembered” (39). The theological response is a hope towards wholeness, justice and peace (Ibid.). To be human is to suffer and resist from the perspective of liberation, one which acknowledges the Asian women’s liberation, although leading to suffering (i.e. alienation, or the like), but most importantly it resists the normative structures which perpetuate the Asian women’s “no-body” (Ibid.). To be human is to be created in God’s image, to acknowledge the fact that God contains both male and female characteristics, that God exists in Community, that God co-creates with us, that God is the animator of life and is like the mother as well as the daughter.
The fourth chapter describes Jesus from the perspective of Asian Women. For Asian women, they see Jesus as the true example of what they have experienced in their own lives through the midst of struggles and opposition. Just like in their experience, Jesus is the suffering servant who stood for what he believed in, to expose evil. Jesus is lord, countering patriarchal structures that claim lordship. Jesus is God with us, the radical immanence that is shown through our daily lives. Jesus is the liberator, revolutionary, and political martyr, the one who reclaims the dignity of humanity, who resists political powers, even unto death. Jesus is the worker and the grain, the one who is found in everyday experience that points to God.
In the fifth chapter, Kyung celebrates and reifies Mary in Asian Women’s theology. Through patriarchal structures in both Catholic and Protestant religions, Mary is either domesticated or completely removed. She is made invisible. To reify Mary is to make her fully human, to acknowledge the interdependency of Mary in the bringing forth the possibility of salvation. Mary therefore becomes, through her choice, the one who co-ushers in salvation, who brings new life into humanity through Jesus.
The sixth chapter describes the emergence of spirituality for Asian Women. Counter to the traditional form of spirituality which is individualistic and seeking perfection of the soul, Asian Women’s spirituality is “integral, outgoing, community-oriented, active, holistic and all-embracing” (87). This is based on the concrete experiences of women’s struggle for liberation and wholeness.
The final chapter concludes with the contribution given by Asian Women’s theology. The contribution rises out of the experience of Asian women and their struggles for liberation. Therefore, theology becomes a “cry, plea and Invocation” to God (99), who feel pain, and yet dare to hope. It is a living theology, lived out, embodied in the lives of everyday Asian women. It is an envisioned theology that remembers the “original wholes of creation” and “activates the dangerous memory of the future” (101).
What I find important in Kyung’s work is the critical reflective on the experience of Asian women who have struggled through colonial and patriarchal oppression. This prehended with the understanding that ones theology is based on their anthropology creates an honest reflection on ones understanding of God’s nature as well as how God works in the world.
However, is it enough to ground an understanding of God from below, from our experience? This text is based solely on Asian women’s understanding. But it is not the only understanding. It will do justice for this to fit alongside other stories of struggle of women, even including children, to gathering a more true understanding of God and humanity in the world.
Struggle to be the Sun Again is a powerful book that introduces theology from the underside, critically reflecting the experience of Asian women and their pursuit for liberation at the cost of alienation and even their lives. This is a live-ing theology that we should pursue as our own.