Young Lee Hertig, Chloe Sun (eds.), Mirrored Reflections: Reframing Biblical Characters (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2010)
Recently, I was involved in a conflict between people associated with the implementation of a multi-student internship. The disagreement was over the question whether the grant was to be used to pay the students or the institutions at which these students were studying. The matter was resolved when it became clear to all involved in the matter that the document supplied by the granting organization that was used to determine the parameters and conditions of the grant was flawed. It became clear that the document was worded in such a way that it could equally be interpreted to state that each student or each institution should receive the grant. We realized, consequently, that each person could read the document from his/her own particular perspective and conclude that either the student or the institution should be reimbursed. As one person put it, once the matter was resolved, “That’s why there are lawyers – to discern when the wording of a document is inadequate to the task assigned to it!”
The same is true when reading the Bible. No one reads the Bible from an objective perspective. Each reader brings to the Bible her or his personal convictions. If, for example, a person is a Jew or a Christian, she will bring to the Bible an entirely different perspective than if she is an atheist. And that, in turn, will profoundly influence how a given Biblical passage will be understood.
This reality is what makes Mirrored Reflections such a valuable book! Since its very origins, the Bible has been primarily read from a masculine perspective. That reality has resulted in an overwhelmingly masculine interpretation to it. Mirrored Reflections, on the other hand, is a book written by women biblical scholars and practitioners, all of whom write from an evangelical perspective. Further, all are Asian-American, and therefore write from an Asian perspective. That makes this book perhaps the only anthology which is evangelical in theological orientation, culturally Asian and also decisively feminine. Consequently, it makes for a very stimulating read!
The book begins with an essay written by one of its editors, Dr. Young Lee Hertig. Dr. Hertig, a Korean American, is well known as a highly-innovative and stimulating theologian who has taught for two decades in several prestigious theological graduate schools. Currently, she both serves as the ISAAC/AAWOL Southern California Regional Director and teaches at Azusa Pacific University and at Logos Evangelical Seminary, in Azusa and El Monte, CA respectively. This essay lays the foundation for the reflections of this book. That foundation lies in the Asian concept of yin and yang.
In 2006, a group of women began meeting in order to reflect together about the reality of their respective triple-marginalization (they are all Asian, women and middle class, working in a field – theology – that is predominately Anglo, male and academically professional) and to begin acting upon that reflection. Out of that reflection, they became engaged in biblical research from a feminist and Asian perspective (the Bible is, after all, an Asian book) along with the examination of their personal stories. It is out of that gestation that Mirrored Reflections was born.
As they thought and discussed together, the Asian Taoist symbol of yin/yang increasingly commended itself to these women as a vehicle to describe their shared experience. Yin and yang are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole. Thus, the relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and in the valley. “Yin” (literally, “the shady place”) is the temporarily dark area of the valley resulting from the shade cast by the mountain. “Yang” (literally, “the sunny place”) is that temporary part of the valley that is in the sunshine. As the day progresses and the earth turns, different parts of the valley fall into the shade or receive the sunshine. Thus, yin and yang gradually change places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.
Yin is characterized as responsive, cooperative, diffuse and feminine; yang is aggressive, competitive, focused, and masculine. One is not good while the other is evil nor truthful while the other is a lie (that is, moral judgment is not assigned to one or the other). Rather, it is the recognition that each person has both characteristics in her/him (thus, each of us can be reflective at times and action-packed at other times, forcefully masculine or warmly feminine), and that authentic affirmation is found in recognizing both elements in our personality. The danger is that a person will become totally “yang” or “yin”, not recognizing those polar opposites in his or her personality that make a given person a more balanced combination of forces.
If the west’s theological reflection can be criticized for anything, it is that they have allowed their “yang” to dominate while reducing the “yin” of life. The theological formulation and practical implementation of being church has been almost exclusively a male-dominated, Anglo and professional (does a Ph.D. make you a better theologian?) enterprise, seriously skewing the church. In seeking to be taken seriously, the danger is that a woman will suppress the dominant elements of her personality in order to embrace the more socially-acceptable opposite, and consequently sacrifice what could otherwise be her unique contribution to that discipline. Hertig writes, “The replacement of men on top with women on top does not improve the conditions of life. What matters is balance. . . . Yinist feminism seeks coexistence without either male or female domination. Chaos itself holds the key to harmony. If one enters the chaos, one just might discover a new order” (p. 12). Mirrored Reflections is precisely the written reflections of Asian American women who are thinking through and articulating their faith from an Asian, feminist and classless perspective. And that is, precisely, what makes this work so valuable.
The book is divided into three parts: “Journeys Toward Redemption”, “Journeys Toward Wholeness”, and “Journeys Toward Liberation”. It is not written from the perspective of impregnable and infallible truth but as the spiritual exploration of women in concert with each other examining scripture and their individual and common stories to move toward their redemption, wholeness and, consequently, their liberation. Each of the three parts consists of three chapters written by eight women who are all part of AAWOL. Each chapter explores the biblical story of an Asian woman in the light of the story of the author herself, and from that mutual exploration of biblical story and lived story, drawing redemptive, holistic and/or liberating insights. The biblical stories are as follows: In “Journeys Toward Redemption”, the stories of Queen Vashti and Esther, Bathsheba and Irit (Lot’s wife) are explored. In “Journeys Toward Wholeness”, the stories of Ruth, Hannah and of the sisters, Mary and Martha are considered. In “Journeys Toward Liberation”, the stories of Elizabeth and mother Mary, Priscilla and of the Samaritan woman at the well are reflected upon.
It is precisely in these stories of pivotal women of the Bible helping to inform the journeys of today’s women (the authors) that the immense value of Mirrored Reflections lies. That is because each exploration of the specific biblical woman is an exploration that falls outside the usual western, male-dominated exposition of that woman. It is a woman exploring the story of a biblical woman, an Asian writing about an Asian, a person outside the establishment writing about a person outside vested Israelite or early Church power. And therefore each biblical story opens up entirely new dimensions about that woman about whom that story is written – dimensions that lead to the redemption, wholeness and liberation of the reader. Likewise, the story of the woman who is leading the reader in the study of that biblical woman opens the reader to a greater understanding and appreciation of how power has been used by both the institutional church and by the Christian community to thwart women in their own spiritual and societal development. It is through each woman willingly and at great risk publicly exploring the development of the spirituality of both her yin and yang, and being informed by the story of biblical sisters of their journeys that they contribute profoundly to a greater understanding of how a mature Christianity should function. Such a mature faith can then celebrate the unique capacities within each of us and to call those forth for the greater building up of the body of Christ and its transforming mission throughout the world.
Robert Linthicum is professor emeritus of urban ministry at Eastern University, Philadelphia, PA., and the president emeritus of Partners in Urban Transformation, a training and consulting agency in community organizing. He is the former director of World Vision’s Urban Advance that introduced community organizing to its urban work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He has been the pastor of Presbyterian churches and missions in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Rockford (IL) and Los Angeles. Linthicum is the author of fourteen books; his latest work, The Gospel of Shalom: A Political Reading of the Scripture (a 2500 page biblical commentary) will be released in its entirety in electronic form in July, 2011 on www.rclinthicum.org.
 ISAAC – Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity; AAWOL – Asian American Women on Leadership, an ISAAC affiliate.