Embracing the Other: Transformative Spirit of Love by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm Eerdsman, 173 pages, $ 25, ISBN 978-0-8028-7299-9
In Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s new book, “Embracing the Other,” Korean feminist theologian Kim cogently argues that religious, racial, gender, and social prejudices can be overcome by the power of the Spirit. She achieves this by presenting a theology of the Spirit that enables humans to receive others unconditionally and not become perpetrators or victims of oppression and injustices. For Kim, Shalom, a wholeness and wellness within oneself and in relation to others, can be achieved by the Spirit.
“Embracing the Other” is hardly groundbreaking in its revelations and claims. The claim on the power of the Spirit in breaking barriers of social, gender, and racial disparity and in enabling humans to love others unconditionally is not uncommon. But what makes “Embracing the Other” eye-opening and original is the author’s emphasis on the power of the Spirit and Divine Eros, intermingled with the Korean understanding of spirit, love, and affection. I enjoyed her explanations of the concepts of Jeong and Han, the former speaks of powerful bonds and connectedness of people while the latter speaks of unjust sufferings, both concepts deepens ones theological understanding of God’s commandment to love one another and to care for the foreigner in one’s midst. I applaud Grace Ji-Sun Kim for advocating for these women to be given opportunities to speak for themselves, to self-report instead of simply speaking on their behalf (119).
Subsequently, Kim’s presentation on the sad plight of Asian American immigrant women as perpetual foreigners is heartbreaking. These women are covertly subordinated and marginalized (38, 52) in American society, no matter how many generations they have lived in North America. They are also dominated and marginalized by their own men in their homes. Further on, Asian American women have no sense of fully belonging and being accepted by their host and native culture. Worst, their sufferings and pains are most often unheard or put aside/silenced. Thus, Kim, being an Asian American woman herself, gives voice to them not as an outsider, but one who is so intimate with their pains and sufferings.
Explicitly, Kim proposes that Asian American women be seen not as foreigners, but as a hybrid. She argues that everyone here in North America is a hybrid-- and thus Asian American women should not be merely cast aside because of their “Asian look”, but be received just as white European immigrant women have been embraced. Implicitly, Kim suggests that at least society must value foreigners and avoid marginalizing and dominating anyone. One must treat others as what every human wants to be received—embracing the other with unconditional acceptance, devoid of any kind of judgment.
Overall, Grace Ji-Sun Kim explored many relevant issues embracing Asian American women and I enjoyed her book for Kim speaks with refreshing forthrightness about matters of injustices, oppression, and racism.
Reviewed by Alicia Panganiban
Princeton Theological Seminary