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“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” — John 13:34

Theological reflection

David Choi

This theological reflection was prepared for the Pastor Theologian consultation held in October 20-22, 2010, Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Office of Theology and Worship.  This particular consultation invited 13 Korean American pastors representing generations and gender.  The theological engagement focused on the event at the 219th General Assembly held in Minneapolis that led to the defeat of the motion to create another Korean language presbytery.

David was born in South Korea in 1964 and emigrated to the U.S. (to Buffalo/Niagara Falls) with his parents and two sisters in 1972.  After college and a short aborted stint in medical school, he listened to his heart and completed his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary (M. Div. '93; Ph.D. in Church History '03).  David has been the pastor of Praise Presbyterian Church (English Congregation) in central New Jersey since 1999 and just completed his first sabbatical this summer (and loved it!).  He has been married to Hyun Kyung since 1993 and they have three children in middle school (Peter, Lydia, and Maximus).  He is a big fan of the Buffalo Bills ("why can't they win?"), and enjoys reading, golf, and board games with his family. 

The other kids

Not surprisingly, the story of Abraham and Isaac is the one usually told to second generation Koran-American children.  The first generation is Abraham, called by God to leave the homeland, and the second generation is Isaac, the child of promise born in a new and foreign land.  Like Abraham, it is the hope (insistence) to have Isaac (the second generation) understand their heritage and marry someone from the homeland, someone who shares the same ideas, values, and race.  And occasionally, that is what happens.

That is one story.  But there were other kids.  And increasingly, I wonder, if the story of the other kids is the story we are living out. 

There was Lot, for example.  He’s the so-called 1.5-generation kid, born in the land of his parents, but forced to journey with Abraham without any call, without any choice because of his familial ties.  Given different circumstances, would he have stayed?

Then, in their new country, presumably through hard work (and the blessings of God), both Abraham and Lot prosper materially.  Yet sadly, their mutual success forces them to separate (Genesis 136so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together).  We see this same separation with Jacob and Esau (Genesis 367).  In contrast, poverty and economic desperation drew Ruth and Naomi together.

In the case of my church, this is precisely what happened.  Our building site could no longer sustain two congregations (or at least not with satisfying all the needs of both congregations) because both grew faster than anticipated.  But what if the first generation, in an act of generosity and grace, offered (as Abraham did) the first choice of land, the first choice of worship time, the first choice of parking, and other uses of the building, instead of giving the second generation what was left over (worship in the smaller rooms or in the main building late in the afternoon)?  The best of the building is something the second generation cannot ask for – it is something that must be offered as a gift, and admittedly, as a sacrifice.  But considering how much Korean parents are willing to sacrifice for the education of their children, can they not consider making one more sacrifice for the spiritual well being of their children? 

I don’t’ want to pursue this story too far, because we all know what happened to Lot, even with the first choice of land…

There was also Ishmael.  He’s the second-generation kid who married outside his ethnicity and adapted to his new environment.  He also ended up separating (i.e. he got kicked out), and forged a new cultural identity (his mother and wife were both Egyptians).  Sound familiar?

It seems to me that we share more with Lot and Ishmael than with Isaac.  It may be that the first generation wants an Isaac, but we have turned out to be the other kids.

We all want to be the favored child.  We’d rather be Rachel than Leah, Joseph than Issachar.  As 1.5 and 2nd generation Korean Americans, we may forever be second class citizens in the Korean Church, but we should take encouragement that it is usually through the unwanted, the discarded that God builds the kingdom.  Psalm 11822 reminds us that the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!

The promise to Abraham was that ALL the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  The Bible says that God blessed Ishmael and that he would also become a great nation (Genesis 1720).  And Lot (even after the horrors of Sodom and Gomorrah and the incestuous affairs in the cave) became the father of the Moabites, who later produced Ruth, the great, great grandmother of King David, and generations later, Jesus Christ.  Even though the story of Genesis follows the story of Joseph, the favored son of the favored wife Rachel, it is the story of Judah, the fourth child of the unloved Leah, that God uses to produce his only son.  Joseph got to be the prime minister of Egypt, but Judah got to be a part of God’s greater plan to redeem the world.

We too easily forget that all of God’s children receive blessing and are a part of God’s ultimate plan.  Every one of us.  John tells us that Jesus died for all so that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.  In fact, every one of us was chosen before the foundations of the world!  (Ephesians 14)

Isaac is just one child.  The second generation, both Isaac and Ishmael, are the children of promise.  Both children need the blessings of the first generation, but perhaps Ishmael needs it more.  The cry of Ishamel, Lot, and all the other children less loved is the cry of Esau, “bless me father, me also, father!”  Can the first generation find a way to bless all their second generation children in all their varying degree of Koreanness?


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