Get to Know Grace Ji-Sun Kim, author of Invisible and Spirit Life

Mar 22, 2022 10:00:00 AM / by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

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Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a prolific theologian, author or editor of over twenty books, including four she published with Fortress Press: Invisible, Spirit Life, Intersectional Theology, and Planetary Solidarity. Learn what inspires Grace to keep writing, find out how she brought herself to write Invisible despite the challenges she faced, and discover the other books she has written with us. For her passion in exploring the intersection of Christianity, religion, and culture, we decided to amplify her voice for Women’s History Month.We look forward to continuing to highlight Grace and her future publications with us.

You recently celebrated the publication of your twentieth book, Invisible, which is a fantastic feat, and we’re so glad you published it with us! How do you stay inspired to keep writing even when you’re teaching, promoting your current or forthcoming books, and conducting podcast interviews?

I am thrilled to publish my twentieth book, Invisible, with Fortress. The publication date of Invisible was significant as it was near the twentieth anniversary of my PhD graduation from the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

I get inspired by current events and through my own life experiences. There are so many injustices in this world and they intersect with my own life, and these events push me to write. I write short pieces for Baptist News Global, Spirituality and Health, The Christian Century, and Sojourners. Some of these shorter pieces have reached out and touched people and the readers write to me with notes of gratitude. One such person was Connie Chung, the Asian American journalist and news anchor, who was really personally touched by a piece I wrote for Sojourners. When famous and non-famous people reach out and tell me that my piece helped them, I get inspired to write even more.

When I was a child, I never imagined myself writing books. We were a poor immigrant family, and when I was a kid, my dad found a free picture book someplace and brought it home. I read that picture book over and over again as a kid. We were so poor that this picture book was the only book we had in our tiny apartment. I didn’t grow up having books around me, and my parents were so busy trying to make a living that they didn’t drive my sister and me to public libraries to borrow books.

Now that I have written my twentieth book and am hosting the Madang podcast (hosted by The Christian Century), where I invite authors to share their books, I feel that a lot of my life is now centered on reading, discussing, and writing books.

 

Your latest book, Spirit Life, came out this month! You’ve also built a comprehensive platform as a speaker, podcaster, and writer. What do you see yourself doing next?

I don’t have a big “next step” for my life except to keep writing books. When I was a PhD student, I became pregnant with my first child. I wrote a children’s book during my pregnancy, written for my unborn child, but now I have lost that manuscript. So for the past twenty-five years, I have been wishing to write a children’s book. Perhaps I will do that one day.

 

Invisible is a profoundly personal exploration of the intersection of racism, sexism, and xenophobia in your life and throughout American history. Was it hard for you to write this book? Were there days you dreaded writing? Were there other days you couldn’t write the words fast enough? Talk about how you managed to tell this story while wrestling with your emotions.

It is a very profoundly personal book. In my other books and my public lectures, I have shared some personal experiences, but Invisible has some of my very personal experiences which I am sharing for the first time in my life publicly.

It was difficult for me to write these stories. But I just kept writing them as theology does arise from our own personal experiences. All throughout church history, we have seen white male theologians do this in their own writing. Women are continuing this practice but from a deeper and more personal space.

When I was close to finishing Invisible, my laptop crashed and I lost most of my files. It took all summer to try and retrieve my lost data, but no computer company was able to do so. So I rewrote most of my book, and when my book came back from the copyeditor, I almost had a meltdown as I realized that I had written all these personal stories in Invisible. I was about to delete most of the stories but then stopped myself as the book will not work without these stories. Thus, after much internal wrestling, I kept these very personal stories. In many ways, I am glad that I kept these stories as readers have already reached out to me to thank me for including such personal stories, as they can relate to them and are grateful to hear an Asian American woman sharing stories which are so familiar to them.

To end this Q&A on a lighter note, what piece of media have you consumed recently that resonated with you? It can be a book, TV show, or movie, and why did it resonate with you?

One of my guests on the Madang podcast was Kaitlin Curtice to share her new book, Native. I found the book so profound, and it resonated so much with my own life. Our lives are so different from each other, but somehow her experiences touched me, moved me, and empowered me. Interviewing Curtice on Madang was such a spiritual experience for me as it lifted up my spirit and took me to a new space. I hope many will listen to Curtice share her story on my podcast and feel her beautiful and powerful spirit.

 

Discover More of Grace's Books:

Spirit Life

Spirit Life

Spirit Life centers on the Spirit as an avenue for better understanding God and reconciling with our faith. The Spirit is present in the Old Testament as ruach and in the New Testament as pneuma. When the field of theology was prominently German-led, theologians used the word geist to talk about the spirit. As an Asian-American theologian existing in the liminality between multiple cultural spheres, Kim finds it necessary to retrieve and disseminate Asian words and religious symbols into the mainstream discourse to revolutionize the accessibility and global understanding of God today. One important Asian concept is chi, translated as wind, breath, spirit, energy, much like ruach, pneuma, and geist. Chi is a fitting term for coming to know God as the Spirit as it effectively conveys God's presence in the world. As such, we can move toward a nondualistic theology that provides an abundant space for everyone, including the marginalized and the subordinated, paving a path toward liberation and radical demarginalization.

In the My Theology series, the world's leading Christian thinkers explain some of the principal tenets of their theological beliefs in concise, pocket-sized books.

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Invisible

Invisible: Theology and the Experience of Asian American Women

Invisibility persists throughout the Asian American story. On the one hand, xenophobia has long contributed to racism and discrimination toward Asian Americans. On the other hand, terms such as perpetual foreigner and honorific whites have been thrust upon Asian Americans, minimizing their plight with racism and erasing their experience as racial minorities. Even more indiscernible in America's racial landscape are Asian American women. The compounded effects of a patriarchal Asian culture and a marginalizing American culture are formidable, steadily removing the recognition of these women's lives, voices, and agency.

Invisibility is not only a racial and cultural issue, but also a profound spiritual issue. The Western church--and its theology--has historically obscured the concerns of Asian Americans. The Asian American church relegates women to domestic, supportive roles meant to uplift male leaders.

In Invisible, Grace Ji-Sun Kim examines encounters with racism, sexism, and xenophobia as she works toward ending Asian American women's invisibility. She deploys biblical, sociological, and theological narratives to empower the voices of Asian American women. And she shares the story of her heritage, her family history, her immigration, and her own experience as an Asian American woman. Speaking with the weight of her narrative, she proclaims that the histories, experiences, and voices of Asian American women must be rescued from obscurity. Speaking with the weight of a theologian, she powerfully paves the way for a theology of visibility that honors the voice and identity of these women. As Asian American women work toward a theology of visibility, they uplift the voiceless and empower the invisible, moving beyond experiences of oppression and toward claiming their space in the kin-dom of God.

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Intersectional Theology

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide

Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw

Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide offers a pathway for reflective Christians, pastors, and theologians to apply the concepts and questions of intersectionality to theology. Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, developed primarily by black feminists, to examine the causes and consequences of converging social identities (gender, race, class, sexual identity, age, ability, nation, religion) within interlocking systems of power and privilege (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, nativism) and to foster engaged, activist work toward social justice. Applied to theology, intersectionality demands attention to the Christian thinker's own identities and location within systems of power and the value of deep consideration of complementary, competing, and even conflicting points of view that arise from the experiences and understandings of diverse people.

This book provides an overview of theories of intersectionality and suggests questions of intersectionality for theology, challenging readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion rooted in an ecclesiology that embraces difference and centers social justice.

Rather than providing a developed systematic theology, Intersectional Theology encourages readers to apply its method in their own theologizing to expand their own thinking and add their experiences to a larger theology that moves us all toward the kin-dom of God.

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Planetary Solidarity

Planetary Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice

Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster

Planetary Solidarity brings together leading Latina, womanist, Asian American, Anglican American, South American, Asian, European, and African woman theologians on the issues of doctrine, women, and climate justice. Because women make up the majority of the world’s poor and tend to be more dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival, they are more vulnerable when it comes to climate-related changes and catastrophes. Representing a subfield of feminist theology that uses doctrine as interlocutor, this book ask how Christian doctrine might address the interconnected suffering of women and the earth in an age of climate change.

While doctrine has often stifled change, it also forms the thread that weaves Christian communities together. Drawing on postcolonial ecofeminist/womanist analysis and representing different ecclesial and denominational traditions, contributors use doctrine to envision possibilities for a deep solidarity with the earth and one another while addressing the intersection of gender, race, class, and ethnicity. The book is organized around the following doctrines: creation, the triune God, anthropology, sin, incarnation, redemption, the Holy Spirit, ecclesiology, and eschatology. 

Contributors include: Ivone Gebara, Fulata Moyo, Melanie Harris, Sallie McFague, Sharon Bong, Nancy Pineda-Madrid, Heather Eaton, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Barbara Rossing, and many other fine woman liberationists.

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Homebrewed Christianity

The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to the Holy Spirit: Hand-Raisers, Han, and the Holy Ghost

Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Tripp Fuller (Editor)

It is time for the Holy Spirit to get its own street cred! There shall be no more third-wheeling the ever-present, life-sustaining, and empowering member of the Trinity. In this guide to the Spirit, Kim is putting the Holy Ghost back where it belongs; after all, the Spirit gave birth to the church and kept it rocking, rolling, revivaling, and transforming across time and culture. Throughout the book, you will get a taste of the different ways the church has understood the Spirit, partnered with the Paraclete, and imaged the Spirit in scripture. Most importantly, Kim brings together the tradition with contemporary culture, science, and the many tongues and testimonies of the global church.

The compelling power of this volume comes from the creative interplay Kim orchestrates between images such as the Spirit as vibration, breath, and light and her powerful unpacking of different images such as the releaser of han, a Korean term for unjust suffering, or the concept of Chi. This isn't simply a guide to what the church is saying about the Holy Spirit—it's a guide to actually opening our theological imaginations to a Spirit that is present, active, and calling us to participate in life-giving work.

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Topics: Interviews, Women's History Month, Asian Scholarship

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Written by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim was born in Korea, was educated in Canada, and now teaches in the United States. She is professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana. She is the author or editor of twenty books, including "Hope in Disarray" (2020), "Intersectional Theology" (2018), and "Planetary Solidarity" (2017). She is a coeditor for the series "Asian Christianity in the Diaspora." Kim is an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister and writes for Sojourners, Wabash Center, Baptist News Global, and Feminist Studies in Religion, and has published in Time, Huffington Post, Christian Century, US Catholic Magazine, and The Nation.