This blog has been a long time coming but back in September, I was blessed with the honor of a lifetime. My sisters, my good friend Aaron and I traveled to Washington, DC to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of our father's military service as Chinese Americans in World War II. In 2018, Congress passed a law that all Chinese Americans who served in WWII would be recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal. About 20,000 of them served in all branches of the military including Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Army Air Force and Coast Guard including women! Only 40% of them were actual citizens. My father enlisted in the US Army, PFC in the 749th Tank Battalion and served in France, Belgium and Germany including the D-Day invasion. My only regret is that he did not live to know about and receive the medal himself.
The event in DC was the National Recognition Ceremony but there will be a Regional Gold Medal Presentation Ceremony for NY and NJ on Saturday, December 18th at the Sun Yat-Sen MIddle School, 100 Hester St. NYC. Details and register here. I registered for Session 3 at 4:30 pm.
The National Event included a tour of the Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday which was amazing. I had never been there and got to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here's a link to a Youtube video about the tomb and why you never mess with the guard. It was also a blessing meeting other families like a couple whose husband is an epidemiologist from California also named "Milton."
Of course, the big day was Thursday which was the Awards Ceremony, dinner and gala held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington. It was the honor of a lifetime to be part of this historic event in Chinese American history. Our story is part of the American story. Here's a picture of me with the Ed Gor, the National Director of the Chinese American WWII Recognition Project. Many thanks to him. He gave a quite emotional testimony on a previous occasion of why he led this project as a civilian! Here's the link. To God be the glory.
For more information and details, go the the website of the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project at www.caww2.org .
Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:34 NIV)
Over two decades ago, when I was a young pastor, I remember distinctly choosing my very first series of sermons to preach on: the Gospel of John. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my home church, The Life Christian Church, had decided to study John for its first trimester this year in 2021. Likewise, I was privileged to lead my TLCC Scripture Study LIFE group on Wednesday evenings through the gospel chapter by chapter from February to June with some very eager Bible students. I was pleasantly surprised because this gave me the opportunity to come back to this portion of Scripture and "read the Bible again for the first time" as Marcus Borg would say.
When I preached through John the first time, my standard commentaries back then were the likes of Leon Morris, Don Carson, F. F. Bruce and Merrill Tenney (in the EBC first edition). The first thing you will notice is that the commentaries today are thicker and longer. Among the best commentaries recommended by Don Carson in his latest (2013) New Testament Commentary Survey are J. Ramsay Michaels' at about 1000 pages and Craig Keener's at about 1600 pages (in two volumes total). At church, Pastor Terry Smith was using Frederick Dale Bruner's commentary at about 1200 pages. My colleague, Max Lee at North Park Seminary, recommended Marianne Meye Thompson which was the most recent of the bunch but the shortest at about 500 pages.
It was in one of our Bible studies, that someone asked what is the meaning of the "flow of blood and water" in Jn. 19:34? We didn't really have time to address it then so I have taken the time to address it here on my blog with a view towards examining what the various commentaries have to say.
Of course, the context is the death of Jesus on the cross. He had already died upon uttering the final words, "It is finished." The Jews of the day in honoring Jewish custom asked Pilate to remove the bodies of the men from their crosses before the Sabbath which was even a special Sabbath for Passover week. In order to do this, the Romans would often break the legs of the victims to hasten their demise. They called this procedure crurifragium. After breaking the legs of the two men beside Jesus, they came upon him only to observe that he was already dead and therefore did not need to have his legs broken and then we have our verse in question. It is important to note that this flow of blood and water was unusual in some sense and must have had great meaning for John for he immediately writes: "The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true" (John 19:35 NIV). Western readers tend to focus on the materialistic aspects of the scene. The NIV Study Bible, for example, comments that the flow of blood and water is: "The result of the spear piercing the pericardium (the sac that surrounds the heart) and the heart itself." But isn't John's statement more than an observation of anatomy and physiology?
Here come the commentaries! Of the recent ones mentioned, Keener's is the earliest published in 2003. He argues on the basis of the powerful use of and imagery of water in the gospel of John, that the water symbolizes the gift of the Holy Spirit promised in Jn. 7:37-39:
It is a bit ironic that at least on this particular passage (Jn. 19:34), the best and fullest commentary of the four happens to be Bruner's. Don Carson rather pan's his work as "uneven" and exegetically weak (in his NTCS). And he does have some rather extreme translations like:
So, what is the meaning of the flow of blood and water in Jn. 19:34? In my estimation, it makes sense to tie this to 1 Jn. 4 and John's emphasis on the real humanity and real death of Jesus on the cross. But the fourth gospel is also a spiritual gospel and the most theological of all. From the beginning, we hear Jesus say "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days." (Jn. 2:19) referring to his body. The blood and water must also signify something else. The blood most certainly symbolizes his death and the water most probably the Holy Spirit á la Keener. The sacramental interpretation fits nicely and neatly (communion and baptism) but nothing in the context would necessarily trigger such an association.
It had been about fifteen months since movie theaters had shut down because of the pandemic on March 15, 2020. There were even rumors that the AMC movie chain would be filing Chapter 11 and going out of business. Thus, I was anxious to return to the theater experience I had missed for over a year. Meanwhile, a sort of post-pandemic blockbuster release was all set for July 9th and I was raring to go. Black Widow features two of my favorite actors, Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz and the release became the highest grossing pandemic film that weekend coveting a total of $345 million worldwide.
Ever since seeing Age of Ultron back in 2015 with some friends, I was never a fan of the Marvel comics universe of films. I remember, my friends and I walking out of the AMC Kips Bay in Manhattan asking ourselves, "So, what was that movie all about." These productions tend to have a lot of action but very little story and thought-provoking commentary. And after all, great films are about great story-telling. But Black Widow was different. Thank goodness, it didn't begin with the stereotypical action-packed opening scene. Instead, a young Natasha Romanoff and her sister Yelena are whisked away with their parents by plane escaping some sort of capture. We learn later that mom and dad are not their real parents nor are they real sisters but a imposter family of Russian agents on mission. Having completed their mission, the young girls are taken away and put into training to become black widows with Johansson as the grown-up Natasha and Florence Pugh as grown-up Yelena. This film has a story that is at least understandable and engaging. I think one of the best lines is when Yelena reflects on her young life in her phony family and says "But it was real to me!" Pugh's performance was impressive; Johansson's was not bad, confusing at times because I didn't know how to interpret her often beguiling smile/smirk. The fight scene between the two of them was incredible.
Overall, Black Widow is a good film for its genre and worth seeing. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing it again. I have to thank my friend Brian for letting me tag along with him and his sister for the AMC Prime experience at the Wayne theater opening weekend and for his explanations of the Marvel universe and sequence of films. My son, Jonathan, also filled me in and had me watch Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War at home on Disney Plus. Not exactly, my favorite types of films to watch, not very profound nor thought-provoking. But then I realized, "Hey, it's just entertainment." And the kind we need for a semi-post-pandemic world.
Earlier this year around February, I had heard a lot of intriguing buzz around this film by another Korean director in another Korean language film. I was still quite enamored by Bong Joon-ho's Parasite (2019) and had even recently attended a discussion group about the film sponsored by my university. So (perhaps unfairly), I was looking forward to another masterpiece by another Asian director. Parasite in my opinion is worthy of five stars plus.
Minari is indeed a beautiful and touching film revolving around the hopes, dreams and struggles of a Korean couple trying to make it in heartland America. It contains powerful performances by the main characters Jacob (played by Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri). The grandma Soon-ja (played by Youn Yuh-jung) won the Oscar for best supporting actress at the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25th. The director is Lee Isaac Chung. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for six academy awards.
The film is set in the 1980s. Jacob and Monica Yi move from California to rural Arkansas to start a new life on land they purchased to grow Korean vegetables. The story line is engaging as subplots revolve around their son David's heart condition, their adjustment to rural America as Korean immigrants, David's relationship to grandma newly arrived from Korea to help out and their struggles to make the farm work. But the heart of the film is the relationship between Jacob and Monica, husband and wife. Director Chung excavates a common but sensitive area of married life: a husband's dream of success and a wife's abandonment of that dream and what that means for the marriage. Thus, Minari contains some of the best and most authentic fight scenes I've ever witnessed on film between a husband and wife. I thought Han Ye-ri as Monica was worthy of an Oscar. Other performances all around were powerful and engaging.
Probably the biggest drawback of the film for me was a sense of ambiguity or the film could have been clearer and more poignant. When the barn catches fire and Monica rushes in to save the produce is that because she now believes in Jacob's dream? When Jacob saves her from the fire, does that now mean he realizes his love for her is the most important thing in his life? When little David runs after grandma at the end when he shouldn't be running because of his heart, we get the turnabout of his affections but it seems to come off a little flat. I noticed too that there is very little development in the parent's relationship to their daughter. She is almost invisible. Either there is just too little development in some parts of the film or it is just too subtle for me (and American audiences). My son remarked at the end, "Dad, why did you make us watch this movie? Nothing good happens in it!"
Nevertheless, Minari is a good to very good film to watch. If I could, I might give it four and a half stars. It includes very strong performances, an engaging story line and a subtle but positive ending. I recommend it.
For a taste, check out the video below.