Monday, June 26, 2017

Alternate Use of Millstones

In the old days, a millstone was a necessary appliance.They used it to grind the food for the kitchen table. It was an old fashion mixer. An article in The Salt Shaker of the Bible & Life magazine introduces us to alternative uses of the millstone.

Milestones come in pairs. The bed stone is stationary and usually convex and the grinding is done by the top stone which is slightly concave and has a handle which moves it against the bed stone to grind. 

After about 30 or 40 years of use the wear and tear on the millstone make it impossible to do its job of crushing the ingredients to make powder and at times it just falls apart. How does one retire the millstone?

What does one do with a millstone that no longer can function properly? They are not the kind of product you throw in the trash or the junk heap. It can no longer grind but it can serve as a weight for other food stuff in the making of kimchi. It becomes a pressure stone, but after another 30 years the corners wear down and for certain foods, it loses its value.

Often they are seen in homes on the patio or in the yards as an ornament, a reminder to the homeowners of the past. 

Buddhist monks when the millstone becomes useless in the preparation of food place them on the grounds where the water gathers in a rain storm and they become stepping stones to keep the shoes clean.

We are able to find alternative uses of many of the products that with age are no longer functional. The article ends with the conclusion that persons who know how to use things correctly will also have the personalities that will allow them to respect their fellow humans.

In the Gospels the word is used only three times and used in a very exaggerated way to show the evil of scandalizing the young: it is better to have a millstone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea than have them harm the young.  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Personal Transparency Is Difficult

In a diocesan bulletin, a college professor brings to the attention of the readers the new word used by the Korean youth: ability-like ( appearing to be someone different than one is).

In the past, this was understood as a false show of power or influence--bluster. A way of showing off one's wealth or group attachment, in a word one's superiority.

He gives the example of a table with a cup of coffee seen on the SNS, (social networking service), with the keys of a foreign made car by the coffee. Or a person with some tickets to a movie and on the wrist we have a very expensive watch.

This is no longer seen in certain circles as a simple case of showing off but a way of making a point and of getting others to see themselves as persons of quality in society. A search in how to package oneself in a new way to meet their personal expectations and be celebrated in society. A certain degree of narcissism would not be an inappropriate description  of what is happening. 

They consider themselves persons of  great ability, and successful and want to gain approval from others. Self-promotion is not unique to Korea. The SNS network, is an ideal platform for this self adulation. As a small country with an excellent communication network the young are quick to see aberrations in society.

This can be seen also in the way efforts are made to get certain 'specs' in order to succeed in society as if the college and the departments they attend will be all they need to make a mark in society; the way they will be valued in society.

The professor feels that this estrangement from the real self and the pursuit of fantasy will return to hurt the individual in the years to come. When truth is sacrificed the psyche will pay a price. 

Living as weak and deficient human beings and willing to make this known to the whole world is a desire the professor would like to see enter our society. This is the hope he has, a change that would benefit all.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sound of Silence

In 1980 American animal studies discovered how elephants are able to communicate with each other. They noticed a quivering of the area near the mouth. Vibrations and with low-frequency sound, elephants can communicate with other elephants miles away. Some of the sounds are at such a low frequency that humans are not able to hear. They can even communicate when a concrete wall a meter thick separates the animals.

In the Catholic Peace Weekly, a columnist introduces the readers to the mystery of sound and sight with which we are surrounded daily. No space is silent but filled with all kinds of sound and light that we can't perceive but none the less present. 

Bats and dolphins hear sounds at higher frequencies than humans. With ultrasound, they look for food and communicate with their kind and at great distances. Dolphins can send signal thousands of kilometers: highly efficient mobile phones.

Two dolphins that were in Seoul were freed in their home waters of Jejudo recently. When the period of acclimation is over next month they will be released into the wide open ocean. It is very likely they have already sent their signals to the other dolphins in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

We only hear the sounds that our ears allow. When the frequency is either too high or too low we don't  hear the sound. There is no such thing as a silent room. A radio is able to pick up sound in a room, the radio waves are changed into sound waves enabling us to hear beautiful music. The sounds of nature are always surrounding us.

Sight and hearing are basically the same: fast waves are light and slow waves are sound said very simply  but with truth. We are surrounded by all kinds of wavelengths and as humans perceive a small part.

Out of our vision range, we are blind. Insects are able to search for food with their infrared rays.
We all see the world differently. We see as if we were limited to one octave of music in the hearing realm. Science with the use of infrared light telescopes are able to detect celestial bodies that were not seen with the ordinary telescopes.

We can believe that what we hear and see is all that there is but that is a serious mistake. The universe is much more mysterious. That should humble us and make us think. What we believe is empty is filled  with all kinds of beauty and truth. God's silence we can never escape.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Empathy and Solidarity

In View from the Ark in the Catholic Times, the columnist recalls a phrase he heard on Religious mercy that remained with him. Empathy is internal mercy; solidarity is external mercy. Briefly, religion in our present world needs to have both empathy and solidarity.

This is just another name for love: Pope Francis' understanding of mercy. "There is no neutrality in the presence of pain", empathy and solidarity are one. We can't conceal the truth: when life is getting tedious and boring we face weakness and need to nurture empathy and solidarity.

Consequently, this is why we need cooperation and teamwork. We are all in the same world but not all is fair and just; the reason we need empathy and solidarity.

To achieve this we need the power of persuasion. Especially when plans face pressure, explanations and persuasion are required. Communication and mutual understanding require empathy and solidarity. How do we realize this empathy and solidarity?  It doesn't come easy.This is why we need to walk in the other's shoes for a while. When we reflect on our humanity we gather strength but when empathy is missing we feel an emptiness.

In the actions of Jesus, we have empathy and solidarity. His empathy was mercy. Helpful it is to remind ourselves of Jesus' washing the feet of the disciples. A society with which I can't empathize is a dead society. When we see another in difficult straits and show no concern we are part of the problem.  

Those who enter the convent or monastery are not fleeing the world but want to communicate with the world. Christianity is a way of empathizing and showing solidarity with the world and empathizing with the will of Jesus and working in solidarity with this will. 

We are all searching for happiness but this is not what appears to be the case in society. Our lifestyle is a problem but the urging of society is not of little consequence. Consequently, we see victimization and anger in society. To put up with the sadness of life is virtuous but not always so. There are times when passivity is cowardliness. To refuse to be involved is wrong. Henry David Thoreau in his book Civil Disobedience said: "It is better to respect justice than to respect the law." It is not easy to be empathetic, and solidarity is even harder. If we would feel the urgency of this in our lives things would be different.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happiness Index and Korea

An interview with the president of the Korean Friendship Association of the Kingdom of Bhutan was written up in the Catholic Peace Weekly. The President gives us some background to why Bhutan has the highest Happiness index of all the countries in the world.

If the government is not able to make the citizens happy it has no reason to exist. This is a sentence from their code of law. Since The Kingdom of Bhutan has no embassy in Korea the Friendship Association is recognized as a spokesperson for the Kingdom in Korea.

Gross national happiness is what has taken the place of gross national product which was the gift of the fourth king of Bhutan in 1970. Most of the countries have made their goal economic development. Bhutan differently was concerned with the rich-poor gap, destruction of the environment, which was producing negative side effects and prompted the government to study the problem. The results are what the whole word has become interested in.

Bhutan has shown concern for economic development,  care for the environment, the preservation of the culture and leaders who take initiative in working for change. Each country has a different population and conditions which will require different approaches to achieve the happiness goal for the citizens. Thailand, Dubai, and the state of California have shown a desire to follow Bhutan. 

Is it possible to gauge the happiness level of a country? In Korea happiness and the condition for happiness are often confused. If you ask a Korean about happiness they will mention health and their children going to the right schools as a condition for happiness. In Bhutan it is not the conditions but happiness itself, it is not related to conditions. It is what is desired deep down in one's heart which requires some know-how to achieve this knowledge.

The national committee approves the suggestions that come in from the different sections of society. The committee selects the policies that they deem will make over 82 percent of the citizens happy. If a suggestion is not seen as fostering the happiness of the citizens it is not accepted.

Once suggestions are accepted do we see a change in the happiness level of the citizens? Here in Korea, the suicide rate is the highest of all the countries of the OECD.This is a sign that we have a great deal of anger in society and a lack of happiness. This requires efforts on the part of the government to work on these areas of pain in society. 

In conclusion of the interview, the president mentions that if the suicide rate went down to number two after the effort in working on GNH, Gross National Happiness, they would know that Korea had some success.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Who Is My God?

The Catholic Peace Weekly columnist mentions a family friend who expresses her concern about the conflict between common sense and law. A niece brought some meat to celebrate her aunt's birthday. It was Friday and the aunt never even looked at the meat and was content with the seaweed soup. The friend said to the columnist that attitude goes against all common sense. ( And also a mature Christian's conscience for love, in this case, trumps the Friday discipline)

Another example comes from a forum on Justice and Reconciliation in which a participant in response to a talk said: "Is not the Church too involved in the works of society to an extreme degree?" Another participant in response: " I see the response of the Church as passive we should be more involved."

Both of these examples come from two different situations but they express the differences Christian have on religious life. Those who consider themselves Christian need to examine the God to whom they pray. He mentions a book he is reading in which the author uses five different types of understanding of God.

The first is a Vending Machine God: you put the money in and press the button and what you want comes out. I put in my prayers, money, sacrifices, and God will return in blessings. When it doesn't happen the vending machine is out of order and we shake it and complain.

Secondly, we have the Watch Maker God: He puts all of it together and lets it run on its own. We merely standby and watch.

Third the Buffet God: He has prepared many tasty dishes and according to our tastes we can pick and choose what we want. The ones we have no taste for we can ignore. 

The Police God: God is always on the prowl ready to catch us in some delinquency, ready to punish.

The Life Insurance God: We don't need him now. He is necessary when we have an accident and face trouble. He will save us from the fires of hell. 

The writer asks us if any of these five speak to us. He reminds us that they have nothing to do with the God that Jesus presented to us. These are the kinds of God the atheist enjoys protesting against and the mature Christian does too. Our God is the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit the God of love.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Martin Luther and Korean Catholicism

This year is the 500 anniversary of Martin Luther's religious revolution.The Catholic Church for some time has considered him a heretic but in recent years this is changing. A professor at the Catholic Medical School writes about the change in View from the Ark in the Catholic Times.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI  said that he was not a heretic but one who wanted to clean out the corruption within the Church. He did not want to leave the Church. Pope Francis praised him as a great intellect who wanted to reform the Church of his time.

The present Church is doing many of the things that Luther advocated many centuries ago.We have the faithful reading the Scriptures, sermons are important, we sing many hymns at the liturgy, all points that Luther stressed. The changes to the vernacular in the liturgy at the Second Vatican Council were all changes Luther wanted. His irascible personality prevented his ideas from being accepted within the community of faith and consequently his leaving the Church.

The church has to always be reforming and not be negligent in this regard. The Church when we are not taking the correct road the Holy Spirit is present ready to lead us. This is the teaching of the Church. From the very beginning of the Church community, we hear this message repeated in the Scriptures.

Karl Barth the Protestant theologian says the Church needs to be always on the road to reformation. This is not only the Church but each individual Christian needs to continually be reforming our understanding of the road we are on. We are bombarded with noise from the society in which we live which makes the path we are traveling filled with obstacles. Discernment is necessary.

The professor finds it difficult to find where we are examining the road on which we are on. We do not have the will or desire to undergo a reformation. The religious and clergy are concerned with external affairs and pass over important matters. The laity with little knowledge goes along with this understanding. They are the subjects of the community but rarely are they brought into the decision making.

Sharing, fellowship, and sending are overlooked at the Sunday Mass and we have only a passive attendance. The sermons do not address where the young people are in society and their problems which alienate them from the community and we remain only a social gathering.

We have to learn some of the things that Luther has taught us. We have to turn our eyes from the external to the internal, from the material to the spiritual. A need to reconsider the efforts that seem  expended in outdoing the building programs of other dioceses. The clergy and laity need to work together. Both have to share the worries together and plan together. Not only concerned about knowing God but sharing the love we have received. This is the first step on the reformation we need to undergo.