Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Unity In Love

We are in the Auschwitz concentration camp at night. The early winter moonlight is cold and white as it shines inside the barracks.The inmates look ghostly lying in line and the barracks in complete silence. It is not too difficult to imagine such a scene. This is often the background in movies and documentaries. 

Breaking the silence is a song from the corner of the barracks. It is a song of an ancient Hebrew prayer called "Kol Nidre".  Moonlight shines  on the face of an old man staring at the night sky through the window. The prisoners wake up quietly, one by one, and stare at the moonlit face of the old man. At the end of the song their faces show signs of joy. The old man was so engrossed in singing his prayers that he didn't notice that the inmates were  listening.

One of the survivors from Auschwitz, Leon Szalet testified that the hope that had begun in the death camp that night was "a delight that only those who have fallen to the bottom" can  experience. The  testimony of Szalet arose in the thoughts of our writer in his article in the Peace Weekly for Mission Sunday Oct. 20th, due to Korea's gloomy religious reality.

Religious people talk too freely and easily about God they believe. Questions about the biggest difficulties and   puzzles in life are met with ready answers and great conviction. For a while, this was heard on TV healing programs, but nowadays  the public square has become a battlefield for political ideology. The writer does not have the ability to comment on the extreme remarks of the few  people coming from the square.

In the society in which we live, if a religious scandal hits the media, all religions will be mocked on a large scale. Many of the Zacchaeuses  (Luke 19,1-10), who are in the Sycamore trees will, descend from the tree and just return home. God-denying atheists, skeptics, who have been curious about Jesus Christ just turn their backs and walk away.

What song should Christians sing in this dark night? What song should you sing to the Zacchaeuses in the trees.Those who cry in the pit of pain what song will bring them the hope of deliverance?

The Zacchaeuses of this age want to hear God's promise to be with us even at the time of death. When such a song of salvation is heard, you will sit and listen in a devotional manner like the Auschwitz prisoners. In addition, the Zacchaeuses are thirsting for unity. This is because we are tired of conflict and dividing into factions.

The Christian faith is small but an intense spark. The flame must not be buried in the ashes of conflict. To be neutral or have  vague attitudes are signs of  spiritual laziness. Coming out of the ashes, you have to ignite the desire for harmony and healing. People are hurting because of all the  conflict and hatred, but why not sing the gospel song of reconciliation, forgiveness, love, and brotherhood?

We look forward to seeing  in our religious leaders a message of healing and unity. That is the song that Christians should sing now, and the good news for which  Korean society is waiting. Suddenly, our writer  misses Cardinal Kim Su-hwan.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Search for Meaning

Life is filled with many woes: not satisfying, weariness, boredom, much is missing. The moment this changes to joy, shortly it returns to the original state. We are bound by the chains of dissatisfaction.  A professor in the science of the mind in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine gives us a scientific understanding of what humans desire.

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, says all life has two basic emotions: positive and negative. If it is a negative emotion one strives to be rid of it, if positive one wants it to remain. This is true of all the many different emotions. 

What do we desire to avoid and what to possess? Hunger, pain, danger, are all associated with death, if possible we try to get rid of them. Satisfaction, security, happiness are related to life and we desire them. This is a basic principle in biology. All life follows this principle.

However, there is one exception, human beings. Up until now, it's only humans that kill themselves. We hear stories of animals killing themselves but they are only legends. Only humans show an absence of motivation to initiate purposeful activities. We see it often in cases of depression, not found in any other animal life.

 Not to desire anything is seemingly to rise to a high level of self-control but it's not a plus. In serious cases of depression, one often falls into this kind of situation— no desire to eat, sleep, no joy, or sadness. No motivational desire, there is no will even to kill oneself.

In 1944 in the concentration camp of Auschwitz many thousands of Jews were incarcerated. Vaguely they believed they would be freed at Christmas of that year. This was a groundless belief but it gave them hope. But nothing happened and within a week many died. A month later they were freed.

 What one hopes for is not that important. Hope itself gives life, energy. But without hope, seeking only power brings death. People who are depressed often kill themselves when they are recovering. They find the strength to do it.

 Of the seven capital sins, greed, lust, etc. half of them are to do with selfishness. When nothing is desired that is a very serious situation, it's called sloth. Eating to satiety, to rest and play is not just laziness, when all motivation and hope are missing we have depression.

 The writer uses Heidegger's expression of having been thrown into the world. We don't know what is our destiny which makes us feel uncomfortable. Greed, lust, gluttony, pleasure doesn't solve anything. It leads to boredom. Anxiety leads to depression and helplessness.

Hope is not only looking to win the lottery, get into college, get a promotion. This is only a release from the present anxiety using a temporary pleasure. It's not traveling around the world,  bungee jumping or other activities on our wish list which are just forms of escape, and bring more weariness and fatigue.

We need not ask what we can gain from life but what life wants from us. Our life can be unhappy, tragic, but it is not necessarily a failure. Life's object is not happiness or success. We need to look for what life is asking from us. It is the search for meaning.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Transparency in the Use of Money within Religion

Today as in the beginning and throughout history, we have the continual betrayal of Jesus' message by the messengers. Those who should be an example often are far from that in their words and actions. In recent years what upsets the faithful is the aberrations in sexual and monetary matters both the sinful and the unwise words and actions of those called to be the teachers, and especially the clergy.

Last year there was a gathering of parish priests. At the end of the meeting, a priest asked them to talk about the offering to the bishop during the Confirmation visit to the parishes It was a topic of interest to many at the meeting. Each year, the priests are concerned about how much to offer as a Confirmation gift to the bishop. This issue was the subject of an article in a bulletin for priests.

 Korea has the anti-corruption law which took effect in 2016. The law aims to stop the use of gift-giving to curry favors with those in public office, the media, and education. The drinking and dining at expensive restaurants have certain limits, parents will not be giving gifts to teachers and one has to be careful about how much they give at marriages and funerals, etc. Limits to monetary gifts have been set. This anti-corruption law is called the Kim Young-ran Act.

Among OECD countries, South Korea ranked 29th in the degree of corruption in society out of 35 countries in 2017, showing no change from the previous year. (The higher the number the more corruption) At times it is difficult to determine if a gift is a bribe or a true gift without expectations. Even within the church, the difference between gift and bribe is at times open to question as it was in this article.

In a large diocese a priest who lived a very simple lifestyle and was upright in all he did always gave about 5 dollars as a Mass stipend to the bishop on his pastoral visit for Confirmation. At that time, that was a surprisingly small amount. Most of the parishes would be giving about 300 to 500 hundred dollars.

 After sharing many stories, one priest said with a serious look. According to criminal law against officials, it could be a bribe—If a person has the right to make appointments and there is no transparency in the money received we have the opening to what the Kim Young-ran Act is trying to prevent. The Kim Young-ran Act not only applies to public officials but also strictly applies to civilians even in small amounts.

A bishop in a large city some years ago said that he will not accept any gifts during the pastoral visits to the parishes. Some diocese has set a uniform amount of about 300 dollars. However, there are not a few priests who give more than that. Many poor parishes in the country said they could only give a small amount, and that has been no problem.

One bishop said he turns all the money over to the diocese that would manage the money. Some said they use it for special works in the church. For hundreds of years, few objected to the use of such money, and have taken it for granted, but the changes of the times seem to apply to a new reality.

At the meeting, some said it was advisable to put bishops' gifts into the diocesan budget because this is a time when society is asking for more transparency. On the other hand, others said the Mass stipends have a long history of being used for living expenses in church law, they have no problem with the tradition.

In recent years, there has been a movement within Korea to get rid of the corruption that we have in society. In Buddhism, Protestantism, and Catholicism, monks, pastors, and priests gathered to find ways to get rid of corruption within the religious communities. Many things have to be corrected in the religious world, but the problem of money is the quickest way to corrupt religion. And many agreed that fiscal transparency must be achieved to prevent corruption.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Passing Down Social Status

Pope Francis in August of  2014 beatified  Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 companions. The writer in the Peace Column of the Peace Weekly reminisces and gives us some thoughts on the kind of society we have made. Blessed Paul impressed the writer in refusing to have the funeral rites for his mother according to the customs of the time because for him it had elements which he considered superstitious and because of this died a martyr. Not following social custom was shocking to the Joseon society and the Confucian tradition.

Another of the Blessed was Hwang Il-kwang, Simon (1757-1802). He was a member of the lowest class in society but was treated so well that he felt he was already in heaven. He was just moving from one heaven to another. For him the church was a light that opened the way for us to live in heaven.

Recently Korean society has seen the way some of the elite in society have used their influence to gain benefits that the ordinary citizen would find impossible, showing the inequality and unfair structures of society. Blessed Simon may be looking down from heaven with a sad heart. In the believers' village in which he lived, the upper class lived with the commoners and the lowest of society, and all sharing what they had, poor they were, but nobody in that village was dying from hunger in the Confucian society of that day.

In our society argue some: children are born with gold, silver, copper, and earthen spoons depending on their parents' wealth and power. In addition to inheriting wealth, the homes where they live, children inherit the parents high social status, and specialties: the best work, professorships,and positions in law and medicine. But if they inherit such positions  through fair competition there is no problem but through unfair competition and corruption, this angers the young people.

Status patrimony is usually more associated with the conservatives in society but it doesn't matter for it is now pretty much  the same on the right or left. It is more common with those financially better off and the desire to secure a better future for their children with illegality, shortcuts and ethical irregularities.

We often hear that the 386 generation (The '386 Generation' is the generation of South Koreans born in the 1960s) are now in the mid to late 50s in age and the generations who live the best since Dangun, the founding father of the Korean nation. Those in their 20s and 30s are the first generation to live a more difficult life than their parents. Difficulties of those in their 20s and 30s can be quickly recognized by the problem of expanding irregular jobs, booming home prices, late marriages, low birth rates and the cost of children's education. The starting line for the young people who have inherited the earthen spoons will be left behind.

The late Cardinal Kim Su-hwan said he was more concerned with the peace of life in this world more than the peace of the future, and with the peace in life, not the peace of mind. A famous Buddhist monk had the same thoughts in that we need to work towards a heaven on this  earth with our efforts.

It is said that more than 10,000 of our ancestors in the  faith sacrificed their lives from the persecution of 1791 to 1866. Many of the ancestors like Blessed Simon Hwang would have dreamed of a world with equality with no  passing on of social status. Just as the Catholic Church was a light to our ancestors, it is now the time the church needs to speak for the young people in their 20s and 30s and feel their pain and understand their hearts and lead them to a present-day heaven.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Democracy and History

In recent years the conflict between the conservatives and liberals in Korea continues and is deepening. This is also true in other countries but at present in Korea the liberals are in control and recently the appointment of a cabinet minister with apparent problems with family finances and facilitating the entrance of a daughter to a prestigious college without  going through the ordinary channels and with ethically questionable procedures has been top news.  A priest sociologist gives us his opinion on what is happening in the Catholic Times Weekly column, Eyes of the Believer.

He sees the issue as much larger than an individual cabinet minister. This he considers only as a surface pretext for a struggle for power— hegemony, and wants the readers to look deeply into what is happening. Not only the  politicians, but the biased media and the actions of the prosecution requires a deeper reflection and understanding of democracy and historical consciousness.

The first article of the Korean Constitution states: "Korean sovereignty belongs to the people and all power comes from the people." However, the people are made up of different groups with diverse backgrounds, social strata,  religions and professions. We live with each other, pursue dialogue and compromise and are one nation and follow the principle of  majority rule but this is only a formality. A democracy is clearly superior to authoritarianism and oligarchy for it has a system to check for power monopoly but the democratic system is not perfect. People can be deceived by the media, people ignore truth and are often trapped within self interest groups which leads to fights with the other self interest groups in society ignoring the common good.

Historical consciousness is what  gives life to democracy. Modern Korean history has been an intense process that has advanced the movement of  history, pursuing universal human rights and the values of the  common good,  from the democratization movement against military dictatorship to the recent candlelight revolution. The flow of history toward a more just and equitable society, a society where the values ​​of the common good are realized, has become a spirit of the times. True democracy can be realized when all citizens have an awakened sense of history and a sense of mission and are willing to go beyond the collective selfishness of their particular groups, deceiving themselves with arrogance and selfishness and understanding it as freedom and democracy.

Both the judiciary and prosecutors need to realize the "historical calling of the candlelight revolution" and reform our present errors. Prosecutorial reforms are a challenge for today. The independence and impartiality of the Judiciary and the Independence  of the prosecutors is necessary to ensure the rule of law and the protection of the human rights of the citizens. A check for prosecutors is urgently needed to establish public accountability in the era of 'national democracy'. Under Japanese colonial rule prosecutors had unlimited power that would have put Jesus, Confucius and Buddha in prison and closed their eyes to problems within their own ranks and this has tended to continue.
Journalists must also be watchmen who practice their calling to advance the wheels of history based on truth. Media that intentionally disseminates false articles or produce 'garbage information' from non-factual speculation harms society and makes us sick. Just as academic scholars require institutional approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to avoid harming others, media workers who publish newspapers, broadcasts, and YouTube articles should be open to the same procedures. Ethics of the press needs to be strictly legislated and implemented to comply with the law.

Lawmakers who leave the National Assembly for the streets without complying with the parliamentary democratic process will also have to remember what they are passing down to those who follow and leaving shameful footsteps in history. In addition, politicians who have clung to vested interests or neglected the common good as  descendants of the pro-Japanese, lack a sense of history. "Confused today, thirsty for truth, peace, and justice… History reflects on the past and shows the way forward." (Pope Francis).

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Habit of Labeling People

"Right from the beginning, I didn't want to say a word...." With anger in his voice H spit out these words. Someone in the group tells H he is always complaining and it's awkward to hear. In fact, H has a habit of always nagging so as soon as he opens his mouth everybody else shuts up. The religious sister writing in her column in the Peace Weekly on Daily Events wonders how lonely he must be and admits that she also keeps her distance. 

Hearing the words of rebuke, H looked embarrassed. The sister in some attempt at empathy: "You must be very upset." Taking this as a sign of sympathy he went on vigorously with his complaints, making the group more uncomfortable. His words came out in this way: "This is not complaining it's just that I am frustrated and trying to express it by words…" which eventually led to complaints about others.

Unknowingly, the prejudice against him worked also on the  sister, who was not listening anymore. She just kept looking at her watch and hoped he would finally stop. His voice weakened and said, "I'll go now." He got up and in words more gentle in his goodbye than usual, turned to leave muttering on the way out "but it's hard for me to get along with people who provoke me, really." 

"Did I deal with him with respect? Was he able to feel the judgment and prejudices towards him I had?"  
Sister was concerned about the negative feelings towards him which made her feel uncomfortable.

Complaining does that to one. We try to justify what is done, it makes one feel superior. Sometimes feelings of injustice come to mind until they are released. I don't think what I say is complaining. I don't even think about it at all. So I can't hear myself complaining. Maybe it's because it has now become who I am.

As we look into the mind, it's as if a child is complaining. "Why is this here?" "Can't you say that a little more gently?" "The food is salty." Why is it so nosy? "Here he goes again." In our heads, we have these and many more thoughts which like in a child go around and around and at times are sputtered out.

Besides, the tendency is there to label people: 'Chatterbox', 'Blockhead', 'Zombie', 'Useless Person', 'Perfect Teacher'. The moment this happens they enter a small box I make and no longer can I experience the uniqueness and humanity of those with whom I meet and react with.

Yes. I could not see H as he was because of the label I attached to him. His wounds were also subject to judgment. So I wasn't talking to H, I was talking to the label I attached to him.

"There is something I shouldn't think of", concludes the sister. It's a label attached to someone. People labeled Mary Magdalena a 'sinner', but at that moment she was no longer a sinner. The Pharisee considered the publican who prayed in the temple a sinner, but at that moment Jesus recognized him as "righteous".

Every person we meet, who is before me right now, should be like meeting them for the first time. Because this person may not be that person he or she was yesterday. "To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often."

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A Citizen of a City that Cares

The city of Edmonton, Canada, a few years ago launched a campaign: "Hello, How are you?" A survey made, resulted in 18 percent of the citizens saying that they felt alienated while living in the city— the reason for the campaign. Followed shortly by 'Hello, Let's eat!' and 'bench buddy', let's sit and talk, opportunities to converse with others facilitated by benches spread throughout the city. Various social programs were implemented. As such, urban policy is becoming more and more caring.

Korea is no different. The stairs that come down to the plaza from Cheongnyangni station in Seoul stand out. At the beginning and at the end of the stairway, you can see materials of a different kind and color are used. At the flat landing in the middle of the stairway likewise we have a different design and color. Why so? There is a reason.  The elderly may have poor eyesight, and it is to help them to distinguish the stairs and the flat landing and help prevent falls. 

Guard fences are also installed along the streets to protect pedestrians from cars in the event they leave the street and enter the sidewalk area. Tall adults don't  have a problem but young children with guard fence height may not be visible. When installing the guard fence, care should be taken to ensure that the child standing behind the fence is visible.

If one is observant it is easy to see whether there is caring consideration for all the citizens, in the different  parts of the city. Not only healthy people live in cities. The weak live together with the strong. Some people have difficulty walking, like the elderly, while others are blind or deaf. Color blindness, poor vision, pregnant women, and children walking must remain a concern for those in city government.

Urban design should be done with the weak in mind. If only the strong are the concern of planning and design we can't say we are living in the real world. Without concern for the weak, our cities become a jungle; society lacks sensitivity, and the weak become the prey of the strong.

Cities where the weak live together is not only left to the heads of government, city officials, experts and organizations. All citizens must examine, work together to fix and bring about change. Let's start by not only thinking of my situation but the situation of others. And to check to see if it's a city where I can live comfortably as an old man not many years from now.

There is a need to take a stroll through the city with your grandfather and grandmother. Take your niece and walk along the street. Then you will know how to design a city. The moment this happens, you're a caring city architect and respected citizen.