Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Plight of Young Korean Farmers

A farmer-poet, in his column in the Catholic Times, was invited to give a talk to a group of women involved in social work. He started by asking them a number of questions: Are your parents important to you or their property? Is your husband important to you or his job? He asked them to put their hands on their hearts, and after serious thought give honest answers to themselves.

He looked at their faces intently and thought they were having a hard time deciding. He then asked another series of questions. Would they exchange their children for all the money  in the banks of the country? No matter how lacking in talent or the trouble their children caused, they said they would not exchange them for money. However, when he asked if they would exchange their husbands for money, it was then that a smile came to the faces of the women. One women said that she would have difficulty giving up her child but the husband would not be so difficult. With that answer everybody broke out in laughter. The poet said that he did not find it a laughing matter. To him it seems that we are willing to exchange anything and everything for money.

He then asked another question. Let us suppose, he said, that you  were again a young women and ready to marry, would you be willing to go to the country and marry a poor farmer?  Would you be willing to marry a young, single farmer who was kind, honest and devoted? He asked those who would be willing to raise their  hands.  Of the 100 or so women present no one raised their hands.

The  farmer was not able to laugh. If there had been one person willing to marry that farmer, he said he probably would have managed to laugh. On his way home that evening he reflected on whether our journey was for life or for death. Isn't the journey in life, for most of us, a journey in search of money and comfort? he asked himself.

The fact is that the young men on the farms are not finding it  easy to find Korean  girls who are willing to spend their lives on the farms. Women are well educated and are able to find lucrative jobs in the city. Spending their lives on the farms is not an attractive option for many of the young women of today.

New rules require that foreign brides have to have basic Korean language skills to obtain a resident visa. This will make the  possibility of finding foreign brides for farmers much harder. In 2012, 20,637 of Korean men married to foreign women 6,586 were Vietnamese; the second most popular brides, after the Chinese. It is well-known that the inability to communicate was the primary reason for the divorces and violence in the home. Recent attempts to remedy the situation will no doubt help, but without helping  very much the many farmers of today who are looking for brides to live the difficult country life.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Violence in Society

School violence is believed by many to be one of the causes for the increasing number of suicides in Korea. In 2011, with the suicide of a student because of school  violence, we all became acquainted with this ever present evil. This is the topic of an article in the Kyeongyang magazine, written by a Catholic professor who is an authority in the field.

School violence has many different aspects: bodily injury, the threat of violence in person or through cyberspace, or any acts that are potentially or actually harmful, mentally or emotionally. One of the surveys showed that 35.3 percent of violent incidents were verbal, 16.5 percent involved group bullying, 11.5 percent violence and confinement, 9.7 percent cyber abuse, 9.2 percent taking away possessions,  5.3 percent involved forcing others to do errands, 3.5  percent sexual abuse. Except for cyber abuse, which increased, the rest were similar to the  previous year.

Nearly 30 percent of the perpetrators of the abuse say it was merely a prank, 24 percent say they did not like the person, 10 percent had no reason, 4.5 percent did it to release stress and vent their resentment.

The professor asks what can be done? Although  violence takes place in the schools it is not a problem that the school alone can solve. The violence that we have in society infiltrates the school environment. Many of those who are responsible for bullying say that it was only a joke. This kind of thinking, she says, is the most dangerous because it is the most difficult to deal with.

Though we have been insensitive to violence in the society for too long, there are those who say we are   needlessly sensitive to violence in society. The professor feels there is a need to  give this topic much thought.  We need to be sensitive to any violence that we see in the society. We have violence in the home, in the school and in the mass media, and have become insensitive to it and consider it a natural part of life.

A change to  the system does not solve the problems that we have in the school. There has to be in many cases a change in the way we think. Since my own child is not a bully, many parents say, they feel there is no need for a widespread societal concern. This thinking has to change, for all of us are potential victims of bullying. When we are an unconcerned spectator we are a perpetrator. We all have to be participators in doing away with the violence that we see. The professor quotes from James 4:17: " When a person knows the right thing to do and does no do it, he sins."

The words that we use do not only  present to others our  thoughts and feelings, but form our own    thoughts and feelings. Our children's words are very coarse.  Jargon and vulgarity is used often without anything being said;  they do not hear words of warmth, encouragement and words that give life. Parents do not make the effort to correct the words of  the children to the degree that they encourage them to study. In the schools there is a need on the part of  teachers to avoid using any type of vulgarity or coarseness in  speech.

In conclusion, she finishes with the thought that words contain our values and  our beliefs. The students in school and in families are learning more from the words they hear than from the written word and the books they read.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Healing Power of Play

"He is waiting to see the day when the side streets are again filled with the voices of children playing." These are the words of a priest, in the diocesan bulletin, head of a research center concerned with the spirituality of the young,

The priest was on a trip down-country, driving along a side street where about 15 boys and girls were running every which way, hollering and jumping. He stopped the car to see what was happening. There was no problem. They were just children absorbed in playing together. He hadn't seen anything like that since he  was a child. He was overcome with a warm feeling, remembering his own childhood.

Huizinga, the scholar, said that we can't reduce all  human  activities to the level of work. There is a principle in all cultures that surpasses work, and this is play. Play, he says, is an essential part of being human. Children absorbed in  play experience joy. Play is magical, intense, fascinating and captivating.  It is the way we most naturally express ourselves, expressing our individuality, our personalities, and revealing our anger, our weakness and strong points, our creativity--all are expressed easily when we are involved in play.  Another philosopher said that play was art.

With this  thinking, it is understood that children and the young should be given the freedom to run and holler in play. During this time, the adults should not be too closely involved. This only interferes in the children's play. In play, they express what they want to do and the way they want to live. This is the  way that life is expressed for them. They become sick, and they are the doctors who heal themselves. They squabble, have war and peace, win and lose; life and death are spread out in front of them: life in miniature is placed before them in play.  Play expands their horizon and cultivates their character. In play, they are fine-tuning themselves and forming a vision of themselves for the future.

He feels that most young people do not play enough. When they go outside there are few children they can play with. You go to the side streets, and everything is deathly quiet. Children also do not have the time to play in our society. Children who play are generally in good health; without health they rarely play. Educators seeing the children playing with enthusiasm can diagnose their psychological situation. St. Don Bosco not only thought that play was important but was also a means of healing.

The priest concludes his article expressing sadness at the lack of enthusiasm among the children he sees today, because of the burden of study most of them have to deal with. He finds joy when he sees them playing together with passion.

When will the days come, he wonders, when the side streets will again fill with the sounds of the young people playing together?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Growing Old Gracefully

In a village very close to the demilitarized line between North and South Korea, there is the artist village of Heyri, where artists of all kinds live. A professor emeritus writes  in a parish bulletin about the house that was built with rusted sheets of steel. It left a deep impression on her during a visit to the village.  First of all, seeing a building built with that kind of material was novel. Asking about the building she was told that the  rust on the plates passed through a natural chemical reaction as it weathered during foul weather, eventually becoming a beautiful  chocolate color. The writer mentions that she envies the way those steel plates, in their own process of retirement, developed so beautifully.

What additives, she asks herself, does she need to face the future without fear?  She lists financial security, health,  family,  neighbors, among others that came to mind.  Looking over her standard, how difficult and tragic it must be for an older person to live well, she points out, when he is poor, not healthy, and living alone with no one to look after him.

Before retiring from her teaching position at the college, one day on her way home from school to the  subway, she saw a grandmother who was precisely in that kind of situation. She sat behind a box on which were placed taffy, pop corn and rice cookies. She looked to be in her eighties, stooped over, but was actually, she later learned, 73 years old. Outside of days when there was snow on the ground, she would be at her box selling her goods.

On passing her spot on the sidewalk, she would always stop to buy some of her foodstuffs, and on  occasions she would bring her something to eat but she  would always get  some thing  in return. Once she became friendly with the woman she asked about her family and was told she had a daughter, who lived  quite a distance away and they were no long communicating. Since she has nothing to give her daughter it was natural that the relationship had  developed the way it had, she said, dispassionately.

There were a number of days that she did not appear. The police had confiscated all that she had, she said. The writer felt so bad that she gave her all the money she had with her, and again she gave her some Korean dates in return.

Now that she is a retired professor, she reflects on the life of the grandmother,
who despite the difficult life she has lived does not dwell upon her misery, but lives every day to the best of her ability. She wonders whether having many possessions was the reason she  became friendly with the grandmother.

Her worries about amassing  a lot of material goods, which became her must-have additives in life, were probably, she said, in God's providence the reason she met the grandmother. The additives that she needs now, she believes, are feelings of gratitude  and the need to entrust everything to God. This additive, from among the many others, she says, is the one she is most concerned about continuing to have as she moves forward into her retirement years.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is the Resurrection Genuine?

"Is the Resurrection of Jesus for real?  I want to believe, help me believe." These are the words that begin an article in the Bible & Life magazine. The priest writing the article says, sorry but there is no answer that  one is able to 'grasp' with their hands. He will present some points to ponder on the  missing body in the tomb.

Hypothesis #1:  The disciples stole the body and buried it in another place. The possibility of this happening he says is zero. No one is willing to die for a lie. The apostles after the Resurrection went around preaching about the Resurrection and  became martyrs.

Hypothesis #2: The enemies of Jesus took the body which also makes no sense. If that was the case when the  apostles went around preaching about the Resurrection they would  have shown the body. His friends or enemies did not have a chance to move the body because it was no longer in the tomb.

Does this help to persuade? he asks. There is the shaking of the head, the expected response. Do we want to say it is a metaphor? There is nothing with which we can compare it to in our  world of experience. If you ask him what is the reason for the belief he responds that it is the change in the apostles. Men who were dim-witted, slow to understand and cowards, how in the world did they change into peerless heroes, afraid of nothing?  How was it that those who scattered every which way at the crucifixion were able to become so firmly united? How was the brother of Jesus, who thought Jesus was out of his head, become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. How was it that  Paul and the early Christians were able to withstand the horrible death incurred at the hands of the Roman authorities with such peace? Where did that passion  and courage come from? If Jesus had just disappeared and deserted the community would that early community have continued to exist with the persecution that they faced? This enormous change in the  members is what we call the Resurrection experience.

Those of you who are still nodding your head he wants to introduce you to a person who faced death with great peace--Stephen. He is a prime example of an  Easter person. The death of Stephen is, besides the death of Jesus, the only one that shows the death of a just one. They are the same ones who killed our Lord and before Stephen died he cried out in a loud voice: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Where did this strength and transcendence come from?

What seems contradictory in the Scriptures about the Resurrection--the different retelling of the story--only leads to showing the trustworthiness of what happened; there was no attempt to harmonize the different accounts, and the very idea that the women were the first witnesses (contrary to what the  Jewish tradition would consider a reliable witness) gives credibility to the oral accounts that  were later written down in our Scripture. The accounts are not about a few individuals but of many which adds a great deal to the way we look upon the Resurrection.
We do not have any incontrovertible proofs of the Resurrection, but  there are good reasons for the reliability of what is recounted in the Scriptures. This is not easily denied.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning to Live in South Korea

North Korean refugees in South Korea when allowed to talk about their problems in the South are often speaking about  difficulties with the culture of the South. One of them who is a college student and has been in the country for 5 years, writes about some of these difficulties in her column in the Catholic Times.

During the five years, she says, much has changed.  Having been born and educated in the  North, she finds many things here in the South strange and difficult to get accustomed to. One of most difficult would be the many different words of greeting:  hello...thank you...I'm  sorry. Why, she asks, is it so difficult for her to utter these words? They are not words she is accustomed to using, and so she has difficulty speaking them. When she hears these words she doesn't know how to reply, and avoids looking at the person.  Even though her head tells her to respond the lips will not  go along.

It is not that they do not have words of greeting in the North, but in the South one expresses their intentions  and thoughts so freely that it is difficult to make a response that is not awkward, she says.

Another problem develops when it comes to choosing. Those in the South also have problems with making selections, but with the writer  her problem is that she is fearful to  choose. In the North the education is the cramming method and she was brought up in a different social  structure than exists here in the South, and the opportunities to choose were not  many.  In a word, she says, they are not  practiced in the ways of choosing. When a friend asks: "What do you want to  eat, where do you want to go?"  Her constant answer is: "whatever you want."

In her first job in a market she uttered her words of greeting like a robot. It was difficult and when she got home she would practice this often to make it a habit. After a period of time this did become easier and more natural. Not only were the words of greeting easier to say but also the ability to express what she felt inside became easier.

Even when it comes to choosing, no longer does she have the problems of the past.  When asked does she want coffee or tea she readily answers: "I will have coffee". Her friends are surprised to see the change in her responses.

She has come a long way from what it was 5 years ago. Time  was necessary, but today  she is able to speak freely about her feelings and make the choices  that come her way. It did take time but today she feels she has made a successful transition  to life in the South.

How much the culture in which we live influences us is readily forgotten and yet the pressures and impact they have on our behavior is not small. What we think is our choice is not infrequently the influence of the culture, either in acquiescence or in opposition, and only rarely is it the act of a free and intelligent human being.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bringing Peace to the World.

Few are the articles in the daily news, says a columnist writing  in the Catholic Times, that leave him with a good feeling. He wants to share some that have been particularly uplifting with his readers in View from the Ark.

A custom in the universities is to have the upper class students buy the meals for the younger students. Recently in one of the universities the younger students started a fund for the older students to help defray the cost. The donation drive was an original and charming idea started by the newbies.

This custom of having the older students buy a meal and liquor for the younger ones goes back some time. The older students have taken this in stride, and felt the new students  were worth the time and  effort. They were  innocent and entering a new world; showing concern was a way to help them in their transfer to the world of higher education, like a seedling needing care when transplanted. There was no need to repay this generosity but the desire to do so on the part of the new students was admirable, said the columnist.

At the same university last year a student put the words "How are you?" on a large poster on a bulletin board,  and from there it spread quickly to other colleges and even found its way outside the educational arena,  prompting students to speak about the problems they were having in society. This initiative also began inconspicuously  and spread quickly. From a very small beginning, big changes proceed and we see a more beautiful and peaceful society.

The columnist mentions that he is working in the Cardinal Kim's Research Center which uses the spirituality of the Cardinal in educational programs for adults and in character education programs for the youth. Our columnist has the responsibility of talking about peace and  its place in our lives.

This peace that the Cardinal talked about was not abstract or other worldly, the columnist points out, but a peace that we need now, a real  peace that can be experienced in our daily lives, a peace that everyone needs to live a human life, and is centered on treating everyone with the dignity they deserve. With this understanding we are making for a  peaceful society when we practice love, especially when shown to the most alienated and poor.

The Cardinal stressed that this type of love was to be carried out daily in our lives. This could be seen in the way the Cardinal lived his own life. The Cardinal, with his trademark smile, in meeting anyone would leave them with a feeling of warmth and ease. It was his everyday way of dealing with those he met.

In a word, everything we do, if done in the manner of Cardinal Kim, we will begin with the small things and do them well. And with these small changes in ourselves, we will be bringing peace to the entire world.