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.

Monday, June 12, 2017

People Always Come Before Things

People often take second place to material goods and money, this was the tragedy of the Sewol Ferry: a disaster that speaks of this upside down thinking. A professor emeritus in the humanities gives us his thoughts on the subject in an article in the Kyeongyang magazine.

Sewol was a passenger ferry that was carrying 476 passengers most of them students on a field trip to Jejudo. It sank on April 16, 2014, and only 172  passengers were rescued. Nine were never found.

The scars surrounding the sinking are not healed but  we have citizens who see the tragedy as just another accident. Some considered the whole incident overblown; the bodies of the dead used to preach; some even made fun of the families of the victim who were fasting as just performers; one politician thought that three years of grieving was enough. Many tried to stop the investigation of the causes of the disaster which eventually did cease.

This Easter was the 3rd anniversary of the disaster. It was at that time that the Sewol was raised from its place on the ocean floor and brought to port. Everybody calls out for truth and justice but it's not rare that when it affects the person's interests all is forgotten.

When Pope Francis came to Korea three years ago some didn't want the pope to meet the families of the victims, and did all they could to prevent the meeting; some of these were Catholics. Supposedly they didn't want the pope to take sides.When it is to their advantage some readily cry: religion needs to be neutral.

However, the pope has made it clear that when faced with pain neutrality is not the position of a Christian. He made it a point of being with the families of the victims and wore the yellow ribbon.

When justice and truth are under attack silence is not an option. Preferring material things over people we are less human: society becomes hell. The young people in Korea use the phrase 'Hell Joseon' comparing the country to the feudal kingdom under the Joseon dynasty where you lived in the situation in which you were born.

All of us have to do what we can to overcome the hellish aspects of society.This is the calling we have as Christians from the Gospel and the Resurrection. The Sewol, now raised and in port, reminds us of our dullness, arrogance and hypocrisy. We need to speak loudly of what we have learned and never sacrifice people for things.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Koreans Leaving the Catholic Church


Many are the reasons believers leave their religion. Secularization, a change in one's thinking, weariness with religion are all factors. The rapid changes in society and the gap in time to adapt are all involved.

A writer in Catholic News Here/Now who has made a study of the issue gives us the results made by the Catholic Times. He is not concerned with the theory but solely with the apathy shown by the answers given by the respondents. The survey was of 300 lapsed Catholics spread across the country. 

The survey was made last year. He acknowledges that it is not a scientific study in the strict sense but gives us a good idea of the problems the Church faces.

The main reason expressed for leaving the community of faith was working for a livelihood and study 47.3%. No special reason 33.7%, religion lost its meaning 23.8%, the burden of confession 18.1%,  misc. 12.7%, disappointed with the clergy and religious 9.5%, can't live the life 7.0 %, no intimate friends among the parishioners 6.7%, family tension because of religion 6.3%, Catholic teaching lacks reasonableness and conflict with Catholics both at 4.4%, all religions are the same 4.1%, Church's active participation in society not acceptable 2.2 %, money 1.3%,  Church is too rich 1.0 %, converting to another religion, church not doing its job, baptized in army and doesn't believe, all 0.6 %. 

The respondents were told to only select one of reasons on the list so other reason would also be factors in being tepid. They, for the most part, did not want to leave the community. However, although they were asked often to return to the community by the members, they had no intentions of returning.  The average time of the respondents were a little over 9 years. The majority of those who left did have a lingering connection and a feeling of belonging to the group even though they left.

29.7 % even though they are not practicing considered themselves Catholic, while 36.6 % were fellow travelers who still sympathized with the church. 7.8 % were opposed while 3.3 % were greatly opposed to the church and what it represented.

The following away from the Church continues but fortunately, the alienation is not such that they turn completely against everything that they learned.  There's no desire to return in most cases but the years as a practicing Catholic have changed the persons and they have retained a positive feeling towards the community to which they belonged.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Making of Zombies


A 78 year old grandmother was walking along a street. She caught the eye of a man on the other side who suddenly made a dash toward the woman with a piece of wood in his hand the kind used to support trees along the street. He hit the woman over the head.

After the woman fell to the ground the man brandishing the piece of wood continued walking as if nothing happened. At a crosswalk he spotted another younger woman and did the same.

This is not a scene from a movie but something that happened last year in Pusan. This man had no grudge or was not acting out of revenge; he knew neither of the victims. An article in the Kyeongyang magazine by a university psychology professor introduces the readers to the 'zombies' in our society.

He uses the word zombie, existences in our imagination which are not difficult to find in society, they live like the dead without consciousness. He connects them to crimes 'you don't talk about': crimes that have no reason, violence for violence sake. In his opinion the common element are persons who have desired work but have not found it and have been in that condition for some time.

Working is not only a means of supporting oneself and family but a way of interacting with society. We talk about going to work not only earning pay but interacting with those at the work place. Those without work are in financial difficulty but also lack the interaction of the workplace. We are social animals and one of our basic aspirations is to relate with others, for a person who needs and wants to work and doesn't have a job, this is a serious deprivation.

A person out of work feels mentally deprived of all his possessions and believes that society has ostracized him: a serious psychological shock. Members of society consider norms of society important. Those who feel excluded do not have that same feeling and the frustration that builds, often ends up with 'crimes you don't talk about'.

The so called 'zombies' are both victims and perpetrators. Lack of social concern is the making of 'zombies'. When we ignore the lack of work in society we are preparing the situation for more of these 'crimes you don't talk about'.

When you fall into difficult straits do you have family members or friends you can depend on? What are your response to a question of this type, asks the professor. Is it positive or negative? Korea has the weakest social support network in OECD.

The professor concludes the article with the statement that this situation is ripe for the making of 'zombies' and spreading the zombie virus. When the community bond disappears it's easy to become infected with the virus. Without help many will become 'zombies'. Efforts to increase the  opportunities for work and strengthening the fiber of our communities will decrease the number of 'zombies' in society.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

I Also Can Become Disabled



In Korea two and half million citizens are in some way disabled. That's 5 percent of the population:  one in every twenty. Among the handicapped 10 percent were born with the handicap and the other 90 percent acquired it after birth. 50 percent came with sickness and the other 40 percent were due to accidents. This number continues to grow.

An article in a diocesan bulletin written by a handicapped person introduces the readers to a situation we meet in every society. The care and rehabilitation of the handicap is a big part of government welfare.

He mention the government's efforts over many years to improve the lives of the handicapped. Many laws promulgated to help the handicapped, but before this we need the citizens' understanding free of prejudice and even more important is the handicapped persons' need to free themselves from an inferiority feeling and to attain a strong will to live a full life.

The writer mentions his own history of becoming a disabled person. Because of cancer he was operated on to remove cancerous tissue and lost a great deal of his bone structure and for a  period of 4 years was in and out of the hospital 30 times. He began associating with the handicapped and ended up giving lectures on the board game Go and teaching ping pong.

He concludes his article with the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John:  9:1-3. "As Jesus  went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind? Neither he nor his parents sinned. Jesus answered, he was born  blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him." 

He often meditated on this passage in the past but never was able to get a satisfying understanding of the meaning. It was after becoming disabled himself that he was able to have a faint glimmer of what Jesus was saying. He was crying and laughing with the disabled and relating as friends with them. He was their hands, and feet. Wasn't this what Jesus was saying?

The handicapped need financial assistance but more important is to be friends with them: liberating them from alienation and loneliness of life.  They need others to share with then and to be friends with them.

When it rains it's necessary to prepare the umbrella for them but to foolishly walk with them in the rain is an important message and welcomed.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Is Sacrifice First?


Often words used leave impressions that are beyond the intentions of the speaker. Extremely difficult to qualify all that we say so the words say what we mean. A priest working in spiritual counseling in the Seoul diocese has written a book: "Live And Take Care of Yourself" which was reviewed in the Catholic press.

"We often hear that our Catholics are very kind and more concerned about others than of themselves, the good child complex. However, a healthy mental outlook and living in peace with others requires concern for ourselves."

In the Church, we hear a lot about sacrifice and working for others. Many of our saints have lived this kind of life. The writer of this book makes clear that he wants his readers to be concerned also for themselves if they are to go out to others.

Self-interest has a bad reputation within the Church and brings to mind some very bad images. In psychology, self-interest is a natural trait that we all possess. We need to have the proper balance between altruism and self-interest.

Jesus wants everybody no matter what situation they find themselves in to be happy. What makes this  difficult is the attitude which we have in facing our problems. For the most part we don't know what is inside bothering us. Our parents, school, the wrong education we have received, the faulty ways we have formed our consciences and virtues and even the way we have accepted religious truths, confines us. We need to ask in prayer for release from the prisons we have made. When we find it difficult we make this known and when we are sick we say we are sick and we work from there to change the situation as best we can.

When we hear the word help, it is others that first come to mind but we need also to take care of ourselves. When we think only of the other we are prone to the 'good child complex' and often this militates against having a good relationship with others.

When we feel uncomfortable inside we should not see this as something negative but a voice telling us to do something to remedy the situation. This requires a good relationship with ourselves. When things are not right inside and we don't work to heal the scars they only get worse and our personalities become barriers to good relationships. This is what the writer means by self-interest.

We as Christians dream of sacrificing and offering everything up to God but the ones who arrive at this are few. Most of us living in peace with ourselves and with others is living well.



Friday, June 2, 2017

Power of Contempt

Criticism and contempt are two attitudes that destroy peace in the family. A diocesan member of the pastoral work with families writes in the Kyeongyang magazine of the harm done with these two attitudes.

He gives examples of criticism and contempt and asks the readers which does the most harm. He makes clear that the difference is enormous. Contempt once begun doesn't end. When expressed it doesn't only destroy the relationship but it affects the health of those who are the object of the contempt.

Children who are the object of contempt not only suffer harm to their self-confidence but often becomes the cause of sickness. " A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse one crushes the spirit" (Proverbs 15:4).

Contempt in the dictionary is defined as looking down on someone, the act of despising another. Often we have the use of abusive and obscene language. To show how bad this is he asks his readers to take a plastic bag and give vent to all kinds of abusive language for about 10 minutes and then put a mosquito you have just caught in the bag it will quickly die. He gives another example of the saliva that is found in the bag filled with toxins, when injected into an artery of an experimental mouse, dies.

Contempt expressed even in jest can be serious. It is like throwing stones at a frog for fun but for the frog it is not a fun situation. When a person has a positive outlook on life he is able to accept a great deal but with a  negative attitude one is easily scared. A jest can quickly turn into a dagger.

He recommends to the readers to look for the good qualities of others. There is no one who has only strong points and no one has only weak points. We have a tendency to see the bad and ignore the good. This attitude is called the negativity effect (we tend to give more attention to the negative than to the positive).

He concludes the articles by advising that a good way to heal the habit of contempt in the family is to make a list of 50 strong points of each member of the family and place them where they can be seen. This is one of the techniques that help in becoming more positive.

"Anxiety in a man's heart depresses it, but a kindly word makes it glad" (Proverbs 12:25). In a word: to heal the wound of contempt is a kind word. "I am sorry,  thank you, I love you...."  Words we hear often but use rarely.