아버지 하나님

아버지 하나님

“은퇴는 언제하실꺼에요?”

이미 스스로 은퇴하시고 이 지역에 오셨다고 말씀하신 분에게 일부러 직접 물어봤다. 사업을 성공적으로 잘 하고 계시는 분이었다. 답하시기 전에 조금 주저하셨다.

“은퇴는 안해요.”

또렷하게 답하신 것이 아닌 것을 보면 더 하실 말씀이 있으신가 해서 대화를 하다보니 금세 자신의 아들의 대한 언급이 나왔다. 그의 아들은 특별한 예술가로 미국 어느 대도시에서 일하고 있으며 저명한 잡지와 회사들을 고객으로 두고 일하고 있는 사람이었다. 그런데 나의 귀를 의심할 정도로 놀라게 한 것은 아들을 돕기 위해서 수 만불이나 되는 장비를 사주고 계신다는 것이었다. 그것도 수 년째 아들을 지원하고 있다는 것이었다. 나에겐 마치 환상적인 소설의 단면을 듣고 있는 것 같았다. 나의 부모 세대정도 되시는 분이었고 그의 아들은 나와는 너무나 다른 삶을 살고 있는 친구같이 느껴졌다.

“그렇게 도와 주시면 혼자 지속하지 못하잖아요. 선생님이 안계셨으면 그런 수준의 사업도 불가능하고요.”

좀 당돌하고 무례하게 들렸겠지만 나는 내 스스로가 아버지로서 아이를 대하는 마음과 방법이 어떠해야 한다는 나름 철학이 있다고 생각되서 어떤 생각을 하시고 계신지가 궁금했고 심지어는 무슨 부당한 일을 하시고 계시것 같다는 마음까지 들어 단도직입적으로 질문을 했다.

“그런 일을 할려면 매우 비싼 장비가 필요하고 혼자 스스로 설려면 시간이 걸려서 내가 그 때까지 돕고 있는거에요.”

나의 머리속에서는, “그래도, 혼자 고생하면서 스스로 독립해야지, 그렇게 부모에게 큰 도움받아가면서 어떻게 혼자 계속 그런 사업을 유지할 수 있을까?” 하고 반문하고 있었다. 그러나, 엄연히 나와 다른 삶인고로 그것에 대한 존중은 잊지않았다.

“아, 예… 저는 어릴때부터 혼자 bootstrapping (독력/獨力)하는 식으로 살아와서 그런 관점에서는 미처 생각을 못해봤습니다. 다른 환경에서는 그럴 수도 있겠군요.”

영어로 했으면 더 자연스럽게 들렸겠지만 한인들끼리 어떤 식으로 표현해야 자연스러운지는 몰라서 일단은 직역으로 표현하여 답하였다.

육신의 아버지의 도움이란 것이 생소한 나에게는 밀려올 수 있는 자기 연민 같은 것 까지 무시하고 살아왔다는 것을 새삼스럽게 느끼게 되었다.

20여년 전에 작았지만 시카고에서 몇년 동안했던 자사업을 처분하고 가족 모르게 표류된 배같은 마음으로 늦은 밤까지 같은 길을 계속 운전하다가 결국 섬기고 있던 교회 예배당 십자가 앞에서 무릅을 꿇게 되었다. 처절한 마음에서 솓아나오는 눈물은 어쩔 수 없이 터져나왔다.

“아버지!”

“아버지!”

얼마나 기도했는지 모르겠다… 마음의 쌓여있던 것들을 다 토해내고 마음이 조금 가라앉아 잠잠한 상태였다. 그리고 가까이 어딘가에서부터 잔잔히 속삭이며 들려오던 말.

“네가 나를 아버지라 하면서 왜 걱정하느냐?”

“나는 모든 것을 소유한단다. 이 우주만물이 나의 것인데 네가 무엇이 부족해서 근심하느냐?”

그 때 다시 눈물이 솓아져내리기 시작했다. 바로 감격의 눈물이었다. 앞 길이 보이지 않았던 갑갑함은 온데 간데 없이 사라지고 하나님께서 나의 앞길을 온전히 책임주신다는 믿음이 나의 마음을 감싸버렸다.

“할렐루야~”

내면 깊은 곳에서부터 터져나오는 찬양도 계속 되고, 들어올때 가지고 왔던 절망은 이제 하늘을 치솟는 소망과 절대적인 믿음으로 바뀌어 교회 앞문을 나갔다. 그 다음 2주 동안은 마음이 너무나 편안했었다. 하나님께서 책임져 주시는데 무엇이 걱정이냐 하며 너무나도 평온하게 기쁨으로 하루 하루 지냈었고 일을 찾기보다는 하나님께서 어떻게 역사하실까하는 마음으로 2주를 기다리니 기적적으로 지역 방송국에서 나를 찾는 다며 전화가 와서 일을 시작하게 되었다.

살아계신 하나님을 몸소 채험하였는데 어떻게 육신의 아버지의 도움을 받지 못했다고 자기 연민에 빠질 수 있겠는가? 육의 아버지가 부유해서 그리고 그 도움으로 내가 도움을 받았다면 이 교만에 빠지기 쉽고 죄로 너무나도 빨리 달려가는 이런 마음으로는 하나님께 예배드리며 찬양하는 삶보다는 나의 영광을 추구하며 살았을 것이 분명하다. 누구보다도 더 흠도 많고 손 볼때가 많은 사람이기에 더 겸손하고 더 깨져야 하기에 나에게는 보통 사람들의 어린 시절보다는 더 굴곡이 심한 시절을 허락 하신 것이고 고로 그것또한 하나님의 은혜인것이다.

에프킬라 맞은 모기처럼

에프킬라 때려 맞은 모기처럼 비실 비실거리며 기운빠지는 모습이 조금은 측은했다. 캐이는 일그러진 아픈 표정으로 마지막 대련에는 더 이상 참여하지 않을 표시를 나에게 했고 제르미는 나중에 알게 된 사실이지만 화장실에서 토하고 있어 마지막 한시간 동안 통 보이지 않았고 그나마 군대 생활 수십년의 경험이 있는 비게이 사범과 페리는 뚝심있게 버티고 있었고 나는 갑자기 나타난 봄 꽃가루 알르레기 증상이 나지막하게 갑자기 나타나는 바람에 숨이 차 헐떡 거리다가 끝 례에서 6초 간격으로 연달아 몇십번의 멈추지 않는 재채기를 유발하는 실례를 범했다. 그리 몸에 무리가 되게 하던 연무도 아니었는데 왜 다들 보통 때보다 유난히 더 맥빠지는 모습이었을까?

로스앤젤레스 중앙검도도장에서 40년 검도를 가르치신 시카이 마사시 사범이 방문하는 연무가 오늘 시작했다. 내가 10여년전 검도를 시작하고 나서 뉴멕시코에 3번째 방문하셔서 특별 연무를 통해 가르쳐 주시는 유일한 고단자 7단 검도 사범이다. 2006년 대만에서 열렸던 세계선수권검도대회에서 미국 검도팀의 코치로 역사상 딱 한번 일본검도팀을 이겨 미국팀을 우승으로 이끌었던 당사자이기도하다. 엘에이에 음식업계에서 종사하고 계셔서 한국친구들도 많아 기본적인 한국어와 한국 검도 용어에도 능숙하신 분이라 친근감이 더 가는 일본계 미국인이다. 전에 북쪽 타오스에서 특별 연무하고 나서 어느 검사(劍士)의 집에서 저녁을 같이 하며 젊었을때의 눈부신 활약을 들으며 부러워 했던적도 있었다. 이런 미국 검도세계의 大家가 이런 보잘 것 없이 작은 곳에 와 주시는 것은 사실 감사한 것이다. 10여년 연무하면서 이렇게 와서 가르쳐 주는 사범이 없었기 때문에 더 그렇다. 고령인데도 불구하고 마치 마흔의 젊은이처럼 바닥을 누비며 대련하는 것을 보면서 끝에서가서 숨을 헐떡대는 자신을 보며 부끄러워지기까지한다.

타오스는 여기보다 더 높은 산맥같은 곳. 거기서 3명 정도가 왔는데 전부터 안면이 있는 딕슨 사범하고 지금은 나보다 한참 고단자가 되어 버렸지만 (미혼에다가 여유가 많음) 친구같이 지내온 20대의 아론과 그리고 새로 보는 폴이란 50대 정도 되어 보이는 신참이 오셨다. 여기보다 더 고지라 폐활량이 더 많은 것은 알겠지만 아론 같은 경우는 실력이 검사가 많은 콜로라도의 대회에 참여해 일 이등 자리를 차지할 수 있는 능력있는 검사다. 맨 처음 아론을 만나 대련을 했었을때 기억이 생생하다. 잠깐 눈 깜빡하는 사이에 훅 들어와 머리를 치고 이미 옆을 지나가고 있었다. 물론 20대와 40대의 차이는 생각보다 크다. 그러나 보통 여기 4~5명 정도의 사람들과 매주 마다 하는 연무의 속도보다 매우 빠른 속도에 놀라게 된다. 그리고, 처음에 그런 것을 경험하게 되면 어떤 억울함 같은 것 까지 느끼게 된다. “내가 여태 무엇을 한것인가?” 가르치시는 사범님도 나이가 지극하고 그 다음 윗 선배도 관절 여기저기가 다 맛이 가고 있는 고령이 되어가는 상황에 고도의 연무를 기대하기는 힘든 현실. 여기 지역에서는 그 다음 등급에는 내가 있고 다음은 다들 초보자들이다. 외부에서 오는 이들과 대련하는 것은 쓰라릴 수 밖에 없는 현실을 다시 맛보는 것 뿐이다.

물론 대단한 인물이 오는 것에 대해 불안감 같은 것 때문에 심신이 편하지 않아 구토 현상도 보이고 몸이 보통때 처럼 말을 안들을수 있다. 그래서, 캐이나 제르미가 보였던 증상을 이해할 수 있을 것 같다. 나의 저질 체력도 바닥을 이렇게 빨리 들어내 보이는 것은 불쾌하지만 나이가 들어서 그런지 이제 사람들 앞에서는 무덤덤해 보인다. 속은 사실 조금은 뒤집혀진다. 가까운 친구라도 옆에 있으면 나의 어린 시절에 어떤 고초를 겪었는지 다시 상기시켜주며 잠깐 자기 연민에 다시 빠져있기라고 했으련만… 가까운 친구도 너무 멀리있다. 더군다나 자기 연민 같은 사치는 이제 즐길 수 있는 나이가 아니다. 오늘 이렇게 맥없는 모습이 나타났을 것을 미리 알았다면 몇 주전부터 고도의 훈련이라도 더해 준비를 할껄이라는 생각까지 든다. 한 때 매일 한시간씩 수영을 할때는 이보다는 났었는데… 매일 아침마다 뛰었을때는 이보다는 났었는데… 아무리 길게 했어도 단지 몇주만 하지 않으면 금방 초라하게 되는 이 놈의 허약 체질. 항상 준비하고 있지 않으면 바닥이 너무 빨리 드러나는 이 허약 체질. 몸도 이런데 우리의 영은 얼마나 더 바닥을 빨리 드러낼까?

그나마 매주 일주일에 두번 연무를 해서 간신히 고단자와 버티면서라도 대련을 할 정도의 실력이 되어 있다. 사실 일주일에 세번 연무가 기본인데 여기는 장소를 구하기 힘들어 사정상 두번만 만나 연무를 하고 있다. 보통 연무는 2시간. 일주일에 총 4시간. 아침에 큐티는 30분. 일주일에 총 3시간도 못된다. 가족과 성경읽기 20분. 일주일에 2시간 반. 큐티와 성경읽기를 합치면 많아야 6시간 정도이다. 대략 보통 타지에서 사회인 검도인이 기본 연무하는 시간이랑 비슷하다. 시간적 양의 투자로 따지기는 적절하지 않은 부분도 있지만 선수권대회에 참가하는 검사들이 연무에 투자하는 시간에 빗대면 대략 어떤 실력의 사람들이 나온다는 것을 대략 감할 수 있다. 마태복음 25:10b, “준비하였던 자들은 함께 혼인 잔치에 들어가고 문은 닫힌지라.” 잔치에 들어간 자들과 들어가지 못한 자들의 차이는 단지 정신적과 물질적 준비의 차이였다. 에베소서 5:16, “세월을 아끼라 때가 악하니라.” 때가 악하기 때문에 허송 세월을 지내기가 더 쉬워졌다. 정신차리라는 소리이다. 깨어있으라는 말씀이다. 디모데전서 4:8, “육체의 연단은 약간의 유익이 있으나 경건은 범사에 유익하니 금생과 내생에 약속이 있느니라.” 검도같은 운동은 심신을 단련하는데 유익이 있으나 할때 잠깐일뿐 말씀의 순종은 모든 것과 관련되어 유익하니 현제와 미래 모두의 해당되는 하나님의 약속의 은혜를 누릴수 있는 길이다.

예수님께서 말씀하셨던 핍박, 즉 디오클레티아누스의 핍박같은 것이 다시 우리에게 닺쳐오면 과연 기독교인으로서 우리는 목숨을 바쳐 예수님을 시인할 준비가 되어 있는가? 충무공 이순신 장군의 명언인 필사즉생행생즉사(必死則生幸生則死)는 사실 무사의 기본적인 태도을 반영한 것이다. 검도에서도 사신(捨身)이란 단어가 있다. 자신의 몸을 희생하며 던지듯 공격해야 한다는 뜻으로 고단자들이 숙지해야 하는 기본적인 정신적 태도와 기술을 말한다. 아무리 오랫동안 연무를 해도 바른 정신으로 하지 않으면 오는 공격에 방어 자세만 취하든지 점수 얻기 쉬운 공격기술에 의존하게 된다. 진정한 一本은 捨身精神이 모든 면에서 깃들여져 있는것이다. 즉 최고의 기술은 제일 단순하면서도 기본 정신을 제일 잘 나타내는 것이다. 기독교인은 하나님의 최고를 반영해 보여주어야 한다. 하나님의 道에 어울리게 사람들과의 기본적인 信도 두텁게 하며 세상 꾸정물 한 숫가락 더 퍼먹을려는 비겁한 모습을 보이는 것이 아니라 하나님의 나라와 그의 의를 위해 목숨을 다하는 모습을 보여줘야 할 것이다. 당신은 준비하고 있는가 아니면 핍박도 아닌 작은 바람이라도 불때 에프킬라 맞은 모기처럼 비실 비실 거리며 죽어갈 것인가? 연무하라. 지금부터. 매일같이.

True significance

In August of 2018, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (in Korean, “한국보건사회연구원“) had published a report stating that the Korean population will be halved by 2115. That’s about 100 years from now — like 3 or 4 generations of people by that time — but considering, comparatively speaking, the dismal number of Koreans in the world, that is rather sad state of affairs as a part Korean myself. As an expert demographist (his primary profession is as a medical doctor, btw), Hans Rosling, recently pointed out there will be many more Africans as the number of people living on the continent of Asia will decrease. (White, Europeans will remain nearly same over the same time period.) There is a little doubt that the Asian population decrease is being heavily contributed by Koreans themselves. It’s no surprise considering the fact that Koreans have achieved a reversal in the population growth rate at a pace much faster than that of Japan. The growth rate started to slow in early 1980s, so, as of 2019, it’s been 39 years — 9 years beyond a generational maturation age — a significant event that happened in a generation of time, albeit silently.

This has come to fruition in an epoch of time that is distinctly marked by the ascent of sleeping dragon, China. Back in December of 1996, the Koreans celebrated as a new member of OECD, and immediately after, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 slammed down on them hard. What they had gained as a type of worldly credence to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s economic powerhouses, they had to pay it by yielding their own control of financial infrastructure over to foreign hands. It was not pretty, and most of Koreans seem to be blissfully unaware of the true significance of the event. In spite of their desperate gold donations, it was as if it were happening to a third-world country that is not theirs. It was an empty significance bought with a cheap sell-off of a country, and there’s still nothing to show, except a magnified mediocrity of life that Koreans themselves have to carry on their shoulders. Adam Smith might have been proud for finally opening up Korea for his market principle, but that came at the cost of skipping too many steps, at an eager, profit-driven hands of international monkey fund. You’d think the sapient Santayanan call on the city gates would be loud enough to be heard, but irony has had a long history in human affairs, especially in Korea, with exquisite twists. You think 1905 Eulsa treaty was bad? Clearly, it was a leadership failure pronounced over a background of over-reaching for a corporate significance — even Ye Wan-yong (the last Prime Minister of the Korean Empire) considered himself a high patriot — and it was no different in 1997. You could practically transpose the same characters out of the history books and place them anachronistically and still have the same, boring narrative, although it verges on an Oedipal tragedy many times over for a Korean who hasn’t been zombified through a silent, hysteric lobotomy. It’s a profound mystery of a human soul considering why those responsible haven’t gouged out their eyes out yet. Maybe, it’s a post-generational front-loading of guilty they were after. How convenient, and so effective!

The vanity of vanities whispered through the mouth of a serpent was, “you will be like G-d.” But מייקל (who is like God)! The desire for self-significance comes at the very reflection of who השם (the Name) is. The matchless, the incomparable, the one and only, the perfect, the eternal, and the attributes goes on. Plato’s abstract form is a sheer blasphemy, but the immutable attributes can, in an adjectival way, be described as such for our little minds. Isn’t it enough to be an imago dei? What more significance can he possibly achieve beyond that? That was the very reason for the fall — what may have truly inspired Milton, though he seems to obsess over the demonic fall more. We were created for other-significance, and that other being the creator himself, rather than self-significance. What is the chief end of a man? One needs not even touch a codified, catechistic words before coming to experience the sheer joy of helping others, which is a mere, experiential hint. It’s also mind-boggling the complexities through which our hearts are prone to grab the fruit while framing it as other-significance. Let’s not forget that Adam was also an accomplice. Noahic description of human heart was very telling. Nothing has changed. In the context of Korean history and the state of affairs today, it is an eulogy.

It was a hammer crashing down on an anvil of history. I personally hope to be disproved by time itself, however, as things stand right now, it seems to be another end to a short-lived dynasty. Yi dynasty at least has the bragging rights, but this dynasty without a monarch will go down in history as a mere blip, probably titled below as a footnote in a textbook on economy: “The Miracle of Han River.” Despite all of the marketing and PR efforts by the Korean government and affiliates, most of world’s attention is now on the awakened, giant dragon. The dragon swooped down on whatever was left of the Saemaeul Undong (New Village movement) on the small cheek of its butt, and farted. The light show going on under the banner of k-pop and other things prefixed by k was once enjoyed by Japan for a short time. The keyword here is “short.” Just as quickly as the speed of disappearing Danish pastries in a company breakroom, the consumers consume and they will just move on. It was personally a heart-wrenching experience to hear the significance of Korea come to fore with a blast of Psy’s Gangnam Style from the FM radio in the U.S. Lyrics are embarrassing to say the least. Sure, many of my Korean friends had enjoyed American music without knowing the lyrics, but I’m not sure if they’ll nominate Michael Jackson’s Beat It for a national Intangible Cultural Asset, or whether such things have a lasting value to withstand the weight of centuries. We have a gamut of personalities stating that Psy was a patriot. Did I mention that Greek actors were mostly philosophers? Sure, Psy can be a pop philosopher in the school of New Sophists — the school of self-significance. He’s successful, all right, for himself — and he’s a hero for it. Latest glitzy act from him was a song filled with thinly disguised profanities. Last I heard of what Korean elementary school children want to be when they grow up, they all wrote, “Rich” — not one dissident was found in that anecdotal example. The latest batch of over-educated kids from Korea have been full of disdain, echoing the sentiment of Hell Joseon, and the importance of their identity as Korean is as far removed as sinking Micronesian Islands are from the consciousness of the dazed teens playing PUBG.

What’s really going on here? How did we get to this place? TL;DR answer is the pursuit of self-significance at a fundamental level, but one of the more important symptoms is the way of the very fabric of any society. The new value system intently and silently imposed on the Korean people was not a Biblical one for sure. But, utterly, worldly. I’m not sure if G-d in mind the GDP, the cost of living, and the educational cost when he said, “be fruitful and multiply.” Did he have cheap imitation of equality in mind when he created woman as a divine helper for man? Maybe Adam should have thought long and deep before he exclaimed, “Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,” but he couldn’t have known all the divorces that his sons and daughters would commit. The same drive that drove Eve to “be like God” and pick the forbidden fruit is the drive that is driving so many to waste their lives on pursuit of empty self-significance. Educators’ mantra, of course, is “education will improve people’s lives,” and what Confucianism has taught Korea for millennia wasn’t lost. Sure, the kids from Korea compete at the world-class level, but they are without chests. More a Korean family invests in kids’ education, the less they teach these kids at home. Kids learn nothing, and these kids trail right behind me in age. I usually have more fun talking to a grandpa reciting from his memory the Korean War and events related to that, than an over-educated, post-doc Korean kid who’s lived in a closed world of academia, and online games. He knows just enough social etiquette to get by, but again, I barely sense a heart that’s withered down to a nub. I once expected to connect with an adult, not aroused with a sympathy over a dwindling weight of a barely-human without a chest. So many Korean American families I’ve seen aren’t much of a family, but a machinery fit for a modern factory. Kids are expected to study and go to a good college and put their two feet on the ground as a financially successful member of the family. Parents toil day in and day out trying to make ends meet while enjoying social pleasantries at a local church or with golf buddies. Individuals living out their lives to achieve some means of self-significance, all with the banner of humble, normal family. There’s nothing normal about this modern snapshot of a Korean American family. White American families at least still share in some family tradition that may have trickled down from the days when everyone attended church, so, unbeknownst to themselves, the family culture still has a thick milieu of Christianity rubbed in many of its walls. Koreans, on the other hand, were passed down with a cultural milieu so robust and hermetic that it pervades in every word they speak. It actually goes much deeper than just labeling it Confucianism, and he wasn’t even Korean. The utter, this-worldly mindset that has pervaded most of Asia for millennia is still evident in Lexus-filled parking lot of so many Korean American churches. They aren’t teaching kids Christian values for sure. What little sense of Korean identity they have, they make it up by bringing kids to a Korean church bubble. I don’t think they do that anymore nowadays, but at least that’s what they used to, believing that somehow getting English-speaking Korean kids together helps to develop their Korean-ness — all that without teaching neither the language nor the history. Or maybe they believed that their kids wouldn’t have sex and have kids in high school like white kids do if they were churched this way. Whatever the reason, one thing became clear to me in my three decades of dealing with Korean American kids — Korean families don’t teach kids anything while they invest heavily in their education. It’s probably an exaggeration, but I think I still stand by it. I have heard enough lip service about Korean communities valuing the education of their children. It’s all a lie. It’s about valuing the significance of their organization, church, or whatever. If Josh Kim goes to Harvard, more kudos to the church, or the family, or whatever tickles their face. Don’t misunderstand. I have many friends who are worldly successful–even a Harvard professor at that — and are great human beings at the same time, but sadly, I have seen one too many families where it’s all about worldly success while claiming to be Christians. Eve was, after all, perfect, when she reached out for her self-significance, but Koreans have no time for that. Even Christian shepherds give undeserved encouragement by telling them they have to shine in the world by becoming the head and not the tail — without enough warning about this vicious pursuit for self-significance, the very tempting words of Satan himself. They have damaged themselves enough. Wake up to the fact that worldly significance is for those in the gutters, or risk the true insignificance before the Creator himself.

Identifying with Christ

First World problems, dealt in a First World way – via a WP blog. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be just another tirade, but a thoughtful reflection while letting go of another vexing thought.

It seems I have a unique skill of finding myself as an outsider. As of 2019, I live in a State where Asians make up only 1.7% of the total population. My family were at a nearly all-white, conservative church for nearly 6 years, and my wife did not have anyone who really wanted to get to know her. Looking back, it was probably a simple problem of her name. For an average American it’s something hard to remember and pronounce. It’s something akin to “Eu-eong.” Frankly, I think church members were afraid of mispronouncing her name or asking her name N-th time again, so, the best thing they decided to do was simply not approach her. Of course, there was one brave, blonde lady in the congregation, who approached my wife without fear and dared to ask her to pronounce her name many times over. She quickly became my wife’s friend, but sadly, she had to leave to another state only after about a year of knowing my wife due to some family issues. In this area, I sometimes find people who’ve never talked or worked with an Asian person before. At the workplace, a new IT director, I helped to hire because he was native to this area – I thought it’d be better for the company – came onboard offending not just every non-white person, but everyone in the development team by announcing, “I’m going to build an American software,” as if somehow the existing systems were all built by non-Americans. The subtle games he’s been playing from the beginning has been enough to cause me a serious ulcer, but decided to let go it for my own mental health sake. Mind you, he’s probably the best director we’ve ever had, and I force myself to think best of intentions for him, but what an insular, (bleep) of a town.

Once, when I was in Chicacgo, it was at a church where key decision-makers were all related somehow as relatives in a large family. Of course, they didn’t make it apparent and having practically a no ear for gossips and rumors and working only with the youth members of the church, I had no idea for many years of serving there. It was a medium-sized church of about 100 or so members. The senior pastor was a proud graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, and simply forced me to teach Westminster Confession of Faith after about a year of serving. It was good that he provided the curriculi, albeit many decades old. When you’re a youth pastor, you have very little choice but to follow the senior pastor who is supposed to set direction of the educational ministry at the church in spite of the fact that youth members started to resist and yawn. Yes, there’s a possibility that the growth to that point wasn’t really a growth that the senior pastor wanted to see, since more kids were coming to church compared to adults, and it had more to do with my own preaching and the dedicated worship team I discipled every Saturday. Then, the senior pastor started showing sharp attitude with me, although he’s usually a nice person, especially during staff meetings. It started to be more salient when I tried to have an open dialogue with the pastor about a troublesome teacher (who happened to be a son of an older church member), and then about how I dealt with a sexually promiscuous youth leader. I removed her from leadership without stating a concrete reason, and the pastor, who was annoyed with a constant pestering of a church lay leader who also happened to be the grandmother of the girl I had removed from the leadership, simply decided to accuse me of inexplicably ruining her life. If she had shown even just a little bit of remorse, or repentance, I don’t think I would’ve been so cut and dry about my decision, but she was adamant about her inappropriate behavior. What was apparent was the typical Korean grandparents’ response of “protecting my precious granddaughter,” not from sexually promiscuous culture, but from an aggressive youth pastor who is out to ruin her life by exposing her sin. I didn’t. My conscience couldn’t allow my own youth ministry leader to continue in sin while pretending herself that everything was okay. I told her not to come to Saturday leadership meetings anymore and that she was off of the praise team temporarily. I gave her time to reflect and repent of her sinful behavior. However, it was her who simply stopped coming to church and put herself in a teary mode for many days as if her life was about to end. I guess I overestimated a teenager’s maturity in this regard. In midst of this turmoil of human drama, the senior pastor had the guts to, in a calculated manner, state a proposal to financial help an young adult member of the church who was about to enter a seminary. He, of course, had to throw a statement about how it’d be easier to help this new guy if he was a youth pastor, but since I was already one, the church would have to find an alternative way. This was in a context of my own life, which also was on a struggle with financial hardship, trying to finish seminary, working full-time, three children, and a youth ministry on top of all that. The church merely provided a very tiny stipend every month, which was all used up on the youth ministry with no reimbursements. At that point, I decided to leave the church as he wished. Soon after, it was obvious from the Facebook posting of youth members, the younger guy took over the youth ministry. That younger guy was a son of the founding Elder of that church.

Then rushing to the present, I find myself at a Korean Methodist church. And long and behold, here comes a newcomer who also happens to be a graduate of the same Korean seminary that the pastor had attended. The support, of course, is channeled to her, with a more push for a change from the pastor that I’ve ever seen in last 3 years of being here. I really don’t have a problem with this oncoming pastor being supported by church. It’s good that we support someone more educated, and more dedicated, to be used for the body of Christ. However, the label “Baptist” started to precede the title of jundosa (a term for pastor trainee in Korean churches) for me as if I do not belong to this pastor’s Methodist church. He states it ever so more clearly and emphatically when people are around as if he’s stating something novel and interesting. Yes, I’ve gone to schools that more closely align themselves with Baptist theology, but I’ve never actually served at a Baptist church but for just first two year of being a jundosa 24 years ago. None of the schools, nor the churches I’ve attended since then ever claimed any direct Baptist affiliation whatsoever. Does a Baptist have a personal preference for liturgical worship? Does a Baptist pray in tongues, or sometimes pray with κομποσκοίνι? These are personal preferences, of course, but I guess it was because I had once told him that the schools I had attended had closer alignments to what Baptist teaches. As for the timing of him labeing me as such can only be idiotic unless he wants to make me feel more alienated than I already am. Regardless, it’s only natural thing for a person, especially for that of a Korean person, to show more favor to someone who is younger and originating from the same hometown or same school. I haven’t forgotten how, in spite of people today voicing opinions against oligarchy, they themselves tend towards one simply out of their own proclivities. After all, it’s a Methodist pastor helping another Methodist pastor — what could possibly be wrong with that? I know I’m just not Methodist enough, but why is this pastor trying to make me feel more alienated than I already am? I’m surrounded by first-generation Korean immigrants, with no like-minded peers. The little that we have in the same age-group are either preoccupied with accumulating wealth for a more comfortable life here, to prepare their old age, and there is very little else. The precious, little spare time they have is for themselves, not for any service for the greater purpose outside of their couches. I’m just doing my best to serve the body of Christ, and if that turns out to serve the denomination, fine, but my heart is for feeding the body of Christ, not some specific denomination. Are all Methodists this proud of being Methodists? Whatever happened to being a mere Christian? A mere Christ-follower? Why so proud of schools they’ve graduated? It may have made sense up until 1940s, but Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy-League schools are no longer schools you go to learn the Bible properly, but in certain denominations pastors proudly carry those school logo as if it means something in the kingdom of God. They have indeed worked hard to gain worldly credence in a world of lost public confidence for church leaderships, however, one has to ask at what cost have these pastors done so? If it happens to have a worldly label, fine, that can be put aside as a none issue, but why are these leaders of church, while preaching love, love, love, ad infinitum, so unloving towards someone like me who has no honorary title, wealth, power, or influence? Maybe, they simply aren’t listening, or they’re just repeating the treatment they had received as ex-jundosas themselves — is “treat your jundosas like shit” one of the bullet points posted in a repository of best-practice manual for Korean pastors? Giving credit to where credit is due, the Methodist pastor is the least tyrannical of pastors I’ve served with. Irony of ironies, instead of churches, the collective body of Christ, reflecting the character of my Lord and my Savior, I find myself wishing to stay away this religiously proud corpus of so human of institution. In spite of such overpowering sentiment, I take heed of Nouwen’s advice to be listening to the church, thereby listening to the Lord of the church.

Jesus came to his own people as a Jew, and to many, a poor rabbi at that. Actually, he bore no worldly, honorary official title whatsoever. People simply called him by his first name as was the custom of the day: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus of the Trash Dump, the commonly known slogan of Nazareth at the time. Yet, his own people went to the point of crucifying him on the cross, and here I am complaining about my first world problem of having my own boat shaken up a bit and hurt feelings. But I had to get that out of my chest, else, I’ll keep digging up more stories while connecting the dots and become embittered about all of these. My tooth is getting too long to keep pushing people away without long-term consequences. For these reasons and more, I find much solace in Jesus’ answer to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). Truly, this world isn’t my home, but I’m just passing through. My reward isn’t some tiny stipend from church or a denomination of this world, or some honorary title, or anything material, but only my Lord Jesus Christ, my Jesus of Trash Dump. He will be my only prize, and my reward. As for the turmoils of this luxurious U.S. life, I really don’t think it’d be much different when I leave this country for a missiological life once kids are out of school, but preparation, and this journey never stops.

Good display in front of men

Seneca (Epistles 1-65): Why do I not rather seek some real good – one which I could feel, not one which I could display?

Because there is no recognition from men. They sometimes go as far as despising you for it, and no one likes the pain of living through such suffering. And you also don’t hear from the only Being cognizant of the good ’til the last day.

이것만은 신앙과 무관해하는 사람

Among fellow Christians, the most feared person ought to be a person who says, “I’ll follow the Word of God in all these matters except for this one thing,” because there is a greater prerogative than God Himself that he’s willing to apply. He’s a stumbling block to what God wills to do in the world if he hasn’t surrendered all areas of his life, including his will, to God.
 
기독교인들중 다 말씀대로 하겠지만 이것 하나만큼은 아니다 하는 사람이 제일 무서운 사람이다. 하나님보다 더 큰 특권의 영역을 적용하는 사람이기 때문이다. 자신의 의지와 함께 삶의 모든 영역에서 하나님께 항복되지 않은 사람은 하나님이 세상을 향해 하시고자 하는 뜻에 걸림돌이 되는 사람이다.

The Sad State of Korean American Churches

23년전 부터 한인교회 중고등부 전도사로 일하며 제일 기억나는 톱 7.

  • 목사A 가 주는 메시지: “자기 자식은 공부와 대학 입학을 위한 자원봉사등의 준비에 집중해야 하기 때문에 보통 있는 중고등부 행사에는 참여를 못한다.”  두 자녀 고등학교 9학년부터 시작해 4년동안 주일만 빼고 다른 모임에는 눈코도 안보였다. 무슨 공부를 훨씬 더 잘해서 이름 난 학교에 들어간것도 아니었다.
  • 목사B 가 주는 메시지: “교회를 오래 섬겼던 장로의 아들이 신학교를 다니고 있고 직접적으로 말은 못하겠지만 장로의 아들을 교회에서 더 적극 지원하겠으나 너 같이 더 도움이 필요한 전도사는 그냥 모른체 하고 이해해 주시기를 바람. 떠나주면 얼씨구나 더 좋지, 장로 아들이 중고등부를 섬기고 그 이유 삼아 돈을 그에게 줄 수 있으니까.” 떠나주니 곧 바로 장로가 원하던데로 근대한 식과 함께 장로의 아들이 전도사로 임명된다.
  • 학부모라는 사람들이 하는 말들: “왜 부모가 일에 시달려 힘들어하는 가정의 아이들을 픽업나가서 교회에 대리고 오느냐? 내가 직접 대리고 온 아이들에게 신경을 더 써달라. 이왕이면 부모가 교회에 대려오지 않으면 그냥 픽업을 나가지 말라. 부모가 대리고 오는 아이들에게만 신경을 써달라.”
  • 권사A 왈: 너가 무엇인데 감히 권사의 손녀딸이 성적으로 물란한 것에 회계하라고 중고등부 지도권에서 임시로 탈퇴를 시키냐?  손녀가 죄를 짓던 말던 너 같은 전도사 주재에 무슨 상관이냐?  그 아이의 죄를 공개하는 것아니냐?  미래 아이의 시집을 망칠 생각이냐? (아이의 죄를 공개한 적은 없음)
    • 권사에게 화풀이를 듣고 목사가 와서 하는 말: 일부러 공개할려는 것이 의도가 아니었느냐?  (헐…)
  • 나이드신 목사C 가 한 말: “요즈음 남자들은 다 포르노를 보면서 자란다. 그것이 이상한 것이 아니다. 자꾸 죄책감을 주고 잘못된 것이라고 가르치지 말라. 그런식으로 교육하는 것 아니다.” (헐~~)
  • 헌금을 재일 많이 내는 성도의 말이 조용한 절대권위를 누린다.  그 사람의 말이나 의견이라면 교회 지도층은 쩔쩔매고 끌려다닌다.
  • 몇명 안되는 미국 (보통 한인 남편들) 교인이 있으면 그들의 말은 보통 한인교인들의 의견보다 더 특별한 우대를 받는다.

지상성공주의, 물질주의, 내로남불, 죄는 죄라고 부르지 말기 운동, 모든 것을 다 긍정적으로만 말하고 죄는 눈감아주기 운동, 교회에서 성경을 가르치고 성경대로 살라고 가르치는 것이 아니라 그냥 어떤 부락 정신으로 단체유지하기와 우리가족이나 잘되자 하는 것이 주 목적인 교회가 판이하다.

 

Top 7 of what I remember as a youth pastor who had started 23 years ago in Korean American churches

  • A message coming across from Pastor A: “My children have to focus on their studies and getting prepared to go to college, so they won’t be participating in most of youth group events.” Two of his children never showed up for any other meeting during weekdays (Fridays, or Saturday special meetings) or special events, save Sunday service for all 4 years of high school.  Did they go to some Ivy League school and got excellent grades?  No.
  • A message coming across from Pastor B: “One of the sons of a long-time elder at the church is now attending a seminary, and even though I can’t say it to you explicitly, the church will be supporting him more willingly, so even though you have needs for more support of the church please zip your mouth and understand the situation.  It’d be of course much better if you left, since we can put him as youth pastor and have a better rationale to give money to him.”  After I leave, they throw a big party of ceremony of his appointment and then elder’s son is appointed the next youth pastor just as the elder had wished.
  • Parents saying this: “Why are you picking up kids from families that have hardships and bringing them to church?  Please focus more on our own children. If parents don’t bring them to church, don’t pick them up all together. Please focus on children whose parents come to the church only.”
  • Exhorter A says, “Who do you think you are to discipline my daughter who has been sexually promiscuous by having her taken out from the leadership of the youth group? What does it matter to you, a mere youth pastor, whether she commits a sin or not?  Aren’t you trying to publicize her sin?  Are you trying to ruin her future?”  (I’ve never publicly revealed her sin)
    • After hearing an angry rhetoric from Exhorter A, the pastor comes and says: “Weren’t you trying to reveal what she had done wrong?”  (WTH…)
  • an aged pastor C says: “Guys these days all watch porn as they grow. That isn’t something strange. Don’t try to make them feel guilty and don’t say it’s a wrong thing to do.  You don’t educate boys that way.”  (WTH…)
  • Whoever gives the most offering usually enjoys a quiet, but absolute authority in the church.  His or her words and opinions always have the ears of the leadership of the church.
  • If there are few white, American members of the church (who are often husbands of Korean women) their opinions are somehow treated with a special preference compared to regular Korean American members of the church.

The objective of worldly success, material success, hypocritical practices, or the movement of calling sin something else, or the movement of saying everything that feels good and positive and winking at sin have become commonplace. Churches that are about teaching the Bible and trying hard to live according to the Biblical worldview seem no longer in existence among Korean Americans.  So many Korean American churches operate around a tribal mindset to merely be sustainable, and just trying to gain multidimensional benefits for one’s own family, but very little else.