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.