Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ask why; a mere obedience or obeisance is not the answer

A most recent tragedy of the Korean ferry Sewol has left unforgettable scars on the minds and souls of Korean people, which won't go away easily or any time soon. This seems an unprecedented case for a total failure of the government and private sectors. More than 470 passengers were on board and most of them were high school students at their teens for their school trip to a remote southern island Jeju. Only 174 passengers exited the boat and were saved. All others were confirmed dead or still missing. Sadly, all things worked together (negatively) to get things worst ever. First of all, this ferry company called Chungjin Haewoon violated several laws and regulations about safety codes (overloading containers and cargo, adding more space by rebuilding the boat, not providing adequate safety training for its crew members, ignoring boat repair requests from its staff, hiring a temporary captain to run the boat on the day, and etc). It is so shameful to hear all these ugly things about the company and its greedy owner as well as other interest groups.

Second, there were no immediate, organized responses of the government to this disaster. Sea police for example was so senseless that it did not know what to do. It could save a lot of them if they acted fast enough. There were no adequate manual and saving equipment or personnel. Even emergency control or watch in the sea failed completely.

Third, the crew members (except for service crew such as Park Ji-Young and another man who did not escape the boat but saved other passengers at the risk of their lives) left the boat for their lives without doing anything to evacuate hundreds of passengers, who were told by the boat broadcasting to stay calm in their place. There is a suspicion that the ferry company may have ordered its crew members (captain and others) to sink the boat with passengers inside, in which case she could receive lots of insurance money along with life insurance compensation. This must be investigated. Otherwise, some suggest that the behavior of the crew members are hardly explainable, because they had to time to issue an emergency sign before they left the boat.

Actually, if passengers had been told to come out with jackets worn and move to the deck of the boat, they could have been saved. Because of this broadcasting, many students waited in their cabins or rooms even though the boat began to sink. They simply believed in the announcement that says "stay where you are." Even at this dire moment our students had a chat and took pictures and looked very playful. They were acting like they were dying, leaving a few words to their parents. They seemed unaware of their impending deaths. In this dangerous time they believed that they would be saved because they trusted in the repeated announcement that they stay where they are.

At several points when they heard this same announcement, they said "yes." One student in the room of the boat video-recorded all of this, using his smartphone. This student who took pictures and recorded was found dead and his body was recovered with his smartphone. His father recovered his son's smartphone memory chip and sent it to the news agency. That is how I saw the video and pictures taken at the very moment they got stuck inside. What a painful video this is! Before the ferry was completely submerged, as this video indicates, they had been alive and waited in the boat to be rescued. This makes me utterly sad. These students were too good and followed what they heard: "stay in."

In Korean society obeisance is highly emphasized, and so some students didn't seem to learn to disagree to or disobey certain things. At a critical time such as that, students may have had to ask: "Why should we stay inside when the boat began to sink? Why should we believe what you said?" I know this seems not easy. Mere obedience can be horrible otherwise. If obeisance is a virtue, so is suspicion.
*For more, see the previous posting on this tragedy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Total shock and chaos from the Korean ferry Sewol's disaster

For a few days now my mind don't find rest and sinks again and again and over again. 476 passengers were on board when the Sewol departed from Inchon to Jeju Island in Korea. Among them more than 370 were high school students who were en route to that island as part of their school trip. So far about 170 passengers were rescued (actually, they exited the boat) and more than 181 bodies were found so far, still missing 121; most of them are young high school students at their teens. Despite the desperate rescuing efforts, their survival is yet to be heard. While I am weeping, I am shocked to find the following information about this tragedy from various sources of news report.

1. This ferry was imported from a Japanese shipping company in 2012 and it had been already running for 18 years in the sea of Japan. It could retire there. Before 2012, the official retiring age for a ferry boat in Korea was 20 years old. But this age limit was changed under the Lee Myungbak government of Korea, allowing for a 30-year old ferry boat running. This must be crazy. In this regard Lee is to blame since he was a promoter of new capitalism with deregulation policies during his presidency. Because of this law change, the current ferry was imported in 2012 as a used one, which had run 18 years already. Alas! I am very angry because of this law change by the senseless government and the Sewol's decision to import such an aging ferry for Korean passengers.

2. Now this ferry boat is said to have been rebuilt adding more space and capacity for passengers after imported. This rebuilding has to be checked whether this was done according to safety law codes. Along with this, there must be a special investigation about the ferry's technical issues; the official inspection agency of the government also must be investigated.

3. In this ferry there were two inexperienced ferry crew members (one in controlling the ferry and the other in navigating) who had an experience of less than a year. They were in charge when the ferry sunk hopelessly. The captain in charge was Lee Joonsuk, 69 years old, left them for a while and asking them to take charge. Somehow they took a swift turn with unknown reasons and the ferry tilted suddenly toward the left side and began to sink. We even don't know how much shipload (containers and cars) was carried and whether they were secured and fastened tighten. By the way, we are told that lots of containers fell when the ferry tilted sharply. We are also told that Lee was a replacement for a regular captain who was on his vacation. Worse comes after worse.

4. The most terrible thing happened for 90 minutes when the ferry began to tilt and sink almost. If Lee had made a right decision that all passengers are to leave the ship immediately he felt something wrong about the ferry (there was a big roaring sound), most passengers could have been saved. This critical time of 90 minutes were wasted because the crew members repeatedly told the passengers to stay calm and stay inside of the ferry (meaning stay in where they were). Most students apparently stayed in! They trusted in vain. Why did the captain not ask all the passengers to immediately wear life-saving jackets and prepare life-saving boats for evacuation? One report says no life-saving boats were working except for just two. We don't know whether there were enough life jackets. Without remaining at the helm there to help, instead the captain Lee and the other crew left or abandoned the ferry and passengers in danger for their lives. They were among the first group of people rescued by the rescue team. Even after being rescued, Lee tried to hide his identity, acting like one of the passengers. I am so sick and hurt of this.

5. However, the only exception is one young lady Ms. Park Ji-Young at her early twenty, who was a crew member (for passengers), and helped young students to get out of the sinking ship, while making no success in rescuing her own life. Her story makes me cry again.

Park Ji-Young, a 22-year-old crew, who lost her life while saving others

6. Now the high school of these students is also to blame because it put their students in harm's way. There should have been a careful examination about this ferry trip. In fact, this ferry boat left for the destination several hours late due to the weather condition. By the way I am sorry to hear that the vice-principal of this high school has hanged himself on a pine tree due to the pressure and guilt he had; he was a leader of this trip and was rescued.

7. Overall, the government's emergency response and rescue efforts are very disappointing. There are lots of worries, inefficiencies, and complaints about this rescue operation. I know nothing is easy in an emergency. But how much can we learn from the past tragedies? The current government's leadership is questioned. There were enough lessons in the past; but do we learn and put them in practice today? My mind sinks again and over again. I keep all affected due to this senseless tragedy in my thoughts and prayers.

8. Conclusion
This tragic accident could have been avoided or many could have been saved. This accident is human error, terribly wrong and morally failing. There is a system failure involving multiple parties: the government (former and the current) and its overseeing agencies that did not do their job properly, the ferry company's importing of an aging ferry and renovating by adding more space and careless management, and unpreparedness of its crew members in emergency.

*Last-minute text messages sent by students trapped in the sinking ferry:

*memorial place:
photo: courtesy of Newsis.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What is Paul's gospel?

I intended to leave blanks in the following so that you may wonder why.
  • Paul's gospel is about not how I am (           ) but how we become (         ) of God.
  • Paul's gospel is not a law-free gospel but a (          ) gospel.
  • Paul's gospel is about not an individual justification by faith in (        ) but the individual/communal participation in (           ) faith and life because of God's righteousness.
  • Paul's gospel begins with not (          ) but God's gospel (Rom 1:1) which concerns his Son.
  • Paul's gospel declares that what matters is not an individual faith or righteousness but God's (           ) that is revealed through Christ's faith and for all who have faith (Rom 3:22).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


 When Jesus says in the Fourth Gospel, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," does he mean that Christianity is the only true religion, or did he mean something else? As we know, Jesus did not found a new religion nor did he pave a new way to salvation or truth. Rather, Jesus worked for God, by showing the way of God, testifying to the truth, and engaging in the work of liberation. Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, like Moses, is sent by God to liberate people from darkness. Unlike today's triumphant Christianity, the Johannine community was a small, marginalized, expelled community that struggled because of their faith. It will be very interesting to see how this struggling community was transformed into a loving community, following the model of Jesus.

       I wrote this book out of my hope that the Fourth Gospel and John 14:6 in particular could be the scripture of engagement, embodiment, and empowerment for Christian readers. I hope this book will help the reader rethink the role of the Logos or the "I am" sayings in the Fourth Gospel. In a pluralistic society, the focus of the gospel shifts from conversion or theological doctrine to empowerment of people. I dream that this book will contribute to theological education in that the "I am" sayings of the Fourth Gospel give a voice of inclusivism rather than exclusivism, solidarity rather than marginalization, and liberation rather than oppression. In the pluralistic life contexts of America today, the theology that accepts others as friends is very important; it engages others on the basis of God's love and justice. With a focus on the language of embodiment and empowerment, theological education can be more inclusive to others and help students to reorient their attention to the present life in the world. -from the preface of the book.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Misunderstandings about Freedom

 Yung Suk Kim

Often we think that Jesus brought to humanity complete freedom from sins (or Sin) by his work or death. However, we know by experience that such a reality is yet to come. Our world still has a mixture of light and darkness. People still struggle with everyday life issues. No Christians are free from sins. From the outset, it must be said that freedom is not the result of Jesus’ death or of believing in him; rather, it is the result of Christian participation in his death or in the truth of God. This kind of understanding is manifest at least in Paul’s teaching and John’s Gospel. According to Paul, freedom is possible only when people put to death the deeds of the body -- all kinds of evil thought and action. Notice here the agents of freedom are very people although they need help. Paul seems to say like this: “You can be free as long as you put to death evil thoughts or desires.” Otherwise, he is not naive enough to say that Jesus’ death made complete human freedom or salvation. Rather, his advice is “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). For this kind of reading in Paul’s letters, see A Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters: Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul.

Similarly, according to John’s Gospel, freedom is possible only when people participate in the truth of God. Notice here the truth is God’s. Otherwise, it is not given once and for all. Freedom is also a future tense. See what Jesus says, “If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32). Freedom needs our involvement in God’s work and Jesus’ faithful teaching; see below for more about this. [For more about freedom in John’s Gospel, see Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the “I am” Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel.]

1. Remain to Jesus’ teaching
Jesus’ teaching is about God’s word (Logos) or God’s truth for all. Jesus fought for freedom because there was no freedom in the world. He testified to the truth of God that all are worthy to live fully in the world and before God. God is truth not simply because God is almighty but because God cares for all people so that they may live with light. People need to abide by Jesus’ teaching about God’s work.

2. Become true disciples of Jesus
True disciples are not those who believe something or merely follow Jesus but those who remain faithful to his teaching. “Remaining” is an ongoing process of the faithful journey with Jesus. Discipleship is not complete until the end of one’s life.

3. Know the truth (of God)
Knowing is a future tense (“you will know the truth”). This knowledge is the result of your remaining faithful to Jesus’ teaching. As long as you abide by his teaching and live as his disciples, you will know the truth. This knowledge is not gained once and for all. Rather, it is an experiential and engaging knowledge. Also, this knowledge is holistic; there is no separation between knowing and acting. As a result, the truth will make you free! Notice here the subject of freedom is the truth of God and that the tense is future. This means as long as we know and participate in the truth of God, we shall be free.

If you remain faithful to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; and
you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free
(John 8:31–32)

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except
through me
(John 14:6)

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into
the world, so I have sent them into the world
(John 17:17–18)

I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the
truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Seeking Comparative Wisdom

Why Christians Need to Read the Tao Te Ching

A New Translation and Commentary on the Tao Te Ching 

From a Biblical Scholar's Perspective

This book seeks comparative wisdom in the Tao Te Ching and the Bible. For this purpose, the Tao Te Ching is newly translated and commentated from a biblical scholar's perspective. In doing so, this book brings the Tao Te Ching into dialogue with the Bible with a focus on cross-cultural wisdom and ethical mandates in both traditions.

1. There was no name when heaven and earth started
2. Produce things, but do not possess them
3. Do not praise those who are smart
4. Become one with the dust
5. Heaven and earth are impartial
6. The spirit of the valley does not die
7. Giving up themselves, they find themselves
8. Water is the best thing in the world
9. Things too sharp do not last long
10. Give birth to and nourish all things in the world

11. The usefulness of the vessel depends on its empty space
12. The five colors blind your eyes
13. Regard the world as precious as your body
14. Things on the lower place are not darker than on other places
15. Like a hesitating person in crossing a thinly frozen stream in the winter
16. Empty your mind thoroughly and keep yourself calm
17. The best leader is the one who people barely know exists
18. When the great way is forsaken, codes of morality and justice arise
19. Forget holiness and abandon intelligence
20. I appear weary and feel no home to which to return

21. The great way seems elusive and evasive
22. To yield means to be whole
23. Nature says few words
24. Those who stand on tiptoes cannot stand firm
25. The Way follows nature
26. Heaviness is the root of lightness
27. A good traveler leaves no tracks
28. Know the white and keep to the black
29. The wise avoid extremes, excesses and extravagances
30. If things overdevelop, they will decay fast because it is not the Way

31. Even victory at war must be treated as a funeral ceremony
32. Like rivers and streams that flow into the sea
33. Those who conquer themselves are strong
34. It never claims greatness, and therefore it is great
35. Hold fast to the great form of the Way
36. What is soft and weak can overcome what is hard and strong
37. Like the nameless uncarved wood
38. They dwell in the fruit and do not rest with the flower
39. Do not try to be like the glittering jade, but be like a common stone
40. Reversion is the movement of the Way

41. A great vessel takes time to be filled
42. Loss is gain
43. Non-being can penetrate even where there is no opening
44. Those who know when to stop will not fall into danger
45. Great eloquence seems awkward
46. No fault is greater than the desire to possess
47. The further one goes, the less one knows
48. Unlearn everyday
49. The wise have no fixed mind
50. Because they have died, there is no room for death in them

51. The Way gives birth to all things
52. To see small is enlightenment
53. Walk in the great way
54. What is well planted cannot be rooted out
55. To manipulate energy of life is unnatural
56. Soften the brightness
57. I do not force my way
58. To manipulate energy of life is unnatural
59. Begin with saving frugality
60. Leading a large country is like cooking a small fish

61. The lower part of a river, the converging point of the world
62. The Way is sanctuary for creation
63. Taste without tasting
64. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step
65. Keeping them natural and simple
66. Rivers and seas can be lords of the hundred valleys
67. For love wins all battles
68. Good warriors do not show off their military strength
69. No disaster is greater than underestimating the enemy
70. The wise wear coarse clothes and keep the jewel inside

71. Knowing not to know is the best
72. Do not restrict their living space
73. The net of heaven is vast
74. If people do not fear death
75. Why do people take death lightly?
76. If a tree is still, it will break
77. The Way of heaven is like bending a bow
78. True words seem paradoxical
79. Virtuous people stand in the place of debtors
80. Let people revert to communication by knotting cords
81. The wise are not erudite

*Note: Chapter titles in this book, as seen above, are mine; this is for readers’ taste or further reflection as they read back and forth. Otherwise, in Chinese texts there are no titles as such.

Why Christians Need to Read the Tao Te ChingWhy Christians Need to Read the Tao Te Ching by Yung Suk Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In fact, it is not a small surprise to find remarkable similarities between the Tao Te Ching and the Bible. Among others, a primary teaching in the Bible is to seek God, which means to follow the way of God (the way of heaven). As God is holy, faithful, and merciful, people are asked to live with the same character of God. The way of God is the way of righteousness, love, justice, and peace. Though the Tao Te Ching is not a religious book, it clearly seeks to explore ways that humans should follow: to live like nature, which is the way of heaven. For Lao-tzu, the Way actually permeates everywhere, on earth or in heaven. That is probably like what Jesus teaches how to pray, "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

Bible readers or Christians need to read the Tao Te Ching. First, the Tao Te Ching teaches that we are very limited and should seek the way of nature. Second, by comparing both traditions, Bible readers or Christians may deepen and expand their understanding about God or the ideal human life in this world. Third, by comparing both traditions, Christians may deconstruct their knowledge or understanding about theological truth. In doing so, they may strengthen or reconstruct their views about truth in a more critical, comparative sense.
--Sample chapters--

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"No Longer Bound"

A Theology of Reading and Preaching
by James H. Harris

Book Link at Amazon

A Short Book Review

James Henry Harris is Professor and Chair of Preaching and Pastoral Theology at Virginia Union University and Senior Minister at the Second Baptist Church, both in Richmond, Virginia. His earlier works include The Forbidden Word (2012), The Word Made Plain (2004), and Preaching Liberation (1996). 

In this book No Longer Bound, as the title implies, Harris is truly free, though limited in a realistic sense, to engage the word of God in a still race-divided society where freedom is shackled, love is superficial, faith is idolatrous, and hope is groundless. No one can do better than he in deftly combining an art of preaching with interpretation theory, ethics, and theology. Harris claims that preaching involves an act of love, not only based on the love of God but also on the love of self and community. 

This book is more than about preaching; it asks what preaching is, why it should be embodied in the world, and how it can be holy and holistic in the preacher's community and beyond. I have never seen a book like this in the field of homiletics; this book has souls of preaching that engage everything. I am reminded by Paul: "Test everything; hold fast to what is good" (1 Thess 5:21). The preacher is no longer bound because of this responsibility; in fact, there is no boundary for the preacher because everything is in his or her radar. Harris argues that everything must be tested and interpreted for the real people today in various communities. 

The last thing I want to point out is how important the preacher's identity or self-understanding is. As a biblical scholar (New Testament) I would like to echo him with a similar note that I often say in my classrooms: "Know who you are even before reading Scripture." This book is a must read for all who preaches and teaches scriptures.