Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Faces of Confucianism in Korea

During the JoSeon Dynasty founded in the 14th century C.E, the Neo-Confucianism flourished with an ideal of the harmonized world through moral and ethical principles. In fact, there are bright and dark sides of Confucianism as understood and practiced in Korea. Today Korean society struggles with the tension between good and bad in Confucianism.
The good side of Confucianism is relational humanism of which aspects lie at the center of our lives and thinking. In Great Learning (Confucian teachings) the notion of community is well summarized with this following: “su-shin, je-ga, chi-guk, pyong-chon-ha” (修身 濟家 治國 平天下). Sushin means training the self (literally disciplining oneself); je-ga managing home; chi-guk ruling the nation; pyong chon-ha governing the whole world. Confucius based his ideals about human communities on inseparable and harmonious relationships between the self, community and the nation.

In Confucius’ view, the purpose of soo-shin is to build home with virtues, to rule the nation and to govern the whole world. Confucius finds the essence of human beings in the nexus of intrinsic living together with others. Individuals, home, the nation and the whole world are closely related and there must be roles for each.
The centrality of human relationships is well expressed in In (or Ren) – which means love (). This word consists of two ideograms: “person” and “two.” In is often translated as ‘human-relatedness,’ ‘co-humanity,’ ‘virtuous humanity,’ … or ‘love’.” There are no individuals without communities. In our culture, therefore, a good human being is a person who relates well with other persons in communities. Interrelatedness is part of the Confucian notion of love.
This relational human existence and love is also expressed in the Chinese word for human beings, composed of two characters: (in) + (gan). In means human being, who needs others to relate (see the ideogram of In, which shows two persons in unity). To live as a person means to live with others. Gan means a space or distance “in-between.” How to relate with others is what it means to be human. This is why we often use “woori” (meaning “we”) instead of “I” or “my.” For example, we rarely say “my teacher,” but we say “our teacher.” The examples include “our car, our school, our pastor, our country, etc.” This sort of habit of language reflects the deep sense of our community life.  
However, the bad or difficult side of Confucianism has to do with its hierarchical, patriarchal worldview. As such, Confucianism has had a negative effect on women in particular. Samgang-oryn (three cardinal principles and five ethical norms) is a prime example of this.
Three cardinal principles (samgang) include 1) loyalty to ruler, 2) filial piety to parents, and 3) wife’s fidelity to husband; five ethical norms (oryun) deal with human relationships: 1) love between parents and children, 2) faith between rulers and people, 3) distinction between husband and wife, 4) order between elders and juniors, and 5) trust between friends. Especially, women did not have equal rights with men as seen in Samjongjido (women’s three things to obey): 1) obeying her father before marriage, 2) obeying her husband after marriage, and 3) obeying her sons after the death of her husband.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When faith fades and fear engulfs us

1 Kings 19:1-10
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough (I have had enough); now, O Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

All too often we feel like giving up when there is no hope or meaning in this world. We live in the world where so many people are badly affected by disasters, natural or human. We live in the world where our circumstances block our growth and survival.

There are even people who are fast doing evil. For many reasons and in complex situations, we often say just like Elijah: "I have had enough, Lord; take my life. I am no better than my ancestors." This is the moment when we like to give up on ourselves, only finding many reason for giving up. Jezebel seeks the life of Elijah because of his bold prophecy and mighty action that caused the destruction of the Baal prophets.

Now she tries to revenge him because her power and prestige were ridiculed and damaged. So Elijah ran for his life. Where is his faith and courage that he made great works for God? Is this the picture of a great spiritual leader?

But his fear is real. Indeed, he is a mere man, not an angel or god. His joy, energy, and passion for God on the mount of Carmel melted out just like the snow under the sun. He is drained out and completely burned out. Nothing is left on him other than the desire to give up. Instead, Jezebel's threat filled him.

This is the time that he needs to sustain his life not by looking to himself or to other people or environment. He needs to refresh his body and soul by looking to God. When a person is situated in this dire moment when nothing he or she can do other than the desire to give up, this is the moment of lament, crying for God's justice and power.

We still can pray when nothing can be achieved. Because a prayer can change or transform a person's mind and heart to get focused on God, beyond one's own ability and judgment. That is a moment of relief! That is a moment of refreshing one's soul, coming from not an easy environment but from the unfamiliar, mysterious source of God.

Actually, this is the very dangerous time too, because one can take his or her own life when there is no easy way out. This is where there must be a miracle, not a supernatural one but godly help. This is when the preacher or teacher or friend might come into his or her aid.

In Elijah's story the angel appears and provides the need of Elijah. In a very dire moment like this, there must be an aid from outside of him. He cannot deal with everything by himself. He should realize this. Although he did a marvelous job on the mount of Carmel, what he did was not his but God's.

Often leaders forget about this. When things go rough, they easily forget about their identity or place that has to do with God's mission. Elijah should have reflected on where he was or what he was doing in the wilderness.

He seeks his life only, abandoning God's work and people. God wants him to go back on his journey. God's message is: "Hang in there; I will provide for you. You can give up on yourself. But don't give up on me." Elijah needs God's power once again. That is only through his realization that he cannot sustain by himself. That is faith and courage. When faith fades and fear engulfs, we have to know this: "Nothing can separate us from the love of God" (Rom 8:28).