Islam

Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed

5/19/10

Day 19

Like many people do everyday, I was snooping around Facebook today and came across an exchange that one of my Korea-based friends was having with one of his America-based friends. The long and short of it was that the America-based friend was criticizing the Korea-based friend. 
...moving to another country overseas for an amount of time is cool, but for long term u should stick with your home turf. in this day in age and the crap goin on in the world, ur better off being in the states when the sh*t hits the fan.
To which, my friend replied: 
Tis just your opinion, mate. " ...in this day and age and the crap going on in the world". Spoken like a true, scared-by-the-media American. The world is fine, you should come visit it.
This is something that many people must deal with. Before moving to Korea, I had never been outside of North America. My world was pretty much one state --or at best-- one region. I had friends that had studied abroad, but I just never saw the allure of such an endeavor. I had another friend to whom I mentioned that he could consider teaching abroad for a year or two. His response?
No, man. I'm all about America. I love America.
Me, too. Now do you want to answer the question. You know, living abroad doesn't necessarily mean that one doesn't love their home nation. And further, it's possible to love more than one nation. America will always be my passion, but I also love Korea. In fact, I love many nations.


A couple years ago, I had a friend who was in somewhat of a Facebook debate with one of his online friends about how great America is. I didn't get involved, but still agreed with him that America is great. As the debate continued, he then moved on to an area that was a little more slippery for me. I'll paraphrase him.
I'm unapologetically proud to be an American. I've been to Europe and besides the architecture and museums, I refuse to believe that life is better anywhere else.
I'm also unapologetically proud to be an American, but a two week tour of Europe's tourist traps just doesn't give someone the right to make such a statement. That said, I understand where he's coming from. I've been living in Korea for quite awhile. I'm The Expat (or was) and with that comes a certain level of affection for my host country. Still, I'm choosing to move back to the US soon. My wife and I have decided that America would be a better place for us to raise our children. We both like the space that America offers and, to be honest, the Little League baseball coaching scene is better in the US than in Korea. 


And even though we have made that decision, I have plenty of friends here that have decided that Korea is a better place for them. Some of them already have children and are settling in for the long run. Korea has its perks as well. They have an excellent health care system, superb gun laws and an education system that actually demands something of its students. There's always a silver lining even if you refuse to acknowledge it. 


One of the finest lessons I've learned in my time in Korea is that being a minority is harder than you think. I'm an English teacher and, as such, I have to deal with being stereotyped. My wife and I will occasionally get angry stares in public. Sometimes people will assume that I use drugs or that I the only reason I came to Korea was to marry a Korean women because I couldn't find an American girl. At first, I was angered by it. How dare they judge me, right? Wrong. That's what majorities do. They group minorities together so as to define them. There might be some stereotypes of me out there, but I live very well in Korea considering. 


I've been hearing some chatter that white American males are feeling oppressed these days. In fact, a Men's Studies program has been started at Wagner University to dispel those nasty rumors that Women's Studies students have been claiming. Right. Those poor white men who earn more money and occupy more tops jobs than any other demographic. Just because the president is black doesn't mean you're oppressed. If you --and by that I mean white men in general-- believe that this is oppression, I'd say it's time to grow some thicker skin. The  minorities in America are tough, dedicated people who truly know what oppression is yet believe so firmly in the American Dream --whatever that might be-- that they endure it. 


To that end, I'd like to share with you the introduction of Blake's Songs of Innocence.


Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:

"Pipe a song about a Lamb!"
So I piped with merry chear.
"Piper, pipe that song again"
So I piped, he wept to hear.

"Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy chear-
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

"Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read."
So he vanish'd from my sight,
And I pluck'd a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain'd the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.



You know the message: the more we experience, the more we lose our innocence. In the case of the two Facebook claims above, I feel that both posters were speaking not out of experience, but out of innocence. I chose to say "innocence" rather than "ignorance" for a reason, though. Simply put, ignorance is a lack of knowledge and I would not call those two posters ignorant --they're not. I will say that they are innocently ignorant. Without experiencing the rest of the world, how does that fellow know that "ur better off being in the states when the sh*t hits the fan"? How can we be so sure that we can flatly "refuse to believe that life is better anywhere else"? We can't and we shouldn't.


The same can be said about religion. Last month I was a Buddhist and for the next ten months, I will continue to live and briefly experience life as a practitioner of different religions. I will not, however, make statements that one is better than the other. After all, most people spend their entire life studying their respective religion. I will not ever have that privilege, but I can tell you which one works best for me. If I choose one at the end of this ride it does not mean that I chose the best one, nor does it mean the followers of the other religions will perish in a "hell". 


The Catholic Church has experience. It's the wise old man of Christianity. The CCC tells us this:
The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.
That certainly does not say that other religions are wrong. Rather, it makes the case that all non-Christian are trying to find their way to God. This is pretty level-headed of the Church and one that I'm happy to read. Even though the Bible makes it clear that once you've heard the Gospel then you are responsible for it, I find this message of tolerance very appealing. Ultimately, however, it must claim dominion, but it does so in a tasteful way.
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood.
Living abroad has allowed me to meet many wonderful people from all over the world. They all live happily in their respective home nations and in many others. They have their own set of beliefs and want many different things out of life. My way is not their way. My religion is not their religion and even though I have fallen into the trap of superiority many times, I know that my way is just that. 


Some people happen to be born in Afghanistan and are raised Muslim. As a Catholic, they are recognized as fellow children of Abraham.
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.
That is not their fault as perhaps some god or God willed it to be that way. If I were to be born in Israel tomorrow, I would be raised a Jew.
The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 
If I was born in Tibet or India, the same would apply.  
All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .
For me, it's hard to swallow the pill that "outside the Church, there is no salvation" because I refuse to believe that the American Dream can only be experienced in America. To that, I guess, I have one thing to say: The world and everything in it is simply amazing. Experience it with an open mind. 


Don't limit yourself to willful innocence.

2 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, George. I have always believed experience is the best teacher. Travel, open-mindedness, studying and reading...and observing...gosh, there is so much to see and learn.

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  2. Montaigne wrote, "Les voyages sont la meilleure ├ęcole." I can think of few things much wiser than that statement.

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