This post is coming late due to recovery from LASEK surgery at the end of December. The surgery went well; I am still in wonder with my new 20-20 vision—it’s a whole new world.
Forgive thy sinner for I have been indulging on my guilty pleasure: starting too many books at once.
At one point I have had these on the roster:
E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World (1936)
C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1943)
Henri Nouwen, Love, Henri (2016)
Eugene H. Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire (2017)
Fleming Rutledge, Advent (2018)
Kathryn Tanner, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism (2019)
Martin Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy (1960)
Frances Young, God’s Presence (2013)
Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be (1952)
Margaret Atwood, The Testaments (2019)
If this isn’t a chronic problem, I don’t know what is.
This month was tougher than months prior. I’ve started to feel homesick. But it’s a kind of longing without the devastating troughs of loneliness. I miss my family, my friends, my old rhythms, the familiar bed and trinkets (namely, books) my room stored, the drives and walks I would take, the time I would spend with beloveds. In short, I miss what I had—the things I’ve treasured and taken for granted, the grand and small things.
Longing without loneliness, it’s definitely a foreign feeling. I’ve struggled with loneliness for so long that having my heartstrings pulled in intense longing without the grooves of loneliness felt new. The tug felt visceral, but not painful. Couple nights I teared in bed, but not out hopelessness. It was as if all the sweetness and savor of passing time the old ways were sapped, and all that’s left is barren memory. It’s strange, really, because other days the memory would be sweet, stirring gratitude. Homesickness, however, accents the bodily emptiness—the not-here- or not-anymore-ness of memory. I don’t think it’s bad. Homesickness is a companion to memory as much as thankfulness, and I believe it has its own place in maturity.
To extend my visa, I had to make a quick trip overseas. Japan was the obvious choice: tickets are cheap (I think because of Korea’s No-Japan boycott) and I’ve never been. Kyoto was pure bliss. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more idyllic city. Walking around was a delight. Taking in the sights felt scrumptious to the eyes. (See more photos from Japan, here, here, and here)
The most sobering moment was visiting Nijo Castle, former residence of the last shogunate. The pairing could not have been more opposite: admiring Nijo’s impeccably kept gardens and remembering Japan’s brutal imperialism of Korea and other Asian nations. The last shogunate Tokugawa Yoshinobu, however, already relinquished his powers to Emperor Meiji by the time Japanese imperialism started. But the symbol of Japanese power was still palpable. Even strolling through minkas (traditional Japanese houses) reminded me of how many hanoks (traditional Korean houses) were razed (not all because of Japanese imperialism, mind you; Korean War also devastated Korea’s topography). And as someone who is a sucker for traditional architecture, the realization was a downer. This didn’t stop me, however, from marveling at Kyoto’s various constructions, from minkas to shrines.
Advent reflections this year were somber, as they should be according to Reverend Fleming Rutledge. The message of Advent is a movement from dusk to dawn, but starts in utter darkness. For four weeks, we grope through the long night, stumbling over the atrocious and odious. We put our hands and feet into the mire and swamp. We weep aloud that all is not well and groan with creation awaiting redemption. Only at peak darkness do we marvel at the child of light, who promised to come again. This is Advent’s rhythmic movement.
These past months a growing fear has crept in, showing its ugly face under Advent lens: virulent nationalism. It presents itself as a most noble attribute, to stand for something bigger than one’s own life. It inspires courage and camaraderie. It unites people for something, but more often against something. I wonder: Is nationalism possible without some of its destructive ways? Can there be Korean nationalism that is not against Japan, or US not against Arab nations? Gombrich thinks so:
I know a wise old Buddhist monk who, in a speech to his fellow countrymen, once said he’d love to know why someone who boasts that he is the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest or the most gifted man on earth is thought ridiculous and embarrassing, whereas if instead of ‘I’, he says, ‘we are the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most gifted people on earth,’ his fellow countrymen applaud enthusiastically and call him a patriot. For there is nothing patriotic about it. One can be attached to one’s own country without needing to insist that the rest of the world’s inhabitants are worthless.
// E.H. Gombrich, A Little History of the World
It is this need to insist that other nations and the people therein are less that is frightening.
But, of course, things are always more complicated. For example, I think it’s garbage that some of Japan’s highest authorities (not Japanese people, en masse) refuse to acknowledge and recompense comfort women atrocities. There’s need for justice. But that doesn’t make Japan an unjust nation or people group, much like how Trump’s actions and behaviors does not accurately paint all of America. But how will accountability be held for the deep wounds of history? Will boycotting Japanese goods be enough to pressure higher authorities? Sadly, it has so far only fanned the flames of an economic war between Korea and Japan.
These uncertainties, questions, and general feel of discomfort are fully expressed in one question: how can one be a citizen of the world? What does it look like to grow into a human who stands for humanity and not just a nation, for God’s world and not merely a handful of people’s? I’m reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr., who Benjamin Mays said in his eulogy to that great man:
[King] drew no distinction between the high and low; none between the rich and the poor… He was supra-race, supra-nation, supra-denomination, supra-class and supra-culture. He belonged to the world and to mankind. (emphasis added, read Benjamin Mays’s full eulogy, here)
How do we live lives that shows we belonged to the world? I hope this question will continue to sear me into 2020 and beyond.
To end on a lighter note, along celebrating Christ’s birth I celebrated Will Hamin Lovett’s entrance. I’m so excited for Lovett and Koheun’s next chapter!