Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Learning From Bhutan

This year is the 30th year of diplomatic relations with the country of Bhutan, Koreans visiting Bhutan in recent years has increased greatly. This year starting in June for 3 months, Koreans are receiving a 50 percent discount on events in Bhutan. What would ordinarily cost 250 dollars daily has been reduced to 125 dollars. A university professor writing in the Catholic Peace Weekly tells the readers that on the plane from Bangkok to Bhutan most of travelers were Korean.

He was visiting the country on invitation to attend a one day workshop on Sustainable Development Goals that were presented by the United Nations and the the ways to achieve them in society.

Bhutan is about one fifth the size of Korea with a population of a little over 750,000 and a GDP that is 166 in the list of nations. It's a Buddhist nation and in many ways just opposite to Korea. In 1970 at the start of restoration under a dictatorship, Korea and Bhutan were similar in the GDP with about 200-300 dollars. Bhutan from that time began its Gross National Happiness goal. Today Bhutan has not quite 3000 dollar GNP while Korea comes close to 30,000 dollar GNP.

However, Korea has one of the highest suicide rates and one of the lowest birthrates in the world and is not able to rid itself of one of the lowest happiness i and quality of life indexes. In Bhutan 9 our of 10 citizens consider themselves happy, one of the highest in the world, Why do we have this  great discrepancy?

Bhutan's philosophy of government is determined by how happy the citizens are. In 2008 the country began their periodical 5 year plan in achieving happiness with a committee devoted to that cause. A happiness policy, which is based on:  * achieving a fair development of the economy * protecting the environment for the citizens, and animals * progress in developing traditional values and systems* to include the citizens in the running of the government and listen to their requests, be efficient and transparent in the running of government and to be conscious of the above four pillars of our society.

The aim is  for the well being of the citizens, health, leisure, education, cultural diversity, good government, community building, ecology and renewal, which will be viewed with other indexes to measure the progress of the efforts.

Recently many countries are going to Bhutan to learn about their policies. Thailand has stared a center with an index for happiness. He wonders looking at Bhutan what have we lost in searching for material prosperity. We can use Bhutan as a mirror to look at ourselves.

He concludes the article with the hope of our new president who is an admirer of the Bhutan experiment. Korea with an excessive search for prosperity at the expense of happiness is able to work together with Bhutan to help the developing  countries to acknowledge the  good and bad qualities of each and to help others achieve sensible progress.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

No place to Go

"Is it right to commit mentally sick to sanatoriums? Or rather to respects their rights and allow them to live with us?"  No one can give an easy answer. With these questions, a health worker begins his article in the Catholic Times.

Recently a murder by a person under treatment for schizophrenia brought to the fore a movement to put those who are in treatment for mental illness in sanatoriums. Out of the 70 thousand in mental hospitals 10 thousand are conjectured to be released within the year. Recently the mental health law was changed which makes the commitment to a hospital difficult and release easy. Citizens do not have a consensus on how to deal with the mentally sick and the government remains confused. Christians have the example of Jesus to help us. He would not appreciate them becoming sacrificial lambs and would want to help them live human lives.

Differently than what the majority believe the mentally sick are not for the most part dangerous. In a report for the year, 2011 by the supreme prosecutor's office in the crimes that were perpetrated during that year only 10 percent were attributed to the mentally handicapped. Those who have been released and take their medicines are good neighbors. The problem is that many have no place to go. No friends with whom to talk, work opportunities are not available and find it difficult knowing what to do with their time.They are faced with the bias in society and the danger of giving up on their treatment and some return to drinking and drugs.

Some are still in hospitals because it's the cheapest place to keep them and the most efficient. The money set aside for the mentally sick is about 45 dollars which is about 1/6th of the budget in England and the United States. In Korea each person is responsible for about 80 persons which is two to three times more than the developed countries.

The efforts to build the infrastructure in society is missing, the efforts to make the entrance into mental hospitals more difficult will make opportunities for treatment less.

Many who have been discharged continue as out-patients.Those who have been addicted to drink have stopped drinking.Those with serious problems of schizophrenia or manic-depression, the acute manifestations of the disease are under control.

Those released from hospitals don't always find happiness. Societies' coldness and prejudices make it difficult. We need to prepare ourselves to accept those who are mentally compromised. We need to prepare to accept them with joy and need programs to help them to return to society. This over all will be a saving to  society. Our understanding of the mentally disturbed needs to be changed and resources need to be allotted to the work.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Helping Others to be Happy

In a diocesan bulletin, a university professor gives us a human interest story with a good moral lesson. A young woman who planned to marry and with all preparations made, received out of the blue notice from her expected husband that the wedding was off.

At the time when she was to be the happiest, she received word of the worst kind, leaving her with a feeling of despair. The problems that came to minds were not a few and the biggest was the wedding party that she was to have for the guests.

The money for the banquet had been prepaid over 30 thousand dollars and there was no refund. What she decided to do was to invite all the homeless in the area to a banquet.  She made a list of 170 of the homeless and sent all of them a personal invitation, prepared them suits and dresses and the means to attend the banquet.

It was the first time in their lives that many of them ever received a personal invitation to a party and attended with great warmth in their heart. Dressed not in a wedding dress but in the formal dress, the no longer bride was there to greet all the guests and made the day memorable for all.

The writer mentions this is what  happened recently in the United States. What was done was a difficult step for the young woman. He wonders how many in such a situation would have thought of such an alternative plan.

When sad making others happy is a way of healing one's own sadness.... This was the young woman's lesson to all of us. In a community, if we tried to make others happy the joy of the efforts would reflect on the life of the community.

"We can boast about our suffering. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is a not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us" Rm. 5:3.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Life Is Short and Art is Long

Relax, travel, healing... to modern society these are sweet magic words. Those who are running ahead aimlessly and are tired in both body and mind, understand. 

Korea has for some time been interested in economic progress and has achieved remarkable results from the efforts. We can be proud of the results but in the process, became infected with a materialist mentality: money can do everything. A member of the Catholic Artist's Committee gives us her impression in a Diocesan bulletin on the direction we are going.

She mentions that for Korea to become truly an advanced country in this transitional period it's  important to work to advance our cultural assets besides pursuing economic progress. Because of the Japanese occupation and division of the country, Korea has not developed fully its spiritual and cultural resources.

For a long period of time seeing the advances of western culture, Korea was overcome with a great feeling of inferiority and a yearning to imitate, we did this without reservation. Imitation is the start to every beginning. However, it's time for Korea to begin as a developed country in the 21st century to recover our proper Korean culture and aesthetic history. This is the work of the artistic community but the government and public organization need to give us the wings to go ahead with the search.

France, known as a cultural giant has a department of culture, she would like Korea to go in that direction. As we transition as a developing country she is sure the department would do much in achieving cultural growth.

Art is the product of a precious spiritual culture that acts as a mirror of the times, through deep self-reflection and insight into society. Art is not rigid and heavy but the way of discovering what beauty is, and for those in modern society searching for meaning in  higher values and quality of life. It's a thrilling medium that brings joy to people.

"Art is long, life is short" reminds us of the great power of art to give vitality to life. It's time to abandon the dichotomous thinking of black and white, left and right, good and bad, high and low,  and to search for a middle course. In the East, the middle road is normal.

While in college she wondered if the way of art was a proper goal. Did God see this as a beautiful goal?  Was it just a personal selfish desire? She wondered about this for some time but since it was a strong desire she felt it came from God. She is now certain of this and screams out: the beauty of art witnesses to God's love, a beautiful tool which introduces us to the fragrance of God's love.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Complementarity A Great Gift

Did Jesus discriminate against women? This is the question an article in the Catholic Peace Weekly wants the readers to examine. Looking at the lists of names in the New Testament it is easy to draw this conclusion. However if we look at the whole of the gospel and in depth, Jesus respected women and valued them highly.

Women had an important place in the life and work of Jesus. Like everybody else, he was born from a woman. Mary's role was important and among the saints holds the place of honor.

Women were his disciples. Mary Magdalen is an example of this group. They traveled together with him and helped him financially. She was one of the few who was with him at the crucifixion.

In the gospels, he was very open and warm even with those who were considered sinners by society. The church helped to change the attitude towards women in many parts of the world.

Women have passed down the faith over the years.This was seen from the time of the early church. St. Timothy is a good example of this having received his faith from his grandmother and mother. 

In the Mass, we have the names of many women. Many are the women who have been declared saints, women who have devoted themselves to work in hospitals and schools.  He gives us the example of Maria Gaetana Agnesi a woman who was the first to have the position of a university professor of mathematics and a woman who devoted a great deal of her time to helping the sick and poor. And we have the great number of religious sisters who have devoted themselves to the marginalized in society.

However, the question does come up often: why did he limit the Apostles to males only? Often we hear that it was the custom of the times and the culture in which he lived. Jesus, however, did not follow the customs of the times in his actions. Was it not Mary Magdalen who was the first one to receive the message of the resurrection and the first to bring it to the disciples when society considered the woman's witnessing less than that of the male. She was considered the Apostle to the apostles.

From the time of Jesus, the descendants of the apostles have been men. From the scriptures, we can see clearly that both the male and female were considered both equally important, but also not the same. The male connotes fatherhood and the woman motherhood, and he calls each to follow with their own charisma.

In God's eyes, they are both equal, but different. They are to mutually complement each other in the mission he has given to the church.

Most likely the reality we see in the church is what makes the clerical state attractive to certain segments of the community: one in which authority and power are possessed by the clergy. This could change which would make a difference in the way the male presence in the church is seen.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Rabboni, Teacher

Confucius in his Analects gives us his understanding of growth with these words: "At 15 I set my heart on learning, at 30 I know where I stood, at 40 I have no more doubts, at 50 I knew the will of Heaven, at 60 my ears were attuned, and at 70 I followed my heart’s desire without crossing the line.”

Confucius in his own life without any Christian teaching knew that something happened to him by living the virtuous life. He was moved  to live in harmony with nature and as Christians understand,  an answer to grace.

A university professor in the Catholic Peace Weekly writes about  Jesus' method of teaching. A representative  example he gives us is the woman caught in adultery brought to him by the lawyers and pharisees.

He is presented with the law in which such a person was to be stoned but Jesus did not directly answer but told them that those without sin can start the stoning. In this short story we have the philosophy, the psychology, and the social aspects of education which is to understand. Jesus didn't want to teach but wanted them to grasp the truth. This is the role of an educator.

When we teach, people forget, when we grasp something, understand what is being said, we don't forget. In English the word educate means to draw out from inside to the outside. God has already placed in us the capacity we are to bring it out in our lives. Socrates considered this as working as a midwife to bring the new birth out to the light.

We all have this duty as educators to help bring out what God has given each of us. Mary Magdalena when she recognized her teacher called out Rabboni. Her teacher she could never forget.

In Titus 2: 11-12, "You see God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us what we have to do..." 

In Korean the word for church and education both have the same Chinese character in its first syllable which is the mission of the church but with the methods of Jesus.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Economics and Morality


To buy we need to sell. Economics studies the way we provide ourselves to live, the means and consequently what and how we need to sell to buy. So begins an article in a diocesan bulletin by a seminary professor. When we examine what we buy and sell, products that in the past weren't even imagined as products of commerce are now traded.

Water is today a common product for commerce and can be bought at any convenience store. A bottle of water costs 900 won, the same size bottle of gas would cost 700 won. Strange that in a country without any resources of oil, a bottle of gasoline is cheaper than a bottle of water. Our senses tell us that the world of economics has its own system and rationality and the bias we have picked up accepts it as being indifferent to the problems of morality and ordinary common sense.

In the social gospel of the Church, this kind of thinking is confronted face on and we are asked to examine our place and role in the economic activities in which we participate.

Frederic Beigbeder a French writer is quoted as saying that our society when it comes to economics has thrown aside common sense and morality and with humor shows the distortions.

"The poor to buy a pair of expensive sneakers will sell drugs and the rich will sell expensive sneakers to buy drugs from the poor." This French writer makes clear that we are nurturing a monster in economics that has no connection with what is important. Consequently the more developed we become in financial matters the more hard-hearted life becomes for many. This is the reason the social gospel recommends that we look carefully at what we buy and sell.

With the increase of wealth, we see also the increase of deprivation in the lives of many.The social gospel asks us to reflect on what we buy and sell. A moral element is involved and we need to see it. We are at the center of commerce.

The Pope in a message to the prime minister of England in 2013 stressed the ethics of truth. "This includes, first and foremost, respect for the truth of man, who is not simply an additional economic factor, or a disposable good, but is equipped with nature and dignity that cannot be reduced to simple economic calculus. Therefore concern for the fundamental material and spiritual welfare of every human person is the starting-point for every political and economic solution and the ultimate measure of its effectiveness and its ethical validity."

Many authorities speak with complicated theories and many fancy words.  What is important is that the economy is for the welfare and justice of all. The economy that is not for all people is stealing from the poor. Should we not be conscious of this when finances are used for vanity and exorbitant luxuries?