Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sorrow, Lanterns, and Plants

As most people have probably heard by now, South Korea is currently in a state of mourning due to the sinking of the Sewol Ferry. 193 people are dead and 109 are still missing. And the fact is most of them are high school aged students. Most of them spent their last days on Earth studying for college entrance exams. Most of them will never even get to go. South Korea is weeping together. I don't wish to say more about the accident, but if you are the praying type, please remember the families in your prayer. And, if you are not the praying type, take a moment to join with the families in lament.

Yellow Ribbons have become the symbol of mourning, both online and offline.

Impromptu shrine to the Sewol victims at the Dong Du Chon Sharing House

The Children of the Dong Du Chon Sharing house offer their own prayers for their peers.

Another huge event took place this past Saturday. The annual lotus lantern parade. This is an event in celebration of the birth of Buddha. According to Buddhist beliefs, lanterns symbolize wisdom in that they bring light to the world. “Yeondeung,” which means lantern lighting, is an important ritual in Buddhism that pays respect to Buddha.The lanterns are lit and marched through the streets of downtown Seoul to the Jogyesa Temple. In the face of the Sewol disater, the event was more somber than usual and many lanters were adorned with yellow ribbons. Despite this, it was nice to see people gathering together to celebrate in such a beautiful manner.

One of the Four Heavenly Kings who watch over the cardinal directions, who began the parade.

Haechi, a mythical creature who discerns good from evil. He also happens to be the Seoul City mascot. 

The Korean Boy Scouts.

My personal favorite horse lantern.

A group dressed in Yellow for the Sewol Ferry disaster.

Matching Hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. 

 Recently, I have been working twice a week with an after school program for rural children in Dong Du Chon City, about 2 hours North of where I live in Seoul. Today, we worked on and planted the small garden area in the front of our center. We planted "very hot" and "not hot" peppers (we might have struggled with that translation), tomatoes, and lettuce. They all looked so small and fragile next to the big bare expanse of brown dirt they were planted in. It is not a solution, but after the two weeks of grief, it was nice to be planting. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Easter Promise: Peeps and Jesus

(Originally for the YASC Lenten reflection blog)
For the past week, everyday I arrive home at Sungkonghoe University, I get to feeling like I’m all of ten years old. Why? Well, the joy of the Easter promise of course. But not the whole Jesus-Easter-promise. No, no, no. My childlike anxiety is caused by the other Easter promise. The one of Peeps…glorious, fat, yellow, sugary peeps, thanks be to God. In other words, my mother has sent an Easter basket to Korea, and I am desperately awaiting its arrival.

But, in all seriousness, I’m 22 years old and have been living on my own for 5 years now, and my mom has never missed an Easter basket. I hope she knows how much that means. When I was a kid, Easter was my favorite holiday. There was a lot of pain and confusion growing up, and as any child of divorced parents knows, Christmas and like holidays can be complicated. I guess my family wasn’t religious enough for Easter to count as a complicated or sorrowful holiday.

And remember that fake, tacky, plastic Easter grass? I do. I remember one year experiencing an acute feeling of joy when I found the first piece inevitably embedded in the carpet during Holy Week. It meant mom had pulled down the basket and the peeps were on their final march to my belly.

No matter what the situation. No matter the stress, the loss, or the terrible fights that would pass between my mom and me. The Peeps would come, like a bright sprinkle covered ray of sunshine. More often than not, they would not arrive into a perfect household. The Peeps, throughout the years marched through death, divorce, depression, and now, thousands of miles. They never solved problems, but when the world feels like it has been pulled out from underneath you, the smallest consistency becomes very dear. And perhaps the best thing about Peeps is that they are always the same. They taste the exact same way now as they did when I was 9.
And the way I have come to love Peeps, is so much like the way I love the Jesus that is presented to us during Holy Week. The Readings for today come passion and during this time, Jesus and his disciples will be thrown into the midst of despair. In the period of just a few days they will experience the betrayal of a friend, the death of a teacher, persecution by the government, self-doubt, the death of a son, a complete change in their world order, and even in case of Jesus, his own death. And it is a painful death; one that even he is his wisdom is scared of.

Take a moment, as lent closes to remember the pain in your own life. Reflect on those moments when it felt like God had abandoned you. And then try reflecting on the last days of Jesus’ life. Jesus is not outside of or above human suffering. He experiences it all with us. When his friend dies, he weeps. And he does not offer any explanation. He does not step away and explain that it is a blessing in disguise. He does not believe that it will simply get better. Jesus manufactures no coping mechanism for his disciples.

But He remains with them. Constantly.

There is misery in life. We feel it. And we are reminded of some of it’s forms throughout Holy Week. But Jesus is there with us in our sufferings. Understanding what we feel. He does not magically remove our pain, or reveal God’s plan. But he walks with us.

And likewise, the Peeps will come. They are constant and assured. They do not cure anything but they are a part of it all. Every year. No matter what. Their round and empathetic presence reminding me of the promise of next year and the hardship overcome in past years.

Dear God, this year, when we gaze upon Peeps, a wonder of Your creation, help us to remember that there is constancy. Help us to feel the promise Jesus made to be with us in all things human. Open our hearts to You so You may share with us in the sorrows that bear no expression in words, but can only be felt in the human heart. Amen.

*Nota Bene
I wrote this reflection on the train to work this morning. When I arrived home this evening, I discovered the Peeps had successfully completed their journey to Asia.

Party Time

This past Wednesday was a special day at living together, the mentally handicapped ministry where I work twice a week. We took a well deserved break from our normal afternoon of work and had a PARTY! It was a birthday celebration for all the students who had birthdays during the past month. It was nice to take a moment to appreciate one another's company and celebrate the passing of another year. Speaking of which my year here in Korea is flying by. I can't believe it has been almost 8 months since I arrived here and only 4 more until I return home! I hope the passing of this year brings be as much joy as this birthday celebration.
Voting on the celebratory message.

Birthday Wishes

Singing Happy Birthday and watching the cake with great anticipation.

And what Korean party would be complete without a little (or a lot of) Karaoke?

Birthday Boys cutting their cake.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lazarus and Blossoms

It is spring in Korea. Which means, first of all, there are cherry blossoms and other beautiful flowers everywhere. Second, that I am throwing off the dead rot of winter and feeling life again. It happens every year that I forget that spring will come. And this year in particular has been a real lonely and difficult winter. But Spring will always comes. I know it is a bit too early still for the Easter themed blog I would like to write. But the Gospel lesson this past Sunday was the story of Lazarus rising from the dead, so our minds are already on resurrection. I hope that this spring joy to you as it has already begun to do for me. To help you along, here are pictures of the flowers and pictures of my Sunday school students being toilet paper Lazarus. I say it's to help them remember the story, but really it's because I always opt for what will be the most fun for me.  Enjoy!