“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ―Matthew 5:46-48
Well Lord, that was quite an experience―visiting my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Seoul. You always find such extraordinary ways to help me step outside of my comfort zone. I am adequately reminded of what it feels like to be the alien-visitor, rather than to receive the alien-visitor. I was most certainly the stranger in a strange and wonderful land.
And, as with visiting your land, Israel, I discovered new perspectives; such as how 23 million people can peacefully cohabitate a city within a land area less than that of New York City. I watched as people drove, shopped, lived and interacted without much incident at all. Yes, there were the two near misses of vehicles trying to wedge their way ahead of my son’s car, and there were the tolerances for people waiting for and riding in the mass transit system; but I was not in control of those things and I suspect most of the horde around me would admit the same.
I was amazed at how people would shop for food, place it in a cart, and then leave their stash outside the market to go shopping elsewhere without concern that their purchase might disappear before their return. It just doesn’t happen in Seoul. I found myself rising early in the morning, prior to the sun rising and climbing to a nearby park, feeling completely at ease without regard to my safety. Apparently, there are other early risers who feel the same, for I crossed paths with a good number of joggers, exercisers, meditators, and millers-about who appeared to feel equally relaxed.
There was a politeness to the order as well. I was most certainly not a native, but people nodded and sometimes even engaged me in a combination of Kor-English and sign-language to offer greetings and inquire as to where I was from. Curiosity is universal.
Speaking of that, Lord, I have become curious as to how the order of this place came about. I understand that, for a civilization to survive in such tight quarters, certain physical freedoms must be sacrificed―no plastic in the paper trash container, no food waste unwrapped, etc. But surely there are times of chaos and rebellion that have arisen, and still must. I’m told of them, and that such events can get as ugly in the Republic of Korea as anywhere else on the planet. Does a mass such as this react differently when things go array?
I live in a place where many assumptions about order occur. I am occasionally known to exceed the speed limit on the road. We don’t have to recycle our trash if we choose not to. I have great freedom to cross borders and to object to; even argue against my community’s ordinances. If I am offended, I may assume that right and take a different stand, as I also afford that right to my neighbors. If things get overly contentious; compromise is the typical starting point toward reconciliation.
But in a place where there are so many people, if a disagreement surfaces, what happens to the order? Lord, I mentioned the politeness of the culture and I noticed something regarding Asian culture that may answer to the question of disagreement. I wonder if the people of Korea really “know” one another. Maybe I should take the question further…do people anywhere really “know” one another?
Sure, we recognize and predict future outcomes based on historical behavior, actions, common heritage, and family traits. We shape our relationships from these things. But what I’m talking about is more―the “deep-soul” understanding between and among us. Some might even call it a spiritual understanding; one to another, that comes from constant intercession, one to another; and persistent dialogue pursuing the higher, the more difficult, and the more uncomfortable questions of life.
How do I measure up in this questioning, Lord? Within my family structure, within my circle of friends, with you, do I strive to truly “know”, or do I just superficially associate with others in order to peaceably coexist? Korea taught me as much about my own subtle tendencies as it did about Eastern world nuances. I have to confess that I’m a “work-in-progress”, lazy in my pursuit of understanding the individuals I interact with on a regular and infrequent basis.
Is this why we are so prone to dismiss, minimize or even ridicule others around us whom we claim are different from ourselves? Where is the order in my concern for the dignity of my fellow humans? I have relegated them to pawns for my convenience and my selfish purposes, rather than testing my beliefs by better understanding theirs. Dare I ask if the same stereotypical bullets are shot my way by others, hoping to wound or eliminate my contributions rather than laying down their attack weapons, taking true interest in my history and values?
Lord, you know best of all―each of us. You took individual interest in each of our lives, sacrificing your own, becoming the exclusive example of one desiring deep communion with us, regardless of our personal depravity. Regardless of my reluctance to better know my fellows and their reluctance to know me; shouldn’t we, by your example, be fighting with every fiber to intertwine our lives, bonding for strength, not cutting ourselves apart?
Words: all of this is rhetoric until we stop excusing our behavior based on the premise that, as with the Koreans, there are just too many of us to manage such an approach to relationship. But, Jesus, am I wrong to suggest that it only takes one, reaching out to another one, to begin such a movement?