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


Day 30

I started this month with high expectations and despite the World Cup distractions, I never really lost sight of how amazing Quakerism and Friends are. I learned a lot about myself, my family and the nature of God. It's really impressive how much of an impact Friends have had on the world and on my nation. And while their numbers don't seem to be increasing much, I will always respect them for what they have revealed to me. 

From what you experienced, what was the best part of Quakerism?

Wow! That's really a difficult question. I wan't to say tolerance and progression, but those are too obvious. There were so many different elements of the religion that really worked for me and, to be honest, it was a journey that revealed itself one step at a time. At first, I loved the idea of oneness with God. Since that is the backbone of the religion, it was probably the most inspiring. Viewing people in that fashion makes equality much easier to practice. As the month progressed, I found myself really digging the simplicity of the approach. It was to-the-point and inspiring to practice Christianity in such a raw form. For the first time, I saw Christianity as I believe it was intended to be viewed and used. The whole thing was really great and it's impossible to pinpoint a favorite part.

What improvements, if any, did you witness in yourself?

I think I learned the value of silence during my Buddhist month, so sitting in silence wasn't new. I think Ham Seok-heon really connected the dots for me. He spoke very eloquently about the need for personal honesty and reflection, yet he tied it in so well with how we can use that time to understand the true nature of God. Humans have the power to channel God's wisdom, charity and passion if they only allow themselves to recognize it, however people are so diluted by their own false realities and perceptions of themselves to realize that. I'm really going to try and become more honest with myself.

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

I had to really think about this one. In my short month, there really wasn't anything that turned me off, but I guess one thing would be the fact that Quakers don't celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas and even though I'm very aware that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th, it's a great time to get together with family and enjoy each others company. It'd be a shame not to have that time.

You went to Meetings, were you comfortable in that setting?

I thought they were going to be very awkward, but I found them to be really warm and welcoming. Three meetings isn't really enough to get the full experience though. Spending time in silence with other Friends is something that can't really be described. It was a deeply enriching opportunity for me and one that I hope to pass on to friends and family. 

Are you more proud of your ancestors because of their Quaker past?

Absolutely!!! I can honestly say that I am beyond proud. More than that, I have really started to concern myself with preserving a record for my own descendants. My family is wild for family history and luckily we've been blessed with some great record keepers. I can do my part and hopefully will also make my family proud.

Would you ever consider becoming a Quaker?

Yes. I'd have to gauge the vibe at my local Meeting, but Quakerism is certainly something that I could embrace. It's a wonderful religion.

Any last comments?

Take some time and read Ham Seok-heon. He was truly an amazing man and faced some serious hardships, but never lost sight of what was right. Be honest with yourself first and then you will realize how God's power works. Equality is easy when God dwells within us all.


Day 29

Thoughts from the wife...

From what you saw and heard, what was the best part of Quakerism for you? 

I wasn't that involved personally this month except for the fact that George talked to me a lot about it. I didn't go to his little meetings, so I'm not sure exactly what was going on there aside from what he reported. However, I am sort of intrigued by the silence. George won't stop talking about how primitive the whole thing felt and I know he really connected with some parts of it. I guess I liked the idea that Quakers must value everyone equally. As a Korean woman, that really spoke to me. Equality is something that all people should believe in.

What improvements, if any, did you witness in your husband?

Are you going to ask me this question every month? If I'm supposed to say that he improved a lot each month, then I guess I can expect an amazing husband at this end of this thing. It's hard to witness marked improvement because some of these religions blend together. I like the fact that he got really into his family roots this month. It made me feel good about his commitment to family and to, well, commitment. He has become more aware of wasting energy, but he talks about his leg muscles too much now. They're not that impressive yet, but when your legs were as small as his were, any improvement is huge.

What was the most annoying aspect of the religion for you?

There wasn't anything annoying for me really. I think, however, that George could get annoying if he started following all the Quaker causes and got to a point where all he would do is talk about social problems and how to change them. My only concern about Quakers is that they get too excited about being in the fringe and since they are a fringe group, they have much less a burden and, therefore, can change their opinion without any real consequences. George thinks this is the best part, but I'm not sure I agree. 

What do you think of silent worship?

I think that is great. Some of my favorite times in church have been the silent times. An hour seems long, but we all need time to think about our relationships with God and the world.

Do you think George was biased this month because of his family connection to Quakers?

George is always biased. It's funny to see him get excited about stuff because I know why he's overreacting way before he even realizes it. Of course he got more into it because of his family. I have seen that house in Indiana about forty times this month and each time, a new story gets tacked to it. My concern is that he'll use this family connection to push Quakerism ahead of other religions even though he didn't feel as much a connection. 

Would you ever consider becoming a Quaker?

This question never goes away either. I think that Quakerism is pretty interesting and I like the work they do. However, when George and I move to the US and start a family, I'm going to be looking for a community to get involved in. I understand that there might be a Quaker church in the area, but moving to the US is not as easy for me as it is for George. If we were to be Quakers, my pool of friends and experiences would be limited to the one Quaker church in the area. I'm still set on continuing Protestantism for myself, my spirituality and my family. George likes to brush it off, but our family is going to be a little different from others and while uniqueness is a virtue, isolation is not something I want to deal with. At least in the beginning, I cannot see myself joining a Quaker church.

Next month is Jainism. Are you excited?

I have no idea what to expect. George keeps telling me he can't use money, eat food without it being offered and is going back to vegetarianism. Oh, and he told me that he's planning on shaving his head this weekend. It'll be one long month I think.


Day 28

It's hard to do things that go against the wishes of your family, friends, society and country. Some things might be small like getting a tattoo, taking a break from school or getting involved with a girl that all your friends hate and others might be much much bigger. I have managed to stay somewhere around the realm of acceptability for most of my life, although I'd be lying to claim that I haven't pushed against the defined walls of familial, societal and cultural norms.

I know that my friends and family think that I've been in Asia about four years too long --a belief that I simultaneously agree and disagree with. I understand their concern, but I also must do what I know to be right for myself and my wife. I would venture to guess that marrying a "foreigner" for both my wife and I also isn't the most acceptable thing to do in our respective nations. Yet, I made the best decision for myself without being constrained by the norm. Bucking the trend isn't something I've really made a habit of. I have neither been a trend setter nor have I been bent on rejecting it. Maybe I've just kind of sat out on the whole thing.  

So, yesterday some Friends were talking about having a religious change of heart and how difficult such a transformation has been for them. They lost friends and many people openly ostracized them in front of other people. For some reason, religious folks see a change of heart as a betrayal rather than an awakening. Ask Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens). He knows all about the pain and suffering one must go through when converting. And while the people around you might have some anger towards you for changing your religion, the real challenge seems to be inside. It's a personal battle within your own mind. 

Changing religions every thirty days is downright confusing for my mind, soul and body. I have had some very real moments so far that many people would call an awakening or an epiphany, yet I must be careful not to let myself put everything down and move to the holy land. It's a challenge, but the real challenge is this: what happens if when I finish this whole thing and have decided to choose a religion that bucks the American Protestant/Catholic trend? Is my upbringing and Christian guilt going to allow me to pursue my heart? Is my nation going to let me follow through on one of its founding principles and practice any religion I choose?

A change of heart isn't as simple when it comes to religion. George Fox knew that in the 1600s and my Friends here know that now. 


Day 27

Wow! That was a wild night of soccer. My wife and I headed to one of the Han River parks for the ROK-URG game where several gigantic screens were set up for viewing and a stage for hours of pre-game entertainment. I had decided that bringing Bear would be the best option since there were going to be well over 100,000 people down there cheering in the same area and if I had Bear then maybe he would scare most people away (Koreans don't like big dogs) and we would get a nice large seating area. I was right for about three hours, but as more and more people started filing in, their support for the team overrode their fear of extra-cute dogs. 

However, about an hour before the game started, the rain came pouring down. We weathered the first half and then headed home on the bikes for the second. Korea lost, but they played well. After the game, my disappointed wife went to sleep and I powered through until the US-GHA game only to find myself equally disappointed. So for me, this World Cup is essentially over and hopefully soccer won't take too much time from this project anymore.

Since today is Sunday that means I had to venture out to my Meeting and I've gotta be honest here; it was a hell of a battle. I was a mixture of tired, hungry and angry and none of those fair well for sitting in a quiet worship service. I made it out there though. I was a little late, but it was alright. I made my way into the brick building, up the stairs and walked into the room. No one was there. Not a single soul, but the candle was burning on the table, so I figured I would be the one to start the worship (with my presence). I sat down next to a window and kicked my legs out in from of me. My eyes slowly shut and just like that, I was out. 

The next thing I remember was the sound of shuffling feet which jarred me from my light doze. I figured it was time to worship, but apparently I was wrong. The worship had concluded. I slept through the whole thing. The shuffling sound was from the feet of the other two people there. The three of us chatted briefly about a few things, but none of them had been Quakers for more than a year, so the conversation was a bit stale. 

I did learn that both of them (Korean) had decided to join the Meeting because they had grown tired of their Presbyterian churches. One gentlemen felt that his church had become too social while the other one felt that the elders at his church were too judgmental. 
Kim: Well, why did you join this Meeting?
Me: Um...
I honestly didn't know what to say. I had thought about my response to this question before, but never really formulated it. I pulled an easy one out for the save.
Me: ...some of my ancestors were Friends in the US, so I guess that kind of tweaked my curiosity. 
They were bored with my response and used that as a springboard to discuss the challenges of changing religious heart. It was pretty interesting, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that.


Day 26

I've never really had a good body. That never bothered me though. I've always been very comfortable to take my shirt off in any situation. In fact, if you were to ask many of my friends from college (and even Korea) what they thought of when they imagine me shirtless (odd question though), they would say that I have tiny nipples. And they'd be right. My nipples are roughly the same exact size as dimes. These bad-boys are super small. I used that as a deflection from my average and shapeless body. It worked and after changing the story for over a decade, I can honestly say that I am 100% confident with my body no matter its shape or audience. I have my shirt off right now actually. 

I guess I should say that Korean coins don't work with my nipple size. It's a shame, but my  past time in Korea has been seeing if my chicken legs are as skinny as my moderately sized arms. A few years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) and I were in the zoo at the flamingo exhibit chatting it up when one flamingo walked up to us and just sort of stared. My wife started laughing hysterically and which point I asked her in adorably mispronounced Korea, 왜? (Why?). I already knew what she was laughing at. The damn flamingo was big-timing me right in front of my new girlfriend. It was alright. I was very well aware of my legs' boyish girth.

If you may recall, I decided that I would not ride any form of transportation for the entire month. I tried my best, but had to pick my wife up twice and will have gone to my Meeting four times (three successful) by the end of it, but all other times I managed to bike it. Just a few moments ago I stepped out of the shower to notice that my legs have gotten pretty strong this month. I also realized that hills are no problem for me anymore. So, I reduced my carbon footprint and got some sweet leg muscles in the process. That's what Quakers call win-win. 

Seriously though, quitting motorcycles, cars, buses and subways was harder than I thought it would, but I feel really good about it. I am addicted to oil in so many ways and I'm going to be pushing to gets some minutes recorded at tomorrow's Meeting about the current oil spill and ways that I can reduce my intake according to Quaker methods. 

As for me, I'd like to share an idea or two.

I know a lot of people are gunning for BP and other oil execs and they deserve to go down for this big time, but my concern is not them. Being overly concerned with those guys amounts to revenge and I'm not about that. What we need to learn from this is that life is more fragile than any amount of technology or money can solve or manage. Two months after the initial explosion, the oil is still spilling and no amount of technology can undo what has been done. 

We had the power to create this problem, so we should have to power to solve it then. Quakers want to solve problems so they don't occur again. They seek out the cause. The solution to this problem is not a cap or a temporary moratorium on drilling. No, the solution is that we should force ourselves to suffer a little in order to reduce the suffering of this planet. I'm tired of quick-fixes and the environment and earth--both are sweet gifts to us from God--deserve better.

Both Korea and US play tonight. Win or loss, I'm happy with both of them. Still, I hope both teams win and get to meet in the Quarterfinals. 


Day 25

Sometimes life rewards you and an out-of-nowhere day off lands right in your lap. I needed it, too. World Cup has worn me out. What am I going to do though? In high school, I would have spent this time hitting the back-roads, wasting time in coffee shops or playing hackey-sack. In college, I would have probably spent the day sitting in a tree, getting stoned or drinking warm whiskey while having a dance party. In Korea, I would have spent my time reading, writing or drinking. All of them were enjoyable at their appropriate station in life. Now, however, I'm not really sure how to spend my time. Having a wife and dog limits free time, but since my wife is taking sewing classes and still working a bit, I have nothing to do. Nice.

I think I'll use today as an excuse to share a few thoughts. Sound good? 

You know what my dream is? 

I'd like to somehow earn enough money on my own so my wife and I would never be tied to a job, city or country. Don't get me wrong, the US is my home and always will be, but I want the freedom to be able to live a life where I can have a say as to how much or how little I work and earn. And after I earn enough money, I'd like to open a summer camp. Three months a year, it would be bustling with kids eager to swim, canoe, climb, sew, chop wood, camp, build fires, mountain bike and learn true respect for each other and the environment. 

Simply put, I want simplicity. If Quakerism and Buddhism taught me anything, it was nothing really good can come from abundance. Maybe it's stupid, but a dream is what it is and I see no reason why any of us should be forced into a life that we don't want. 

John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." 

Ham Seok-heon said, "Happiness occurs while you're seeking the meaning of life."

I say that "Dreams can't occur unless you allow yourself to dream first."

I don't want to regret my time on Earth and I'm going to make sure I do everything in my power to ensure that when I'm on my deathbed, I can go out not with a smile, but one final and deliberate breath of the very same air that carried me through a fulfilling life.


Day 24

While I'm sure it angered more than a few of my fellow Americans, Barack Obama proved yet again that he is destined to be one of the greatest American Presidents in history. On June 1st, 2010 he officially designated June to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.
Of course, conservative Americans won't "turn back discrimination and prejudice". In fact, they'd probably like to turn back the clock to a time when the LGBT community was harassed and beaten for their sexual orientation. In fact, Montana is already doing their best to remain as backwards and discriminatory as possible.

First of all, I guess I should say that I support marriage equality, same-sex adoption, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and just about every other measure that guarantees equality in this country of ours. Isn't that what freedom is? I'm fully aware of what the opposition says and, having read the entire Bible, I fully understand what it says about homosexuality. As I said earlier this month, the Quakers have been pretty open and tolerant of homosexuals. Even back in 1992--six years before Matthew Shepard was tortured to death and seventeen years before the Matthew Shepard Act was signed by President Obama--some Friends were already opening their doors equally to all people. 
Each individual's journey through life is unique. Some will make this journey alone, others in loving relationships - maybe in marriage or other forms of commitment. We need to ponder our own choices and try to understand the choices of others. Love has many shapes and colors and is not finite. It cannot be measured or defined in terms of sexual orientation.
In Quaker practice we believe that we all are equally called to ministry, through our worship, our daily lives, our service to others and in the activities and celebrations of our meeting. Lesbian and gay Friends have played and will continue to play a significant part in Quaker life, thought and ministry both locally and nationally. Particular gifts are brought to our religious life from the struggle of gay and lesbian Friends, in the face of oppression, to find and express their faith. We need the spiritual gifts which are unique to each individual's personality and experience. We give thanks for all our gifts and service.
We are now called to welcome publicly and explicitly the participation and service of lesbian and gay Friends; to help one another develop loving and equal adult relationships and friendships; to explore ways in which we can, through worship and cherishing, mark the joys and sorrows of one another's relationships and life circumstances; to seek formal ways of recognizing a variety of commitments, including gay and lesbian partnerships. (Emphasis mine)
It's almost too level-headed to grasp, isn't it? And while not all Friends are as open to such relationships, the British Yearly Meeting (which is like the top-dog of Meetings) officially sanctioned gay marriage equality which will eventually trickle down to the lower Yearly, Quarterly, Monthly and Weekly Meetings. I wish I could say what my Weekly Meeting thought about this, but I have yet to broach the subject as I have so many things to learn and observe. Besides, I've only been to two Meetings and the second one was the first time I got to participate in the post-worship discussion and sharing. I wasn't sure how a "What about gay marriage?" question would go-over right off the bat.

I want to take a moment and think about this line though:
We need to ponder our own choices and try to understand the choices of others.
Man, I really commend Australian Friends for being so honest with themselves. Honesty is one of the more difficult things for humans to grasp and while people usually think of it in terms of an outward truth, I think honesty within ourselves is more important. Ham Seok-heon spoke of inward liberation often, but he made sure to separate it from that of what our Buddhist brothers and sisters believe. Liberation from within must start from the same place, but it is not a division or detachment from ourselves like Buddhism teaches. Rather, it's the ability to truly understand why we hold the beliefs we do and only then can be understand what the true light of God is like.

Quakers believe that God and all His goodness dwells within us always. As we get older, that purity gets tarnished by life and as we experience this world, we choose to believe intellectually dishonest things because it is gives us some sort of pleasure or amusement. I hesitate to write about some of the absurd beliefs that I have held in my life because I know that I would embarrass my family, friends and, of course, myself. These past four years in Korea have been very good for me as a person because much of what I knew to be true as a younger man turned out to be wrong. Korea hasn't done that, though. I just had to leave the protective umbrella of my former life and Korea happened to be the venue. 

In addition, my time as The Pious One has been more valuable to me than almost any experience I've encountered on this beautiful planet. It's been an incredible journey into my own mind and I recommend that everyone takes the time to really consider your own choices in life. Hold up a mirror to yourself every once and awhile and take a look. You'll be surprised at what shines back at you


Day 23

I'm barely able to keep my eyes open as I write this. It's actually after 1:00am on Thursday and the US-Algeria game just ended. I guess the only reason that I can manage to write anything is that I'm full of adrenaline from the nail-biting ending that Team USA just offered. This World Cup business is just absurd, though. Not only has it cost me serious hours of sleep and created an immeasurable amount of pointless stress, but it has really revealed the true nature of the world's most popular game.

First of all, I guess I should say that I stayed up to watch the 3:30am Korea-Nigeria game yesterday (Wednesday). Watching all Korean games is a must in Korea. People will be talking about it the following day, week or longer and if I only rely on highlights I'm sure to miss out on the source of gripes and pleasure. It was a draw and Korea will move on to the Knockout stage. Good for them. That was their goal in the first place, so from here on out, it'll be bonus fun. The game was over at 5:15 at which time I showered and got ready for my super busy fifteen-hour day. 

My day was fine, but I was pretty much exhausted by noon. I pressed on and made it to the US-Algeria game which started about two hours ago. The game was pretty disappointing. Like the Slovenia game, we had a goal disallowed which was proven to have been for no reason at all. I hate that. Lives change and fortunes are made as a result of World Cup goals and for an idiotic referee to take that away for faulty reasoning is just a shame. Luckily the USA pulled what many are already calling a uniquely American story (although being the underdog is pretty pervasive throughout the world) and won the game at the last moment. 

I might not be thinking too clearly, but I had a few thoughts on this game. Maybe I'm tired from having watched four games of soccer in 24 hours with a heavy dose of teaching in between, but I picked up two big themes from today. 1) Soccer is like the Catholic Church and 2) soccer players are convenient Catholics who chose to break all the rules (Sin) and only feel bad if and when they get caught (Confession). 

Want more late-night absurdity? 

Quakerism is like American Football. It has grown, adjusted and not allowed itself to remain static in the face of a changing culture and following. You name it and American Football has adjusted at the same pace as progress. 

Whereas soccer remains the same it did centuries ago and still refuses to mature and progress with the time. By not allowing or even honestly considering the use of technology in the sport, it is showing its stubbornness and arrogance as the world sport.

By denying the use of technology and relying on the refs eyes, players are encouraged to cheat, lie and, overall, conduct themselves in a way that is beyond unsportsmanlike. It's only when they think they're going to get in trouble do they offer help to other players and play like they know they should. Hell, the biggest cheats in games are the Italians and you can't get much more Catholic than them.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just tired, but for the sake of it...USA! USA! USA!


Day 22

The other day I got an email from an old friend from Korea. He left the peninsula a few years ago and decided to head to grad school for History. Unfortunately, his luck wasn't great as the recession hit at about the same time he finished school. He's not alone though. I have tons of friends who opted for grad school only to graduate with debt and no job options as this recession putters along. My wife and I had planned on returning to the US at the end of 2008, but the won to dollar exchange rate plummeted and has yet to recover to its 2007 levels. Luckily, I have a decent job right now that takes care of my needs, but I am nothing more than an asshole's decision away from becoming redundant. This is not the life that I want. 

I told you about my friend from Korea because the rest of his email illustrates a good point and one that Ham Seon-heon made in his teachings. If my friend doesn't land a good gig at a university, school or company (which is his goal), he said that he could always pick up his tools and find work in a garage somewhere. It might not be perfect, but it's an option. And while he can get fired from that job for a variety of reasons, the amount of stress from such a position would be much lower than, say, in an office setting. 

I'd recommend that everyone takes some time are listen to this talk that Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe gives on, well, dirty jobs. (Transcript here)

I remember the first time I saw Dirty Jobs. I thought to myself, "Man, those guys have awful lives." That was such flawed thinking. At this point in my life, I can admit that I have been snobby for most of it and I can also admit that that snobbishness was 100% unfounded and has actually made me a less interesting and well-rounded person than I could have been. I quit the Scouts because my Scout Master actually made me do work. In Cub Scouts, my father and I called in a ringer to make my Pinewood Derby car for me because our first-year attempt proved to be embarrassing. I cared only about winning the damn trophy (which I did for "Most Original" ironically). In fact, I used to get my young Korean students to pay closer attention to my lessons by threatening them with the possibility that they will end up as mechanics, bus drivers, firemen or farmers

Now, if I need to earn money, I pretty much have to rely on other people. I have alienated myself from the most basic human trait of self-reliance and by doing so, I can only earn money if other people are willing to pay for my services. This--to me--sounds counter-evolutionary. Ham Seok-heon said the following when asked about work and the rising corporate culture:
Handiwork is better. Maybe it is not possible to get rid entirely of the machine. But you can follow the principle, try to live a simple life.
He's right. I need to take myself out of the system. I don't need my family to be reliant on a boss or a whim or a downsize. They need to rely on me and I need to rely on myself. Maybe it's not handiwork at this point, but there are ways that I can always ensure that I will be the master of my own fate. It just takes some time to think and sort out the details and even though I'll be done  with Quakerism in about a week, I still have plenty of time to work this out. 


Day 21

As I mentioned, a few Friends were discussing Ham Seok-Heon yesterday. I got the feeling that they usually don't just sit around discussing famous Korean Quakers, but today they were using his thoughts as an answer to their questions and concerns. I didn't know enough about Ham to get that involved, so I kind of stayed on the sidelines and learned. 

The general conversation was on the topic of progress and the direction of the society. In this globalized world, distinguishing one society from the other isn't really necessary. We are all dealing with the same things, it's just that the timing is sometimes a little different. For instance, Korea is just now dealing with teenage criminals whereas the US has been dealing that for decades.  Koreans are shocked by the trend and are trying to place the blame on something or someone. Some will blame Western culture while others might say it's because of the Internet, nonetheless many will agree that something is wrong with society. And that was the overall feeling this one American Friend was expressing. 

We'll call him 'John' and the other Friend 'Min'. (Min is Korean and both men are in their late-thirties)
John: What's becoming clearer is that society has sort of lost control of itself. I'm not one of those people who believe the past was better, nor do I think running away is the option. I'm just becoming concerned that people are focusing too much on happiness above all else.
Min: I understand where you're coming from. I don't think society is unraveling at its seams, but I can see some distressing signs. I think if we were to look more closely at your concern, we'd run into an obstacle and that would be how to define happiness. 
John: Well, define it then. Isn't that the battle? 
Min: Teacher Ham said that if we "seek only for happiness, quite naturally the remnant will be dirty."
The conversation took some turns here and there, but the ultimate point was that if we focus less on happiness and being servants of people, then the meaning of life will reveal itself more clearly. This confused me a bit because Quakers appear to be extreme servants of people through their advancement of human rights and equality, yet I was missing the point. Quakers follow the words of Jesus and God quite closely--especially in terms of treatment of others--and it's this focus from which their service and dedication to God stems. 

Trying to discover the meaning of life is stressful and trying to pursue that meaning seems impossible for most humans. It reminds me of City Slickers where "Curly" kept telling "Mitch" about the "one thing" that makes life worth it and "once you know that one thing, nothing else matters."

By the end of the film, Mitch learned that his "one thing" was his family--something that he had taken for granted for many years. Fine. That was easy for him and all it took was a week in the desert away from them. Luckily, most thinkers realize that the meaning of life takes longer than an average Hollywood movie will allow. 

Ham said this:
If you do manual work, physical fitness quite naturally comes; likewise, if you seek the meaning of life, in the process of seeking, happiness quite naturally comes to us. 
The process of seeking is what reveals true meaning and happiness. Where to seek then becomes the real question and I think that where religion sets in for most people. For me, I seek true meaning in simplicity.
Human beings create the machine in order to get efficiency and some profit. We can divide people in two kinds: those who use the machine to get some leisure time, and people who do not use the machine and are in a sense exploited because they have no time to seek the meaning of life. Both of these groups of people have lost happiness in the process. 
 Less is more and if we listen to the words of Ham, then we'll at least know where NOT to search for the meaning. Society is created by people. It does not act on its own. People often believe it does so just as the economy is thought to do, but people are driving it and it can't not operate independently of us. We have to power to alter it in anyway we see fit. It seems to me that John would best find true happiness in his personal search towards liberation of himself and only then can he start to worry about "society". 


Day 20

Living in country where I haven't mastered the language has forced me to rely on body language, non-verbal cues and context for many situations. For those of you who have lived or traveled outside of their home nation, you understand the value of situational nods and head shakes. Because of my time here, I feel that I have a heightened ability to read people and understand what they are thinking, feeling or wanting. I'm not saying I'm always right, but I think that I'm coming in at over 50%. 

Sitting in a Quaker meeting, you can do some serious people watching. Most people probably wanted to sink into a deep state of mediation and prayer, but when new players are in the Meeting and it makes the whole thing ripe for snooping.  Everyone seemed to be more actively peeping at each other today. We were all trying to get a read on what the other was thinking. Some people looked like they had poop while others looked they they were very sleepy. I caught one guy belt out a single snore followed by a pathetic attempt at covering it up with a cough. I'm pretty sure one lady was coasting between sleep, mediation and balancing her checkbook. It was classic and since it was all silent, I'm not sure what they were doing. People had busy minds today. Well, that's not fair. A lot of people were praying, but on more than one occasion I noticed people sneaking looks and turning away when they got caught. I thought it was funny. 

After the Meeting, there was a discussion about the Mission Statement of the Weekly Meeting. Due to the small-scale of Korean Quakers, it seems to me that there is a little less organization within the group. Rather, individuals seem to have their own personal goodwill tasks that they involve themselves in and they encourage other Friends to get involved. There was discussion of North Korean refugees, homelessness, Chinese prostitution, orphanage involvement and then a little bit of Lee Myung-bak policy bashing. And while those were important, no one could deny the fact that the overwhelming theme of the discussion was around the World Cup. 

I found it interesting that aside from the connection felt through Quakerism, soccer can act as the social lubricant in many situations. And it wasn't like these Friends were big soccer buffs, but they all enjoyed getting together, showing their patriotism and offering silly and friendly taunts. Sports can't actually heal anything--certainly not war-- but they do offer one of the only ways that countries can banter back-and-forth without coming across as violent, aggressive or threatening. In this world, the economy is king and it has the power to prevent (or cause) war, but sport is where we get out our minor pent-up animosity. 

I did, however, get to have a great conversation about the most well-known Korean Friend, Ham Seok-heon and will discuss him tomorrow.


Day 19

I'm not trying to talk about the World Cup so much, but there are a lot of interesting things that occur in sports and their relationship to religion and even to Quakerism. Like all sports, players sometimes pray, bow or cross-themselves before or after the competition.  I've always found such prayers to be somewhat futile as both teams are secretly asking God to give them the edge although some might say they're simply asking for the power to do their best. God doesn't care who wins the game. Regardless of what they are asking for, prayers of some sort occur in nearly every sporting event. 

Is there something wrong with that?

Well, according to Joseph Platter (President of FIFA), religious gestures are "a danger" and that "there's no room for religion in soccer". That's odd considering that the majority of teams that dominate the sport of very Catholic. He's not alone though. Korean Buddhists have taken up the same "cause" and called on the government to ban all Christian athletes from making gestures after scoring goals. To me, it seems that public prayer only bothers those who allow it to bother them. 

I know this topic teeters on the edge of a much bigger discussion on public prayer, so I'll keep it focused around the Quaker notion of how prayer is conducted. First of all, I should say that I think a separation of church and state is the only way to preserve religious freedom. Without that protection, a state religion is adopted and then the problems start. On the other hand, banning the private prayers of individuals (regardless of their position in society) is just as dangerous. 

I must admit that there was a time in my life when praying in public was the most obnoxious thing that religious people could do. I always viewed it as an in-your-face flaunting of moral superiority. I think that's what's going on within the mind of Platter. He has a personal problem with religious people and lets that guide his decisions rather than reason and reality. The Korean Buddhists are totally different. Like America, religion in Korea has become politicized with the Buddhists  representing the progressive wing and the Christians on the conservative wing. Both are wrong. 

When I was a Buddhist, meditation was very important to me. As a Catholic, following a structured regiment of prayers and rituals were important. As a Quaker, the value of prayer has been upped as I have really found my silent time with myself (and therefore God) very important to maintaining my own mental and physical health. Why in the world would any body or government want to hinder that? I firmly believe that forced prayers (in school especially) are just as dangerous as banning Muslim prayer in airports, but restricting someone's very personal and private relationship with their god is more than wrong. 

As you know, Quaker worship is centered around the idea of prayer. Without that, Quakerism as a religion would religion be damaged because they believe that the relationship with God that is made during silent prayer and worship is what defines them. I've met a lot of religious people the past three months and the joy they get from their prayers is amazing. And while prayer is very important to them, they will not take an oath for government positions or in court. (They will affirm.)  In fact, some believe that affirmation was added to the Presidential oath because of Quakers. They don't swear because the Bible tells us not to. (Remember what I said, Quakers seem to be the purest of Christians.)
"Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned." James 5:12
It's really a shame that some people feel so threatened by spirituality that they seek to ban it for their own personal qualms without every truly asking themselves why. I don't know where I'll end up at the end of this project, but I can tell you that I will never again feel threatened or angered by others praying. 


Day 18

Undertaking such a huge year-long project is quite a challenge. I'm still wildly enthusiastic and this month has been really great for me so far, but I have been balancing my time between this project, my other blog, work, marriage, US Immigration, banking and exchange rate fiascoes, a certain brown dog and now, The World Cup. It sometimes gets a little daunting. While I write every day, I might not get to edit or publish every day. Don't worry though. We're still trucking along here. 

I've been staying up late and waking up early for these matches and have found myself dozing during my downtime rather than writing. Living in Korea with the games in South Africa is pretty awful. The time difference is minus eight hours, so the games are either at 830pm, 11pm or 330am. Next week, I'll have to watch the Korea game at 330am and the US game at 11pm with work in the middle. That's going to be a long day. 

So why do I do it?

After all, I have never been a soccer fan, nor have I ever been good at it. I played soccer when I was a kid, but that was at the age when it was more "herd ball". You know, all the kids have a go at the ball; kicking and running in all directions. I think I even managed to stay out of that aspect though and got the sweet gig in the goal. I'm not sure, but the image I have of my childhood soccer days is of me doing headstands and tying white clovers together in the shape of a crown. In short, soccer never did it for me. 

Throughout my college experience, I had a lot of friends who played the game. In fact, most of my friends did. And in all that time, we never once discussed it. I watched the 2006 World Cup a little, but never really cared. Even last year I remember watching a game with an English friend of mine at my place. Every time one team had a runaway moment with the ball, I would taunt, "Oh, what's going to happen?!" and then when no goal was scored (like usual), I would say, "Oh, soccer happened!" I didn't really think much about it at the time, but that friend slowly stopped calling me and it wasn't until recently that I learned why. 

He was tired of my blatant disrespect and mocking of a sport so important to him. I guess it sounds childish to stop calling someone for such a reason, but for him, soccer is a pretty big deal and my relentless assault on the sport was simply too much for him. He realized that I knew nothing of the sport and still chose to knock it. It reminds me of my time during the Catholic month. One of the teachers I work with would constantly make statements about the Bible and Catholicism that were absurdly ill-informed and yet he would do it with a certain amount of authority that some people might think that he was knowledgeable. His blind contempt and never-ending disparagement of the religion angered me deeply and I also wished to sever our relationship. People often confuse strong opinion with intelligence. 

Both situations, however, are not unrelated. Just like with the teacher and Catholicism, I held a simplistic and misinformed perception of soccer. Because of my ignorance of the sport, I created my own reality of the sport that fit into my preconceived notions and opinions. By espousing such views, I offended people not simply because I disagreed with them, but because they knew my opinion was formed from fiction rather than fact. 

Now, after taking some time to get to know the sport and share in its excitement, I understand their frustration. The teams that I always support are 1) USA and 2) Korea. Before living abroad, I never really cared about cheering for USA and obviously Korea is a result of my time here and the fact that my wife is Korean. Now, I have a team to identify with and that identification is what allowed me to reevaluate my position and opinion of the sport. Some people refuse to do so, though. A high school acquaintance of mine wrote this about the World Cup on his Facebook profile.
the super bowl pisses on the world cup. i'll take the titans over 11 foreigners any day of the week.
What the hell does that even mean? So, he likes American football more and he believes that the NFL's Tennessee Titans would be more fun to watch than "11 foreigners" or they would beat them in some capacity? Something tells me that this guy has never been a "foreigner' before. If he had, he wouldn't use the word so callously. He's entitled to his opinion, but I get the feeling he is using the World Cup as an excuse to justify his own misconceptions of the sport (or his own superiority complex). 

Religion works the same way. Before undertaking this project, I had wildly misinformed ideas of religions. It wasn't until I tried to experience some of them that I realized how wrong I had been. Without experiencing them, I would remain critical. It took experience for me to be able to identify with them. I now see the wonder and beauty of Buddhism, Catholicism and Quakerism, but it took first-hand exposure first. 

What could Americans learn from the World Cup?  Simple. It's the same that all religions could learn from Quakers. 

There's more than one opinion out there and no matter how much we want to believe it, American opinion really doesn't matter to others. If we want to be taken seriously, we need to do a better job of experiencing the rest of the world and practicing tolerance rather than lambasting what we don't know. Being a willfully blind and arrogant person isn't something we should strive for. 


Day 17

This will be a short one today. Over the past couple days, I've really come to believe that Quakerism just might be the purest form of Christianity out there. It tosses to the side the structure and frailties of the organization and allows its practitioners to focus on message rather than rules. 

While discussing domestic abuse with an older Korean gentlemen last night, he attempted to cautiously defend the practice saying, "Sometimes it's the only way to appear firm and in control." I was obviously shocked by such a position and presumed admission and categorically launched into him and his shocking stance. However, after thinking it over and knowing Korean culture very well, I understood him. It's not him; it's the system. 

If I were to ask him if it was acceptable to hit someone who just cut you off on the road, he'd say 'No' and we'd both agree. Now, if I asked if it was alright to hit a child who didn't get a high score on a test, he'd give a resounding 'Yes'. Therein lies the problem. People excuse some violence because it meets their culture or societal guidelines for its use while chastising others for their own culture interpretation of its use. In the US, if someone breaks into your home, you can lethally defend yourself. In Korea, similar lethal self-defense would land you in prison. Allowing violence of any kind only excuses its use and when we excuse it for reason X, Y and Z are sure to follow. 

In many religions, violence is acceptable for many different moral and ethical "offenses", but in Quakerism, everything is off-limits. This consistency allows for Friends to have a clearly drawn line in the sand with an unwavering commitment to non-violence. There is no gray area and there are no exceptions. A Friend will not be violent and if they are, they won't be a friend for much longer.  


Day 16

You want to know the real reason I feel a connection to Quakers?

I'm a sissy.

Not really, but I have managed to make it to twenty-seven without being in a physical fight or intentionally injuring another person. However, I can't claim to have always hated or been disgusted by the sight of violence.  For one reason or another, I liked watching Faces of Death when I was a teenager. Seeing an actual death or extreme violence was so rare for me in real life that I guess something about it aroused curiosity. Then again, all I really remember of Faces of Death at this point is these guys.

Elephantiasis of the balls tends to leave an last impression, no? Look at that shit! To quote Elaine from infamous "Shrinkage" episode, "I don't know how you guys walk around with those things."

I also recall a time in high school when two of my childhood friends were close to getting into a fight and I did nothing to stop it. In fact, I sort of egged it on. I wasn't alone in that effort as everyone sort of gathered around shouting "Fight!", but I probably could have been a voice of reason in all that chaos. I remember their names, too. It was Franz and Andrew. One of them I went to school with for nine years and the other I played basketball with for several seasons. There was nothing to gain from encouraging such a fight and, as it turned out, nothing was gained. They still continued disliking each other afterwards and now, almost fifteen years later, they probably hardly remember the incident. 

A couple years ago, I was in an old market district in Seoul looking for some cool straw sandals when a commotion erupted in front of one of the make-shift booths. I was automatically drawn to the action. My wife kept pulling me away, but I wanted to watch. I think I'm a little voyeuristic. By the time I got there, a sizable group had encircled the conflict. I pushed my way through and got a great spot only to discover it was two women clearly over eighty years of age arguing over a measely two-feet of sales space. 

They were barking at each other for a few moments before one of them struck the other's shoulder with a handbag she had grabbed from a nearby sales table.  Of course, the other women had to retaliate and she opted for a sturdy tug of the hair and a minor face slap. After a few moments, I wasn't sure if I was watching grannies going at it or a inner city high school girl fight. The audience was enthralled for an intense three minutes before anyone even considered stepping in to end the dispute and just as it looked like it was about to fizzle out, the hair-pulling granny pulled a Barry Sanders juke and went head-first into the other woman's chest. Both women went down and stayed there. About fifteen minutes later, an ambulance arrived and they were taken away on stretchers.

In both of those incidents, a clear message of futility was displayed. None of those directly involved gained anything except for injury, embarrassment and anger while those who observed or got caught in the cross-fire suffered from the sight alone. Like the Buddhists, the Quakers are staunchly non-violent. This commitment is totally unbending. No exceptions. The origins of it are unclear though. Some believe that their passivity came from their need to clearly state their intentions during the British Civil War and others think that it was always that way because they chose to live a Jesus Christ did and said and accept all forms of suffering (both physical, legal and financial) inflicted upon you.

In 1661, George Fox told Charles II this about Quakers:
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
There are tons of examples about their stances on anti-violence and peace and to me their message rings true. I firmly believe that violence only occurs when people run out of ideas. Following that logic, Friends appear to have a lot of ideas as they have refused to fight in many wars ranging from the American Revolution and Civil War all the way up to the wars of the past century and beyond. That doesn't mean they can't stand up for what they believe. The Quakers won't fight in wars--the operative word being 'fight'. They have, however, joined the effort in a service capacity; volunteering to be medics and persuading the US government to relax immigration laws for war refugees. 

And while they might be peaceful, trouble has certainly followed them. After years of violent persecution in intolerant Puritan Massachusetts, they fled to the South where for years they built communities, started businesses, forged relationships with Native Americans and held (without taking an oath) public office. That relative peace came to an end as many colonists in Pennsylvania and North Carolina started to view them as freeloaders riding on sacrifices of their more militant neighbors and fellow countrymen. In North Carolina and Tennessee, they were the focus of severe distrust as Southern Friends freed all their slaves by the 1800s and rejected the inhumane institution. As a result, many Quakers and blacks made the long trek up through Ohio and into Indiana. I believe my great great grandfather, Enoch Beals, was one of these Friends and it would make sense since he lived on the other side of the Smokies in Greene County (which used to be much bigger), Tennessee and would have been caught up in the later years of that big migration.

Interestingly enough, Quaker passivity was also used as a tool for manipulation. The Quakers played an important role in Native American relations (before, during and after both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War). President Grant adopted a Quaker-submitted plan for dealing with the increasingly hostile conflicts between western settlers and natives. Grant originally wanted to restore the Department of Indian Affairs to the Department of War, but after hearing what the Quakers offered (which was essentially a loose conversion plan in-disguise), he said this:
"Gentlemen, your advice is good. I accept it. Now give me the names of same Friends for Indian agents and I will appoint them. If you can make Quakers out of the Indians it will take the fight out of them. Let us have peace."
Sadly, this plan ended up in cultural genocide --something that many Friends are not eager to admit. Personally, I despise such behavior and Grant's comments make the whole thing even more slippery to me. Using Quakerism (or any religion for that matter) as a way to defeat an enemy is disgusting and smacks of conquest, but it at least sounded like a more peaceful solution than violent confrontation. 

My brothers! I am happy to meet you. I have long desired this opportunity to talk with you, but my duty to other tribes has prevented my being with you till this day. I call you brothers because we have all one common father. The Great Creator of all made the white man, the red man and the black man equal. He gave to the white man no more natural rights than He gave the to red man; and I claim from you no rights and privileges but such as I extend to you, and you should claim from me no more than you extend to me. I have long waited to have a plain talk with you, and am glad to see so many here today.
—Enoch Hoag, 1869

I could go on and on about this, but I'd just like to say that such an historical and unfettering commitment to non-violence under any circumstances is amazing. And honestly, it's just as the Bible instructed.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceablegentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? It is not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.” -James 3:17-4:1
Let me ask you a question: How many religions do you know that have won a Nobel Peace Prize?

To be continued tomorrow. By that way, if you want to read a good one on Quakerism and peace, try Walking in the Way of Peace