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 8

Before coming to Korea, I seriously considered joining the Peace Corps. There was something romantic about the idea of running getting away from the hustle of life and throwing myself deep into a remote location surrounded by a culture that was so foreign to me that after I was done with the whole thing, I was sure to be changed for the better. I guess you might think that Korea was that escape and if you define it as such -an escape- then perhaps you'd be right. I have found myself surrounded by a culture that is pretty foreign to me and I've been doing it for about half a decade, but I don't get that romanticized feeling of separation or even isolation that the Peace Corps might have offered. I wanted that third-world experience and thought, however foolishly, that South Korea might offer a healthy dose of just that. 

I was wrong. I actually found myself in the middle of a city that made my previous cities look like remote locales. The simplicity that I was searching for was not to be found here and while there's still a part of me that longs for the Walden in my imagination, I know that denying myself the beauties of human creativity would only lead to unhappiness and frustration. I am a child of this world; this global culture; this era.  
Denying this fact is irresponsible.

Friends of the past and the conservative Friends today seek a more "plain life" and some of them have managed to do it quiet successfully. Like I did many years ago, the early Quakers tried very hard to set themselves apart from people who pursued worldly affairs. They divorced themselves of every aspect of the world that -in their mind- would blind them to the Light. Displays of wealth like fancy clothes, words and property were very much frowned upon and with that, unfortunately, went music and art. There were numerous reasons someone could be disowned back then. For instance, fiddling, dancing or striking someone could result in an excommunication of sorts. However, Quakerism is not static. It does not set out to limit itself in this changing world.
It appears to me to be one important means of helping the human mind in a healthy state, that in recreations which are needful for it, it should be trained as much as possible to look to those things that bring profit as well as pleasure with them. My observation of human nature and the different things that affect it frequently leads me to regret that we as a Society so wholly give up delighting the ear by sound. Surely He who formed the ear and the heart would not have given these tastes and powers without some purpose for them. - Personal Journey (21.30) 1883
What a brilliant passage, especially that last line. There is a purpose for it. Why would "He" give us ears and arms to play music and legs to dance if we were not supposed to use them. Just like I wanted before Korea, the early Quakers were so determined to separate themselves that they seemed to have gotten lost in the charade. I'm not disparaging those who choose to abstain from such pursuits, but denying the natural inclination towards music and the connection between the heart, soul and ears is a loss. 

In the days leading to my departure for Korea, I was imaging how much I was going to go without. I had no computer, no television, no phone and no means to play music. That idea excited me. (Hell, I'm even excited about my upcoming month of Jainism in January that will force me to beg for everything.) Luckily, my very wise mother knew better than I did and bought me my first MP3 player. I still have it. In this case, she was like the modern Friends who saw the danger in denying something so loved by the human ear. 

It's fine to desire a simplistic, earnest or humble life and it's also fine to abstain from certain behaviors, but doing so in the name of a misguided attempt at romanticism is simply foolish. I can honestly say that I would have been miserable had Korea turned out to be anything like I originally imagined. The universe worked with me on this one, but it won't always work out that way. Don't "give up delighting the ear by sound", there is a purpose.

1 comment:

  1. Hi George,

    I need to ask you something. Can you send me an email at