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 2

I thought about many ways to start this post. Perhaps I should get right into the messages of Quakers or maybe I should explain the history of the discipline, but I think those will come with time. I want to know who the Quakers are and what they do. I don't want to understand them through books and writings alone, but I want to know them -the people.

As I mentioned yesterday, there are some Friends (members) in Korea and even a telephone number that I can call. So, this morning, I called it. No answer. And maybe that was a good thing because I hadn't really prepared anything to ask. A couple hours later I called again. No answer. I started to think that the number wasn't working or wasn't connected to the Quakers anymore. I got a bit frustrated, but didn't give up. A few minutes ago, I called again.
It was a young sounding man. I was taken aback. I was actually expecting a middle-aged Korean woman and had prepared a Korean introduction for myself and what I wanted. This threw me off a bit.
"Yes, uh, is this the Quakers?"
What an absurd question. But what can I say, I was caught off guard. It was like expecting water and getting vodka instead. You know --a real kick in the teeth.
"No, this is actually a residence."
At this point, I was sufficiently baffled. Was this guy a teacher? Maybe he was in the US Army? I didn't know and this confusion kept me bumbling along quiet nicely. I tried to settle it though.
"Alright, well, I got the number from a Quaker website and was curious about the Meetings. Do you get these calls a lot? Has the number changed?"
"My parents are Quakers. I'm just visiting for the summer," he replied.
At this point, I had no idea who I was dealing with. From what I can ascertain, this guy is a Korean-American who grew up with his parents in the US and decided to stay for college even though his parents have since moved back to Korea. We continued to chat for a few minutes about contact information and how his parents will get back in touch with me soon. I hope they do and luckily, it sounds like they'll have some sort of command of the English language. That makes this process much easier. So now, I'm waiting to hear from his Quaker parents. I'm curious about him though. Is he not a Quaker anymore or was he ever one to start with? 


Today is an off day for me. Unlike the US, Korea gives the day off for voting. So, I'm home all day. I had planned on reading most of the day away, but my dog was literally sitting next to me and giving me a paw every few moments. He wants to go on a walk...again. And since I have the time, I can do it. We have route we usually go as well and since it's bike season, we expanded on that one. 

Southern Seoul is very hilly and my neighborhood is no different. We headed down the street and up the hill. And another. And another. By the time we hit that third hill, I'm usually pretty tired. Luckily, Bear is leading the way on his leash, so when I start to slow down, he picks up the slack. He led me up the hill and then to his favorite local park. We spent a some time there and heading down the hill and eventually pulling onto my alley. 
"Hello! Hello!"
Being an obvious English speaker in a country starving for English, I thought this to be the very common and ignorable occurrence where random pedestrians shout me down in hopes of starting a conversation or, at least, showing off their skills. I glanced in the direction of the calls. A middle-aged women was running towards me. Her arms were waving frantically above her head. 
"Hello! Hello! You Korean?"
She wanted to know if I spoke Korean to which I politely said, "no". It didn't matter to her though. She ran up and started speaking. From what I picked up, she loved my dog and the fact that I own a mutt. Remember, mutts like mine are typically viewed as food rather than pets. That doesn't mean people want to eat my dog. That's crazy. It means that seeing a mutt (똥개 or "shit dog") as a pet is surprising. 

The conversation was becoming a bit long, so I tried to speed it up by agreeing with everything she said. I understood some of what she was ranting about, but not all of it. From what I gathered, she works for KBS TV and wants to interview me and my wife for a campaign against the dog market. I thinkI agreed to do it and then she started asking me what time is good to meet on Saturday. My deflections had backfired and now I somehow got sucked into to going on TV (something I don't like doing anymore) in protest of dog meat consumption. She told me to have my wife call her this evening. We'll see how this turns out.

This is a tricky situation for me. I have eaten dog meat and dog stew in my time in Korea. I don't like it really, but I personally don't see any problem with eating dog. If we are going to eat cows and pigs then dogs are no different. Many will argue with that, but to them I say this: empathy for life should be universal and equal.

You've all see the diagram of the Atlantic slave-trade before, but you might not know that it was the Quakers who first published it. However, simply ending the slave trade wasn't enough. They sought after the cause. They wanted to solve the problem so it wouldn't happen again. Social justice of all sorts is one of the strongest tenets of Quakerism.

Much of current philanthropical effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of weakness and evil, while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes. The soup kitchen in York never has difficulty in obtaining financial aid, but an enquiry into the extent and causes of poverty would enlist little support. 
Joseph Rowntree, 1904 -Social Responsibilty 23.18
I started this month with this to illustrate that there is no set creed for Quakers. Some might think that fighting for animal rights is the right thing to do, while others might not.
There will also be diversity of experience, of belief and of language. Friends maintain that expressions of faith must be related to personal experience. Some find traditional Christian language full of meaning; some do not. Our understanding of our own religious tradition may sometimes be enhanced by insights of other faiths. The deeper realities of our faith are beyond precise verbal formulation and our way of worship based on silent waiting testifies to this. -
 Postscript to an epistle to 'the brethren in the north' issued by a meeting of elders at Balby, 1656
What is clear is that equality and respect for the earth and animals is paramount. 
This photo shows a female Quaker preaching at a Meeting in London in the 1800's.

And some men say, “Men must have the Power and superiority over the woman, because God says, ‘The man must rule over his wife, and that man is not of woman, but the woman is of the man’” (Gen 3:16). Indeed, after man fell, that command was. But before man fell, there was no such command. For they were both meet-helps. They were both to have dominion over all that God made. . . And as man and woman are restored again, by Christ, up into the image of God, they both have dominion again in Righteousness and Holiness, and are helps-meet, as before they fell. -George Fox 1964

We have our own individual causes that we fight for and injustices that we fight against. This month, I am following a simple Quaker philosophy of environmental protection. The idea is that it's our job to reduce the burden on the world, so I will not be using or riding any motorized vehicle for the entire month. No buses, no subways, no taxis and NO motor-scooters. The wife and I will be biking our way around this month. Let the games begin! 

Tomorrow, I'll be posting some common beliefs held among Quakers.


  1. Well, it’s a little late since you’re already onto Quakerism; but I’ll put in my two bits on Catholicism nonetheless.

    I was a little confused by your statement that being Catholic “didn’t really” alter your lifestyle much at all. And, I was even more confused by Go-eun’s admission that “it just looked like Christianity [read Protestantism] in the end.” If your lifestyle wasn’t much changed and Go-eun’s perception of Catholicism is that it’s just Protestantism without Friday hamburgers, then I’d have to say your journey into the heart of Catholicism was fundamentally a failure.

    Catholicism demands a spiritual and physical obedience to the faith. I almost said “state” there. But that wouldn’t be that far off either. Catholicism is a religion that began as a state (or an empire to be more precise); and it continues to function much like a state. Being a “citizen of the Catholic/confessional State,” if you will, requires a personal, all-pervasive commitment to the church. Allow me two instructive examples.

    Confession: Catholicism works a lot like the US criminal justice system in this regard--everybody is guilty! And the power of guilt combined with the authority of the church to absolve your sins ensures your subservience and maintains your humility. This is a painful but integral part of Catholicism. The personal relationship with God BS notwithstanding, it is the confessional aspect of Catholicism that truly distinguishes it from Protestantism. For Catholics, God is a very cynical judge. He expects to see you in his courtroom regularly just as much as he expects you to comply with the sentence he metes out.

    Sex: It’s not just the alcohol that makes Catholics happier people than their bitter Protestant brethren; Catholics are also quite open about sex. Ask anyone who’s ever had a Catholic wedding (like me) and they’ll tell you, Catholic priests encourage sex, lots and lots of sex. The church demands only that couples do NOTHING to hinder procreation. In a Catholic marriage, sex isn’t solely for making babies; but having sex with the intention of preventing conception (either through withdraw or contraception) is a sin. This is pretty big deal. I can’t keep this. But I’m a pretty piss-poor Catholic.

    These two examples say a lot about Catholicism. At its core, Catholicism is about the cycle of sin, guilt, and the authority of the church to absolve your sins. Not to be too crude about it, but if you weren’t having sex with your wife (and purposely inhibiting procreation, mind you) feeling guilty about it and then rushing off to tell a priest and accept his sentence, I’m not sure you were really a part (or even a believable visitor) of the confessional state. That said, I think being a Catholic for a month is a pretty unattainable goal.

    So here are a few of my questions:

    1. Did you find confession more a satisfying or a humiliating experience?

    2. Did you feel that confession was an effective way to cope with sin?

    3. You spent a lot of time interpreting and reflecting on passages in the New Testament; but, I must say, I found the process very Protestant. Catholics have quite a different approach to the bible. The Catholic Church believes adamantly that one’s salvation is far too important to be left to that person. This doesn’t mean a Catholic priest will tell you to not read the bible (as some poorly-informed Protestants would have you believe), but it does mean that they would rather guide your interpretation. So, since Catholicism is, from the perspective of the lay member, much more about the relationship between the church and the individual, I thought it might be useful to examine that relationship.
    Catholics recite the Apostle’s Creed at each mass. What did you think of it? What do you think it says about the relationship between the structure of the church and the responsibilities of the members?

  2. Fair, but characteristically flawed.

    "Catholicism demands a spiritual and physical obedience to the faith."

    All religions do and Catholicism certainly isn't as demanding as Buddhism. I'm willing to admit that the basics of Catholicism was spiritually draining for me, but there was nothing physically tough.

    There are a lot of motions that Catholics must go through in order to remain faithful to the Church. Everybody knows that. What they might not know is that when Catholics get together outside of the rituals, they find equal value in the New Testament as their Protestant counterparts.

    In fact, the priests said time and time again, "the true message of Catholicism is not in the rites, but in our love for God."

    Confession does tend to guilt people, but if you view it like that, you're missing the rest of the message. As Catholics, we were supposed to live a life as dictated by the Bible. The CCC offers a guide to that plan. It's assumed that people will mess up. That's why we have Confession. If you were to speak to people, many of them will say how much they enjoy Confession. I didn't like it because I was wary of telling strangers my sins. It does guilt guilty people, but if we live well and by the Bible, it becomes more joyous.

    You're just flat wrong about sex. Marital sex is a pleasure and a gift from God. It most certainly does not mean that we can't have sex with our spouses for pleasure. Read the CCC and talk with priests before pushes inaccurate stereotypes.

    "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death." CCC 2361

    Reciting the Apostles Creed and about dozen other prayers was not anything new to me. I was raised a Presbyterian and we also say the Creed (just a slightly different version).

    The bottom line is this: The Church might appear to be a "state" and history would certainly agree, but the priests and practitioners don't fear The Church nor do they allow it to become an obstacle for their relationship with God and Jesus.

    The round-table images that people conjure up of Catholics is just so far off base. There might be a figurehead and a ton of rules, but in the end, the message is the name: Accept Jesus and Salvation is yours. Catholics focus on that and waste very little time submitting themselves to the authority of the Church.

    Or, at least, that's what the Catholics I was around believed.

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  4. Maybe I did a poor job of explaining myself. But you seem to be agreeing with me (for the most part) but in a tone that would suggest you were in disagreement. I’m not sure what to make of it; but I’ll take full responsibility.

    I insisted that “Catholicism demands a spiritual and physical obedience to the faith” not to emphasize Catholicism’s uniqueness, but to make the point that your attitude toward Catholicism seemed to lack the zeal you showed toward Buddhism. Also, it was a good way to transition into a discussion about how Catholicism functions as a state.

    As for sex, again we seem to be in agreement. As I said, the Catholic Church encourages sex (I actually emphasized this point by saying “lots and lots of sex”). But, they do so with one rather large caveat: you are not to hinder procreation in any way. And that’s not some priest’s opinion. The Church is ABSOLUTELY CLEAR on this point. If you are having sex (even with your wife), and using any form of contraception (even just withdraw), you’re committing a sin. Any priest or organization that tells you different is either misinformed or purposely misinforming you.

    I used confession and sex to draw your attention to an important aspect of Catholicism that you seemed to ignore. Catholics don’t confess their sins to God directly (or, some may, but the proper channel is through God’s representatives on Earth). And, I emphasized sex because it’s a sin I’m sure you were committing. This cycle of sin/confession/sin/confession is important in that while it is ostensibly designed to bring individuals closer to God, it actually makes a firmer relationship between the individual and the Catholic structure. This is part of that vestigial trace of the state in the religion.

    I must disagree with you somewhat on your last point, though.

    While Catholics do clearly invest quite a bit of importance in accepting Father, Son and Holy Ghost, this does not ensure salvation. That would be like saying anyone who knows how to hammer nails is a carpenter. Of course a carpenter knows how to hammer nails; he couldn’t claim to be a carpenter if he didn’t. But knowing how to hammer nails is neither the essence of being a carpenter nor is it all the skill he requires. For Catholics, salvation is far more complicated than merely accepting Jesus.