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

This was an interesting month for me. I started in hopes of being able to convert only to realize the naiveté of such a desire. No parish would convert me in such a short amount of time and, to tell the truth, I got the feeling that some of them knew what I was up to. As a matter of fact, I received an email from one person who had stumbled upon this blog and they were not too thrilled about what was up to. Still, I did what I could and tried my best to live as a Catholic. 

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

My favorite part was probably the congregation. There are some good people out there and a lot of them happen to be Roman Catholic. I think people get lost in all the rules and forget what the whole thing is actually about. Onlookers find it all too easy to make jokes about power of The Church, acts of sexual misconduct and cases of corruption and while those are certainly problems for Catholics to worry about, it doesn't change the fact that over a billion Catholics on this planet and many of them are great people.

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

Well, I'm not sure how to answer this one. I think I've become a little more tolerant of Christians in general and when I think of Catholicism, I won't immediately think of the negative. I luckily had the chance to read the entire Bible this month as well. I don't remember all of it, but I did get a sense of what's going on and who the main players are. Now, as I navigate through the other Christian-ish religions, I will be able to get a better idea of what's going on. I guess you could say that I was educated this month and that's always an improvement.

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

The long prayers were a little annoying, but I really wasn't a fan of confession. The Bible does make it clear that we need to confess our sins and there are some conflicting methods by which to do so, but the Catholic church makes it clear: you must confess you sins. The problem is, can I trust the person I'm confessing to? And even if I could, are we really free from judgement? These questions plagued me and I presumed the priest would probably frame me by my confession. If he and I made eye contact, all I would be able to think about was the confession. I think that confessing to God or your loved ones is enough.

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

It took a little getting used to. There were many things that I've never experienced in that sanctuary. I guess the only thing that was uncomfortable was the fact that my wife and I spent a lot of time looking around. People were swaying and holding hands all over the place and in almost perfect unison, crossing and bowing commenced with almost no warning at all. That and I wish there was more sermon and less recitation. I feel most connected to the message during the sermon and most connected with the spiritual world when surrounded by silence. 

How did your lifestyle change from your secular past?

It didn't really. I started drinking again (in moderation) and everything else was pretty much the same. I was told not to eat meat on Fridays, but that didn't matter. Meat really isn't a problem for me. My wife outed me with the meat-eating, I know. Still, I think I did a good job on that front. I can say, however, that I'm trying to spend less time questioning the motives of others. 

Would you ever consider becoming a Catholic?

Doubt it. The glove just didn't fit that well this month. However, life has always surprised me, so who knows?

Any last comments?

Read the Bible. It doesn't matter your faith. Just pick it up and get going. It took me every bit of free time to get through it all, but I know that I'm better off for reading it. Oh, and be opened minded. I was too close-minded this month because Catholicism wasn't unique. That was my loss. 


Day 29

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

Honestly,  there wasn't a best part for me. Much of what George was doing just seemed Christian to me. He read the Catholic Bible and followed the Catholic rites, but it just looked like Christianity in the end. That's not a bad thing, but it does say something that an observer like myself ultimately saw a Christian rather than a Catholic.

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

This is a hard one as well. I came into this month expecting to see a more Catholic guilt-ridden husband, but it never really happened. I guess it's hard to experience that in only a month of study, though. He does seem to be more willing to engage in a conversation about God and Jesus without making immature and annoying comments. So, maybe he's more respectful of the faith and the faithful? I don't know. I didn't actually read all of his posts. What do you think?

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

There wasn't anything annoying about the religion actually. George tends to get a little wordy when he's talking about his "feelings", but I think that comes with the territory. This whole thing might make him less annoying, but I'm not sure. He's got that "little brother" persona tattooed on his brain pretty strongly.  The "older sister" in me will always be able to detect his idiosyncratic immaturity. Call it a gift, I guess.

You went to Mass with George, were you comfortable in that setting?

I was very comfortable. Like I said last month, Catholicism isn't much of a stretch for me. We had a hard time with some of the prayers, but I felt fine in there. 

George said he will stay away from meat. Has he? How's his health?

NO! He has not stayed away from meat. To be fair, though, he only ate it a few times and they were not the main course, rather ingredients that were unavoidable. He did drink this month and, of course, gained some of that weight back. He claims he's around 68 kg these days which is still lighter than he started in March. I think his health is doing better. I won't say "good" because he's stubborn about getting his BP checked again, but he's not smoking or drinking excessively. That's a win.

Would you ever consider becoming a Catholic?

I don't think so. I prefer the accessibility of Protestantism. George gets caught up in all the excitement of penance, sacrifice and rituals. That's not what it's all about for me. I prefer a direct relationship with God and Jesus.

Catholicism is just one of many Christian religions George will be experiencing this year. Do you believe that the message is all the same or is there something hidden in the approach?

I have no idea. Ask George. He's the one picking around for that kind of stuff. All I know is that you can call it what you want, but Jesus is the root of the whole thing. Personally, I think George is going to discover a lot of overlap anyways. Different approach with the same result, right?

Next month is Quakerism, what are your impressions on what you've heard so far?

I don't know much about these guys. George showed me a picture of the founder, but besides that I'm not sure what to expect. He mentioned something about riding his bike because of the environment. Oh, and he keeps rattling on about his ancestors being Quaker in the 1800's or something. It's interesting nonetheless.   

And that's it from the wife, kiddos. Any questions for me?


Day 28

When I began this month as a Catholic, I thought that I would be mostly writing about the Church, rituals and confession. I thought my day would be filled with crossing myself, Hail Mary's and kneeling before the crucifix. That's what I thought and I guess I could have spent more time in prayer, but a man only has so much time in a day. The beginning of this month was a little rocky for me. It took me some time to shake the hands-off approach of Buddhism and slide into the very in-your-face attitude of the Christian God. 

I started reading Matthew first and was greeted with a heavy dose of fear, grief and guilt. The author of Matthew was a strong writer and left very little to the imagination. And through those words, a very grim picture of the religion was painted for me. As I made my way through the Gospels, I tried to remain open-minded about what I was reading, but the well had been poisoned. I couldn't break the mold. Church helped only in healing the wounds that were made while digging around the Bible, but before they could scab over, something else would come along and discourage me. 

Then, on Day 15, The Korean left a comment that stirred me a bit.
Obviously this is your personal journey, so my opinion does not matter one bit. But it is somewhat disappointing to see that instead of embracing Catholicism like you did with Buddhism, you appear to spend much of your Catholic month finding reasons to antagonize Catholicism/Christianity.
It wasn't anything particularly rousing or genius, just a simple statement. I thought about it a lot though. Why was I focusing so much on the negative aspects of the religion so much? To that, I have no answer. I guess my gut instinct was always to reject Christianity and to denounce Catholics as a part of the problem with organized religion. Up until that point, I still failed to distinguish people from the religion itself. I failed to do so and because of that, I wasn't allowing myself to see the positive side of Christianity.

That was my fault, I guess, but my experience was what it was. I tried to be as open as possible from the start and find the connection. I thought that maybe if I kept reading the Bible and searching for God in its pages that something would be revealed. I was alone on this one. Perhaps there were just too many obstacles for me to climb to get to the true beauty of the religion. However, I was sent an article today that cleared some of my very own problems up or, at very least, excuse my 50:50 split on the month.

The article weaved in and out of Mark and other scripture, but it overall was briefly tracking historical Jesus. Towards the end, it landed on a book authored by Phillip Pullman titled, "The Good Man Jesus the Scoundrel Christ." The book discusses the two clear images of Jesus that Bible readers are presented with as they navigate their way through the texts. I identified totally. When I was making my way through the Gospels, I kept trying to make myself believe. I wanted to understand the Christian appeal, but the more I read, the harder it was for me to find said appeal. In turn, I was more irritated by the entire thing and, as The Korean said, I was more focused on antagonizing Christianity than appreciating the message. 

And then out of nowhere, I changed. Just like the New Yorker article suggests, I somehow manged to sneak by that obstacle and find the joy of the religion. I started to ignore the "pesky" details that Paul threw out there and, instead, found myself focusing on the core messages of love, compassion and forgiveness. The people in the Church also helped with that. What I did was allow the goodness to slowly replace my doubt and cynicism. I don't know if that was helpful or not, but I do know that I would not have ever started to appreciate Jesus had I not let go of those details which were keeping me skeptical.

This swap characterizes religion for sure, but it also sums up how people deal with troubling situations in their own life. By focusing on the good rather than the bad, we allow our optimism to guide us to brighter days. I've been blindly optimistic in my life much more than not --almost to the point of detriment-- and seeing this change in myself highlights the duality of Jesus, but also in me. I have the capacity to change my conception of something surprisingly easy. I can ignore glaring problems just for the sake of it. 

I don't regret the switch this month, but I do find it interesting that I could make the leap from cynicism and doubt to appreciation and enthusiasm on a single Sunday in mass. 


Day 27

Thursdays are my slow days. It's these days that I get to reflect on what I've learned this month. I'm not saying I sit and think of God and Jesus because I don't. I sit and think of the beauty of life though. After work, I went home and walked my dog. As we walked, I passed hundreds of people. Each and every one of them is trying their best to be happy. Sometimes they make mistakes and other times they make life difficult for other people, but in the end, they want the same as everyone else: happiness; peace; love and comfort. 

I don't think I knew it before, but I believe I was a selfishly joyful person. What I mean is that I didn't get pleasure in other peoples happiness -only my own. Rather, I got angry or jealous. Maybe I would criticize them for pursuing what made them happy or for acting in a way that was different from me. I don't know why, but I did it.  I don't anymore or, at least, I recognize that what I was doing was very wrong and am trying to avoid it. This transformation didn't take place in the Bible though. It took place in church. Looking around and seeing people from all over the world doing whatever they could to provide for themselves and their family but still taking the time to praise God was a beautiful thing.

Buddhism helped me understand myself better, but Catholicism and spending time in mass has allowed me to appreciate other people more. It's been a wonderful month with an even better outcome. I love.


Day 26

As you might know by now, I have somehow found myself in a managerial position. I'm not really sure that I wanted it or if it's the right fit for me, but nonetheless, I have it. You also might recall that I'm not particularly fond of some of my teachers' attitude towards work and professionalism. Work doesn't work for you, you work for it. But I guess I'm to blame. I thought it wise to hire young teachers in hopes that their youth would translate to fire and passion. That wisdom turned out to be naiveté as I have had to fire many of my young teachers for easily avoidable infractions such as excessive tardiness, absence and teaching questionable material. They weren't bad people in the least, but they had absolutely no work ethic. They wanted everything given to them.

There are endless pieces of literature on what is called the Christian Work Ethic, so I don't really want to get into that, but I am curious as to why people treat work like it's something they didn't really need. The New Yorker has a good piece mocking the pampered lifestyle and unpreparedness of newly minted college grads. 
College graduates are setting foot in the real world for the very first time. Imagine how daunting that must be! They have so many daily needs, and yet they lack even the most basic tools required to survive in the world. They are completely helpless. Crying and screaming are ways for college graduates to communicate their frustrations, so that you can solve their problems for them.
Having made the fatal error of hiring three fresh grads last year, I can attest to this sentiment. Fresh college grads feel like they've made it into some elite group that's above such remediableness like work. Anytime I schedule a meeting or ask them to do something slightly beyond the scope of their presumed duties, the groaning and pertinaciousness takes hold and by the time they're finished, they've made even Glenn Beck appear grounded. I don't ask for much, either. I just ask them to do their job well, but they don't want to be bothered by such details. As long as they get their paycheck for a job well done showed-up for, then they feel fine. 

I guess I might have been like that in my life as well. Hell, the beginning of this entire project had its roots in the fact that I have quit many things but never sacrificed anything. It's been five years since I graduated from college. Maybe I've grown up a bit in that time. Proverbs 14:23 offers simple advice.
Work and you will earn a living. If you sit around talking you'll be poor.
It seems so simple, yet you'd be surprised the resistance I get from my employees who choose to go do battle when asked to do some work. What is it then that young workers don't get? Why do they dilute themselves to the point of combat when called on such behavior?

Well, the easy answer is culture. Not American culture, but technologically comfortable culture. The value of work and preparation has been downgraded while results and outcomes trumpeted. I guess I could talk again about gratification though I think I've done that enough. Rather, I think the problem is with dirt. Not dirt like soil, but getting our hands dirty. The college culture has warped the minds of the citizenry to abhor hard work and especially the laborer or one who must work with their hands and that's a shame. 

One of the joys of my living in Korea has been the time and freedom to pursue many different kinds of interests. Where else could I spend an entire year studying religions without it having any effect on my work? I have discovered an appreciation for many things and while Korea isn't directly the source of said discovery, it did serve as the venue. One thing that I haven't gotten to experience is working with my hands. I can't build or repair anything, yet I still manage to judge those who must for a living. The engineer builds things, too. But because they have a piece of paper to carry around proving they're in my "college culture", I blindly respect them. Why?

It comes down to the fact that at some point in my life, someone told me and everyone else that everyone wants to go to college. Those who don't couldn't and those are the people I see working with their hands. Well, I'm here to tell you and remind myself that a college degree means nothing in the absence of hard work --you know, the same hard work that the laborers  are doing.

I work very hard for my wife and dog. I also believe that without a reason (like family), I too would have slowly fallen into the trap of feeling like I'm owed something. Everyone works very hard for someone or something. If you're single or all alone in this world, you can always do it for the God. He'd allow it.


Day 25

As you know, I'm a teacher. I've taught all sorts of students all sorts of things. Some have really dug my style while others have dropped my classes. I'm not offended by that. What works for some doesn't go over so well with others. That's life. However, these past two months have been a little different. My classes are all full. I've always had the luck of having a lot of students take my classes, but there were always some openings after a term ended. April and May are notoriously slow months for private educators here in Korea, but my April and May have been just the opposite. You might think that I'm suggesting that religion has played a role in that and you might be right, but simply stating that fact undermines what might actually be going on here. 

I guess I should tell you what classes I teach. Because of my experience, position and presumed specialties (according to my boss -not me), I get a lot of freedom to choose the topics of my courses. My most popular ones seem to be Korean Sociology, US-ROK Relations, Modern Social Problems and Korean Gender Issues. These past two months though, my once popular Soc class has been slammed with people wanting to focus on religion. That's fine with me, but it's getting to the point that my syllabus is pretty much nothing but a useless piece of paper. People are hungry to discuss religion and, in all honesty, I'm totally open to indulge. 

This made me reflect on my own life. Outside of church, the scope of my religious discussions lay somewhere between the whiskey bottle and the pipe. I took a healthy amount of religious studies courses during my undergrad, but they typically followed a set path where each religion was given a fair and alloted amount of time. That, and undergrads are not the most adventurous lot when it comes to getting really involved in a course. Half of the class (myself included) didn't read the entire assignment beforehand and those who did were hardcore followers of the religion being discussed. 

People want to casually gab about religion, but I'm finding that there aren't enough public forums to do so in. That and the fact that most people don't actually know much about the religion that they want to discuss. If professors and pastors can't offer such a forum, where can we go for an unbiased and intellectual conversation on the subject? My students believe that they can come to my classes, but that's not true. I'm not qualified in the least to discuss religion intellectually. Yet, I think that's the appeal. If people can present religion in a nonchalant or non-threatening manner, then people might listen. All people are suckers for a good quote and even more people want to improve themselves. 

Today I started my class with a single question:

Are you spiritually wealthy?

Students of all backgrounds and faiths spoke openly about this question. Some offered Bible verses while others quoted Confucius. Buddha came up several times and even Thomas Jefferson was mentioned. There was never an argument about which faith was correct or the intentions of such a verse. It was a pure interfaith conversation that everyone left feeling good about. 

I'm not trying to lay the framework for next months Unitarianism, either. There doesn't need to be a religion based on this conversation. I don't think that works anyways because it's essentially creed-less (one reason that I'm considering changing next month to Quakerism). There needs to be more friendly exchanges of ideas that will make all of us happier in the end. 

And when it comes to people of different faiths sharing ideas without becoming hostile, we need to look no further than Luke 6:31.
Do for others just what you want them to do for you.
The Bible is full of goodness like that. In fact, all religions have their own Golden Rule.

ChristianityAll things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. 
Matthew 7:1
ConfucianismDo not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. 
Analects 12:2
BuddhismHurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
      Udana-Varga 5,1
HinduismThis is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. 
Mahabharata 5,1517
IslamNo one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. 
JudaismWhat is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. 
Talmud, Shabbat 3id
TaoismRegard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
ZoroastrianismThat nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. 
Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

If you don't want others to argue, disrespect and try to convert you, then you shouldn't do it to them. From the mouth of the great Jackie Robinson, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."


Day 24

In the summer of 2006, North Korea test fired seven missiles. I was on a plane around that time and wrote this:
I came to my seat and was greeted rather pleasantly by a soldier from Southeast Colorado. His name was Robert Duran.  He was Latino and sported a thin and poorly grown mustache. He was very friendly and I was happy to have someone to talk with. He told me he had been on leave for what was supposed to be 40 days, but with North Korea's recent missle tests, he had been called back early. I could tell he was not happy about this, but he understood that it was his job.
I thought it was interesting back in 2006 and I think it's even more interesting now. First of all, I doubt that he was called back for the test alone, but at that point in time, I had no knowledge of the North Korean situation save for the Korean War. On October 9th of the same year, North Korea detonated their first nuclear device. To that, the genius in me concluded:
North Korea did in fact test their bomb. This does not make me feel great. Kim would not bomb Seoul, but he would bomb the US or Japan. Even if he does not bomb anyone, he's just setting everyone up to attack him. Things might get a little crazy over here.
I was speaking like a true moron, using assumption followed by speculation. On top of that, I remember that I was doing so with relative authority because I assumed that no one else knew about that situation. This is actually the curse of people tasked with educating and leading people. They have a responsibility to be intellectually fair with themselves before making the decision to bloviate from a lectern.

Here we are now, four years later and still dealing with the belligerency of the despotic Kim regime. Back in March of this year, an ROK ship (Cheonan) was attacked and eventually sank, sealing the fate of 46 South Korean sailors. Last week, the Korean government announced the findings from its probe. The results indicate that it was a North Korean torpedo that struck the ship. Today, President Lee Myung-bak addressed the nation and world with a strong, yet eloquent speech. (Video with English translation here.) In short, South Korea will no longer allow the North to use violence and fear to win concessions from the international community. 

Fear has always been one of the best political tools for manipulation. Scaring people sparks emotions and emotional people support causes. Kim Jong-il knows that and I don't think I have to tell you that either. The Bible talks a lot about fear and peace, but it does so in a different way. The Old Testament certainly touches on war more as the New Testament focuses less on war and external threats than it does on the peace that living without sin offers. And following that logic, it says this:
There is no one who is righteous, no one who is wise or who worships God. All have turned away from God; they have all gone wrong; no one does what is right; not even one. Their words are full of deadly deceit; wicked lies roll of their tongues, and dangerous threats, like snake's poison, from their lips; their speech is filled with bitter curses. They are quick to hurt and kill; they leave ruin and destruction wherever they go. They have not known the path of peace, nor have they learned reverence for God. -Romans 3:10-18
Freeing yourself from fear should be the main goal in all of our lives. Both this month and last month I found a lot of relief from my very common and humanly fears and desires. Greed, anger, lust and envy all cause fear because they create a false sense of desire and urgency. It goes like this: My envy of other people will cause me to lust after what others have. That lust will eventually dominate my life and make me greedy. Greed is something that can never be fully satisfied. That gap will make me an angry person. This situation will ultimately cause me to fear the world and God rather than love them both.

I can control those desires though. Many people can and many Christians do. However, there are many people who fear the wrong things. And since fear and anger are so intrinsically tied together, the list can be pretty long. I don't want to demonize anyone by making such a list, so I will ask myself a question related to the original topic instead.

Considering the erratic behavior of Kim Jong-il and his penchant for making trouble, is there anything that the Bible can offer to calm the nerves of the inhabitants on the peaceful southern half of this divided peninsula?


Day 23

The rain seemed almost ceaseless yesterday. The constant battering on my street-level windows jostled dormant emotions that I had long since forgotten. The simple joy of a rainy day is often lost on the aged human as its innocence grays and joins the listlessness of repetition and routines. Children understand many wonders of the world that adults choose to ignore with words like purity, naiveté and ignorance. Once lost, recapturing it becomes an obstacle that many choose to avoid.

To a child, a rainy day holds its own majestic intrigue with boundless possibilities and adventure whereas as with us, it simply means we must grab an umbrella before scooting out the door to face the pettiness of forced human interaction. And my writing of such a condition reflects nothing more than the realities of jadedness and isolation that aged humans feel when they wake up and see rain. It wasn't always this way though. Rain meant a day of indoor adventure or perhaps a stop by the newspaper pile to craft a makeshift boat on the way to the flooded creek. It meant that your baseball game was cancelled and, instead, you can spend the day as you wished. It meant many things then, but now it's nothing more than a frustrating weather pattern. 
Now is the winter of MY discontent.
This morning, however, I didn't wake up and see rain. I woke up and saw a wonderfully damp sunny morning. My normal wake up time is 5:00am, so even on the weekends, I have trouble breaking  this routine. I was up by 6:20am. I laid there in my bed smiling. Today is the last Sunday of my Catholic experience and my last chance to attend mass. I wasn't happy because of that. In fact, I'm a little sad, but for some reason I was still smiling. 

The morning sun had managed to sneak into our room and, on the wall, it projected cascading and playful patterns of leaves dancing in the gentle morning breeze. They slowly moved up and down the corner of the room; following no pattern or routine, but still as dependable as any alarm clock or timer could ever be. For hours I could have laid there; next to my sleeping wife and watching that march of life, but the allure of a new day got the best of me and I stood up to face it. 

And just like humans, my dog has his own routine as well. First, he must unwedge himself from the depth of the blankets and pillows that he had forged for himself over the course of the night. Then, he slowly moves to the foot of the bed where he sits for a moment to collect himself and perhaps even lick a few choice locations. After he's satisfied, he'll jump off the bed and prance into the living room where I will happily greet him with food, hugs and maybe a quick game of 1:1 with an old sock. 

Since it was still early, I figured that a solid walk would be in order. I harnessed him up and we headed out. My neighborhood here in Seoul is threaded with eateries, cafes, bars and hofs. Many are open 24 hours a day and they get their use for sure. Far too many mornings during my Korean sojourn I've been faced with the cheers and drunk parades of college students stumbling out to face their soju stupors on the cold streets of this megalopolis; their smiles crooked from booze, but gleaming with satisfaction. I can relate to those kids. I was once as willfully detached at they are now and the beauty and vibrancy of that life will always stay with me as I inch towards my next.

Bear and I made our way up the winding roads. He was galloping at his normal pace and I was doing my best to manage his safety. Aside from the late-night drifters scattered around the city benches and sidewalks, mornings in Seoul are surprisingly tranquil. Sunday mornings are even more that way. We reached the top of the hill and were greeted with a clear view of my usually-bustling neighborhood. A gust of wind breathed across my face. It was clean and fresh, but in that gust was a scent. It's that scent that triggered this post.

If you recall last month, I showed you this image and asked, "do I see Buddha when I look at this picture?"

I couldn't answer that question because I was conflicted with the Buddhist concept that "the world is a burning house" due to the prevalence of human suffering. I acknowledged the world's beauty and how much I have been influenced by it but still couldn't see or feel Buddha when I looked at this picture. Perhaps that's a foolish thing to seek out, but the imagery of God, gods and deities within the natural world is nothing new.

This month, I'd like to show you another image. Last time, I just showed you any old image that looked godly. It was not inspired by anything expect a Google search and a mouse-click. This month is different. Standing on top of that hill with the cool breeze wrapping around me and my dog, a scent struck me. The smell of morning dew.

Can you imagine a better smell in the world? It's the symbol is a new day; a fresh start. And although we can experience it all year round, it's most easily witnessed in the summer --the time when children experience the true bliss of life and adults escape the grips of domestic isolation and ecological alienation. It's pure and just as it quick as it appears, it's gone. To me, the beauty of God's work can be seen in dew. It's there for us all, but if you don't take the time to seek it out, you'll miss it.

I sat there for a moment, closed my eyes and smiled. I wasn't trying to smile, though. I just couldn't help myself. The emotion of the moment was stronger than I expected and no matter how much I tried to ignore it, I couldn't. Feeling your heart smiling at you is quite an experience. I started walking again along the tree-lined road. Each step was met with wondrous, yet simplistic beauty. The wind pushed its way through the trees and continually peppered my dog and I with the angelic scent of the earth's most sacred aroma. We reached the end of the road and had to turn around. Slowly, we walked back home. We were given a great gift this day. 

We might be up and we might be down in our own lives, but the cycle of the world will continue. Just like when you're camping. The morning dew might get your tent soaked and wake you up a little earlier, but soon enough the sun will rise and the dew will dry. It's happened for billions of years and could happen for billions more. There is a presence in the world that doesn't stop for the trivial problems we create for ourselves. It's not hard to find beauty in the world, either. I found it in a city swollen with the meaningless problems of millions of my endlessly troubled fellow humans. And yet, this is not a unique experience, nor is it one that we have all not come across thousands of times. 

Go outside in the early morning and just sit in the majestic silence of the world. Maybe there's a special tree or field near your home. If not, just sit on your back-porch and listen to the world. Even if there's no sound, you can hear it. Assign a designer or creator if you want, but the aim should not be dividing the beauty you're witnessing. Rather, you should embrace it. Call it by name if you so desire, but love it nonetheless. 

I could have told you this story on any number of morning walks, but I chose to share it with you on my last day of Catholic mass for a reason. You can find the grace and elegance of God or the world in many places. Perhaps it's in church or maybe it's on the still lake in the Adirondacks where I proposed to my wife. 

Today, I found it on a quiet hill in Seoul, South Korea. 


Day 22

Last night I decided to stay in and nest. While it might not always be my first choice, I enjoy it from time to time. The wife went out with her friends for a little dancing and drinking. Years ago I would have protested such a plan, but I understand that she needs her time. I dropped her off at about 8pm and had the rest of the night to myself. When a man has a full evening of free time there are a few things that come to mind.

2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."

I mostly read, but also spent some time organizing my game plan for our return to the US while slowly strumming my old guitar. I'm one bad guitar player, though. I've been incrementally learning the thing, but just like everyone else, I have quit much more than I have learned. This time I'm going to learn it. Right.

Planning for repatriation is an odd feeling. I mean, I'm about as American as they come, but I have students who know more about current American pop-culture than I do.  From time to time, I'll be asked something very specific about fashion or lingo in American culture and since I have no clue, I typically offer my trademark deflection, "I don't know, I'm a 2005 American."

The America I left had George W. Bush in the White House and the GOP in control. I left an America where Obama was just a freshman Senator who made a kick-ass keynote speech at the 2004 DNC and Sarah Palin was where she should be --out of sight. I left a group of single friends who basically all lived in the same city. We were spectacular drunks. I left a sister who didn't have any children. I left with pretty much no money in my bank account, no international travel and no real desire to get into a relationship.

Now, the entire game has changed. Bush is long gone, but now the loons on the right are starting to miss him. The Dems have control and will keep it until 2012, but their momentum has faded. Obama won the election easily and now the people are turning on him. Most of my friends have finished grad school and are getting married. )We might all still be drunks, though.) My sister and brother-in-law have two adorable children and are settled in for the long haul.

That leaves me. Of course, it's not just me. I am now married and have a dog. We have a lot of money in the bank (more than enough for a house, furniture, a couple cars and a world tour). We own a huge amount of land in Yeoju and I've managed to travel around Asia pretty extensively. All of that sounds great, right? I'm not sure. Is accumulating stuff good?

I'm facing a dilemma that is tricky for the 27-year old and normal for the 67-year old. I get no pleasure in stuff. The number that represents my savings is just a number. It doesn't have the same feel as pirates booty might. The stuff in my apartment will mostly be sold before we head back and my clothes will all fade and eventually decompose. I'm tired of stuff and even more tired of accumulating it. 

But wasn't that the real point of college?

This is a problem for a young married man who will start a family in a few years. Both Matthew and Luke tell me not to worry about food and money and instead let God provide what I need. I'm told that I "cannot serve both God and money" and  it makes sense, but doesn't work in this modern world. God does provide me with everything I need, but I live in Seoul. I can't forage for food and live happily in a hill-side home. God might have given me the tools to succeed, but I'm starting to think those tools were not his but societies.

How can I find the balance?

If I focus too much on what I want rather than what I need, I will ultimately lose both. However, if I don't worry about those things, then I might be seeing God sooner than planned. 
"Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?" -Thoreau from Walden
Brilliance. I'm not sure what I will learn from this year-long adventure, but I'm certain I will understand myself better than before. I've only gotten through two texts of major religions so far and already I am finding true happiness in what I already have. That's what Luke and Matthew meant, not that God will give us stuff. We have the tools for happiness.

Let me tell you a quick story. 

My sister is cheap careful with money. I said it. She didn't used to be this way though. When the whole gang goes out or we go on vacation, she usually opts for eating-in rather than dining-out. My mother and I would always get frustrated with this. We would make snide comments about her being too cheap and no fun. Now, however, I see what's going on. Whether she knows it or not, she's protecting herself from becoming a slave to greed. By being careful with her funds, she's allowing herself to focus on her own happiness. She's finding the joy in less. 

I need to find the joy in less. Or rather, I need to find the power to find the joy in less. 


Day 21

Today's Buddha's birthday here in Korea. I love Buddha.

As you know from last month, I have a huge spiritual crush on the guy and have quietly been missing my meditation time with him and myself. Hell, I even miss the bowing and fasting. That doesn't mean I don't dig Jesus. I do. I dig him a lot. 

And just like with Christmas, we also get a day off of work to celebrate Buddha's birthday. I had originally planned to celebrate the day by going to temple, but I could not do such a thing with a clear conscience. Catholics certainly shouldn't care that I respect the guy, however, visiting a temple of another religion while on this project seemed to break one of my own rules. A pious follower of Christ wouldn't be visiting a Buddhist temple on such a day. That's a bit idolatrous for me. 

On this day of rest away from lazy employees, ornery bosses and loud students, I am doing nothing but enjoying my bed. Being the wonderfully married married man that I am, I have the good fortune to have a tremendously sexy and voluptuous NE Asian wife. I'm not bragging, but I'm just happen to be luckier than you. 

Only kidding. To each his own, right?

So, on this day of rest I plan on reading, writing, playing the guitar and, if all goes as planned, spending a solid amount of time in bed...with my wife. Is that wrong to write on such a forum? I don't think so. I'm a Catholic and the accepted idea is that Catholics are all about big families and marital love-making. 

However, my wife and I are still young. We married young and don't plan on having babies for another four or five years. So without baby-making, we get to do it the old fashioned way --for lust. Is it wrong to lust after my wife?
Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes. -CCC 2351
 Yeah, maybe it says that, but it also goes on to say that "There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church" and that "Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence." I think we're safe on this front. 

So, maybe this is the real question: How often can we do it and are there rules about how to do it?

I know how much we "do it" and am not really sure if it's above or below average, but I can say that television shows and movies have overplayed sex so much to the point that I feel like if I'm not doing it several times a day that I'm somewhat abnormal. It was the same in high school. Tons of kids were panicking about sex and claiming that they had already done it when the truth was that most of us were still virgins. My metric is way off. 
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.
Details aside, being married is an absolute joy, but we never get to see those things from movies and television. For the very same reason that I started this post with something as tiny as sex, we must sift through the fluff and identify what it takes to have a successful marriage. 

I've only been married for two years, but I wish someone had given me some advice before making the leap. Here is what I have learned.

1) Marriage is a partnership.

This is one of the most important things to grasp in your marriage. The sooner you understand that, the happier your first years will be. Even if you lived with your spouse before the wedding, things change the very next day. There's a concept in Korea called "jeong". It's essentially the bond that ties us to each other. I can have jeong with my wife just like I have with my dog, my friends and the local shopkeeper. Understanding this relationship and identifying our roles is crucial to a successful marriage. Say what you want about Korea, but these guys know about maintaining the structure of relationships (in theory at least). 

However, partnership does not mean sharing everything 50:50. Try splitting housework this way and see what happens. One party complains that the other is not doing their share and the couple spends more time rationing chores and arguing than spending time together. Wasn't that the point of marriage, anyways? Partnership means sacrifice and compromise. You know the meaning of those words, sure, but can you put it into practice?

2) Sex is important, but affection is whats keeps you married.

Everyone enjoys sex, but people don't really need it that much. What they need is affection. Still, sex is, of course, the biggest display of affection that humans can engage in and it's a hell of a lot of fun. However, remembering all the other lesser forms of affection can really help your marriage. (Holding hands, massage feet and spooning are the big ones.) Kissing, for instance, is the first thing that a new couple will do and yet it's usually the first thing that disappears when a couples gets comfortable in the marriage. I know seeing old people kissing is gross, but it's not as gross as seeing a man with a mustache kissing. That's gross. Kidding aside, it's a shame that the intimacy of kissing is lost so easily. When that goes, sex can become very mechanical. Go back to middle school and work on your "Frenching".

3) Trust yourself first.

If you trust yourself then you will be able to trust your spouse. Far too many times in my life, I've found myself wasting time worrying about this. I know that I'm at a point where I can trust myself and along with that has come an incredible peace of mind. Life is too short to be consumed by jealousy and trust issues.

4) Don't underestimate the value of mutual-activities.

Man, I can't stress this enough. And it's not just having the same interests in common, either. That's easy to claim and even easier to bullshit. Doing activities together --regardless of whose idea it was-- is tremendously bonding. It works, but doing activities that you don't want to do but still doing them anyways is what marriage is all about. I used to love refusing to do things that I didn't like and it ended up with my wife and I doing nothing instead. That was a waste and we only have so many years together. Don't waste time planning the perfect day. Make your day perfect.

5) Trying to solve arguments immediately doesn't actually solve them.

This is my curse. I have been trained this way and breaking that habit is harder than you think. When I was a young boy, my mother and I would occasionally get into it. Within minutes, the remorse would build up inside and I would start writing a letter of apology. I couldn't stand having someone I cared about mad at me for any amount of time. Well, that was my mother and I was nine. With a wife, arguments are more serious and sometimes trying to solve them quickly backfires. Think about what was said, but don't try to win. Winning an argument with a spouse means losing it for the marriage. Give yourself some time and really think about their side. Again, arguing with reason and logic is always best, but this method usually delivers a pompous message that deepens the divide. 

6) Don't do anything you wouldn't share with your spouse.

Jerry Seinfeld was having a conversation with George about whether or not it was okay for George to meet Marisa Tomei even though he was engaged to Susan. It's a classic episode. Jerry --in a moment of surprising monogamy-- offered this simple advice.
"Would you tell Susan? 'Cause if you can't tell Susan, then there's something wrong."
7) How do you measure yourself? It's probably not balanced with your spouse.

There are dozens of good quotes that I could post, but I think I'd like to give you one from Sidney Poitier from his fantastic book "The Measure of a Man".
"As I entered this world, I would leave behind the nurturing of my family and my home, but in another sense I would take their protection with me. The lessons I had learned, the feelings of groundedness and belonging that have been woven into my character there, would be my companions on the journey."
I measure myself by how well I provide for my family and the example I will set for my children. I might not be rich or poor right now, but at some point on this earth, I'll be both. That should not be allowed to change me. 

8) Allowing for space is good, but only for the right reasons.

Giving your spouse some space to be with friends or family is great, but make sure you're doing it because you want to do give it to them. If you're offering space because you want it, then it's not right.

9) Everyone deserves a break.

Once we get married, our walls move in a bit and the world gets a little smaller. Every day that passes, we tighten the belt more and more. It's not a bad thing, but it can get to be too much from time to time. My wife sometimes wants to be alone at home with a nice book and a cool breeze. I give it to her. Besides, she has to endure the endless, dribbling of my monotone voice way too often anyways. 

10) Understand honor. Honor that honor and honor your spouse with that honor.

I shouldn't have to explain this. Honor is something that is ingrained in humans and if you can't honor your spouse, then you don't deserve one.


Day 20

My father was adopted. This can be frustrating for me and my sister (both Hogan's by birth) who wish to know more about our lineage. Not only are we curious about family health issues, but it's always nice to pay tribute to our ancestors. Luckily, my mother's brother --World War II historian and French Lit. professor-- has invested serious time and money tracking our "Romeiser", "Diggs", "Beals", "Edger" families all over the world. We're scattered about, but the the family has some serious ties to Indiana and Ohio (makes sense for German immigrants). The rest of the crew was from the UK and ended up hitting the American South (VA>TN). 

Earlier this year, my family lost a cousin. I think I met him when I was very young, but am not certain. I didn't know him personally, but have been compared to him many times. In front of me, my mother or uncle typically claim that my personality and sense of humor was from him. In private, they probably used to lament that my addictive personality was all too similar to his. I think I've broken that curse though. I think.

Last week, my family had the privilege to gather together in Indiana to celebrate his life and our family heritage. Jealousy aside, it raised a few questions for the Catholic in me. I grew up visiting the family plots and always assumed that I, too, would have one for my own family. However, I've grown up a bit and due to overcrowding coupled with my desire to have my ashes spread in the Ganges (don't care if "that's what everyone says" -I want it), I have since opted for cremation. Is this okay with the Church? There are roughly 1 billion Catholics on the earth right now. Where are they going to go?

Some believe that it is a pagan or anti-Christian practice. The Bible is full of references to burial as is Catholic text.
Canon 1203: The bodies of the faithful must be buried, and cremation is reprobated. If any one has in any manner ordered his body to be cremated, it shall be unlawful to execute his wish; if this order has been attached to a contract, a last will, or any other document, it is to be considered as not added.
And them some others get pretty wild about it.
Cremation not intrinsically evil. It is important that Catholics understand that cremation is not intrinsically evil, and therefore it could be tolerated by Church authority for a grave reason. Rather, it is condemned by the Church because of its symbolism and because cremation was promoted by the enemies of the Faith for the very purpose of expressing and advancing their materialistic belief in annihilation. Further, earth burial is so much more appropriate to the dignity of the body and in keeping with our love and respect for our departed relatives and friends.
In the Postconciliar Church. The prevalence of cremation today would hardly be so pronounced had it not been for Vatican Council II. In fact, the modern Postconciliar Church, in its 1983 Code of Canon Law, specifically allows for cremation (“unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching ” Canon 1176, #3). Consequently, the practice is no longer forbidden to the members of the Postconciliar Church. This very fact is just one more proof that this modern church is not of God, is not Catholic. 
In the end it seems foolish to debate such a thing. The earth will ultimately be destroyed by the sun or God or man or an asteroid or Republicans, so what's difference? 

As for me, this is what I want.

  1. A family plot with headstones (either a new one with my wife and our future family or a joint one with my entire family)
  2. Only cremated remains shall be included
  3. Dog ashes are welcome
  4. Half of my ashes in the family plot and the other in India (location subject to change)
  5. This song played at my funeral and every time someone thinks of me
Simple enough, right?