Posts Tagged ‘religion’


Before You Bomb Korea, Mr. President

August 13, 2017

Dear Mr. President,

Before you decide to bomb North Korea, please consider carefully the impact of your actions on the people of South Korea. Last year I spent two weeks there, with two dozen other Americans and our two Korean-born priests, celebrating the centennial of my religious community, Won Buddhism. As you have increased the intensity of your threats regarding possible actions on the Korean peninsula this week, I am constantly reminded of the many wonderful people I met, people who will suffer the most from actions you may choose to take.

I am reminded of the retired women Won Buddhist priests we spent a morning with. We ended our time by exchanging hugs. I expected to be the giver of affection, and was deeply moved when instead I received overwhelming feelings of love from these women to whom I could say nothing. The deep-seated joy they radiated defied age and language. Are you willing to let these women suffer?

I am reminded of the family I spent a day and evening with. The father, a retired government minister and now a professor, who spoke to me of his last great professional goal, to free the people of North Korea from the destitution he witnessed during his trips there on behalf of his government. The mother, who welcomed me into her home and fed me wonderful Korean food and even did my laundry. Their daughter, who works as a business translator, helping companies conduct meetings in real time in English and Korean. They spent six years in our country while the father earned graduate degrees. Now they live 40 miles from the North Korean border in a suburb of Seoul. Are you willing to let this family suffer?

I am reminded of the Won Buddhist seminary students we spent an evening with. They are preparing to dedicate their lives to the service of others. Most will stay in Korea, but some will leave behind the familiarity of family and friends and go to America and other countries, as the two priests at my temple did. As we rounded the corner of a building to meet them, we saw them waiting for us outside. They began to cheer for us, like we were celebrities. Once inside, we spoke with them and chanted and meditated with them, filling our meeting hall with mutual affection. When we left, they walked us outside and cheered us again, waving until we were out of sight. Are you willing to let these young people suffer?

I felt this spirit of kindness and generosity and hospitality every day of my visit. The South Koreans are an incredible people. In three generations they have transformed a land devastated by colonization and war into the world’s sixth-largest economy. In two generations they have moved from violent dictatorship to vibrant democracy. They have been our steadfast ally in a crucial part of the world. Should you choose to act rashly in response to a bully’s words and the waving of his fists, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who live among them may be able to board a ship or a plane and leave Korea. But the people I met there will have no such choice. They will instead be asked to bear the consequences of your actions. Please keep those people in mind, Mr. President, and please choose your actions carefully.


An Occasion for Courage

August 18, 2010

In the right’s latest attempt to turn back the Democratic victories of 2006 and ’08, a project to build a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero has been twisted into a “mosque” “at” Ground Zero. While the planning commission reviewing the request to build the center unanimously approved the request, and while NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg resoundingly supported the Muslim community’s right to build it, others less courageous want the center moved.

The grandest part of the American experiment in democracy is its insistence on preserving the rights of minorities when majority views threaten those rights. From the ending of slavery to the inclusion of women as equals, our path as a nation has been widening with time. Even as we stumble toward inclusion for the rights of gays and lesbians–and though stumble we may, our momentum carries us forward–there is now this attempt to narrow the rights of Muslims, because those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were also Muslims.

While it’s clear that the pain of that day is still very strong for most Americans, that doesn’t grant us a license to limit fundamental Constitutional rights. In fact, it is in such times that we must insist on supporting these most cherished rights. This is a moment that demands that we respond with courage, that we trust that our system can flourish–that it can *only* flourish–when all of us live our lives with all of our rights intact at all times. It’s a shame that so many politicians, especially Democrats, refuse to trust that system and express support for it.



August 20, 2007

I walked the labyrinth at church this morning, more slowly than last time. I noticed that as I entered the labyrinth, I was facing away from the church, toward the busy four-lane road next to it. When I stopped at the center, I was facing the same way, but it looked different. Part of the labyrinth's power is that it symbolizes our lifelong spiritual journey–so even though I was looking at the same road from almost the same place, I had had several minutes to quiet my mind, process what I've been thinking a lot about lately–work issues, parent issues–and eventually I heard the cicadas more clearly than the traffic. From the center I turned around, and there was the church. What would I take back there from the center? As I have mentioned here before I am a lousy Christian–full of doubts, but very happy being part of my  church community. So when I returned to the entrance and looked up, I still had that lightness to my breathing. The labyrinth reminded me to put aside all the abstract doubts and just go sit with a community of real people who really care for each other and the world.

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