The March to May

Holy cow, it’s been a while since I’ve done a bit of the broader life update. To be fair, it’s been a bit crazy since I got back from vacation in Thailand, but I could also have sworn that I posted an update already, so here’s the deluge!

Military life has definitely helped prepare me for life in Korea in some unexpected ways. I knew I would be moving to a different culture with a different language and all that, but I failed to realize just how transitory this job is for some of the teachers here. Over the past few months, I’ve had to say goodbye to a number of friends who were going back to the States or on to other jobs in various countries. However, right on top of that we’ve had numerous new additions come to Cheonan and join our little community of foreigners. So, it feels a lot like PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season in Germany did. Sadness at people leaving, but joy for the new friends and faces that have arrived. So, it’s good that I’ve been used to this kind of thing, but at the same time, my network of people to keep track of just keeps getting bigger. I’ve got friends from all over the U.S. (even states I’ve never been to), Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, England, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea… and I’m sure the list will only continue to grow. Ideally, there will eventually be few countries in the world where I could be truly friendless (and give me a few minutes and I’ll probably be able to remedy that problem :D).

So, along with adapting to some curriculum changes at work (the pronunciation curriculum I wrote and the writing curriculum my co-worker, Jordan, wrote have now become a permanent part of our middle school curriculum [now to adapt and improve my curriculum so that it works even better]) I’ve been busy traveling around Korea. Thailand only served to feed the travel bug and make it even more hungry than it was previously (Sorry USA! There’s so much more than you out here, though you’ve got sites I still want to see too!), so I’ve been taking lots of little trips just about every weekend I can manage.

The first weekend I got back I went to the St. Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul. There is a surprisingly large amount of foreigners who are interested in celebrating St. Paddy’s Day, but it was wonderful. I have lots of pictures and a video from the event that I will link to at the end of the paragraph. The festival offered some real Irish food and as a result, reignited my love affair with bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes with gravy). Plus there was plenty of dancing, because what’s a festival without dancing? I enjoyed it a lot, and got to build up some friendships that I had been hoping to go deeper with. (Video is here and the photo album will be at the end of the Seoul-Busan paragraph)


Then, a weekend or two later, I traveled south to the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. Just like in Japan, trees bearing cherry blossoms are numerous and beautiful, and festivals celebrating them abound. The largest and the most popular is in the city of Jinhae, on the southern coast, about a hour west of Busan. It was definitely quite a site to behold, and the city was PACKED. Thankfully we were able to find some lodging in Busan, otherwise we might have been in a bit of trouble. The pictures will do more to describe what we saw than any words, so I’m going to have to point y’all once again to the photo album that will be posted (Not quite yet! One more paragraph to go!) and post some pictures and a video (here!) as well, just to keep you interested.


Both at the St. Patrick’s Day festival and then this trip to the cherry blossom festival have given me opportunities to become more familiar with some of Korea’s two largest cities, Seoul and Busan. Seoul is a very large and well populated city, boasting a population of approximately 10,440,000 people. Most of my familiarity with Seoul had previously been with Itaewon and the bus station, but I’ve had several occasions to visit Seoul in the past few months and it has not disappointed. The northern area near City Hall, Hongik University, and Seoul Station has a lot of cool sites to see and restaurants to dine at. There’s lots of stuff to see in the city, and there’s so much more I haven’t seen. There’s definitely a lot of revisit value in Seoul. Then Busan is a city that I’m definitely learning to like. It’s a very long city, spread out along the coast, so getting from point A to point B can be a little tricky at times (especially after the metro rail shuts down for the night), but it has some really good hiking potential (I’m planning a trip that I’m very excited about) and some nice beaches and restaurants (the best Mexican food I’ve had since coming to Korea was in Busan), plus I have some friends who live down there, so it’s always good to see them. Now, for the much awaited photo album, and a video to accompany it! (Photo album is here, and here’s another video!)


So, one of the unique things I got to see while exploring Hongdae (Hongik University area) was a sheep cafe. Due to size restrictions and numerous other things, dog cafes and cat cafes are fairly common in Korean cities. In those cafes you can interact with the dogs and cats and get your fluffy animal fix without having to own one. However, a sheep cafe is a little more rare and doesn’t have as much wandering room for the sheep (thankfully!). The sheep were in a pen, and you could reach over and pet them if you so desired. As you can guess, this may seem kind of weird, but in the overall scheme of Korean cafes, it’s actually not to surprising. Korea has numerous themed cafes to meet all kinds of interests and needs. You have the usual cafes with drinks and places to sit and hang out, and you also have internet cafes to meet the needs of the more technologically minded. However beyond that you have board game cafes (which are really neat, I went to one recently and you rent a table, buy a drink, and pick a board game or two to play, and they have quite the wide selection!), dog cafes, cat cafes, and numerous others and kinds (even some of ill-repute, because even though prostitution is illegal, it is so widespread that it’s far easier for the government to tolerate its existence and presence and just get a little money off the top). One of my personal favorites is a Batman themed cafe here in Cheonan called “The Dark Knight Cafe,” which is wonderful, because of course, Batman.

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Now, I may have mentioned this before, but several of my friends here have made a band and have traveled to perform in many different places in Korea. Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to go see their shows and to cheer them on and it’s been a lot of fun! The live music scene in Korea is fairly active and my friends do a really good job! They’ve been working very hard and have a lot of talent. So, I got to go to a music festival in Cheongju and watch them (and many others) perform. It was a lot of fun with instances of games where we tried to put as many stickers on other peoples’ backs without them noticing and all kinds of different musical and performance styles. There was even a couple that didn’t so much play music as perform to it with a juggling and acrobatic performance, and it was super cool to watch. The kind of coordination and trust required to pull it off was enormous, and I was so caught up in watching that I didn’t even think to take a video or pictures (sorry!). I also went to go see one of their live shows in Busan (and it happened that my friends in Busan were also performing at the same venue) and getting to spend time with them and others was great. If you’re interested in checking them out, here’s a link to their facebook page – their name is “Colin Phils.”


Recently I had a long weekend and had the opportunity to go to Muuido, an island just west of the island of Incheon. The island was quite beautiful, but unfortunately illness cut my trip short and I returned home a day early. However, before I got sick I was able to stay a night in Hongdae and have my first opportunity to accidentally stay in a “Love Motel.” These motels are established primarily for the purposes of people having a convenient location to have sex, but they do also rent their rooms to any individual who is willing to pay. Unfortunately all of the other places to sleep in Hongdae were booked, so when I finally found a motel that had a room (after walking around for 2 hours) I didn’t ask too many questions. All in all, the accommodations weren’t bad and the bed was comfortable, but the lighting was hilarious. You had one regular light with a regular bulb, and every other light switch in the room controlled the “mood lighting.” Red lights in the bathroom (rather inconvenient, but well purposed with a clear glass door that was only glazed to sufficiently cover a person’s lower half) and over the bed. I’m half surprised that there wasn’t a button to get some Barry White or smooth saxophone music going, but I suppose that probably would have cost extra. I met up with my friends and went to Muuido the next day by subway, then bus, then taxi, then ferry, and then bus again to our campsite. The island was very pretty, ripe for the hiking, and I aim to return in better weather with better equipment  and food for hiking and camping.


Finally for the closing bits. This past weekend I traveled to Seoul for a choral concert that a friend of mine was performing in. The title of the collection of works was African Sanctus. The composer had traveled from the Mediterranean down to the source of the Nile and across Sudan and Uganda and recorded the music and songs of various tribes, then merged them together and made them part of a piece to which many Latin vespers would be performed. I especially liked the “Kyrie” which was preluded by a recording of a Muezzin from Egypt (muezzins are the singers in the minarets of the mosques who call the faithful to prayer). It was excellent to hear. Later that week I was able to go visit some friends of mine from Germany, Kent and Linda Dickerson, and finally have some real American steak, complete with Texjoy seasoning and a baked potato covered in butter, cheese, and sour cream. I do miss the ready availability of some of the more American foods that I’m accustomed to, but there’s plenty of Korean food to enjoy, so I manage.

As for other bits and pieces of life news both big and small, I’ve been accepted into Nazarene Theological Seminary in order to pursue a graduate degree in Theological Studies, hopefully being admitted into the research track for Christian History and Thought as preparation for my intended career as a Theology professor (though I’ll also need to get a Doctorate and job experience as a professor to have any realistic security in that plan). I’ll begin by attending online, but will hopefully find a module or two back in the States that I’ll be able to attend over a holiday. I much prefer classroom experience, but I would not be able to finance a Master’s degree without my job here in Korea, so I’ll take what I can get. I’m currently in the midst of planning a spiritual retreat for my small group and am very much looking forward to that being brought to fruition. I don’t particularly have the opportunity to intern or volunteer at any local churches, so I’ve had to look for other avenues to remain in something resembling the pastoral practice. Anyways, here’s the long belated update, sorry that it took so long for me to send it out.


Connecting Passion with Reality

Today and yesterday, I got to have a lot of really good attempts at theological conversation with people. I’m happy for it, but I’ve also come to realize that there’s a problem that is no longer reasonable to ignore. I do a lot of talking past or above people when it comes to talking theology, and that’s definitely my fault.

Theology is something I’m deeply passionate about and something I believe that we as the Church don’t do enough for average people to talk about. However, given my personality, I’ve spent an awful lot of time delving into the spider web and enjoying its twists, turns, and intricacies while not necessarily realizing how confusing it all looks to other people. Personally, I am pretty good at connecting dots, building systems,  seeing how the ideas work with and influence each other, and where those ideas might create conflicts with each other without some extra effort towards compromise. However, I haven’t been working at simplifying the web so that it can be communicated to other people. I feel like I have been better at simplifying when I write more than when I speak, so I’m going to try to use that as a tool for helping myself simplify theological concepts. That way, when it comes time to speak about these issues, I can connect the passion I feel with the realities I’m attempting to present.


In his lecture “Engaging the World,” Alister McGrath talks about how the shift from modernity to post-modernity has brought a shift in concern from whether or not the ideas presented are true to whether or not the ideas presented are real (practical). We can present lots of true ideas (for example, Queen Victoria died in 1901), but unless they are relevant and useful to the listener, it won’t be very practical for them to hear it (unless you’re taking a history quiz any time soon, that historical tidbit won’t be very useful to you). I need to improve my ability to make theology “real” to the people that I’m talking to, otherwise the people in my future classrooms will find it dry and uninteresting rather than a reinvigoration of the life and relationship they have with God.


In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis speaks of theology as a map compared to a person’s walk along the beach, and how it often feels like looking at that map, when compared to the beach, is “turning from something real to something less real,” moving from tangible experiences to “a bit of coloured paper.” However, he then says, “The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America. Now, Theology is like the map.”

I agree with this assessment of theology. We need it in order to progress and go deeper and learn a bit more about what exactly we’re talking about when we say things like “God is in control.” The meaning of that statement can stretch anywhere from meaning that God is capable of redeeming the bad that happens in the world and making good things out of it, to God is a cosmic puppeteer, controlling every vibration of every atom and that the death of your child, the suffering of the poor and the powerless all across the world, and the brokenness and imperfection which is such a persistent part of the human condition is as much His handiwork as our becoming jaded and numb to the cries of the hurting is the result of His plan for us. (This isn’t even the whole scale, but it serves as a functioning example). When we say things like that, different people hear different meanings along that scale, and their relationship with God can be impacted accordingly. (Let’s be honest, if I saw God as someone who would genuinely be pulling the strings behind the whole of human brokenness, I would personally have a problem with describing Him as a God to be loved… feared maybe, but not loved, because that’s little better than a theological case of Stockholm Syndrome. We come to worship the divine boot that squishes us in the hope that it will squish us less painfully. This might be inaccurate, but I feel numerous people probably would react similarly in rejecting the love of a “god of the divine boot”). Of course, our theology also impacts how we view God and our purpose. Do we see our purpose as ambassadors of love or prophets proclaiming the coming judgment? [“Hail to the divine boot, for it comes with power and squishes with equity. Good and evil are crushed beneath its heel!”] (Fun question – does judgment solely imply condemnation or does it also allow for acquittal? To whom and why? Congratulations, you’re doing theology!) Knowing what map we’re reading (where we are, where we are going, and how we are going to get there) is super helpful, especially when we’re trying to lead other people to our destination (right relationship with God, others, ourselves, and the rest of creation… or heaven, depending on your map).

Theology is what allowed me to grow from an understanding of a God that hated me for being human to a God that loved me (and everyone else for that matter) because He created me, even if the original goal for me has been bent and dented, and who is going to restore us to Himself, because He loves us and sees us as valuable. I got to know a God worth knowing on account of theology, and I feel like it can help even those who already know a God worth knowing by bringing a little zest into the relationship. However, a warning: it is very easy to apply lots of adjectives to God in order to make a box, and then use that boxed God to justify our agendas. Adjectives and categories are useful, but they are not the end of it. We are attempting to speak about a dynamic and living entity rather than a concept, and we are trying to have a relationship not compile a databank. Therefore, we need to see our adjectives as qualities rather than checkboxes. God has a say in who He is and what He does; our learning doesn’t end once we fill in enough blanks with qualitative words.

So, I’m working towards a better practice and teaching of theology, because it’s important, and I want to help others understand why it’s important, and how each can learn it according to their ability (not everyone needs to become an expert). The ethos of theology that I was given when starting out is that theology is not a language game about power, but is instead about humility – using truth to build relationships rather than secrets to gain power. Truth, humility, and honesty are the keys of theology as a language. We use theology to help people, and we do not claim to know everything that is important for the sake of power or being “right.”

I don’t know everything, I never will know everything there is to know, and I will never know enough, but what we can learn is helpful, useful, and if it is used well, it can be beneficial to others. This is my passion, and I hope to make it real to other people… but until I improve, I might be about as coherent as Ron Burgundy tweaking out in a telephone both, so please bear with me.