DISPOSABLE INSIGHTS: LOSING MY RELIGION
zandd.com: The view from here on top of the Empire State building always blows me away. The galaxy of unending lights makes me step back and realize how amazing this country is. This is America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. And there's the Statue of Liberty out in the distance, the sight that has inspired immigrants for the last hundred years.
These first sights of their new land must have affected them greatly. What I'm seeing and feeling from up here probably can't touch the sense of wonderment and awe they felt when they stepped off the boat. They knew they were coming to the greatest country in the world. Then, they started to work. Crappy jobs, probably. I wonder if immigrants who've been beat down ever get back that na´ve hopefulness that once stirred their spirits upon even the thought of this promised land. The land of opportunity. I know my parents once had that. I think everyone's parents had that. But once they arrived, the bitter realization set in that this land was not going to just hand them their futures; it was shoving them into one that they would have to bite, scratch, claw, and WORK their way through. No wonder so many of them found religion.
Let's say I had just come over from Korea in the 70's, and like many, had come alone, with maybe a phone number if I was lucky. A first natural instinct would be to find some friends. People who would not judge me on my broken English, or my kimchi odor, maybe because their English (or odor) was just as bad. Basically, have a place where I could come out of the prison of my shop, don some oversize shades, sport some kicking sideburns (hey, it was the 70's), and celebrate my fortune, good or bad, with people who could relate. After all, this was America, and I was living a historic life, one that my forefathers could not have possibly imagined. It might not be heralded by poets and bards for ages to come, but the ones that counted would remember.
I guess this was where the church came into the picture. I'm not sure who started the first few, or where the idea came up, but it makes sense as a place where the community could get together. I doubt that every Korean who came to America was already Presbyterian. Therefore, I'm guessing that for purely social reasons, a lot of Koreans probably came out to church every Sunday. Saying that they were purely social reasons makes it sound like I'm looking down on it, but I don't think that that's a bad reason to go to church. Being as isolated as they probably were from each other, I could see why one would religiously, not for religious reasons, come out to church. Pretenses were probably kept to a minimum, too, since everyone knew everyone else was just trying to get by. This set the stage for the next generation.
To go on a rampage about hypocrisy in the Korean church going population would be repetitive and unnecessary; I'm sure most of the readers can see evidence of it in their very lives (See David Oh's column "To Praise the Lord?"). But being an outsider, being someone who doesn't go to church, I get hardcore Spanish Inquisition treatment. I've been dissed, mad dogged, and generally disrespected by these people for much of my life, and it only seems to have gotten worse the older I get. Maybe I've just had really bad luck, I don't know. But it makes it damn hard for someone who's trying to find religion to take them, and consequently, their religion, seriously.
I myself am part of a unique breed: the Korean Catholic. There's plenty of us out there, but compared to the numbers of Presbyterians and Baptists, we're insignificant. Every other street corner in L.A. has a Korean Christian church; there's a total of 3 Catholic churches in L.A. at my last count. Going to OMC, the Oriental Mission Church in L.A., is a defining experience, a common ground that almost all Koreans in L.A. have shared, for our generation and our parents. When I was younger, I would get harassed from my Korean friends, who would say that I was going to go to hell because I was going to the wrong church. I might as well be committing first-degree murder and screwing my sisters.
As I got older, I was constantly being invited to Friday night fellowships and such, which my parents would forbid me to go to for reasons unknown to me. I finally went, for a good damn reason too: a really cute girl asked me to. I still remember that night. I walked in with my brother, and there was a group of 25 teenagers singing some songs. Now don't get me wrong, I love songs and I love singing, but Catholics are more chill - we sing our songs, say our prayers, and don't exactly linger. My Catholic priest could have moonlighted as an auctioneer. But these people at this Christian church weren't just singing, they were singing. Bodies twisted, arms slithering upwards, faces contorted in the intensity of the moment. To be honest, I freaked out, grabbed my brother, and walked right out no more than 30 seconds after I'd come in.
Someplace between our parents' generation and now, church became what it was always meant to be: a house of God. Because in a community where everyone's struggling financially and with a new country, it's harder for people to get judgmental about the actual reasons why one goes to church. You just want to help your brothers and sisters out. But when, as with many in our generation, life is more comfortable, religious issues come to the forefront again. Everyone goes to church for their own reasons, and I don't have a problem with anyone who's honest about why they wake up on a Sunday morning, which is a damn hard thing to do. However, to judge and try to convince everyone that they're wrong, that they're going to hell, that they need to come out of the complacent apathy that is their lives, this is foolish. It's gotten to the point where the church, instead of being a place that unites the community, has become one of the wedges that is splitting the Korean-American population apart into factions (at least at my school). The images that come to mind for me when I think of Korean churchgoers is a testament to this fact. My point is that when you look at someone in church, you can usually tell why they're there, and they should be able to tell why you're there. Everyone on some level struggles with these religious questions, and beating down on each other only makes these already difficult issues even more difficult to deal with.
Do you remember that Korean kid in L.A. who God-talked his way out of a house robbery? I guess he was alone in his house in Palos Verdes or some other nice suburb of L.A., and I think he was a PK (Pastor's Kid). Some guy broke in, a middle-aged Korean dude, intending to jack their house. But this kid started talking to the thief about life, about why he was perpetrating, and about God. The robber broke down crying, asked him for forgiveness, and said he'd be out to church on Sunday. This freaked me out. I guess it shouldn't surprise me, since he is a PK, but I can't help but think, "Wow, his parents did a number on him." I'd like to see him ten years from now, see if his faith is still as unshakable, or if he's gone another route. A lot of PKs I've known were like that when they were young, and ended up taking a very different route through their teens. Where they eventually end up, God only knows. But there's a part of me that hopes that this kid will, at least for himself, have a good answer to all those unanswerable questions (and we ain't talking multiplication tables). The time we spend alive is hard enough, and having complete faith, even if you think it's na´ve, gives purpose to life. I wish him the best, and pray he doesn't become like so many of those who claim his path but live another.
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