Friday, April 16, 2010

Crossing Ts


Watching Al-Jazeera recently, I am reminded even more about the current 'crisis' that Christianity (as a whole, I'm tempted to say, but perhaps it's more limited to Catholics?) is facing. I am referring to the recent revelations of sexual abuse by respected figures within the church, and the apparent attempts to cover them up not only in recent times, but also over the past however many years.

To be honest, I wasn't particularly surprised. I say that not with malice in mind, but with some amusement; going back to even before Muslims were branded with the stereotype of being a terrorist, Catholic priests have long been poked fun at as paedophiles. The existence of such a stereotype has long been a staple of comedy all over the world. Thus, I have to admit that the news that certain priests and bishops have been abusing their power didn't exactly shock me into submission. In fact, at first, I admit to skipping the reports, and moving on to the next one.

However, it kept on growing. It became bigger and bigger. More and more reports emerged from other parts of the world. The Pope was even implicated. News of the Polish president and some of the top authorities in the Polish government perishing in a plane crash didn't even knock it off its perch. It became an uncontrollable monster that appeared to have finally shaken off its shackles, intent on causing as much destruction to those around it and beyond, a multi-headed Kraken that can't be stopped.

However, that's not exactly the reason why I'm writing this. The reason why I am is because I am alarmed at the number of people for whom this incident has shaken their belief. I am somewhat amazed at news of people who no longer go to church, of people who have stopped and questioned at their position in life, at the broken trust of not just between them and their priest, but between them and God. A moment of some confusion was followed by swift comprehension: as much as Islam and Christianity may have in common, the regard with which the priest is held with is not comparable. The closest equivalent in Islam would be the imam, the man who is entrusted with leading the prayer, with dispensing advice, with a deep understanding of all aspects of Islam. Priests in Catholicism has a similar role, but it goes beyond the boundary: for many, they represent God themselves. For example, many consider them to have the power to forgive the sins of others on behalf of God; it is not the same power to be found within Islam or any other religion I can recall at the top off my head for now. Others offer a more direct route to God; Christianity, from what I have learned, allows much of the same, but with the added presence of the priest as an extra conduit to heavenly goodness.

Within that single moment, then, it dawned on me how big of an issue this really is. After all, within the bigger context, and in pure statistical terms, its popularity has not exactly been rocketing off the charts. For example, church attendances in England have stagnated for a while, and a similar picture is painted throughout the rest of the world as well (interestingly, Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world). Of course, one's piety shouldn't be automatically and totally linked with external show of appearances (because if that is the case, then I'm not really all that good a Muslim either...), but it is a indicator that this latest round of salvo from within doesn't help matters much, if at all, in terms of drawing and pulling people back to the church.

Which is unfortunate...because I believe that when times are tough, it is exactly faith in God that needs further reaffirming. I do not for one second believe that it is a dilemma that is afflicting each and every single Christian in the world, but I do hope that this issue is not the turning point for them, not the deciding factor in them lessening the power of their grip on their faith. I hope that they will be able to look beyond the failings of a few men who deserve to fall from their pedestal, to fall from the grace for the corruption and abuse that they have effected upon those who had trusted them. I hope that if they do leave their church and religion, let it be because it doesn't work for them, because it doesn't give them the peace they had been looking for, because it did not live up to whatever expectations they may have had. Of course, one should not be forced against one's will; if the magic is gone, then I suppose it is indeed gone.

Let that magic, however, be banished for the right reasons, not for a few horny and sick bastards.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Small Change, Big Difference


I waited patiently in line, my mind and thoughts kept pretty much to myself as the couple in front of me fumbled with their money, machine, and eventually their respective transit tickets. Whistling excitedly (or at least, that's what it sounded like), they grabbed their tickets and moved away just as quickly. Next to me, other people were lining up for their own tickets at their own machines; it was surprisingly busy, even at 10pm on a weekday.

"도와주세요."

It was soft, it was weak, it was barely audible. But it definitely was there: a short cry for help. I afforded it a glance as I stepped forward and closer to the machine. I see a woman, not particularly old, but old enough to wear the years on her face without being totally classified as being an ajumma. She was wearing a dirty yellow jacket, and I don't mean dirty in a stylish manner either. It was plain, but the marks were there. It was the only part of her that seemed to mark her as some sort of vagrant, but it was the most striking feature of her.

No, I take it back. Her face is more striking than most. Her eyes, to be more specific. Aesthetically speaking, I've always had some sort of obsession with eyes. I use it as a standard to judge a lot of people, and none more so when it came to actors. It's particularly useful, and as a tool of conveying what is contained within their very hearts, there is few that does it better.

So, her eyes. She saw that I had been looking, and, having been ignored by the rest of the group next to me, she stepped closer towards me, her hands cupped out for mercy and...help. "Please, I need some money for the bus."

I gave her a quick smile, and held my hands up. Other contexts would have deemed it to be, "Sorry, I don't have any money." This particular one, allied with my noticeably darker skin, strongly suggested what I intended it to: "Sorry, I don't understand." It is a most useful weapon to get rid of unwanted irritants. I tend to use it when I receive calls from unknown people. My stalker, commonly known to others as LG Telecom, bombards me every other week with requests for money. I ask for them to explain in English, and they just hang up (it doesn't mean that I haven't been paying my bills, mind you; they take it straight out from the account, so there's no real reason to bother me otherwise).

That is, of course, until they come back with someone who can speak English...

...but that's another story for another time. The story for now, however, is the lady who is asking for money. It is for her bus to go home, and she is missing a small few bucks. I resisted; I am not rich, I need all the money I could get my hands on myself. In truth, I am able to give to her, but there's always the reasoning at the back of my head: I might need that money for something else later. I'm a firm believer in every little helps, despite it being a Tesco slogan, and in my situation, every little does help. I ignored her, and she went back to asking other people.

I got my ticket. I slipped the balance into my wallet, and afforded her another glance. The person next to me had refused her once again. In fact, most of the rest ignored her; my own act of refusing might well have been the only act of recognition that placed her firmly in this particular existence, at least for that moment. A shadow falls upon my heart.

"What is the han?" someone had raised at an educational workshop I had covered recently. "A Korean friend of mine told me that the Han is a very difficult concept to explain, but he settled for this: a shadow on the heart." My mind jumped to that particular moment (which is not surprising, since, at the time, I was heavily involved in editing the video), but it wasn't for the purpose of the Han. I felt a shadow on my heart, a burden on my shoulder, but I knew exactly what it was. I had read a number of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings over the past few days, and it had caused a great number of reflections to be made. I had considered myself and my position as a Muslim, but more than that, it made me think of what I can further do as a human being to other members of the human race.

There was a burden, a shadow, that somehow urged me. It egged me on: "Come on, mate, it's only 1,000. You'll find more later."

She looked at me again. I gave her a firm smile, without parting my lips, and merely gave her a 1,000 won note peeled from the change I received from the machine. There was a moment, a pause, during which she wondered about my sincerity, perhaps, or maybe her luck; let's face it, stuck in the same situation, what would we have think of our own rates of success? All things considered, it was a nice stroke of luck for her.

Was it sincere on my part? I thought that it was. More to the point, I felt like it was, because the moment she took my money from my hand, I felt a great release. It made me wonder later on, during the subway ride, of how much more I could have given in the past, of what I could have done to change things. After all, 1,000 won is potentially small change (and, in strictly financial terms, it is). To that lady, however, it was a lifeline, a single note that enabled her to get home on time.

As she scuttled off into the distance, clambering up the stairs towards one of the subway station exits in the hope of catching her bus in time, as she left without saying thank you or goodbye, for that moment at least, I left behind the question of whether I did it for her or for me. Or for the both of us.

I left behind that question, because it was the best decision I made for quite a while.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Epilogue Part 2


Done.

The letters scrolled upwards as I flicked the mouse downwards, finger firmly pressed on the left click button. The words almost raced beyond my own sight, so fast was the moved, as my hand shook slightly at the words.

Done.

Well, it doesn't quite say done, but it does mean that. It also means that the future doors will be opened that bit brighter, that the gamble I took paid off, that the hard work of yesterday, weeks and months paid off, that the help I've received paid off.

That I'm done.

I leaned back in the chair, letting the air out of myself. I can almost feel my body deflating as it does so, losing the very elements that kept it upright, that made it stand with nerves on end for a while. I literally felt that, the relief pouring out of me like an endless stream, a stream of gladness that couldn't help but shape the smile on my face. It is a smile that soon broke into a silent, elated scream of happiness.

They say that when you're about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes. I wasn't dead, but it is the end of a chapter, and it is the chapter that runs through my mind at that moment, a catalogue of errors, mistakes, disappointment and bitterness. These I had resented at the time, prompting long self-discussions about the purpose, the reason, the point of my presence there at that point of time. More to the point, it brought about questions of how much I'm willing to take to go after what it is that I truly want. It forced me to look in the mirror, grabbing my collar forcefully, and tore my shirt open, ripped my chest apart, for me to take a good, long look at the heart within.

The heart that beats. The reason why we are all here. Looking, finding, and reaffirming the purpose of its beating.

The heart that beats.

I smiled even wider.

*Read 'Epilogue Part 1'.